Another core component of Said’s thesis is the vilification of Islam as the eternal “other” in the socio-political equations of American diplomacy. Giving several examples spanning recent decades, Said contends that the demonizing of Islam is largely motivated by political reasons, not least of which is the projected Judeo-Christian alliance of the US and Israel. In other words,
“Orientalism led the West to see Islamic culture as static in both time and place, as “eternal, uniform, and incapable of defining itself.” This gave Europe a sense of its own cultural and intellectual superiority. The West consequently saw itself as a dynamic, innovative, expanding culture, as well as “the spectator, the judge and jury of every facet of Oriental behavior.” (Windschuttle, 1999, p.31)
Said also says that terrorism as a strand of Arab protest is overplayed compared to equivalent atrocities committed by US allies. Even during the Oklahoma Center bombing of 1995, the immediate suspects were people of Arab origin, which is the result of steep stereotyping of the community and its tendencies. Illustrating Said’s perplexity at such indoctrination are the facts that emerged during subsequent investigation. It came out that the perpetrator of that act of terrorism, which was intended to cause much severe damage in terms of human lives, was none other than a thorough-bred American youth Timothy McVeigh, whose grievances against his own government and the nation’s political system had fired his angst.
The documentary film in discussion was shot toward the end of the last century; and Said’s thesis would have only gotten reinforced in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets. The kind of propagandistic media outrage after the terror strikes, especially the renewed demonizing of Islam that came with it, fits right into the Orientalist discourse. The vilification of Osama bin laden might be justified to an extent. But dragging Saddam Hussein and his imagined Weapons of Mass Destruction into the War on Terror agenda only goes on to show the visceral fear of Arab Muslims created by systematic media propaganda. It is most likely that the War on Terror campaign would not relent in the foreseeable future. In this scenario, keeping oneself informed about critical interpretations of geo-political conflicts is very important. Hence, both the documentary film and the book are highly recommended for the specialized as well as the general reader.
The documentary film neatly encapsulates the content of the book of the same name. All students of history, culture and political science, especially within the United States, would widen their intellectual horizons by reading the book. And the documentary film will be a good starting point for acquainting oneself with Orientalism. Being only 40 minutes long, the documentary could even be screened during the class, which would also provide the students with an audio/visual relief. But the audience/reader should also keep in mind that Orientalism has invoked much controversy both within and outside American academia. For example, since the publication of the book in 1978, many sociologists and political scientists have made critical reviews of it, bringing to light some flaws in Said’s arguments. Roger Scruton, for instance, writing for the American Spectator, notes that