Representing Islam: Orientalism and its Discontents
This article is about classic orientalism about Western conceptions of “the Orient,” in particular the Islamic and Arab world. Most colonial and post-colonial studies have emerged from engagements with, and elaboration of, Said’s literature. This article has criticized Said for the gender-blindness of Orientalism. This blindness refers not only to literal blindness to the centrality of gender and sexuality in orientalist discourse but also to Said’s assertation that orientalism has been an exclusively male province. Abu-Lughod (2001) has undermined this view by documenting and exploring the ways in which women historically participated in the development of Orientalism.
Said’s work has not only contributed to numerous debates about women’s role in orientalism and the ways in which orientalism is/was gendered, orientalism has been part and parcel of the inspiration behind important new scholarship about gender and women in Islam and the Middle East, a work that is sensitive to women’s experiences.
Islamophobia & Islamophilia
The relationship between terrorism and Islam has become a central concern following 9/11, and this has created a new round of cultural argument (Mamdani, 2002). This argument has turned religion, especially Islam into a political category. Differentiating a “good Muslim” from a “bad Muslim,” rather than civilians from terrorists. This article by Mamdani (2002) has suggested that people should lift the quarantine and turn the cultural theory of politics on its head. Beyond simple but radical suggestion that if there is a bad Muslim and a good Muslim, there are bad Westerners and good Westerners.
What is problematic about Islamophobia is its universalizing and essentializing quality, which has cast Islam religion and all followers of Islam as potential and real enemies of the world (Mamdani, 2002). What has been harder to assess is the challenge of countering Islamophobia impulses in ways that do not simply reinforce or invert them by cultivating their opposite: the image of the Muslim as “friend,” as a figure identified with the Self, characterized as familiar, and with whom legitimate conflict is not possible.
Kemalism, a Global Mode of Politics
Over the years, commentators on Middle Eastern politics have been surprised, seduced, and scandalized by the contradictory and unexpected relationship between popular politics and secularism. By contrast, a social movement that has been committed to the reintroduction of religion into political and public life has been made use of the media of popular politics, including the vote and mass demonstration. In Turkey, self-described Islamic movements have asserted political demands against a secularized elite or secularizing by claiming the will of the person often through democratic channels.
The effort at refashioning secularism, as a form of popular rather than elitist politics, has not continued primarily through the critical discourse, self-conscious of politicians or public intellectuals. The reflections and arguments of the latter frequently reinscribe the demonstration in the regnant narrative of popular politics in Turkey.
Islamization, Gender, and Islamic Feminism
The article by Navaro-Yashin (1999) has examined the developments in ‘Islamic feminism’. Focusing on Turkey’s theocracy, it can be argued that the Islamization of gender relations has developed oppressive patriarchy that cannot be replaced with legal reforms. While a lot of women in Turkey resist this patriarchal and religious regime, an increasing number of Turkish activists and intellectuals have called for the separation of religion and state, and feminists of a cultural relativist and post-modernist persuasion don’t acknowledge the failure of the Islamic projects.
The Islamization of gender relations for a long time has received strong resistance. Over the years, the Islamic regime has experienced a serious crisis; it had failed to control workers, women, students, dissident nationalities, and secular intellectuals. Over the past years, some supporters of ‘Islamic feminism’ have equated it with liberation theology in the west.
Islam and the City
There has been a resurgence of Islamic beliefs, and once again the questions of the Islamic cities have once again come to the fore (Abu-Lughod, 1987). In many parts of the Arab world, especially in the Middle East, urban planners are searching for a way to reproduce in today’s cities patterns of city building that have been identified as Islamic.
According to Marcais, Islam is an urban religion, and in support of this contention, Marcais argued that prophet Muhammad was an urbanite suspicious of nomads (Abu-Lughod, 1987). Marcais has been able to use the earlier chain of orientalism that, the mosque, like the church and synagogue, are essentially urban (citadine).
It is important to criticize these approaches because most Arab planners are trying to recreate Islamic cities- but by means which are inappropriate because these planners focus more on the outcomes, rather than the processes (Abu-Lughod, 1987). They hope, by ordinance and edict, to preserve and build new cities on an Islamic pattern because cities are processes and not products. The elements that catalyzed the process that give rise to Islamic cities were: a distinction between the outsiders and members of the Umma (Abu-Lughod, 1987), which led to spatial and juridical distinction by neighborhoods; the segregation of gender which gave rise to a particular solution to the question of spatial organization.
Islam and Fiction
The sociology of literature is more like a field of flowers than a field of battle. In the past, the sociology of literature has produced impressive theoretical assertions, brilliant, but isolated insights, and rich veins of research findings, but has not been organized around key debates or questions the way a proper field ought to be organized (Griswold, 1993). The sociology of literature has not been a favorite son of organized social science. The academic disciplines that have been charged with the analysis and history of literature have been caught unaware by the impact of bestsellers, mass literature, comics, popular magazines, and so forth. Academicians have maintained an attitude of indifference to the lower depths of imagination print. A challenge and a field have been left open, and the sociologists are required to do something about it.
Almost all scholars who have contributed to the collection of essays are in agreement that a “scientific” approach or method to the history of literature would lead nowhere (Griswold, 1993). Not only do they believe that each literature work contains in them some non-rational elements, but scholars also consider any approach inadequate with regard to the very nature of the work under investigation (Griswold, 1993). Consequently, the sociology of literature as it was developed ten decades ago is rejected and condemned as “historicizing psychologism,” “historical pragmatism,” and “positivistic method.”
- Abu-Lughod, L. (2001) ‘Orientalism and Middle East Feminist Studies’, in Feminist Studies 27,
- Abu-Lughod, J. (1987) ‘The Islamic City: Historic Myth, Islamic Essence and Contemporary Relevance’, in International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 19,
- Mamdani, M. (2002) ‘Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: A Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism’, in American Anthropologist 104,
- Navaro-Yashin, Y. (1999) ‘The Historical Construction of Local Culture: Gender and Identity in the Politics of Secularism versus Islam’, in C. Keyder (ed.) Istanbul between the Global and the Local. Rowman and Littlefield, Boulder.
- Seufert, G. (1999) ‘The Faculties of Divinity in the Current Tug-of-War’, in Les Annales de l’Autre Islam, No.6, 353-369.
- Griswold (1993) ‘Recent Moves in the Sociology of Literature’, in Annual Review of Sociology 19.
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