Orientalism and colonialism

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By JOÃO QUARTIM MORAES*

There are Orientalists, but not Occidentalists. If the East became an object of study, it is because it had previously become an object of Western domination.

In the Introduction of orientalism, the book published in 1978 that made him deservedly famous, the great Palestinian intellectual Edward Said assumes that much of the “personal investment” in his work derives from the awareness of being “Oriental”. The quotation marks are full of irony, as your readers know. Born in 1935 into a Christian family in Jerusalem, as a young boy he and his people lived with the atrocities carried out by the Facho-Zionist death squads to steal land and houses from their legitimate Arab owners.

In 1948, after the tragedy in Palestine was completed with the founding of the State of Israel, he took refuge in Egypt with his family. He then went to the United States, where he developed a brilliant academic career, becoming one of the most renowned professors of English literature in the country. That doesn't mean he forgot the Palestinian cause.

orientalism is a rigorous and well-documented critique of imperialism and cultural colonialism and in particular of the great ideological fallacy contained in the very formation of the academic discipline that bears that name. After all, what is the East? Nothing more than the negative of the West. They define themselves contradictorily, one by the other. But this relationship is asymmetric. Each is the other of the other, but some are more other than the others. If there are Orientalists, but not Occidentalists, if the East has become an object of study, it is because it had previously become an object of Western domination, as Edward Said so accurately showed in his book.

This domination appears in the ideological connotations associated with the term. The dominant imperial language has the words “West"and "West”. Leaving aside the merely astronomical sense (the direction where the Sun sets), the two denote a strong idea of ​​the geopolitics of the “cold war”. “West”, explains to us the respected Webster's New World Dictionary, includes "the US and its non-Communist allies in Europe and the Western Hemisphere”. The same goes for French: “West”, according to the dictionary Robert, designates in its “political” sense “western Europe, the United States and, more generally, the members of NATO”.

Symptomatically, the definition of “East” that we find in the aforementioned dictionaries (as well as, in English, that of “East”) has no explicit political connotation: it is the direction where the Sun rises. Ironically, Japan, which is located there (it is the “country of the rising sun”), is geopolitically linked to the setting sun, since, due to two atomic bombs, it became a US satellite. Dictionaries must be pragmatic: the logical meaning of terms matters less to them than the use made of them by dominant ideas.

The depoliticization of the term “Orient” confirms Said's critique of cultural colonialism: the West considers it an object, precisely because it considers itself the subject of world history. Although they have physically left their former colonies, the imperialist countries today grouped in NATO have largely retained control not only of their markets but also of their ideology. Anyone who resists the West must be neutralized and, if possible, subjugated.

Another is the motivation for the long and constant imperialist support for Zionism. It is worth remembering that Theodor Herzl, founder and first ideologist of this movement, assigned the future Jewish State the mission of “being part of a defensive wall of Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism”. It is also worth remembering that the second half of the 19th century was marked by the territorial division of Asia and Africa between the great powers of expanding European imperialism.

It was inspired by this colonialist wave that Zionist militants decided to solve the problem of persecution they suffered on the European continent at the expense of the Arabs, bringing together all Jews in a single territory, Palestine. The colonialist inspiration of this program implied the aim of treating the Arabs as European Christian imperialists treated the “natives” of the colonial periphery: with iron and fire. The colonial fact that gave rise to Israel is based on force, often on the premeditated use of mass terrorism.

Em orientalism, Edward Said evoked, among other numerous examples of the arrogantly colonialist mentality of Zionists, the thinking of Chaim Weizmann, who would become the first president of Israel (1948-1952). Installed in England in 1906, his high competence in chemistry, notably in the synthesis of acetone used in many explosives, gave him, from 1914 onwards, close contact with the State apparatus and the British war machine.

To strike the Ottoman Empire, Germany's ally during the first world war, the English government, confirming the centuries-old tradition of cynicism and perfidy that constitute a hallmark of British diplomacy, promised independence to the Arabs (who at the time constituted 92% of the population of Palestine), if they rose up against the Turkish yoke. The Arabs trusted the promise and, fulfilling their part of the agreement, fought with weapons in hand against Ottoman domination.

But in 1917, the Foreign Minister of the British Empire, a certain Lord Balfour, responding to pressure from powerful Jewish high finance, namely Lord Rothschild, head of the English branch of the famous family of magnates, also promised the Zionists a “national home”. in Palestine. Without a doubt, the good services provided by Weizmann to the British war effort also contributed to this disastrous decision.

Grateful, the future president of Israel sent Balfour on May 30, 1918, remarks full of racist prejudices: “The Arabs […] have only one cult: power and success[…]. The British authorities, knowing[…] the treacherous nature of the Arabs, […] must watch them carefully and constantly. The more correct the English regime tries to be, the more arrogant the Arabs become. […] The present state of affairs would necessarily tend towards the creation of an Arab Palestine if there were an Arab people in Palestine. This result will not be achieved because the fellaheen is at least four centuries behind in time and the effendi (a Turkish term that we can translate as dignitary) is dishonest, ill-mannered, greedy and as unpatriotic as he is inefficient”.

Praising the “correct English regime” (which had willingly assigned the same land to two peoples), in addition to flattery, confirms that Zionism, from the beginning, associated itself ideologically and did its best to associate itself politically, as a junior partner. , to colonial-imperialism. But if England lied to the Arabs to help the Zionists, she lied mainly to help herself. In 1916, while the Arabs of Palestine began their uprising against the Turks, the British government, which had promised them independence, signed the secret Sykes-Picot agreement with France, dividing the Arab countries into “zones of influence”. The Zionist leaders managed, however, with the Balfour Declaration, to be included, even if like pirate parrots, in these colonialist tricks.

*João Quartim de Moraes He is a retired full professor at the Department of Philosophy at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The military left in Brazil (Popular Expression) [https://amzn.to/3snSrKg].


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