“Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilisatrice.”
One of the most notable minds from the children of the diaspora is undoubtedly Edward Said. His famous book, Orientalism, founded the discipline of postcolonial studies and revolutionized the way the Western world views the “Orient”.
Edward Said was a brilliant academic, who worked as a professor and literary critic. Born in Jerusalem, Palestine in 1953, his Palestinian-American identity would inspire much of his literary work. His father, William Ibrahim Said, received American citizenship after serving on the American side of World War II. After the initial occupation of Palestine in 1947, the Said family moved to Cairo, Egypt. Said attended schools that were English speaking and were living under British mandate when he was in Palestine. In turn, this provided him with a solid understanding of Western culture and identity. On his clearly British first name, and Arab last name, he said the following; “With an unexceptionally Arab family name like “Saïd”, connected to an improbably British first name…I was an uncomfortably anomalous student all through my early years: a Palestinian going to school in Egypt, with an English first name, an American passport, and no certain identity, at all…Every time I speak an English sentence, I echo it in Arabic, and vice versa.”
Said would go on to attend Princeton University for his Bachelor’s of Arts in 1957. In 1960 and 1964 respectively, he received his Master’s and PhD from Harvard University in English Literature. He began to lecture at another Ivy League institution, Columbia University, teaching English and comparative literature. In 1970, he married Mariam Cortas, and had a son and a daughter. Said was inspired by the great thinkers before him, including Antonio Gramsci, Frantz Fanon, Aime Cesaire, Michel Foucault, and Theodor Adorno.
In 1978, the literary world was revolutionized by a single book, Orientalism by Edward Said. An indignant anti-colonial thinker, he raises in this book the “othering” of the Islamic World and the Middle East. Said asserts that work by Western thinkers and scholars executed, alienated, distorts, and “othered.” Orientalism argues that the Western world poses the Western world as the pinnacle of civilization, and other cultures in the Global South, specifically the Middle East, as barbaric. In turn, the assertion or stereotype of the Middle East being barbaric is then used as a justification to intervene, dehumanize, and “save” the Middle East from its underdevelopment and inferiority. The ideology that the Western world has the authority to intervene into sovereign nations, occupy territories and assert themselves in situations where they are not needed has been used as a justification for some of the worst crimes against humanity and war crimes the world has ever seen. One need not to say more than Abu Ghraib and the birth defects of Fallujah to understand how this ideology is deeply harmful. Fundamentally, ranking cultures and regions hierarchically to see who is more “advanced” is wrong and perpetuates the superiority of certain nations over others.
Further, when discussing what country or region is more or less developed, one must ask WHO sets the standard for what is seen as a nation being “fully developed,” and what are the implications of ranking nations based on perceived development. For example, some may view the existence of a universal healthcare system and a universal basic income as a truly developed nation. Some may only see having a functional government system and sovereign borders as developed. The issue is, and remains until this day, is that no nation is superior to another, and that until the most powerful and Western nations on earth see this, Edward Said’s words remain hauntingly relevant.