Sunday, March 20, 2011

Interesting Aspects of Colonialism

              As unfortunate as it is, I believe that the majority of Americans are guilty of Orientalism. Orientalism is defined as a way of regarding the Orient. It is a constellation of false assumptions underlying the Western attitude toward the Middle East. The majority has based their entire opinion of the Islamic world off of our media’s biased coverage, and the actions of a handful of Arabic individuals. This aspect of colonialism interests me, because I was unconsciously guilty of this attitude before taking this class or traveling to Morocco to truly experience the Arabic culture. It never occurred to me that I had been generalizing the Arabic culture before these experiences. Although it was in harmless ways, it was still out of ignorance. I thought this region of the world was similar to Aladdin and other movies I had seen, as ridiculous as that sounds. That they were in some ways stagnant and behind modern civilization.
 I think a driving factor in Orientalism is fear, unwarranted fear, but fear nonetheless. It is completely ignorant to base your opinion of an entire race or religion off of the actions of a select few. If that is the case, then every race and religion is infinitely guilty of atrocities. It completely baffles me how some individuals never even take the opportunity to truly study this region before establishing their opinion. For example, last semester a ROTC student walked into my classroom and said "Does anyone know why all of the rag heads are out on South Patio?". I immediately let him know how ridiculous that statement was. He continued to attempt to justify his actions by his involvement in the military and stated that he couldn't help but to think of Middle Eastern people in this manner. This completely sickened me! Being involved in the military is absolutely no justification for racism! Just because a handful of Arabic individuals have acted against the U.S. does not mean that all Arabic people have the same ideas or motives. Not to mention this individual has never even been to the Middle East to actually experience the situation. Fear is the ultimate source of ignorance in my opinion. It causes us to act in irrational and ignorant ways.
Another feature of colonialism that I find intriguing is the Mark of the Plural.  The colonized is never characterized in an individual manner. He/She is only referred to collectively. “They are this” and “They are all the same”. This interests me, because I feel this is an extremely easy trap to fall into. To an extent, I’m sure we are all guilty of this every day without even realizing. Saying things like, “He’s such a Murphy kid” or “She’s such a greek girl”. At the time, we think it’s harmless, but is it really no big deal? Maybe small slips like these lead to bigger issues.


  1. I totally agree about what you said about the Mark of the Plural. I think it is so easy for everyone to get in the habit of generalizing about someone and placing them in a stereotypical group. I think once people start doing this innocently and on a small scale it is then very easy to start applying the mark of the plural in other less harmless situations. It is impossible to draw a line on when mark of the plural has gone too far.

  2. I agree with you that much of Orientalism comes from fear. When people don't understand something completely, it is often rejected.
    It may also be that it is mentally easier for many individuals to label a group using mark of the plural than to make an effort to sort out the "good" from "bad". This requires a deeper understanding of the situation.
    Also, I found it very interesting that you discussed how the mark of the plural effects our every day lives. It is interesting to consider how comments that people think are harmless could lead to something extremely negative such as the mark of the plural.

  3. I loved what you said about how you formed your opinion of the Orient from things like the movie Aladdin. I think that, even though Orientalism and mark of the plural are huge issues in our culture today, they didn't start out as a bad thing. Like you said, they often started out very innocently, like watching a movie as a child. The problem, then, is that we never question what the movies/media tell us, so we end up with a fully formed vision of what that culture is like. It's very interesting to see how Orientalism so permeates our culture that we are fed a constant stream of it for years before we even know what it is.