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Orientalism and the Myth of Independence

Shahzada Rahim

In the nineteenth century more half of the world was colonized by the European imperial powers and according to historians like Eric Hobsbawm, it was the peak century of western colonialism in Africa and Asia: the largest continents by population. Moreover, the very industrial heydays across Europe were the result of colonization, that provided cheap labor, raw material and other resources for the industrial boom.

Though the purpose of colonialism was to capture foreign market for the consumption of their industrial productivity, the imperial powers justified it through a civilizing mission — which connotes that the colonized people are/were “savages”, backward and culture-less, so they must be civilized. Famous Palestinian-born American scholar Edward Said described this:

culture was historically used by the western authors to justify the colonial project and European so-called “civilizing mission””

The post-colonial scholars like Edward w Said , Albert Memmi and Frantz Fanon reconstructed the prejudicial writings of the European authors like Graham Greene, V.S Naipaul, and Joseph Conrad for stereotyping the Africans, Indians, Jamaicans and Chinese, who claimed that “they are barbaric, they must be dealt with with force and violence and they were not like us”. This is what became native-phobia, meaning dehumanizing the natives to the very end of the psychological subjugation.

Unfortunately, with the dawn of industrial age across Europe, imperial powers began searching for the foreign markets in order to feed their industrial progress. Though it was explicitly an economic thrust, it was wrapped in cultural narrative to justify their violent action across colonies.

In this regard, the British imperialists forcibly transplanted the institutions, that were not fit to conditions across the colonies — what famous British Historian Eric Hobsbawm while writing on imperialism argued: “the division of the globe by the European empires had economic dimensions”, mainly because, there was a moral bankruptcy and greedy appetite to colonize India and Africa. In history, it is believed that India and Africa provided enough capital for the industrialization in Great Britain but was never mentioned by the Eurocentric history.

On the contrary, in order to hide their moral bankruptcy and capitalist greed the Eurocentric authors have fictitiously portrayed the concept of “orient”. The creation of fake orient of cruel lipped princes and dusky slim-lipped maiden of ungodliness, fire and the sword has been brilliantly described by Edward W. Said in his famous book Orientalism.

In his book Said claims that “the purpose of such a false portrait was to provide moral, cultural and artistic justification for imperialism and for its underpinning ideology, that is the racial superiority of the Caucasian over the Asiatic” — that image was well-portrayed by western Authors.

For instance, in his stereotypical novel, Heart of darkness published in 1899, Joseph Conrad refused to accept the true portrait of African character – that they have independent lives and they are enjoying their civilization. This fake metaphorical portrayal dragged a lot of criticism from anti-colonial writers and historians. In his critique of Heart of darkness, Chinua Achebe described Conrad as the “purveyor of confronting myths”. According to another critique, Heart of Darkness projected African image as the ‘Other world’: the antithesis of Europe that makes it one of the renowned racist works.

Likewise, another Eurocentric propagandist Graham Greene portrayed colonized people as the lower humans by depicting them as flies, savages and madmen. In his dialectics Friedrich Hegel put forward the concept of “excluded middle”: the spectral presence of the liminal and subaltern groups, who slip between the two dominant antithetical categories. And, it was the Ravel hierarchy according to Jean Paul Sartre, which was the central pivot of the colonial ideology. Consequently, colonialism and neo-colonialism went very much wrong because it has been wrongly placed in the history of the Third World.

It was the west, which has Orientalized the east in their own terms and with their own colonial justifications. Jean Paul Sartre warned against the mystification of colonization, which has idealized the identity of indigenous people and it is a fact that it was initially supported by the mainstream Liberal ideology — what Sartre described as, “the pitiless reciprocity that binds the oppressor to the oppressed, their product and destiny. The colonizers have always relied on the myth of civilization in order to depoliticize its signifiers and to hide the truth”.

Though today we proudly claim to live as independent nations, we are still bound with our colonial past. The functioning institutions and the cultural bondage still make us as neo-colonized subjects, who are under psychological rule. In the Foucauldian context, we are still trapped in discursive practices and we are the product of materiality of these practices away from the historical totality.

Thus, our independence is still a myth because Orientalism still drives us away from colonial salvation.

Shahzada Rahim is a freelancer, independent writer and postgraduate student with a keen interest in writing on history, geopolitics, current affairs, and International political economy.
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Filed under: 19th Century, historical perspectives, latest

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Shahzada Rahim is a freelancer, independent writer and postgraduate student with a keen interest in writing on history, geopolitics, current affairs, and International political economy. Twitter:

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Tim Jenkins
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Tim Jenkins

“Though today we proudly claim to live as independent nations, we are still bound with our colonial past. The functioning institutions and the cultural bondage still make us as neo-colonized subjects, who are under psychological rule. In the Foucauldian context, we are still trapped in discursive practices and we are the product of materiality of these practices away from the historical totality…” & false reality. Great choice of closing words, Rahim, substantiated by Reuters. Meanwhile, according to Reuters and all their puppet bearers of ‘simple bad news’, (like the Guardian who effectively copy the Reuters article word for word), with… Read more »

Martin Usher
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Martin Usher

I think that you’re wrong about authors like Conrad and Greene. Conrad in particular had a very interesting life and while some of his prose is typical of its time — Heart of Darkness isn’t that bad, try the short story Typhoon — it shows a willingness to see natives as people and also ostensibly civilized Europeans as savages. Its actually very interesting to read a selection of books by authors of that period because by the dawn of the 20th century the notion that ‘natives’ were actually just ‘us’ was starting to take hold — if you read material… Read more »

mark
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mark

Entirely agree with what you say. Conrad’s Kurtz is a crazy savage who has turned a region into one big charnel house/ concentration camp in the quest for profit. When I talk to highly civilised and intelligent mainstream moslems, it’s often surprising and depressing to hear the extreme hatred and bigotry they routinely express towards Shia moslems. This division has been exploited by outsiders for centuries to colonise, oppress and exploit the region from the time of the Crusades to the present day. The same applies in other parts of the globe, with outsiders, particularly western imperialists, playing games of… Read more »

mark
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mark

Mohammed Marandi made some interesting points in a lecture on Orientalism. From the 18th – 20th centuries, westerners travelling in North Africa/ Turkey/ Middle East/ Persia noted that there was a far more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality in those countries than in the West, where it was vigorously suppressed. This was taken as evidence of western cultural superiority – “look at these filthy foreigners” etc. Likewise, western women at the time were far more modestly dressed than women in Oriental countries. This was also taken as evidence of western superiority. Now, of course, the positions on homosexuality and modest female… Read more »

flaxgirl
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LOL, I like that.

alem
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alem

V.S. Naipaul’s reality is best captured by the expression “compardor intellectual”. All you need to know about him is that his recent passing was mourned by the likes of “Reason” magazine (Pravda of “libertarianism” in US) and Wall St. Journal, and not by anyone of note in any country populated mostly by brown people.

BigB
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BigB

The post-colonial world is the neo-colonial world: that is the hierarchic, dependency, and chronic underdevelopment inter-relations were established and maintained – not by militarised colonisation and bureaucratic administration – but by imposed financial imperialism and sub-imperialism. The rapid industrialisation of India and China was not exactly organic, but the result of surplus capital colonisation and exported manufacturing capacity of the network imperialist core – BIS (Zurich*); Wall St (US); City of London Corporation (UK) …= ZUSUK. The BRICs and EMEs were not exactly independent and organic either – but seeded by surplus fictitious capitalisation distributed by Goldman Sachs (who also… Read more »

British Justice
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British Justice

Why the [past and present] violence spread by Western interventions is not included in the curriculum of History subject in schools? Will that happen? When?

Jen
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Jen

I dispute that Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” can and should be interpreted as an apologia for imperialism: I read it as a critique of imperialism and the tendency of imperialism (through the figure of Kurtz) to project its brutality and savagery onto its victims. The theme of the novella is that if African people are held to be barbaric, as they usually were in Joseph’s time (so Belgium could justify its colonial policies towards them), then their rulers were and are no less barbaric. The fact that the novella is told from an unusual point of view –… Read more »

Hugh O'Neill
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Hugh O'Neill

I have read lots of Conrad, but not “Heart of Darkness”; my wife studied it for A-Level English. Whilst researching the British diplomat, Roger Casement, I saw that he and Conrad were likewise aghast as the horrors of European colonisation and Casement enlisted Conrad to help his case. Casement was later hanged for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916 when Ireland began to shake off the English oppressor. Conrad was o wannabe Englishmen so had to be careful not to knock the English Establishment too much.

Tim Jenkins
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Tim Jenkins

You mean like John Pilger, (born in 1939), lol ? Sorry if i was seemingly a bit hard on you a while back, Hugh: I believe if JP had understood back then, at the time of Sirhan Sirhan, how incredibly involved Secret Services were in the “news agenda”, via corporate dictatorship, for example, especially on the political & financial enticement towards extreme & brutal islamic regimes in Indonesia, before East Timor, a policy & strategy conceived by British & US Military intelligence from the 50’s onwards, JP would have been all the more consistently vociferous as Anti-Imperialist: but much official… Read more »

Hugh O’Neill
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Hugh O’Neill

Tim. No apology needed, but thanks anyway. Thank God for JP and more power to his pen. I am well aware of the failed false flag of USS Liberty, remarkably told in a BBC documentary post 9/11. My only wish was that JP might have found the extra courage to explore the assassination of RFK and join in the effort to free Sirhan. But who knows what pressure he may be under to avoid such a toxic topic?

Tim Jenkins
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Tim Jenkins

Hugh: hi there, you nailed it, with “Toxic Topic” 😉 S.S.S. Titanic Censorship >>> nothing is unsinkable and the Great Flood was universal … Sirhan Sirhan Silenced:- Back then, even still today, some discussions & avenues remain absurdly censored & closed for the dumbed down ‘public’ domain & consumption, otherwise ‘they’ would have to cage the songbird (JP@minimum), to avoid discussing the extremely heavy evidence and implications of ‘Weltanschauungskrieg’, by our combined Secret Service Squirrel’s Titanic agenda & strategy: an agenda that must still recruit for their corrupted immoral corporate empire’s military goals, despite the revelations of MK Ultra, Ops.… Read more »

Francis Lee
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Francis Lee

In ‘The Quiet American’ Graham Greene’s depiction of US and French imperialism in Indo-China prior to the victory of the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, is as good as any literary critique of imperialism.

Rick Patel
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Rick Patel

“Heart of Darkness” is a blistering critique of European colonization in Africa, not a racist screed at all..

bevin
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bevin

“Though the purpose of colonialism was to capture foreign market for the consumption of their industrial productivity, ..” Of course the actual origins of colonialism were rather different: Spain did not colonise mexico in order to sell tappas or tickets to bull fights, nor did Portugal and the Netherlands seek out the “East Indies” in order to sell cheese and wine. And notoriously the East India Company could never come up with anything that China wanted except silver, until opium, produced in India, arrived. In fact in every case the imperialists were seeking to buy or otherwise acquire products from… Read more »

AnneR
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AnneR

Hmm. From his arrival in the Caribbean, Columbus set the tone for the Spanish conquest of the Americas (which they originally believed to be the Indies): grabbing whatever gold and silver could be got by force. The indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean islands and then of the mainlands of south and north America were viewed, as is the norm for the European mindset, as savages, uncivilized and were slaughtered in their millions and their lands grabbed, alien animals and plants introduced. Truly a civilized way, the European. As for the British in India (at least) – Indian cotton textile manufacturing,… Read more »

mark
Reader
mark

This is true, but some people mistakenly stress the racist element here. The same thing happened in Ireland, Britain’s first colony, which provided a blueprint for the rest of the world. I couldn’t understand why British imperialism bothered and persisted with Ireland for so long – it was always more trouble than it was worth. No South African gold and diamond mines, no lucrative Caribbean sugar plantations, no Malayan tin mines and rubber plantations. But in 1800, England had a population of 10 million, Ireland 8 million. 40% of the British army at Waterloo came from Ireland, including the Duke… Read more »