The creation of Israel in the aftermath of WWII provided the US with an opportunity to get an enduring foothold in the Arab region – which it has established as expected. While the legitimacy of the state of Israel is not universally accepted by the international community, at least on a practical basis there was a need for a place of refuge for Holocaust survivors. Immediately after WWII, on the back of a global sympathy wave for the near-exterminated Jewish population of Europe, the United States managed to create the country of Israel. But the real motivations went beyond those of humanitarian ones. This would be evident in Middle East foreign policy decisions that unfolded in subsequent years. Hence, as Said notes, comprehending the real-politic compulsions of the United States is essential for understanding why Orientalism as an intellectual construct continues to thrive.
In part 4 of the film, Said identifies another core component of his thesis, namely the vilification of Islam as the perpetual “other” in the socio-political considerations of American diplomacy. Giving several examples from the latter half of the twentieth century, Said argues that the demonizing of Islam is majorly motivated by political imperatives, including the ostensible Judeo-Christian alliance of the US and Israel. (Windschuttle, 1999, p.31)
In the next part, Said observes that terrorism as a manifestation of Arab protest is hyped-up compared to equivalent atrocities carried out by America and its allies. Even in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, the immediate suspects that were rounded up were people of Arab origin. This is an example of deep-rooted stereotypical responses to the community and its behavior. Illustrating Said’s perplexity at such indoctrination are the facts that emerged during subsequent investigation. It emerged that the mastermind and perpetrator behind the act of terrorism, which was intended to cause shock and awe among the civilian population, was none other than a thorough-bred American youth named Timothy McVeigh. The fact that his grievances were directed against his own government and his country’s flawed political system is quite instructive. (Little, 2002, p.69)
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.