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Third World Quarterly, Vol. 31, No.

7, 2010, pp 11451160

Neo-Orientalism? The relationship


between the West and Islam in our
globalised world
MOHAMMAD SAMIEI
ABSTRACT Orientalism, as Edward Said used the term, can be dened as an

ideology which promotes the West-and-Islam dualism and the idea that
Others are less human. Since Said rst published his ideas in 1978, however,
the world seems to have become much more interdependent and political
interrelations between the West and Islam have changed dramatically.
Consequently this dualism, though more or less in place, has been inuenced
by escalating waves of globalisation and redistributed and reshaped in a
dierent form. Some promising changes, as well as some additional dualistic
tendencies, that can dene neo-Orientalism are found in this new era. This
paper attempts to analyse elements of change in traditional Orientalism. To
portray a better future for our interdependent world some new approaches to
identity, global ethics and global civil society are suggested. Eradicating the
roots of Orientalism and Occidentalism alike and accepting, protecting and even
promoting diversity are rst steps towards countering the devastating threats
that endanger humankind as a whole.
The term Orientalism, like Latinism and Hellenism, refers to the discipline
which can now be equated with Middle Eastern studies. The Orient, in the
19th century European usage of the word, meant the Arab world or generally
the Middle East; it did not include India, China or the Far East. The Orient,
literally the sunrise, pointed above all to the region that lay immediately
to the east of Europe.1 Therefore Orientalism, like other branches of area
studies, aims to understand and analyse Middle Eastern aairs in an
academic milieu. In Edward Saids view, however, the discipline of
Orientalism is but a crystallisation of a hostile ideology in Western
scholarship.2 In his masterpiece, Orientalism, Said deeply and comprehensively researched the historical construction of this ideology.3 Published for
the rst time in 1978, Orientalism traces the various phases of relationship
between the West and Islam, from the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt,
through the colonial period and the rise of modern Orientalist scholarship in
Mohammad Samiei is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran, Northern
Campus, Amir Abad, Tehran, Iran. Email: moh.samiei@gmail.com.
ISSN 0143-6597 print/ISSN 1360-2241 online/10/07114516
2010 Third World Quarterly, www.thirdworldquarterly.com
DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2010.518749

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MOHAMMAD SAMIEI

Britain and France during the 19th century. It continues up to the end of
European imperial hegemony in the Orient after World War II and on to the
emergence of US dominance. As Said illustrates, the vast corpus of
Orientalism was to legitimise and promote Western superiority and
dominance by inventing the ideology of the West-and-Islam dualism.
In this article dualism is used to denote a way of thinking that promotes
duality between the self and the other in order to justify and naturalise
some structured patterns of domination and exploitation. By portraying
them as lesser in humanity or lower in the great chain of being, dualism is
employed to legitimise some implications of hierarchical power and to show
who gets what, when and how. The critical part of dualistic thought is not
that there is merely a dierence which can be found between each pair of
people, but a dramatic dierence, a dierence by nature, ie an essential
otherness which makes a specic group of people less human and hence
subject to domination by another complete human being. In the social and
political realms the main intention behind promoting dualistic thought is
usually to justify the way we treat them, even if we, as human beings, do
not want to be treated in a similar way. The core of a dualistic argument,
thus, is that they are essentially dierent, totally dismissing their commonalities with us as members of the human race.
Saids main thesis in Orientalism is not to suggest that there is such a thing
as a real or true Orient which has been misrepresented by Westerners; nor is
it to make an assertion about the necessary privilege of an insider
perspective over an outsider one. On the contrary, he argues that the
Orient is itself a constituted entity, and that the notion that there are
geographical spaces with indigenous, radically dierent inhabitants who can
be dened on the basis of some essence proper to that space is equally a
highly debatable idea.4 Without such ideological categorisation, there would
be scholars, critics, intellectuals, human beings, to whom the racial, ethnic,
and religious distinctions seem less important than the common enterprise of
promoting human community. He further emphasises the fact that he never
suggests a dualistic approach, not because it is against the East, but because
this approach to the world is a awed ideology in itself, stating: the answer
to Orientalism is not Occidentalism.5
Said highlights the fact that empirical data about the Orient or about any
part of it count for very little in Orientalism. Instead what matters and is
decisive is what he has called the Orientalist vision.6 In fact, he argues, an
Orientalist shares with mythology the self-containing, self-reinforcing
character of a closed system, in which objects are what they are because
they are what they are, for once, for all time, for ontological reasons that no
empirical material can either displace or alter.7 Orientalism regards the
Orient as something whose existence is not only displayed but has remained
xed in time and place.8 As a result, the Orientalist expresses his ideas about
Islam in such a way as to emphasise his or her, as well as putatively the
Muslims resistance to change, to mutual comprehension between East and
West, to the development of men and women out of old-fashioned narratives,
primitive classical institutions and into modernity.9
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NEO-ORIENTALISM?

Since it was commonly believed that the whole Orient hung together in
some profoundly organic way, Said remarks, it makes perfectly good
hermeneutical sense for the Orientalist scholar to regard the material
evidence he and his colleagues deal with as ultimately leading to a better
understanding of such things as the Muslim character, mind, ethos or sprit.10
Thus every discrete study of one bit would conrm in a summary way the
situation of the rest. Based on this ultra-reductionist vision, which is
prevalent in Orientalism, every writer on Islam assumes some Oriental
precedent, some previous knowledge of the Orient, to which he refers and on
which he relies. The unity of the large collection of literature produced by
Orientalism is in part the result of the fact that its authors frequently refer to
each other: Orientalism is after all a mere system of citing works and
authors.11
Next to his extensive and comprehensive analysis, Said concludes that
Western studies of Islam suer from four prevalent, widely believed dogmas.
He summarises them as follows:
1.
2.
3.

4.

The absolute and systematic dierence between the Westwhich is


rational, developed, humane, superiorand the Orient, which is
aberrant, undeveloped, inferior.
Abstractions about the Orient, particularly those based on texts
representing a classical Oriental civilisation, are always preferable to
direct evidence drawn from modern Oriental realities.
The Orient is eternal, uniform and incapable of dening itself; therefore
it is assumed that a highly generalised and systematic vocabulary for
describing it from a Western standpoint is inevitable and even
scientically objective.
The Orient is at bottom something either to be feared, or to be controlled
by pacication, research and development, or occupation.12
Neo-Orientalism?

Undoubtedly Orientalism is one of the greatest titles to have been published


in the 20th century. It signicantly challenged the magnicent corpus of
Orientalist literature and showed that what was thought to be a genuine
branch of knowledge has been in many ways some grand narratives
fabricated in favour of Western political dominance. Hundreds of book
reviews, academic papers, lectures, roundtables, conferences, all for or
against the thesis suggested by Orientalism, abundantly illustrate the
importance of its message. In addition to its theoretical signicance, the
published work was timely. As Abdel Malek notes, in the 20th century
specialists and the public at large became aware of the time lag, not only
between Orientalist science and the material under study, but also between
the methodologies and the instruments of work in the human and social
sciences and those of Orientalism.13 And at the outset of the Islamic
Revolution in Iran, Said notied the West about a serious deciency in the
way it had been considering others. Here it is not intended to go further into
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MOHAMMAD SAMIEI

profound changes that Orientalism brought to Western knowledge of Islam.


An examination of its impact on how the West views the rest would require
futher research.
The aim of this article is to argue that since its publication in 1978,
the position of Islam has changed dramatically and moved ever closer to the
centre of world politics. The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, then the
hostage crisis of US diplomats in Tehran; the unresolved Palestinian question
and the use of Islam as the main force of resistance in the course of intifadas;
the victorious resistance of ArabAfghan Mujahedin over the former
superpowers occupation; the Rushdie aair; an increasing Islamic resurgence world-wide; acts of terror in the name of Islam, particularly noticeable
in 9/11 and subsequent terrorist operations in the West and the way the West
responded to them; all these put both the West and Islam in quite new
positions.
These events have become intertwined with huge changes brought by
unfolding waves of globalisation. Although there are disagreements on how
to dene globalisation, most contemporary social analyses show a consensus
about some basic rudiments of the concept; among them are deterritorialisation and the growth of interconnectedness.14 Under the inuence
of these two important factors, territory, a basic element of civilisation in
traditional Orientalism, no longer constitutes the whole of social space in
which human activity takes places. Thanks to modern technologies, distance
or space undergoes compression or annihilation. Distant events and
decisions aect local life to a growing degree and any crisis anywhere can
virtually aect human beings everywhere. Hence, what happens to others
nowadays matters to us to an unprecedented extent.
In response to the above dramatic changes two academic trends have
emerged. First is an increasing tendency to think of Orientalism as an
ideology which belonged to a period of history that is now behind us. We are
now moving beyond Orientalism and are in fact in the post-Orientalism
era.15 The emergence of a global communications system and the
development of a form of global sociology have ended the history of
social-centred analyses.16 Equally the sharp contrast between Occident and
Orient is hopelessly out of date.17
The second trend, however, holds that, although many preconditions
which were responsible for crystallisation of the Orientalist discourse are no
longer in place, it would be naive to think that the old patterns of human
history and destiny which had shaped the West-and-Islam dualism have
simply been removed. Far from it: they have been reconstituted, redeployed,
redistributed in a globalised framework and have shaped a new paradigm
which can be called neo-Orientalism. Few scholars have attempted to show
any features and characteristics of this new paradigm.
Yahya Sadowski shows how, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Western
experts quickly reversed their views on the interrelation between society and
state in the context of the Muslim world. Although according to traditional
Orientalism the state was stronger than society and thus despotism was a
norm in the Muslim context, the 1980s witnessed a dramatic change in
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NEO-ORIENTALISM?

Western analyses. Younger Orientalists like Patricia Crone, Daniel Pipes


and John Hall, whom Sadowski calls neo-Orientalists, chose to change the
appearance of their argument and assumed society to be stronger than the
state, yet the core of their idea was similar to that of classical Orientalism.
For both groups Islam was incompatible with democracy. They both tried to
essentialise othernessand dualismin one way or another. He concludes:
It is long past time for serious scholars to abandon the quest for the
mysterious essence that prevent democratization in the Middle East and
tend to the-matter-of-fact itemization of the forces that promote or retard
this process.18
Dag Tuastad regards the new ways of representing the violence of Muslims
and Arabs in Western media as the new barbarism. The new barbarism
thesis implies explanations of political violence that omit political and
economic interests and contexts when describing violence, and presents
violence as a result of traits embedded in local cultures. Tuastad argues that
new barbarism has intertwined with neo-Orientalist imaginaries that highlight a deep cultural dualism between Islam and the West. These waves of
new barbarism and neo-Orientalism are to serve as hegemonic strategies
when the production of enemy imaginaries contributes to legitimising
continuous colonial economic or political projects, as can be witnessed in
the IsraeliPalestinian conict.19
Christina Hellmich borrows the term neo-Orientalism from Tuastad. She
nds the most important particularity of neo-Orientalism to be that it
neglects local and specic aspects of regional movements and instead
attempts to portray a homogenous Islamist terrorist enemy. In this
Manichean model, al-Qaeda is essentially not very dierent from Hamas,
Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF): they
are, rst and foremost, enemies of the civilised world. A telling illustration of
this perspective can be found in psychological proling eorts that fuel the
image of Islamic terrorists as crazy madmen acting under the inuence of
mental disorders rather than being motivated by a rational logic related to
social, political, or religious conditions.20
This article intends to critically investigate the crystallisation of the
paradigm of neo-Orientalism in a broader sense through close examination of
some new factors in world politics. That is to say it asks whether the above
dramatic changes in world politics and global communications and the new
conditions they have brought have caused the West-and-Islam dualism in
traditional Orientalism to enter a new paradigm which, although it inherits
a set of structures from the past, produces some new rules, forms and
shapes.21
Commonalities and changes
Here two sets of factors are listed. First come some promising changes in this
new era. Then the second set lists some negative elements that in one way or
another reinforce dualism and suggest a new dualistic paradigm or, one can
say, neo-Orientalism.
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MOHAMMAD SAMIEI

The following promising changes can be observed:


.

The growing presence of Muslims in Western universities has eectively


changed the way Islam is being understood, portrayed and analysed.
Many Muslim writers, analysts, critics and activists eectively moderate
the very otherness previously propagated by Orientalism. Edward Said
himself, though not a Muslim by religion, was, as a Palestinian refugee a
product of this generation. Moreover, the presence of Muslim scholars
and their works on Islam in the West has enabled them to convey
themselves within a Western discourse, and therefore has shattered
another Orientalist dogma that the Orient is incapable of dening
itself.22
Muslims presence in the West has not only been inuential in producing
individual scholars, but also in nancing sympathetic approaches to
Islam. Successful businesses and the increasing income from oil have
enabled some Muslim businessmen as well as some Islamic states to make
an impact on Western academic institutions through their nancial
support. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, an internationally renowned
businessman and global investor who has funded many academic
activities on Islam, is an example. In this way many of the conditions
ennumerated by Said for producing a hostile Orientalist literature have
been dramatically changed.
The globalisation and communication revolutions of the 21st century
have provided humanity with more opportunities for mutual understanding. Direct contacts can provide Western scholars with opportunities to make close observations and can to some extent remove one of
the main obstacles mentioned by Said, namely the lack of empirical
observation.
Global mass media and the internet are two unprecedented players of this
age. In Covering Islam Said critically examined Western media and the
way they selectively covered Islam in the early 1980s.23 Since then,
however, two important changes have occurred. The advent of the
internet has provided an acute evolution in global communications and
has brought an unprecedented plurality to a globally accessible ocean of
information. Likewise, diverse satellite channels have been playing an
outstanding role. As noted by Gilles Kepel, the renowned French scholar
of Islam, al-Jazeera has been a signicant factor throughout the war on
terror. For the rst time in the contemporary period, he remarks, the
major account of History-in-the-making was narrated by a voice and in a
language that did not belong to the West.24
Muslim communities residing in the West, with the full right of
citizenship, have been quite inuential. Their presence in a democratic
society has put a question mark over Western liberalism and its ability to
deal democratically with this non-liberalist community. The way the West
answers this question domestically is highly relevant to the way it deals
with it at a global level. As Bhikhu Parekh suggests, attitudes to cultural
diversity within and between societies are closely related.25 In fact, any

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society can cope with the global cultural plurality of the contemporary
world only if it is used to living with its own internal diversity. Hence, the
experience of having Muslim communities inside has been quite useful for
enhancing a novel global vision. For peoples in frequent contact with
Muslims as their colleagues, neighbours, friends and at times a member of
their family, the bipolar perception of us and them seems to be much
less meaningful than for previous generations.
National interests standing behind intellectual postures, mentioned by
Said, are still observable but in some dierent patterns.26 European
Islamologists, beside their usual inclination towards their national
interests, advocate a European approach as well. For instance, Kepel
advises Europe to take its own role in Middle Eastern crises between the
American hammer and the Asian anvil, if it wishes to count in the future
of peace in the great EuroMediterraneanGulf region, which will be its
natural place in the globalised planet of the 21st century.27 Scholars
suggest that inside US academia there are two prominent and opposing
wings of Islamologists, supported by Israel and Saudi Arabia, respectively. In such a context one is obliged to start all ones courses either with
In the name of King Fahd or In the name of Sharon. So, to a large
extent, research in the US has become hostage to the interests of these
two camps.28 Such changes not only illustrate the emergence of a new
polarity between the US and Europe, but also show that other world
players, such as supporters of dierent political wings in the US can
inuence Western national sentiments.
The escalating diversity of Western Islamic studies can help to enhance
this eld to an unprecedented level. Thousands of titles on Islam
published annually in Western languages reveal a wide spectrum of
attitudes towards Islam. Once these plural perspectives gather together,
as the theory of the growth of knowledge in Karl Poppers philosophy
illustrates, we will have a better, though more complex, estimation of
what Islam really is. This can refute the ultra-reductionist approach of
traditional Orientalism.
The de facto democratic participation, and sometimes victory, of Islamic
political movements in some countries has weakened the Orientalist
dogma concerning the political system of Islam. As portrayed by
traditional Orientalists like Bernard Lewis, the system was supposed to
be xed in time and place. To him the authority of the Muslim ruler,
however obtained and however exercised, is divinely ordained and the
Muslim political community is the unchanging medium of Gods
guidance.29 The facts of democratic participation by many Islamists
from Algeria to Turkey, from Hezbollah to Hamas and from Afghanistan
to Iraq, however, has shown that political Islam has a rich capacity for
dynamism and is able to rectify and advance itself.
As observed by John Esposito, Islamic modernism has provided better
alternatives to traditionalism and fundamentalism. Theories like Global
convivencia (living together)30 promoted by Anwar Ibrahim, The
Dialogue of civilisations by Mohammad Khatami and Cosmopolitan
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Islam and global diversity by Abdurrahman Wahid have improved the


overall picture of Islam.31 Moreover, Islamic modernism has provided
Muslims with a new sense of condence by which they have been able to
safeguard their identity on rational terms. Modernists have also revived
Islam as a voice that is worth being heard even by Western intellectuals.
These are all against the Orientalist dogma that the Orient is eternal.32
The election of Barack Hussein Obama as the president of the US could
change many conditions which were responsible for the reinforcement of
the West-and-Islam dualism after September 11. Obama is welcomed as
an internationalist president. His Kenyan father, early schooling in
Indonesia, race and even name, all symbolise for many a unique globalist
presidential prole, one that contrasts sharply with that of his
predecessor. Taking into account the fact that the US, which until
recently had a deeply racist culture, could change its perspective to the
extent that it was able to elect a black president, one can plausibly think
that it is possible for the US even to witness even a Muslim president in
the future.

Beside all these positive factors of change, there is a second list of negative
factors which are reinforcing the dualism of the West and Islam and which
suggest crystallisation of the paradigm of neo-Orientalism:
.

The collapse of the USSR and the breakdown of the highest symbol of
Marxism brought the West to a threat vacuum in both political and
ideological realms. The world-view of the dualism of the West and Islam
seemed to be capable of lling both vacuums. Bernard Lewis was quite
timely in getting the point and attempted to replace the dualism of the
Cold War with the dualism of the West and Islam. In his article, The
roots of Muslim rage, published in Atlantic Monthly, September 1990, he
suggested a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam. Samuel
Huntington, among some other intellectuals, followed him, producing a
totally hostile and dualistic philosophy in which Islams borders are
bloody.33
The emergence of the state of Israel in the 20th century and the
continuing existence of the unresolved Palestinian question as an open
wound helps maintain dualistic ideologies in both the West and Islam.
During the Cold War Western support of Israel was justied by the fact
that it was in the Western camp, while its enemies Egypt, Syria and Iraq,
were in the Soviet bloc. In the post-cold war era and even before that,
when the rst intifada materialised, however, the main ethos of Israels
enemies was coloured by Islam, and therefore Western support of Israel
could easily be translated into Western hostility towards Islam. The US
has exercised its veto in the Security Council, or resisted the will of the
majority in the General Assembly, in favour of Israeli and against
Palestinian interests on more occasions than for any other issue.34 The
idea that the unconditional support of Israel is one of the most important
sources of hostility and hatred between Islam and the West has been

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suggested by many intellectuals. An empirical study conrms that that


issue has been right at the centre: The substance of the purported clash
between the West and Islam is simply the familiar ArabIsraeli conict.35
In parallel with nancial support received by sympathetic studies of
Islam, some hostile approaches to it are being externally supported by
Israel. Martin Kramer, who has Israeli citizenship and spent his career at
Tel Aviv University running the Moshe Dayan Centre, and Daniel Pipes
are examples of the hostile approach mentioned by Esposito.36 Such
suspect forms of scholarship in Western universities provide misinformation and therefore render a disservice to the cause of mutual understanding. Beside their presence on the political and nancial scenes,
IsraeliPalestinian issues have also found themselves to be a major force
behind the intellectual battleeld. As he admits, Edward Said was mainly
motivated to enter the realm of this battleeld because of his Palestinian
origins.37
Capitalism, now without any major rival ideology, tends to corrupt
Western Islamic studies for its own interests. This was noted by Esposito
when he highlighted a role played by the marketplace in partially
selecting some narratives of Islam. Thanks to their nancial concerns
publishing houses, journals and the media prefer to publicise a more
violent picture, which is ironically more likely to attract the attention of
Western audiences.38 This point has also been raised in connection with
US universities, in which the private money can inuence the political
directions of scholars.39 In the era of globalisation modern information
technology in the hands of capitalism can foster its negative eects to an
unprecedented level.
Despite its positive eects, globalisation has also had a dark side in which
global networks of terror are able to reinforce hostility and otherness. In
response, many sympathetic scholars, like Esposito, have attempted to
inform the West that such extremist tendencies by no means represent
Islam.40 In contrast, Bernard Lewis abundantly employed the actions of
such networks to conrm his dualistic rhetoric. Regarding acts of terror
in the name of Islam he asserts: Meanwhile, signicant numbers of
Muslims are ready to approve, and a few of them to apply, this [extremist]
interpretation of their religion. Terrorism requires only a few. Obviously
the West must defend itself by whatever means will be eective.41 The
negative image of such networks has also been used by US neoconservatives to justify their imperialist ambitions to further fuel dualism.42
The global resurgence of religiosity, observed by Kepel in The Revenge of
God, may reinforce dualism in both Islam and the West.43 Since religious
belief has fewer possibilities for negotiation and compromise, considering
that both Christianity and Islam believe in a universalist mission and
taking into account that the new forms of religiosity reinforce political,
not spiritual and ethical aspects of religion, the rise of religiosity in these
two civilisations can be translated into the rise of dualism. This
appropriately explains why President George W Bush often used religious
terms to counter rogue states of the Middle East. Bush said repeatedly
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that the war on terror was a war of good against evil, he even used the
words crusade (even though it was subsequently retracted) and the axis
of evil, and the Pentagon then used the phrase innite justice. When the
US government organised a couple of raids in northern Virginia against
Muslim organisations, it called the operation the Green Front. This
shows that from the beginning the government had it in mind to employ
religious terms, even though it later apologised.44 The rise of religious
sentiment also explains why, during his electoral campaign, Barack
Hussein Obama needed to show, perhaps more than any other president,
that he is a good Christian even though his father was a Muslim. People in
the US could tolerate a black president, but apparently not a Muslim one.
Modern religiosity, as Olivier Roy explains, is intertwined with the
de-legitimation of the religious hierarchy. There is a great deal of antiintellectualism in all contemporary forms of religiosity in both Islam and
Christianity. Religion is everybodys business. Thanks to modern
communications information is easily accessible to everyone. The divide
between scholars and ordinary believers is blurred because many
educated young activists think themselves experts in religion. The
circulation of knowledge is horizontal between equals and not vertical,
from learned intellectuals to the students. This horizontal circulation is a
characteristic of the internet.45 Debates, many of which are held on the
web, might simply be an exchange of some religious quotations with little
reasoning and analysis. This approach to religion nullies centuries of
interpretation and intellectual discussion and changes it to an ideal
ideology of dualism.
Although according to Poppers philosophy the explosion of publications
on Islam in the West can be interpreted as new conjectures and
apparently show the growth of knowledge, this can also be misleading. A
vast spectrum of analyses, evaluations and judgments, all apparently
based on cogent arguments, can produce very contradictory conclusions.
Hence Western policy makers, from President Bush to President Obama,
from Prime Minister Blair to President Sarkozy, have a bulk of academic
justications for whatever decision they want to make. In this way
the explosion of information can ironically distance the West from truth.
The false identication of what would happen in Iraq during and after the
invasion, despite thousands of research projects by so-called highly
qualied academics, can be mentioned as an example. Perhaps nowhere
was this point more obvious than in Prime Minister Blairs remarks on
the Parkinson TV show in March 2006. He explicitly said that the decision
to go to war in Iraq was at the end of the day taken based on faith, God
and conscience.46

These changes in the late 20th and early 21st century could potentially
reformulate the old interrelations between the West and Islam and lead the
world towards either a brighter or a darker future. If the change is considered
as an opportunity to embrace plurality, to recognise diversity and to respect
others, the world will witness a brighter future. However, if the new situation
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is redistributed according to the old methodology of dualism to produce hate,


rage, conict and war, a darker future is yet to come. To avoid such a dark
future, the key factor is how a philosophy manages to reject dualism by
formulating a new account of identity and by recognising global plurality.
Embracing global plurality
In Bhikhu Parekhs words human identity for analytical purposes can be
observed from dierent but inseparable angles: as a person, as a social actor
and as a human being.47 A tentative means of the categorisation of people,
social identity (the second angle) involves interpretation and judgement, and
is not a matter of empirical description of a solid fact. It matters greatly how
people are categorised and the world looks quite dierent when it is seen
based on dierent categorisations. In dualism collective identity plays a very
dangerous role. It tends to essentialise identity and impose on the two sides a
unity they do not and cannot have. Through reductionism and oversimplication a solid us is generated in opposition to a monolithic them.
As a result, since the consciousness of (simplied) dierences is accentuated
and reinforced, it generates conicts and the politics of identity becomes
the politics of hate, rage and conict. Ignoring all actual commonalities,
dualism exaggerates minor dierences and even engineers conicts where
none exists.
The increasing human interdependence brought about by globalisation
has made the cultivation of common human identity necessary to a degree
previously unimagined. Allegedly opposed identities could be seen, in fact,
as interdependent and products of a common system of social relations.
Black makes no sense without white, nor West without East. Thanks to
modern technologies nowadays peoples from dierent civilisations are
increasingly becoming closer to each other and this facilitates further
cultural exchanges. Since they are not self-contained and irreducible wholes,
they share much in common and are best seen as partners in a global
coalition and dialogue.
The new global situation calls for a widely agreed body of universal
principles, or one can say a global ethic, to guide our choices and regulate our
relations with others. Parekh suggests that rational deliberation is the only
way to arrive at this. We have to examine dierent moral principles, weighing
up the reasons for and against them, and choosing the ones that can build a
better future for our world. Moral consideration is comparative in nature.
We can only make conjectural judgments and we have to follow our strongest
conjectures until a stronger one refutes them. It is not, therefore, enough for
the critic to say that our arguments are inconclusive; he or she has to provide
a stronger proposition. Then Parekh suggests three principles for global
ethics: human beings have, or rather should be assigned, equal worth; we
have to consider human solidarity; and we have to accept plurality in the
global society.48
John Keane looks at the problem dierently. He suggests the pluralistic
idea of a global civil society, which refutes dualism as well as all sorts of
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ideological monisms. The concept of a global civil society, he argues, has ve


tightly coupled elements: it includes non-governmental structures; it is a
society with dynamic interlinked social processes; it is based on civility, which
means respect for others and acceptance of strangers; it enjoys a pluralistic
nature that provides it with huge diversity as well as long-term dynamism;
and it is a global phenomenon that contains unbounded many components
from the four corners of the globe. Considering it as a force for globalisation
from below, global civil society could be described as an autonomous
social space within which individuals, groups and movements can eectively
organise and manoeuvre on a world scale to bypass such dualistic
categorisations rooted in the embarrassing history of colonialism.49
Nowadays more than at any time before, Keanes argument goes, we have
well understood that human life is closely bound up with the fate of our
planet, of rocks and rivers, birds and owers, winds and clouds. We have
gradually realised that our biosphere is in severe danger, which is mainly
caused by our own actions. Furthermore, surrounded by a triangle of
violence, ie the possibility of a nuclear war, uncivil conict and terrorism,
humanity is in need of more coalition building to tackle these devastating
problems. To cope with these dilemmas we have to dismiss ideologies that
give us swords to ght against each other, making us ignore such major
threats to our common environment, to our common existence. Global civil
societyas a good beginningcan give us exibility and openness, the
willingness to be humble and to respect others, self-organisation, curiosity
and experimentation, non-violence, peaceful networking across borders, a
strong sense of responsibility for the fate of others, even long-distance
responsibility for the fragile biosphere in which we and our ospring are
condemned to dwell. One important means of global civil society is global
public spheres. Thanks to modern technologies we are living in a world in
which distance has virtually lost its traditional sense. Boundaries between
native and foreigner are blurred. This, in turn, brings us to understand and
respect other places, other problems and other ways of life.50
Conclusion
Through the consideration of global plurality the West knows that its ethos,
its values and its way of life are not necessarily the best solution for humanity
regardless of time and place. Theories like Fukuyamas end of history,
which posits Western liberal democracy as the ultimate solution for all,
ignore its actual limits and do not appreciate plurality, diversity and
dynamism. Such theories, identied by Keane as conceptual imperialism,51
are just heirs of the Orientalists dogma that modernisation is nothing but
absolute Westernisation. If liberals want to convince Muslims that their
values are correct, they need to give transculturally compelling reasons.
While good reasons are available in the case of some liberal values such as
respect for human life and human dignity, they are not so in the case of such
others as individualism, choice of spouses, and minimum restraints on
freedom of expression.52 The liberal society at most represents one good way
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to organise human life, and that is a strong enough moral basis to stand up
for it. Nevertheless, this should by no means be employed to coerce Muslims,
or any other society, into thinking that the liberals choice is unavoidable and
imperative. No evidence supports the view that liberalism is universally the
best, the most rational, or the only valid form of a good society.53 Hence,
advocating Western values should be modest and limited in the sense of
defending a particular society rather than issuing a universal prescription for
all. The West must globally promote its invaluable experiences, which were
achieved during centuries of trial and error, but simultaneously it must
recognise that one size does not t all and it also has to bear in mind the
deciencies of its model. A Western ethos should be promoted with
humbleness and solidarity, not through aggressive actions and terms like
waging war in order to export democracy, which revives old colonialist
slogans such as the mission to civilise.
The limits, shortcomings and deciencies of the West should not be
ignored either. Although Western societies enjoyed an early start and have
made considerable progress in the direction of democracy, they leave much
to be desired. The deciencies of the West are appropriately understood by
outsiders who at times are victims of unjust Western actions. This is
perhaps most evident when Muslims look at how the West easily sacrices
its values for its own interests, advocates a brutal tyranny, keeps silent
before a military coup, unconditionally advocates violent Israeli actions and
wages a totally illegal war in Iraq in contrast to the will of the Western
public. Democracy, thus, needs to be promoted not only outside the West,
but also within it.
Since the West, in practice, attempts to follow its interests rst and
foremost, its promotion of democracy is therefore episodic, self-serving,
half-hearted, selective, and often designed to embarrass inconvenient
regimes or to provide a moral justication for its imperialist ambitions.
President Bushs speech in Bahrain, a country which is among the most
tyrannical regimes in the Persian Gulf region, was an example. Bush
addressed the king: Your Majesty, I appreciate the fact that youre on the
forefront of providing hope for people through democracy. Every
independent observer understands without much diculty that the kings
programme for democratisation of his country was merely a cover for
reinforcing dictatorship. The main motive for praising him, however, as
Bush stated in the same meeting, was the fact that Bahrain has welcomed
the United States Navy and is now home to our Fifth Fleet.54 Through
such words Bush sacriced the political freedom of the Bahraini people to
US interests, seemingly because they are others.
As globalisation unfolds, we need more mutual understanding and more
democratic patterns for global politics. This is the biggest intellectual and
political challenge of the coming period. Separating the West from the Rest
leads our world to a new barbarianism in which conict, war and terror are
legitimate means, because there is no institutionalised means to communicate
peacefully for solving problems. Instead, based on a global egalitarian
approach, the international order should be revised to be more democratic in
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MOHAMMAD SAMIEI

the new paradigm, integrating all new-coming partners and providing some
brand new democratic means for all. We should attempt to promote
democratic actions not only in non-democratic states of the Middle East but
also at the global level. This seems to be the sole possible solution that we
have.
In history the West was able to successfully change otherness in economics
to competition by regulating the free market, as it could change otherness in
intellectual antagonism to public debate by reinforcing freedom of speech.
Some areas such as global sporting associations, global scientic cooperation and global environmental campaigns have already developed very
successful examples in a global scene. We should elaborate such patterns of
these global networks in other areas of human life, accepting and even
protecting and promoting diversity in a more peaceful world and forgetting
about dualistic ideologies.
As dualism of the West and Islam was rst theorised in the European
intellectual sphere of the 18th century, the same sphere seems to be
responsible for refuting this awed and harmful ideology. Fortunately more
than three centuries on the Western academy is now one of the most
cosmopolitan spheres. De-territorialised intelligentsiaco-operating closely
with each other regardless of race, religion or nationalityplay an important
role in producing values, teachings and world-views adapted to globalisation.
Intellectuals seem to be closer to others than at any time before and this
provides an unprecedented opportunity to eradicate Orientalism and
Occidentalism forever. This article humbly aims to be a step forward in
this way.
Notes
1 B Lewis, From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East, London: Phoenix, 2004, p 538.
2 Edward Said (19352003) was born in Jerusalem to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. He
was raised in a Protestant Christian family but in an overwhelmingly Muslim society. He never
converted to Islam but chose a secular approach in his life. E Said, Power, Politics and Culture:
Interviews with Edward W Said, London: Bloomsbury, 2001, p 437. After the occupation of his
homeland, when Edward was just six years old, his family took refuge in Egypt. He then emigrated to
the US in the 1950s, where he continued his studies until he received a PhD in English and comparative
literature. Then he started his academic career at Columbia University and after a few years became
involved in politics. In his autobiography, Out of Place, he expresses his deep feeling of being a mist in
his environment throughout his life. During his last three decades Said was a prominent Palestinian
intellectual-activist who never forgot the occupation of his homeland by Israel and its continuous
mistreatment of its original inhabitants. On 25 September 2003 he passed away from cancer. See E
Said, Out of Place: A Memoir, London: Granta, 2000.
3 E Said, Orientalism, London: Penguin Books, 2003.
4 Ibid, p 322.
5 Ibid, p 328.
6 Ibid, p 69.
7 Ibid, p 70.
8 Ibid, p 108.
9 Ibid, p 263.
10 Ibid, p 255.
11 Ibid, pp 2023, 177.
12 Ibid, pp 300301.
13 A Abdel-Malek, Orientalism in crisis, Diogenes, 44, 1963, pp 10412.

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14 W Scheuerman, Globalization, in EN Zalta (ed), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press, 2008, at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/globalization, accessed 17
May 2009.
15 See, for instance, E Franco & K Preisendanz (eds), Beyond Orientalism: The Work of Wilhelm Halbfass
and its Impact on Indian and Cross-cultural Studies, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997; and F Dallmayr, Beyond
Orientalism: Essays on Cross-cultural encounter, New York: State University of New York Press, 1996.
16 R Robertson, Globalisation and social modernisation: a note on Japan and Japanese religion,
Sociological Analysis, 45(5), 1987, pp 3542.
17 B Turner, From Orientalism to global sociology, in Turner, Orientalism, Postmodernism and
Globalism, London: Routledge, 1994, pp 1004.
18 Y Sadowski, The new Orientalism and the democracy debate, Middle East Report, JulyAugust
1993, pp 1421.
19 D Tuastad, Neo-Orientalism and the new barbarism thesis: aspects of symbolic violence in the Middle
East conict(s), Third World Quarterly, 24(4), 2003, pp 5919.
20 C Hellmich, Creating the ideology of al Qaeda: from hypocrites to SalaJihadists, Studies in Conict
& Terrorism, 31(2), 2008, pp 11124.
21 Neo-Orientalism is further investigated in M Samiei, Neo-Orientalism: a critical appraisal of three
changing Western perspectivesBernard Lewis, John Esposito and Gilles Kepel, PhD dissertation,
University of Westminster, 2009.
22 Said, Orientalism, p 301.
23 E Said, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How we See the Rest of the World,
London: Vintage Books, 1997.
24 G Kepel, Bad Moon Rising: A Chronicle of the Middle East Today, trans P Ghazaleh, London: Saqi
Books, 2003, p 85.
25 B Parekh, A New Politics of Identity: Political Principles for an Interdependent World, New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p 152.
26 Said maintains that there is in each scholar some awareness, partly conscious and partly not, of
national tradition, if not of national ideology. This is particularly true in Orientalism, additionally so
because of the direct political involvement of European national interests in the aairs of one or
another Oriental country (Said, Orientalism, p 263).
27 G Kepel, Now Europe must take on the Ahmadinejad challenge, Le Figaro, 29 February 2008.
28 G Kepel, Tightrope walks and chessboards: an interview with Gilles Kepel, at http://www.
opendemocracy.net/conict-europe_islam/article_1152.jsp, accessed 15 May 2008.
29 B Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry, New York: Oxford University
Press, 1991, pp 2628.
30 Convivencia alludes to the spirit of coexistence among Muslims, Christians and Jews in 12th century
Sicily and under Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula.
31 J Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002,
pp 134139.
32 Said, Orientalism, p 301.
33 S Huntington, The clash of civilisations, Foreign Aairs, 72(3), 1993, pp 2294.
34 For details see http://www.krysstal.com/democracy_whyusa03.html, accessed 13 November 2008.
35 MR Russett, JR Oneal & M Cox, Clash of civilisations or realism and liberalism deja` vu? Some
evidence, Journal of Peace Research, 37(5), 2000, pp 583608.
36 J Esposito, Unholy alliance, interview by Omayma Abdel-Latif, Al-Ahram, 3 July 2003.
37 E Said, Power, Politics and Culture, p 374.
38 J Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, p 261.
39 Kepel, Tightrope walks and chessboards.
40 Esposito, The Islamic Threat, p 239.
41 B Lewis, The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, London: Phoenix, 2004, p xxx, emphasis
added.
42 J Esposito, History Lessons, Al Ahram Weekly, 2228 July 2004.
43 G Kepel, The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World,
Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994.
44 J Esposito, Interview by Asia sources, 13 May 2002, at http://www.asiasource.org/news/special_
reports/esposito.cfm, accessed 1 February 2007.
45 O Roy, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, New York: Colombia University Press, 2004,
pp 168169.
46 See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4773874.stm, accessed 22 February 2009.
47 Parekh, A New Politics of Identity, p 9.
48 Ibid, pp 204227.
49 J Keane, Global Civil Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p 64.

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MOHAMMAD SAMIEI
50
51
52
53

Ibid, p 172.
Ibid, p 23.
Parekh, A New Politics of Identity, p 118.
Richard Rorty believes otherwise. He asserts that North Atlantic culture is morally superior because
it is a culture of hopehope of a better world as attainable in the here and now by social and political
eortas opposed to the cultures of resignation characteristic of the East. Quoted in Keane, Global
Civil Society, p 184. It goes without saying that subjective notions of hope and resignation and the
way Rorty assesses them have no more value than the traditional approach of Orientalism.
54 See http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/01/20080112-5.html, accessed 16 November 2008.

Notes on contributor
Mohammad Samiei is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of World Studies,
University of Tehran. His most recent publication is entitled Trumph
through Destabilization: The Future of Political Islam, in John Esposito and
Ali Paya, Iraq, Democracy and the future of the Muslim World (Routledge,
2011).

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