Southern insights into Orient and Western Orientalisms

María Cardeira da Silva



This is not another critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. We know that there is still some space for further discussion on this matter and that there are still people wanting to engage with it, but this is not our concern here. Nevertheless, the term has become inescapable for people like us, researching into and teaching on Arab and Islamic contexts and topics – and even more so when our strategic location is constantly under surveillance in times of Islamophobia and Islamophilia, wary eyes asking if we are with Muslims or against them, or, in a more sophisticated way, with good Muslims or their evil twins, bad Muslims (Mamdani 2004). Strangely, and dangerously, our position regarding Islam – as a monolithic and petrified religion – is presumed to be part of our own academic identity. Said’s book or – as he wrote among other, very insightful things – his metabook – is timeless, both for good and for the wrong reasons. Here, however, we will be using the word ‘Orientalism’ in a narrow sense, referring to the production of humanities and social and cultural sciences on Arab and Islamic contexts and topics and, simply, discarding the nihilistic upshot of some post-Orientalist debates, assuming the political dimension of our researches and outputs. After all, and as Mitchell, appropriately out, Said’s main (and often misunderstood) simple question addressed in Orientalism was ‘How does one know the things that exist?’ and ‘To what extent are the “things that exist” constituted by the knower?’ (Mitchell 2003, referring to Said, 1978: 5). And even if he was neither the first to address this nor, for sure, the last, we need to state it for the sake of transparency and, ultimately and paradoxically, for the sake of science.

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