J.G. Keely's Reviews > Orientalism

Orientalism by Edward W. Said
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There's a curious double-standard between what we expect from White guy authors compared to authors of any other background. When an author is a Native American, for example, we tend to expect their books to deliver to us the 'Native American experience'. If the author is a woman, we tend to expect that her book will show us the 'female perspective'--to the degree that female authors who write stories about men are forced to take on a masculine or nondescript name, like J.K. Rowling.

So we get Western-educated authors like Achebe, Hosseini, and Momaday who write thoroughly traditional novels in the Western style and then place a thin veneer of their own ethnic background onto those stories, and are praised for it in academia, because their work meets expectation: delivering to The West a simplified and 'pre-colonized' version of foreignness.

As a White male author, on the other hand, the expectation is that you won't stick to your own cultural identity, but will instead attempt to explore the breadth and depth of human experience through characters of many backgrounds--and why not? White guys have been doing it for centuries, and we love them for it.

In fact, the problem here is not that White guys are encouraged to take on other roles, its that non-White, non-male folks are discouraged from doing so. As Said points out: it is not only Black people who are capable of writing about Black people, or only Arabs about Arabs, or only Whites about Whites; we all need to explore similarities and differences in our fellow humans.

So here I am: White guy, trying to explore humanity, writing a bit of fiction about Colonialism, about the English rule in Egypt and India, featuring characters of different backgrounds--but it's daunting. I don't want to do it thoughtlessly, and though I take a great deal of inspiration from Haggard, Kipling, Conrad, and Burton, I don't want to incidentally adopt their shortcomings along with the interesting bits.

So I thought I might combat their prejudices by taking in the most notable and talked-about book on interactions and stereotypes between The West and The East. However, Orientalism was not what I expected; but then again, it wasn't what Said expected, either. He didn't intend to write 'The Book' on East/West interaction, his work is much narrower in scope.

The whole of the book is Said looking closely at a dozen authors, mostly French and English, some academics, some fiction writers, and giving examples of a number of quotes for each where they talk about 'The East' in ways that demonstrate a certain bias. That's pretty much it, all four-hundred pages. Why spend that long on such a specific topic? Because this book was meant for a small academic publication, and that's what specialized academics do.

Now, if you've read any of the other reviews of this book on GR, you'd get the impression that Said is an enraged polemicist who spends the whole book denigrating 'The West' and praising 'The East'. It’s inexplicable to me that any person with the most basic reading comprehension could come away from Said with this view. Indeed, once I realized the scope of this work (and that it wasn't likely to help with my specific writing concern), I almost abandoned it, but I wanted to get to the 'angry Said' part where he defames Western civilization, just to see how bad it got.

It never came. Said's tone throughout the book is exceedingly dry and cautious--too much so, for my taste, I've been known to enjoy a good diatribe--so any prejudicial anger a reader might find in this book is only what they brought in with them. The notion that Said is anti-Western or Pro-Islam is such a bizarrely inexplicable misreading that the only reason a reader could come away from the book with that belief is if they brought in a huge set of prejudices and then ignored everything Said actually wrote.

First, they must assume that ‘East’ and ‘West’ are terms that have well-defined geographical and social meanings, and then ignore the fact that Said repeatedly states that, to him, 'East' and 'West' are just convenient ideas, not real, solid entities--that it is ridiculous to talk about India, China, and the Middle East as if they were one culture, or even to lump in the various Arab states with one another, when they each have very different histories and values. There is no more unity between all Islamic nations than there is between all Christian nations.

Trying to place a line between Greece and Turkey and claiming these are separate cultures is artificial. Lest we forget: Troy was in Turkey, when the Roman Empire died in Italy it continued in Istanbul (as Edith Hamilton points out: Roman rule was always more Persian than Greek), Southern Europe was long ruled by Moors, and as Ockley’s 1798 History of the Saracens contentiously point out, nearly everything Europe knows of Greek philosophy and mathematics came from Islam.

Then, the ignorant reader would have to assume that when Said points out a specific trend in some authors of the ‘West’, that this constitutes an attack on ‘The West’ as an entity (which Said denies exists). This despite the fact that Said explicitly holds many of these Western authors in high regard and specifically states that there’s nothing wrong with cultures having interdependent relationships:
“The Arab world today is an intellectual, political, and cultural satellite of the United States. This is not in and of itself something to be lamented; the specific form of the satellite relationship, however, is.”

The reader would then have to assume that this perceived attack on a fictional ‘Western Culture’ was the same thing as an uplifting of ‘the East’, even though Said often speaks about how many Eastern states are damaged and without a modern intellectual tradition to train its members to do the work of improving them, and that all the great centers of study and economic control for Islam are located in England or America.

But then, the fact that there are prejudiced readers is hardly surprising: the world is full of people trying to divide everything up between 'us' and 'them'. I get comments from people who don't realize that Islam is an Abrahamic religion--sharing the same holy books, prophets, and god as Christianity and Judaism--people who aren't aware that a 'fatwa' just means any public statement by a scholar. You read about American military consultants in the Middle East who don't know the difference between Shia and Sunni. Very few these days would connect this quote:
"The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr"

with Mohammed.

How easily we forget that Athens is closer to Marrakesh, Tunis, Cairo, and Baghdad than it is to Paris, Berlin, or London.

I remember seeing a supposedly humorous map where the Middle East was replaced by an impact crater, with the words 'Problem Solved' beneath it, completely ignoring the fact that the reason there is constant conflict there is because powerful First World countries have gone in, supplied both sides with cheap guns, made Opium the only profitable crop for farmers to grow, and set up regimes whose sole purpose is to funnel money and natural resources out of those countries and into multinational banks--any region is going to be politically unstable under those conditions.

Indeed, Said openly admits that there is much wrong in the Arab world, that it is full of turmoil and violence and lack of education, and that it is all too easy to paint it as a ‘fallen culture’ when compared to the heights of sophistication and science it once enjoyed, which sparked off the Renaissance in Europe. Of course, the way Arabs are commonly typified as backward is the same way people typify ant outgroup: the cliches of American rednecks and hippy-dippy liberals are the same as the cliche Arab: ignorant, sectarian, ever-feuding, following charismatic leaders into reactionary movements. We can point to Religious Fundamentalists, Tea Party Yokels, Ron Paul Libertarians, Militant Feminists, and Black Muslim Brotherhood members and find the same clannish human system at play.

I was constantly struck by the fact that the separation Said depicts between the ideas of East and West were not specific to that cultural conflict, but were the same generic type of power separation laid out by Marx: a dominating power structure versus the population whom they control and profit from. They operate off of the same self-serving justifications for their rule: that the population is childlike and irrational, easily manipulated, and in need of governance. Very little of Said’s analysis was specific to the conflict between the East and West--which may have been deliberate on his part--but I think it would have made his neutral stance clearer if he had expressed outright that he was making a generalized argument about all power dynamics. Extending the narrow focus of his argument and showing that this is how power works everywhere, at all times, would have made his work stronger, overall.

As I read, it seemed that what Said was saying was clearly true, but not in a revelatory way. I found myself comparing it to Angela Carter’s The Sadeian Woman , my high-water mark for social criticism, where her statements are inescapably true, but in a way you never realized until you saw it written out. I kept waiting for Said to take it to the next level, to elevate these basic, naked observations to some profound and insightful conclusion.

Of course European, Christian powers would mythologize and simplify Islam, of course they would make a phantom enemy of it, while at the same time trading, allying, and sharing sources of inspiration with it--that is no more than differing cultures have always done, as Said points out. What great insight into this system is meant to shock me? Am I simply too much the postmodern, atheistic American to see what he says as anything but basic and inescapable?

I came to this book looking to find something insidious, some system by which these cultures interact uniquely, but what I got was ‘most people are ignorant, dominating forces produce propaganda, Europe vs. Islam edition’. Of course we are all Quixote and Pangloss: making ourselves heroes of a fantastical narrative and creating enemies to blame because we are too weak to do anything other than maintain that flattering fiction. But, even if we are all human, and all power structures operate in the same ways, there should still be some specifics which set this incidence apart.

I was waiting for Said to do some serious unpacking. It’s not enough to show a passage of Renan’s and demonstrate that his Semites are ‘sterile’--I want to know how that construction is achieved, why it is important, how it operates culturally and psychologically, how it offers an important and vital insight into the grander cultural interaction. And yet, just as he seems to be reaching a kind of specificity, he breaks off:
“Why the Orient seems still to suggest not only fecundity but sexual promise (and threat) . . . is something on which one could speculate: it is not the province of my analysis here, alas, despite its frequently noted appearance.”

So then, if not that, what is the province of his analysis? It isn’t until his conclusion that he lays out his purpose and helps us to understand why he never extends to these sorts of specific conclusions, which made me wish that he had made his conclusion his introduction, so I wouldn’t have spent four-hundred pages wondering why he keeps stopping just when it was starting to get interesting.

This is an academic work with a very narrow scope. It is meant to give a view of a very specific trend in Orientalist criticism amongst a group of authors, and not to force on the reader any specific conclusion about what this trend means, or how it operates on a minute level, except to point out that it does in fact exist, and that it represents familiar power dynamics. That is the purpose and the effect of this book, and it invites the reader to use it to extend these examples into specific arguments and observations of their own, to use the general roadmap provided as a guide for their own work. The fact that it has become the central text on the subject is an accident of time and place, for that was not the author’s purpose, nor is this a transformative, revelatory work that sets out a specific theory of analysis for looking at Orientalist works--as I wish it had been.

In the end, Said’s Orientalism is not a primer, but an experiment which is incomplete without further scholarship on the part of the reader. Since Said is not specific, we cannot know just how accurate his analysis is unless we can compare it to our own readings of the same works, so it can only be a companion to our studies and not a work which, on its own, develops a unique view which we can use, as scholars, going forward.
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Reading Progress

January 7, 2013 – Started Reading
January 7, 2013 – Shelved
January 22, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 24, 2013 – Shelved as: non-fiction
April 7, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed
April 7, 2013 – Shelved as: lit-crit

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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Riku Sayuj Thanks for the amazing review. I think this is the first non-fic review of yours that I am reading. Just as entertaining!


message 2: by Karl-O (new) - added it

Karl-O Great review, Keely! Thanks really.


message 3: by Dan (new)

Dan T.D. seeing your interest in colonialism (and post-colonialist literature, perhaps?) I would like to recommend the Buru Quartet by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Almost at a loss for words describing it, but what i'm sure is that it got nothing of Hosseini's 'narrow Western window' (this kind of attitude is even heavily criticized).


J.G. Keely Thanks guys. I guess it's true that I don't review nonfiction as often--get caught up in all the storytelling.

And thanks for the suggestion, Dan, looks interesting.


message 5: by Roxanne (new)

Roxanne Russell Have you checked out Homi Bhabha's The Location of Culture for your purposes?


J.G. Keely Mmm, I'll have to take a look at it. Thanks.


message 7: by Forrest (new)

Forrest Great review! I haven't read this since graduate school (my MA is in African History, by the way, and I'm a white American). I'll need to go find my copy and give it a re-read.


J.G. Keely Thanks, glad you liked it.


message 9: by Fons (new)

Fons Jena As I did not read the book yet I cannot judge the quality of your review but it was an interesting read. Thank you for a critical review.

Can you suggest a book where I can read an 'angry Said' that 'defames Western civilization'? I am looking for a book that looks at the middle east conflicts (Israeli-Palestinian in particular) with a critical approach towards the western involvement.

Any suggestion is welcome (must not necessarily be written by Edward Said or a non-western writer).


message 10: by Eric (new)

Eric Fine review. Thanks.


message 11: by R.M.F (last edited May 17, 2015 10:18AM) (new)

R.M.F Brown Unfortunately, like many others, I fear you have failed to grasp the concept of what Orientalism is. It's not simply a case of projecting prejudices on another culture, or another civilization, it embodies something more profound than that

History is replete with numerous examples of this. You are no doubt aware that the Greeks and Romans always considered themselves to be a bulwark against 'barbarian' hordes, threatening to tear down the pillars of order.

Indeed, the word, urban, derives from the concept that to live in a city is infinitely preferable to living in the wilds, and hence, is much more civilised.

When Julius Caesar arrives in Gaul for the launch of his historical campaign, this is not Orientalism, Caesar is merely acting on well established prejudices against the 'Barbarian' hordes.

When English settlers arrive in the New World, they consider the terrain to be a wilderness, as it's not 'productive,' and they consider the Native Americans to be childlike. Again, they act out of long established prejudices, and also out of religious conviction. The new world is to be the New Eden.

So what is Orientalism. In studying the East, is the West merely trying to discover itself? Many have argued this point. No, as I say it goes beyond this. Orientalism is an artificial construct, but it's not a construct that allows the West to make sense of the East. Orientalism is a construct that explains the East to the East...and the scholarship was written to reflect that view.

Essentially, the West is saying to the East that we understand your history and your culture better than you understand it yourself.

It is a reductionist discourse that seeks to boil down the East to its basic components. Examples: India is a country defined by religious bigotry, it lacks the rule of law, it is stuck in the dark ages etc etc.

Another example, the idea that colonisers considered the native peoples to be 'children' is not new, as I alluded too earlier, and there are numerous examples of this. Orientalism, however, goes beyond this. It institutionalises these prejudices, it goes beyond them. It is no longer colonisation of a country, it is the colonisation of the mind, of ideas, culture and knowledge.

It is not enough to conquer a country or civilization. You must convince them that your conquest was not only inevitable, but beneficial. It chimes with Sun Tzu's premise that ultimate victory is one in which you win without firing a shot or drawing a sword.

British India is a famous case study of this.

For example, because the British considered Indians to be devious, childlike, and untrustworthy, the entire legal system in India reflected this. The testimony of an Indian in court, was not sufficient to convict in the same manner as the testimony of a European, could. Paradoxically, a child's testimony could convict an adult, as children were seen as pure and innocent.

Language, is another example of Orientalism. British scholars learned languages like Hindi, translated many famous religious texts into English, but introduced English into the legal, and educational system.

Logically, we must ask, why did the British not allow multiple languages to exist side by side as they had done in India for millennia?

Because this was year zero. Much like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, who tried to destroy the past, so too did the British in India. Indian history did not exist until the arrival of the British. That is the stance the British took. The works of British scholars are rife with this. Everything is projected through a British lens.

The fiction authors you cite earlier: Haggard, Kipling, Conrad etc etc, will be 'guilty' of looking through this prism, especially Kipling, given his background.

Orientalism goes beyond one culture acting on its prejudices against another. It goes beyond a colonising power simply helping itself to a nation's resources. It is a full scale assault on every aspect of a conquered people's history, knowledge, and culture. You use the example of Marx's power struggles within society, but in Indian history, previous conquerors, like the Moguls, more or less kept the status quo.

Unlike the Moguls, the British went beyond this. That, in my view, is Said's argument.

One final point. People have argued that this is not different to what Rome did. After all, Rome built roads, introduced its legal system, and its language, into conquered territories.

Barbarians could gain Roman citizenship, and indeed, as you probably know, some Barbarians became Emperor.

Not so with the British in India. Yes, they built railways, they introduced their legal system, and their language. But no Indian ever became Viceroy. Indians could only go so far in the army, and of course, Racism, and eugenics theories, served to provide the British with an 'intellectual' justification for their actions.

In a sense, the West has won, Orientalism has won over the East. Take for instance China and India. These two countries are acknowledged as being the two countries that will rise to the fore in this century.

And yet, India draws governance from a democratic system that was imposed upon it, and China of course, is famously Communist, another ideology 'inherited' from the West.

If China and India 'win,' you could argue that they have defeated the west with its own 'methods.'

In my view, that is the crux of Said's argument.


J.G. Keely "Unfortunately, like many others, I fear you have failed to grasp the concept of what Orientalism is."

Do you mean Orientalism as a concept, or Orientalism specifically as it refers to this book, and the ideas Said presents within it?--my review here is specifically of Said's representation in this text, not the larger concept that has developed since.

"In studying the East, is the West merely trying to discover itself? Many have argued this point."

I'd say that, more than trying to 'discover itself', the West is trying to separate out negative aspects of itself--fears, insecurities, and taboos--and projecting these onto the colonized culture. That, in a sense, they are using those cultures as a scapegoat. They blame the subjugated culture for sexuality, violence, and other taboos, and then use the discourse around that culture to vicariously enjoy those same taboos, while at the same time creating the necessary distance and sense of judgment over them to make them 'safe' and deniable.

"Indian history did not exist until the arrival of the British. That is the stance the British took."

Well, it's important to separate the earlier Indophilic movement in European scholarship from the subsequent Indophobia. In the Indophilic view, Indian history was in fact the source of all history, Indian religion the source of all religion, and Indian science the source of all science. It wasn't until the mid 19th Century, as India became a more and more vital economic and political center for the empire, that this was replaced by the stance you describe, the Indophobic view.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that the rosy-hued view of the Indophiles was any more realistic, or any less racist and reductive.

"The fiction authors you cite earlier: Haggard, Kipling, Conrad etc etc, will be 'guilty' of looking through this prism, especially Kipling, given his background."

I'm not sure if this is meant to be a counterpoint to me, since I specifically introduce these authors by way of their prejudicial shortcomings.

"It is a full scale assault on every aspect of a conquered people's history, knowledge, and culture ... That, in my view, is Said's argument."

Is that really the argument he puts forth in this book, specifically? I think I would have found it more interesting if he had--instead I found that, every time he was on the cusp of extending such a view, he declined to do so. Certainly, one could use many of his examples to support that view, but I never found that Said himself constructed and supported such a position in those words.

"Barbarians could gain Roman citizenship, and indeed, as you probably know, some Barbarians became Emperor."

This is true, but it wasn't the case until centuries had passed--there was a great deal of resistance within Rome to allowing citizenship and rights to conquered peoples, even after generations had gone by.

Beyond that, the Romans most certainly dealt in the same kind of full-scale cultural destruction, specifically in the case of Carthage, whose history, religion, and culture they obliterated, destroying all records, razing every building to the ground, and then replacing it with their own, self-supporting version of events, eventually culminating in the Aeneid presenting Carthage as nothing more than a jilted lover.

"If China and India 'win,' you could argue that they have defeated the west with its own 'methods.' ... In my view, that is the crux of Said's argument."

Again, is that actually an argument that Said puts forth in this book?


message 13: by R.M.F (new)

R.M.F Brown The most insidious thing about Orientalism is that even Indian and Chinese historians have adopted the same prejudices and assertions, when it comes to creating a historical scholarship of their respective countries.

That is testament, in my view, to how powerful a concept it is.

"Beyond that, the Romans most certainly dealt in the same kind of full-scale cultural destruction, specifically in the case of Carthage, whose history, religion, and culture they obliterated, destroying all records, razing every building to the ground, and then replacing it with their own, self-supporting version of events, eventually culminating in the Aeneid presenting Carthage as nothing more than a jilted lover."

Making an example of Carthage seems to have been the exception, in my view. Greek power faded by the time of the Romans, and yet, the Greek language, and drama, was popular amongst Roman elites.

"Again, is that actually an argument that Said puts forth in this book?"

I believe so. I return again to the year zero idea. Indian history starts with the British, British institutions take root in India, and the Orientalism narrative is allowed to flourish. Because Europeans came from a culture of religious strife, they expected India's Hindus and Muslims to have a similar history of religious strife.

This rarely happened in Indian history. That is not to say it didn't happen, but so ingrained is this idea, that even Hindu nationalists and their Muslim counterparts, will view Indian history through this lens. And the blame for that, can be laid at Orientalism's door, to an extent. Obviously, human agency plays a role.

An example of this is when the Shah of Persia attacked India in the 1700s. Hindus see this as an example of religious strife Muslims attacking Hindus, and yet, at the time, it was accepted for what it was. Somebody after loot and plunder, something which the Persians had been doing to India for centuries. Because of the religious strife discourse, though, it's no longer seen as an old fashioned robbery, but as religious strife.

It's telling that almost 70 years after Britain's departure, the institutions it established are still the corner stone of Indian society - courts, railways, language, system of governance etc and of course, the idea of religious strife is another element that has lingered

I'm rambling somewhat, You could argue that the USA shares a common language with the UK, and similar institutions, but given the European heritage of the founding fathers, I would argue that Europeans transporting European ideals to the New World, is not the same as Britain uprooting Indian ideals in India, and replacing them with British ideals.

"The fiction authors you cite earlier: Haggard, Kipling, Conrad etc etc, will be 'guilty' of looking through this prism, especially Kipling, given his background."

I'm not sure if this is meant to be a counterpoint to me, since I specifically introduce these authors by way of their prejudicial shortcomings."

My apologies. I thought you were referring to their shortcomings as writers!

"my review here is specifically of Said's representation in this text, not the larger concept that has developed since."

The two are not mutually exclusive, in my view. Forgive my ham-fisted Vulcan philosophy, but you cannot have darkness without light!

Said's ideas resulted in a paradigm shift within historical scholarship (indeed, Orientalism was the bane of my undergraduate years!) and lead to a re-evaluation of a great deal of many things. The canon of Victorian era historical scholarship went out of the window, and even contemporary history, free of the colonial 'taint,' was forced to re-asses itself.

Karl Marx is a famous example of this. He wrote about India, despite never visiting the country, and as such, fell guilty of adopting the same viewpoint of the east, as his Western contemporaries.

"I'd say that, more than trying to 'discover itself', the West is trying to separate out negative aspects of itself--fears, insecurities, and taboos--and projecting these onto the colonized culture. That, in a sense, they are using those cultures as a scapegoat. They blame the subjugated culture for sexuality, violence, and other taboos, and then use the discourse around that culture to vicariously enjoy those same taboos, while at the same time creating the necessary distance and sense of judgment over them to make them 'safe' and deniable."

I can agree with this. It's telling that the main factor driving the US invasion of Afghanistan (aside from the objective of neutralising 'terrorist' bases) was the drive for women's rights, and the opportunity which presented itself for moral grandstanding.

As I said earlier, I suffered badly with Orientalism during my undergraduate days. There are numerous scholarly works that act as a counter-point to Said's ideas, but most are as dull as a statue, and twice as enduring, to use a Raymond Chandler quote.

Life's too short for that!


message 14: by R.M.F (last edited May 18, 2015 02:27PM) (new)

R.M.F Brown Kenan Malik

The Meaning Of Race: Race, History And Culture In Western Society

Ok, I give in. A quick scan of my old reading lists produces the above book as a critical reaction to Said. Well, it's the only one I can remember leaving an impression on me.

There's a lot of arguments and counter-arguments about the enlightenment, and of some of the thinkers that Said drew upon.

It's not one for the casual reader!


message 15: by Carol (new)

Carol Terrific review. I am looking forward to reading more of your writing.


message 16: by Carol (new)

Carol Also, terrific dialogue here between you and RMF. I feel like I have just taken a college course in 30 minutes.


message 17: by R.M.F (last edited May 19, 2015 10:14AM) (new)

R.M.F Brown Carol wrote: "Also, terrific dialogue here between you and RMF. I feel like I have just taken a college course in 30 minutes."

I've read other reviews that Keely has done (the fantasy reviews are first class in my opinion) and although I don't always agree with him or her, I do enjoy a good debate.


J.G. Keely "Greek power faded by the time of the Romans, and yet, the Greek language, and drama, was popular amongst Roman elites."

Well, if Carthage is the extreme on one side of Rome obliterating a colonized power, then Greece is the other extreme of Rome venerating one. All the rest ended up somewhere between, but usually more on the 'obliteration' side than the 'veneration' one.

"Europeans transporting European ideals to the New World, is not the same as Britain uprooting Indian ideals in India, and replacing them with British ideals"

Tell that to the Native Americans. Indeed, in referencing the global takeover of Democracy, it's important to point out that the American form of Democracy was based not only on the Greek mode, but also on the 'Great Law of Peace', a verbal constitution of the Six Iroquois nations under which they governed for centuries.

"My apologies. I thought you were referring to their shortcomings as writers!"

Well, I think racial and cultural prejudice is a shortcoming for a writer.

"The two are not mutually exclusive, in my view. Forgive my ham-fisted Vulcan philosophy, but you cannot have darkness without light!"

Certainly, they're part of the same discussion--but I am concerned here with actually looking at the words on Said's page. Not the assumptions others have made about this book, the prejudices they brought to it, the misreadings and political positions, but the book itself. I find it fascinating comparing what he actually said here with the wild and strange reputation the book has, and with all of the shouting matches that have erupted over it since.

"It's telling that the main factor driving the US invasion of Afghanistan ... was the drive for women's rights, and the opportunity which presented itself for moral grandstanding."

Well, that was certainly the excuse they liked to give. Of course, it ignores the fact that in their role in the 'Great Game', it was the US (and Russia) that destabilized Afghanistan and placed religious extremists in power. Before that, Afghanistan was remarkably modern and advanced, with women attending school and working outside the home.

Beyond that, I'm sure that the discovery of huge Afghani deposits of rare metals used in computers and cellphones some years before the American invasion had nothing to do with the war.


message 19: by R.M.F (new)

R.M.F Brown "Tell that to the Native Americans. Indeed, in referencing the global takeover of Democracy, it's important to point out that the American form of Democracy was based not only on the Greek mode, but also on the 'Great Law of Peace', a verbal constitution of the Six Iroquois nations under which they governed for centuries."

I was always under the impression that Rome was the model for the new American Republic. Senators, Cincinnati as the embodiment of the Republican ideal, etc etc.

"I find it fascinating comparing what he actually said here with the wild and strange reputation the book has, and with all of the shouting matches that have erupted over it since."

As I said earlier, it represented such a massive paradigm shift, a shouting match within the walls of academia was inevitable.

I have no idea how much knowledge you have of historiography, and the various strands of thought behind it, but it did result in a massive schism within the subject.

Those who believe that history is all about facts, and nothing but facts (the empiricists) welcomed it with open arms. The sheer volume of paintings, books, documents, cultural works etc etc that supported the Orientalist view, was manna from heaven for them.

On the other side, the post-modern historians, those who prefer to see history as complex strands of human agency interlocking with each other, were less than impressed. They cite the Ottoman empire, the role of Islamic scholars and scientists, as proof that the narrative of the West as the dominant force, is a bogus argument.

Countless forests have been felled to fuel this debate, and people like myself, suffered under the yolk, as our undergraduate years were shackled to the writings of Edward Said. Spare a thought for our suffering.


message 20: by Tanuj (new) - added it

Tanuj Solanki I have a feeling that R.M.F. Brown has taken the History of British India course by Vinay Lal.


Imran Nasrullah Fantastic commentary!


message 22: by Graham (new)

Graham "The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr"

A good quote, but it doesn't seem to be considered authentic:


"Mentioned by al-Manjaniqi is his collection of ahadith of older narrators reporting from younger ones, on the authority of al-Hasan al-Basri. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi said that it is maudu as a narration from the Prophet (s.a.w), but that is a statement of al-Hasan al-Basri. [Kashf al-Khafa, no. 2276]." - Dr. Suhaib Hassan, "The Science of the Hadith"


"Related by Khateeb in The History of Baghdad 2/193. He also said it was a fabricated hadith.
The above-mentioned fabricated hadith gives preference to the method of da'wah over jihad for spreading Islam. However, the best method for spreading Islam is jihad and not da'wah. Thus the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) spent thirteen years in Makkah giving da'wah and only approximately one hundred people embraced Islam. But when he (s.a.w) entered Makkah with military might and Shawka (power) two thousand took their Shahadah in one day." - Shaikh Abdullah Faisal, "100 Fabricated Hadiths"


J.G. Keely Graham said: "A good quote, but it doesn't seem to be considered authentic"

Yeah, when you get into the point of trying to separate out what Mohammed 'really said', it quickly becomes messy, because there are so many sources that were brought together at a later point--much like the case of Jesus. I suppose I'm connecting it more to Mohammed the cultural figure than trying to make a claim about the flesh-and-blood man.

After all, Islam was the light of the world for centuries afterwards, and the longstanding influence of figures like Averroes, Ibn Khaldun, Avicenna, and dozens of others demonstrate how much the spread and glory of Islam was based upon knowledge, science, math, philosophy, and commerce. I believe it was Subotai who said to his Khan that while an empire can be won from horseback, it cannot be ruled from there--and again, whether that quote is true or not, it's certainly representative of the empire about which it is said.


message 24: by Simon (last edited May 20, 2016 02:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Simon J.G. Keely wrote: "Graham said: "A good quote, but it doesn't seem to be considered authentic"

Yeah, when you get into the point of trying to separate out what Mohammed 'really said', it quickly becomes messy, becau..."


Great review! One critical note, though.

It's doubtful whether Islam ever really functioned as the glue that you seem to make it out to be, e.g. something that superior to the Mongol empire when it came to unifying peoples. Indeed, it seemed to have functioned exactly the same way: it unified people so that they could conquer, and then failed to keep them in one polity. The caliphate arose around 630, experienced ravaging slave revolts and brutal civil war throughout its existence, and had already entered a terminal decline around 850 - hardly an impressive track record.

Indeed, Muslims usually fought more amongst themselves than against Christians after the initial conquests. The Almoravids halted the Spaniards; by conquering Muslims. The Almohads did the same. The Seljuks slowly conquered Turkey, but they also conquered Persia and the Levant, larger territories.

A good example of this infighting is the year 1000 in the Middle-East, which was conquered at the time by bickering Shi'tes (Buyids, Fatimids, Qaramita). 200 years it was dominated by Sunnites again. I think that it can safely be said that, on the whole, Muslim polities were far more unstable than Christian ones. Islam has always been hopelessly fractured (in contrast to Christianity, which for a large amount of time was largely Catholic - and secondly Orthodox. The eastern christians had become so obscure that crusaders mistook them for 'pagans' e.g. Muslims, and slaughtered them.) As an example, the tree of Shia Islam: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi...


message 25: by Kamal (new) - added it

Kamal J.G keely,
Great review very convincing indeed, just got the book today !


message 26: by Travelin (new)

Travelin "nearly everything Europe knows of Greek philosophy and mathematics came from Islam". I'm not sure that the Wikipedia link is saying that. I did have a theory that the classical Greeks may have been getting ideas from Persian slaves, after Athens defeated that invasion. I believe there is an Aussie historian who has written a book along those lines.


Sarah Khairy @Travelin
I think Renan has a different openion regarding this issue..He believes that Muslims took the Greek philosophy and all they did was translating it...am still in page 150...will make a review when finished though..


Zahra Roushan I was going to write a review of my own but this was quite EXACTLY how I felt about the book. Couldn't have been more thorough.


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