Middle East Resources

Orientalism Beyond Edward Said

Bassam Michael Madany

The NEW YORKER magazine published in the April 26 & May 3, 2021 Issue, an article by Pankaj Mishra under the title of “The Reorientations of Edward Said.” It is a review of Timothy Brennan’s biography of Edward Said. https://www.newyorker.com

Here are excerpts from the review: 

“Multiple and clashing selves were Said’s inheritance from the moment of his birth, in 1935, in West Jerusalem … Sent as a teen-ager to an American boarding school, Said found the experience ‘shattering and disorienting.’  In ‘Orientalism,’ published two decades into a conventional academic career, Said unexpectedly described himself as an ‘Oriental subject’ and implicated almost the entire Western canon, from Dante to Marx, in the systematic degradation of the Orient.” It becomes quite evident that Edward Said (pronounced Sa’eed) was prone of making generalized and sweeping statements about Western views of the Arabs and Islam.

For example:

“His anger seems to have long simmered as he witnessed ‘the web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim. In a conversation filmed for Britain’s Channel 4, Said claimed that many of his cultural heroes, such as Isaiah Berlin and Reinhold Niebuhr, were prejudiced against Arabs.”

“In ‘Orientalism,’ Said’s uncooperative demon at last burst into view. He boldly defined himself as the ‘product of the historical process’ of colonialism ‘whose domination has been so powerful a factor in the life of all Orientals. He insisted that Orientalist thinking justified colonial rule not after the fact but ‘in advance,’ positing an unbroken Western tendency to represent Orientals as inferior, running from ancient Greece through Renaissance Italy to the New York Times.”

It is utterly strange that Edward Said, a Levantine Christian, failed to recognize that Western Imperialism with all its faults, was a passing episode in history, and quite different from Arab/Islamic colonialism which in many parts of the world, was total and irreversible. I am not defending Western Imperialism, I experienced it during my formative years in the Levant, when the French ruled Syria and Lebanon for 25 years. 

During his last days, Edward Said was battling Leukemia; he passed away on 25 September 2003.  Most likely, he was unaware of the rise of what I would like to call “Oriental” experts on the history of the Arab/Islamic civilization; their analyses of the subject were more severe and to the point, than those of the Western Orientalists that Edward Said had so harshly castigated.

Here is a list of some Arab scholars, whose works were published in French or in Arabic. These are the New Orientalists, born in an Arab/Muslim context, who knew the basic Islamic authoritative texts, and had studied both in their homelands and in the West. I salute them, and trust that as you read their offerings, you will appreciate their valuable contributions.

Ahmed Saad Zayed, is an Egyptian scholar who champions rational objective thought. His writings include a critique of traditional Islamic worldview. Dr. Zayed organizes meetings in Cairo, Egypt where he lectures on the urgent need for the modernization and reform of Arab/Islamic civilization.i 

Hamed Abdel-Samad is a German-Egyptian scholar whose contributions to the fields covered by traditional Orientalism are numerous and available in Arabic, German, English, and several other languages.ii  Muhammad Al-Musayeh is a Moroccan expert on the manuscripts of the Qur’an, interviewed by Hamed Abdel-Samad. 

Héla Ouardi, a Tunisian Professor of French Literature and Civilization at the University of Tunis, and Associate Researcher at the CNRS Laboratory for Monographic Studies. iii


i  الحضارة العربية الاسلامية - تأويلات النص - الذروة والمآل- أ. احمد سعد زايد - YouTube
Ahmed Zayed - YouTube 
واقع جزية المسيحيين واليهود في العصر العثماني مع أحمد سعد زايد - YouTube

ii  Hamed Abdel-Samad - YouTube
Hamed Abdel-Samad: Enlightenment Requires Clash With Heritage | MEMRI
Hamed Abdelsamad - Violence in Surat Al-Tawbah - YouTube
A Discussion of Islamophobia: Dangerous & misleading. Narration is in English.
Hamed Abdel Samad عربي اسلامرفوبيا - Bing video
For more information click on the following: Videos of Hamed Abdel Samad On YouTube
Interview with Muhammad Al-Musayeh by Hamed Abdel-Samad
 .... صندوق الإسلام 160: تحليل كتاب مخطوطات القرآن للأستاذ محمد المسيح - YouTube

Hela Ouardi gives a keynote address at the International Qur’anic Studies Association's International Qur'an Conference 2019 hosted by the Tangier Global Forum at the University of New England’s Tangier Campus in Morocco.


iii Hela Ouardi - Quatre siècles de lecture :Les Orientalistes et le Coran. Essai de périodisation. - YouTube
Séance inaugurale - Conférence "Islam au XXIe siècle" du 26 février 2019 à l'UNESCO - YouTube
Réécrire l'histoire de l'islam | Hela Ouardi |TEDx https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYfvUR-554ACarthage - YouTube