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Jun 29, 2004 1:14 am

Orientalism and Oriental Ignorance

Thank you, Ralph, for inviting me to join this forum and for saying those kind words. As regards the lizards, I claim complete ignorance of the matter. Google is not your friend. I had a first post in my head about blogging when I should be writing my dissertation but something caught my eye that should interest the readership of this blog. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MMRI) has translated an op-ed by Dr. Ahmad al-Baghdadi which appeared in Kuwaiti Daily, al-Siyasa. Dr. al-Baghdadi gained international attention in 1999 when he was imprisoned by the Kuwaiti government for an article he wrote that offended the clergy. The sentence was commuted after 14 days. On other occasions, he has spoken out against the Arab press, Arab intellectuals and Arab states and decried the lack of women participation in the social sphere.Obviously, he is a man used to speaking his mind. In the op-ed, entitled The Favor Western Orientalists Did Muslims, he praises Oriental scholarship for being grounded in academic discourse, critical methodology and scholarly analyses. Instead of embracing this Oriental scholarship and having the works of Western scholars translated into Arabic, the East has chosen the opposite - rejecting it on the spurious basis of Orientalism's relationship to colonialism. As a result, the scholarship coming from religious seminaries or Arab universities is ignorant of this rich Western tradition and filled instead with blind hatred of Orientalism. It is only when a student from a Muslim country comes to the West to study are his eyes opened to that reality:
"What is important during the period [of study] is that when they read, the students are given an opportunity to compare the complexities of Western thought with the primitive nature of Arab and Islamic thought, as compiled by the scholars on each side. On top of this, they [the Arab and Muslim students] come to know the enormous body of scholarship by [Western] Orientalists in Islamic and [Arabic] literary studies, [which these Orientalists accomplished] by way of translation, or by exact scholarly philological editing, or by critical methodology.
I cringe at most of the gross generalizations (primitive Arab thought?) but his larger point remains valid for discussion. Is the East ignoring Orientalist scholarship? If it is, is it doing it at its own peril? I know only of universities in Pakistan that seem not at all lacking in reading and consuming Western scholarship. Is the case different in Cairo? In Istanbul? Actually, I can also attest to Istanbul from being in classes with my Turkish colleagues who had read Hodgson before I ever picked him up. I have more to say but I have prattled on too long.
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Jonathan Dresner - 6/29/2004

Not, not blogging instead of dissertation writing (the option didn't exist for most of my dissertation, but I'm making up for lost time now): I mean ignoring outsider perspectives, particularly inconveniently analytical ones.

[This was getting long, so I've shifted it to a posting at Regular blogging to resume next week.]

Welcome to the crew!

Ralph E. Luker - 6/29/2004

No, I would imagine that you are not, but I was hoping that I could encourage you to develop a position more fully than you had here.

Manan Ahmed - 6/29/2004

On the one hand, I am writing an article on c. 19th British Orientalists that looks to be a revision of Said's knowledge=power duality. On the other hand, I think that it is unfair of the al-Baghdadi to categorically reject all current scholarship from the East and claim that academy in the Muslim world is divorced from the intellectual histories of their fields.
Does that make me ambivalent?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/29/2004

You seem to be ambivalent about the claims made in this article. Is it that you suspect that the author may be correct about Islamic learning in the Arab world, but that you know this is not true of Islamic learning in non-Arabic regions?

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