Friday, August 12, 2005


have been thinking recently of the West's changing view of the Muslim world- from the Orientalism outlined by Edward Said to the current situation. while the opinions of the west have changed in many ways the underpinning assumptions have not. the arab world is still largely viewed as a static monolithic thing, forinstance it is referred to as the Middle east, the Muslim world or the arab world when those are overlapping but in many ways very different entities- for uinstance pakistanis and Kurds are not arabs yet they are Muslim, lebanon is arab yet largely christian. How the middle east is viewed has become particulalry focused in recent years and opinion very polarised-there is a widespread belief that the Muslim world is a single creature,a monolithic other consisting of repressed burkha clad women, bearded fundementalists and ageing despotic regimes.
it is most intersting however that despite this continuity of misunderstanding there has been some change in how the muslim world is viewed in the west. where it once considered a overly sensuous place, where the peopple had no use of reason or the finer thoughts of post enlightenbment Europe it has now been de sexualised. There is no talk anymore of harems of dancing girls or opium dens. that projection of repressed european desires is no longer necessary, we have enough of our own dancing girls. The fact is though that muslim women are not allowed any agency of their own, it is assumed they simply accept cultural opression, that they are forced to cover themselves- not that they might have cultural values of their own that are not that of the Talbian but neither are they exactly Western. As was witnessed in the debate over headscarves in France it is a massive culutalr misunderstanding on the wests behalf. They do not see to realsie that it a realtive issue- that wearing of clothes is dependant of cultural climate. we would not expect English children going to school in africa to be foreced to go naked because it was the local custom. The fact as well that even our own grandmothers used to cover their heads, and that for a very long time men uniformly wore hats.
the essence of orientalism is the lack of viewing ones own culture from an impartial standpoint, that it attempts to frame the other in terms with no comaprisons with western culture. the constant misunderstanding is due to a lack of questioning of our own cultural values, a lack of awareness that culture is fluid.
the fact that the debate in britan at the moment revolves areound whether Muslims should accept british values without the thought that british culture is constantly changing. the british values of a tory minister would not be the same as mine, neither would it be the same of a tory miniser of the 1950's- we as a country are constantly assimilating new ideas- we all eat curries, watch american films and TV series, drink tea or coffee- none of these origianlly british asnd all of them relativly new. we would frankly not recognise the britain of the past, culture is an ever chganging dialogue and one that is utterly individual.
We should too assume that in the Muslim world the same is true, that the return to fundementalism is much the same as the idea of the return to old fahioned values. they too believe as our tory ministers and cheerleaders in the press do that culture is static, that everything is either right or wrong and that there can be only one unchanging and unchallengable perspective.


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