Consider the ways in which the Medieval European notion of other peoples as monsters resonates through the history of English literature and American film & TV, especially in contemporary genres such as fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Describe an example of a contemporary or classic example of popular literature or film in which its fictional depiction of fantastic beasts, monsters, extraterrestrials, or other species of people suggests the racialized European notions of other cultures. With a fictional depiction of “race” and “culture,” does the example suggest the legacy of European colonialism (but in a fictional setting) or even neocolonialism?
Some obvious fantasy and science fiction examples are the fictional universes of Disney’s Aladdin,Star Wars, Star Trek, and Avatar, but your selection can also include the worlds of the Harry Potter series, the Twilight Saga, The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, and, of course, Game of Thrones.
T R A N S C R I PT
EDWARD SAID: ON ‘ORIENTALISM’
Executive Producer & Director: Sut Jhally
Producer & Editor: Sanjay Talreja
Assistant Editor: Jeremy Smith
Featuring an interview with Edward Said Professor, Columbia University and author of
Introduced by Sut Jhally University of Massachusetts-Amherst
[Montage of entertainment and news images]
SUT JHALLY: When future scholars take a look back at the intellectual history of the
last quarter of the twentieth century the work of Professor Edward Said of Columbia
University will be identified as very important and influential. In particular Said’s 1978
book, Orientalism, will be regarded as profoundly significant. Orientalism revolutionized
the study of the Middle East and helped to create and shape entire new fields of study
such as Post-Colonial theory as well influencing disciplines as diverse as English,
History, Anthropology, Political Science and Cultural Studies. The book is now being
translated into twenty-six languages and is required reading at many universities and
colleges. It is also one of the most controversial scholarly books of the last thirty years
sparking intense debate and disagreement. Orientalism tries to answer the question of
why, when we think of the Middle East for example, we have a preconceived notion of
what kind of people live there, what they believe, how they act. Even though we may
never have been there, or indeed even met anyone from there. More generally
Orientalism asks, how do we come to understand people, strangers, who look different
to us by virtue of the color of their skin?
The central argument of Orientalism is that the way that we acquire this knowledge is
not innocent or objective but the end result of a process that reflects certain interests.
That is, it is highly motivated. Specifically Said argues that the way the West, Europe
and the U.S. looks at the countries and peoples of the Middle East is through a lens that
distorts the actual reality of those places and those people. He calls this lens through
which we view that part of the world Orientalism, a framework that we use to understand
the unfamiliar and the strange; to make the peoples of the Middle East appear different
Professor Said’s contribution to how we understand this general process of what we
could call stereotyping has been immense. The aim of this program is to explore these
issues through an interview with him. He starts by discussing the context within which
he conceived Orientalism.
EDWARD SAID: My interest in Orientalism began for two reasons, one it was an
immediate thing, that is to say, the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, which had been preceded
by a lot of images and discussions in the media in the popular press about how the
Arabs are cowardly and they don’t know how to fight and they are always going to be
beaten because they are not modern. And then everybody was very surprised when the
Egyptian army crossed the canal in early October of 1973 and demonstrated that like
anybody else they could fight. That was one immediate impulse.
And the second one, which has a much longer history in my own life was the constant
sort of disparity I felt between what my experience of being an Arab was, and the
representations of that that one saw in art. I’m talking about very great artists, you know,
like Delacroix and Ang and Gerome and people like that, novelists who wrote about the
Orient like Disraeli or Flaubert and you know the fact that those representations of the
Orient had very little to do with what I knew about my own background in life. So I
decided to write the history of that.
THE REPERTORY OF ORIENTALISM
EDWARD SAID: If somebody, let’s say in the 1850’s or 1860’s in Paris or London,
wished to talk about or read about India or Egypt or Syria, there would be very little
chance for that person to simply address the subject, as we like to think in a kind of free
and creative way. A great deal of writing had gone before and this writing was an
organized form of writing, like an organized science. What I’ve called Orientalism. And it
seemed to me that there was a kind of repertory of images that kept coming up: The
sensual woman who is there to be sort of used by the man, the East as a kind of
mysterious place full of secrets and monsters, you know, “the marvels of the East,” was
a phrase that was used. And the more I looked the more I saw that this was really quite
consistent with itself. It have very little to do with people who had actually been there.
And even if they had been there, there wasn’t much modification. In other words you
didn’t get what you could call realistic representations of the Orient, either in literature or
in painting or in music or any of the arts.
And this extended even further into descriptions of the Arabs by experts, people who
had studied them. I noticed that even in the twentieth century some of the same images
that you found in the nineteenth century amongst scholars like Edward William Lane
who wrote his book on the Modern Egyptians in the early 1830’s and then you read
somebody in the 1920’s and they more or less saying the same thing.
One great example that I always give is that the wonderful French poet, Gerard de
Nerval who went on a voyage to the Orient, as he called it, and I was reading this book
of his travels in Syria and there was something very familiar about it. It sounded like
something else that I’d read and then I realized that what he was doing almost
unconsciously was quoting Lane on the Egyptians. On the theory that the Orientals are
all the same no matter where you find them, whether it’s in India, or Syria, or in Egypt,
it’s basically the same assets. So there develops a kind of image of the timeless Orient,
as if the Orient, unlike the West, doesn’t develop, it stays the same. And that’s one of
the problems with Orientalism is it creates an image outside of history, of something that
is placid and still and eternal. Which is simply contradicted by the fact of history. In one
sense it’s a creation of you might say, an ideal Other for Europe.
ORIENTALISM & EMPIRE
SUT JHALLY: Professor Said’s analysis of Orientalism isn’t just a description of its
content but a sustained argument for why it looks the way it does. It’s an examination of
the quite concrete, historical and institutional context that creates it. Specifically Said
locates the construction of Orientalism within the history of Imperial conquest. As
empires spread across the globe historically the British and the French have been the
most important in terms of the East. They conquer not only militarily but also what we
could call ideologically. The question for these empires is: How do we understand the
natives we are encountering so we can conquer and subdue them easier? This process
of using large abstract categories to explain people who look different, whose skin is a
different color, has been going on for a long time, as far back as there has been contact
between different cultures and peoples. But Orientalism makes this general process
more formal in that it presents itself as objective knowledge. Said identifies Napoleon’s
conquest of Egypt in 1798 as marking a new kind of imperial and colonial conquest, that
inaugurates the project of Orientalism.
EDWARD SAID: There was a kind of break that occurred kind of after Napoleon came
to Egypt in 1798. I think it’s the first really modern imperial expedition. So he invades the
place but he doesn’t invade it the way the Spaniards invaded the New World, looking for
loot. He comes instead with an enormous army of soldiers but also scientists, botanists,
architects, philologists, biologists, historians, whose job it was to record Egypt in every
conceivable way. And produce a kind of scientific survey of Egypt, which was designed,
not for the Egyptian, but for the European. Of course what strikes you first of all about
the volumes they produced, is their enormous size. They are a meter square. And all
across them is written the power and prestige of a modern European country that can
do to the Egyptians what the Egyptians cannot do to the French. I mean there’s no
comparable Egyptian survey of France. To produce knowledge you have to have the
power to be there, and to see in expert ways things that the natives themselves can’t
EDWARD SAID: The differences between different kinds of Orientalisms are in effect
the differences between different experiences of what is called the Orient. I mean the
difference between Britain and France on the one hand and the United States on the
other, is that Britain and France had colonies in the Orient. I mean they had a longstanding relationship and imperial role in a place like India, so that there’s a kind of an
archive of actual experiences of being in India, of ruling in a country for several hundred
years. And the same with the French in North Africa, let’s say Algeria or Indochina,
direct colonial experience. In the case of the Americans, the experience is much less
direct. There’s never been an American occupation of the Near East. So I would say the
difference between British and French Orientalism on the one hand and the American
experience of the Orient on the other is that the American one is much more indirect,
much more based on abstractions. The second big thing, I think that differs in the
American experience from the British and French of Orientalism, is that the American
Orientalism is very politicized by the presence of Israel for which America is the main
[CNN News: Vice President Al Gore] President Clinton and I are proud, as are all
Americans that the United States was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel,
eleven minutes after you proclaimed your independence.
EDWARD SAID: And what you have in effect the creation of Jewish state in the middle
of the Islamic Oriental world. And the sense that because it’s a Jewish state and a
Western state, self-declared, there is a greater coincidence between American interests
there than there is between American interests in lets say in places like Iran and Saudi
Arabia, which are important because of oil. I think the presence of this other factor,
which is very anti Islamic, where Israel regards the whole Arab world as it’s enemy, is
imported into American Orientalism. I mean the idea for example, that Hamas terrorists
on the West Bank are just interested in killing Jewish children, is what you derive from
looking at this stuff and very little attention is paid to the fact that the Israeli occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza has been going on for thirty years, it’s the longest military
occupation in this century. And so you get the impression that the only problem is that
Israeli security is threatened by Hamas and suicide bombs and all the rest of it and
nothing is said about the hundreds of thousands, millions of Palestinians who are
dispossessed, living miserable lives as a direct result of what Israel has done and is
doing. So there’s a sense in which the Arab struggle for national independence and in
the case of the Palestinians for national self-determination is looked at with a great
hostility as upsetting the stabilities of the status quo. And that makes it virtually
impossible, it’s a tragedy, virtually impossible for an American to see on television, to
read books, to see films about the Middle East, that are not colored politically by this
conflict, in which the Arabs almost always play the role of terrorists and violent people
and irrational and so on and so forth.
ORIENTALISM TODAY – The Demonization of Islam in the
News and Popular Culture
[MTV Video Awards 1998: MCA Beastie Boys] That’s another thing America really
needs to think about is our racism. Racism that comes from the United States towards
Muslim people and towards Arabic people and that’s something that has to stop and the
United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East in order to find a
solution to the problem that’s been building up over many years. I thank everyone for
your patience in letting me speak my mind on that.
SUT JHALLY: Many people believe the way that Americans understand the Muslim
world is very problematic. Indeed anti-Arab racism seems to be almost officially
sanctioned. You can make generalized and racist statements about Arab peoples that
would not be tolerated for any other group. At the heart of how this new American
Orientalism operates is a threatening and demonized figure of the Islamic terrorist that
is emphasized by journalists and Hollywood.
Now Said recognizes that terrorism exits, as a result of the violent, political situation in
the Middle East. But he argues that there is a lot more going on there that is
misunderstood or not seen by the peoples of the West. The result of the media’s focus
on one negative aspect alone means that all the peoples of the Islamic world come to
be understood in the same negative and paranoid way, that is, as a threat. So that when
we think of people who look like that and come from that part of the world we think
fanatic, extreme, violent. Said argues that understanding a vast and complex region like
the Middle East in this narrow way takes away from the humanity and diversity of
millions of ordinary people living decent and humane lives there.
[CBS News] We asked, “Would he plant a bomb to blow up the American’s if the
Islamic underground asked him too? The answer was yet.”
EDWARD SAID: After I’d written Orientalism and a book called The Question of
Palestine, in the late 70’s and the beginning of the 80’s, I wrote a third book, which is
called Covering Islam and I thought of them as a kind of trilogy. And Covering Islam was
an account of the coverage of Islam in the popular media. Immediately occasioned by
the Iranian Revolution, which described itself as you recall, as an Islamic revolution.
What I discovered was a huge arsenal of images employed by the media, large masses
of people waving their fists, black banners, the stern-faced Khomeini, all of them giving
the impression of the utmost negative, sort of evil emanation. So the impression you got
of Islam was that it was a frightening mysterious, above all threatening, as if the main
business of Muslims was to threaten and try to kill Americans. As recently as last year,
1996, that is almost sixteen or seventeen years after I wrote Covering Islam, I did an
update of the book, and I wrote a new introduction. I found quite to my horror and
surprise, that during those sixteen or seventeen years with a large number of events in
the Islamic world taking place, which you would think would allow for more familiarity,
with a more refined sense of what was taking place as reflected on television and print
journalism, in fact was the opposite. I think the situation got worse. And that what you
had instead now was a much more threatening picture of Islam, represented for
example by television film called Jihad in America, based on the bombing of the World
[TV: Jihad in America] I’ve reported on international terrorism for the past ten years.
And since the World Trade Center bombing I’ve been investigating the networks of
Islamic extremists committed to Jihad in America. For these militants, Jihad is a Holy
War, an armed struggle to defeat nonbelievers or infidels. And their ultimate goal is to
establish and Islamic empire.
…But this gathering did not take place in the Middle East. It happened in the heartland
of America, Kansas City, Missouri.
…Combating these groups within the boundaries of the Constitution will be the greatest
challenge to law enforcement since the war on organized crime.
EDWARD SAID: But never the same generalizations were made, let’s say, about the
Oklahoma City bombing, that this was a Christian fundamentalist, etc, etc. But the
Islamic Jihad had come to America and you had these scenes of the most irresponsible
journalism, where you’d see people talking in Arabic and then a voice over, saying they
are discussing the destruction of America. Whereas if you picked up a little of what was
being said, if you knew the language, had nothing to do with that. And that Islam and
the teachings of Islam became synonymous with terror and the demonization of Islam
allowed for very little distinction between piety, lets say, and violence. The so called
independent media in a liberal society like this, in effect are so lazy and are controlled
by interests that are commercial and political at the same time, that there is no
investigative reporting, it’s just basically repeating the line of the government.
[TV: Nightline] Only eight days ago I concluded a broadcast on the World Trade Center
bombing by telling you what senior law enforcement officials were telling us, that the
threat of Muslim extremists operating within the United States is an ongoing danger,
something we’ll have to live with from now on.
EDWARD SAID: And repeating the lines of the people who have the most influence, for
whom Islam is a useful foreign demon, to turn attention away from the inequities and
problems in our own society. So, as a result, the human side of the Islamic and
especially Arabic world, are rarely to be found and the net result is this vacancy on the
one hand and these easy, almost automatic images of terror and violence. There is a
handy set of images and clichés, you know, not just from the newspapers and the
television, but from movies.
[Movie: Aladdin opening song] I come from a land, from a faraway place where a
caravan camels roam, where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense, it’s barbaric
but hey, it’s home. When the winds from the east and the suns from the west and sand
in the glass is right, come on down, stop on by, hop a carpet and fly to another Arabian
EDWARD SAID: I mean, I myself, growing up in the Middle East in Palestine, in Cairo
used to delight in films on the Arabian Nights, you know done by Hollywood producers,
you know with Jon Hall and Maria Montez and Sabu. I mean they were talking about
part of the world that I lived in but it had this kind of exotic, magical quality which was
what we call today Hollywood. So there was that whole repertory of the sheiks in the
dessert and galloping around and the scimitars and the dancing girls and all of that,
that’s really the material. It’s the situation in the popular media is that basically Muslims
are really two things, one, they are villains and fanatics.
[Unlabeled movie clip] I will dispatch the American people to the hell they deserve.
EDWARD SAID: And B, many films end up with huge numbers of bodies, Muslim
bodies strewn all over the place, the result of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris,
lot’s of films about guerrillas going into kill Muslim terrorists. So the idea of Islam is
something to be stamped out.
[Movie: True Lies] (fighting sounds, swords clashing, grunting)
EDWARD SAID: The whole history of these Orientalist representations, which
portrayed the Muslim and the Oriental in effect a lesser breed, in other words, the only
thing they understand is the language of force. This is the principle here, unless you
give them a bloody nose they won’t understand. We can’t talk reason with them.
[Unlabeled movie clip] (Fighting scenes – screaming)
EDWARD SAID: Is the Arab world full of terrorists? Well, I mean, all you have to do is
break down the question into common sense and say, there are terrorists as there are
everywhere, but you know, there’s a lot more going on there, I mean we’re talking about
250 to 300 million people and one of the great problems with Orientalism to begin with
is these vast generalizations about Islam and the nature of Islam. There is very little in
common that you can talk about as Islam, let’s say, between Indonesia and Saudi
Arabia, I mean they are both Muslim countries but, you know, the difference is in history
and language and traditions and so on. It’s so vast that the word Islam has, at best, a
tenuous meaning. The same is true within the Arab world. I mean Morocco is very
different from Saudi Arabia. Algeria is very different from Egypt. And I would argue and
in fact have argued, that the predominant mood of the Arab world is very secular. It’s
easy to attract attention and certainly the media’s attention for some of the political
reasons that are obvious. I mean, to discredit the Arabs to make them seem like a
threat to the West, to keep the idea around at the end of the Cold War, that, you know,
there are foreign devils. Otherwise what are we doing this gigantic military? You know,
this huge military budget that is twice as much as an entire world’s military budget
So you have to have threat. And the result is it’s very hard to find words that are
sympathetic to the Arabs and Islam. Islam is seen as the enemy of Christianity and the
United States sees itself as a Christian or a Judeo-Christian country, in affiliation with
Israel and that Islam is the great enemy. The competitor. There’s a history of that. And I
give the example of Dodi Fayad, you know, the erstwhile suitor of Princess Dianna. Well
a few days before he died I read through the English press and it was full of the racist
clichés of Orientalist discourse, I mean, that this is, The Sunday Times, one of the
leading newspapers in England, had a head line to a 15,000 word story entitled, A
Match Made in Mecca. And the idea of Muslim conspiracy as trying to infect, you know,
taking over this white woman by these dark people, with Mohammad, the prophet
Mohammad who is a historical personage of the seventh century somehow stagemanaging the whole thing. That’s the power of the discourse you see, if you’re thinking
about people and Islam and about that part of the world those are the words you
constantly have to use.
[Movie]… and you won’t get hurt, I give you my word.
— No way, you wacko.
EDWARD SAID: So discourse is a regulated system of producing knowledge within
certain constraints whereby certain rules have to be observed.
[TV: The Simpsons]
OK, Libya, exports?
— Yes, sir, you American pig.
Ha, ha, ha, nice touch.
EDWARD SAID: To think past it, to go beyond it, not to use it, is virtually impossible
because there’s no knowledge that isn’t codified in this way about that part of the world.
May I help you?
— Listen to the sound …
EDWARD SAID: And there’s a certain sense in which in not really mounting a serious
critique of it, the Arabs have participated and continue to allow themselves to be
represented as Orientals in this Orientalist way. There is no, for example, information
policy of the twenty Arab countries, twenty-two Arab countries, to try to give a different
picture of what their worlds are like. Because most of them are dictatorships. All of them
are dictatorships without democracy, who are in desperate need of U.S. patronage,
government patronage, to support them, so they are not about to criticize the United
States. Not about to engage in a real dialogue and in that respect I think the Arabs keep
themselves collectivity in a way that is subordinate to and inferior to the West. And in
fact fulfills the kinds of representations that most Westerners have in their minds about
ORIENTALISM IN ACTION – The Media & the Oklahoma City
[CBS News] The attack came without warning, and according to a US government
source who told CBS news that it has Middle East terrorism written all over it.
[CBS News] The attack in Oklahoma City appears to have a familiar mark.
[CBS News Interview: Steve Emerson, Author] This was done with the attempt to
inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait.
[ABC News] The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately
drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East.
ABC News has learned that the FBI has asked the US military to provide up to ten
Arabic speakers to help in the investigation.
EDWARD SAID: Well, one of the interesting things about the persistence of
Orientalism, I mean, almost when you think about it, almost astonishing persistence of
it, was the Oklahoma City bombing in April of 1995. I can give you a personal example. I
was in Canada giving some lectures at the actual time of the bombing. And, maybe half
an hour after the event had occurred in the afternoon, my office was inundated with
phone calls from the media. I rang my office from Canada as I frequently do to find out,
you know, if there was any message for me that needed attention and so on. And, she
said, every – twenty-five calls had come in from the major networks, from the cable
channels, from the major newspapers, news magazines and so on and so forth, all of
them wanting to talk to you. And I said, “What about?” “About this event in Oklahoma
City.” And I said, “What does that have to do with anything?” Well, apparently,
somebody had volunteered, one of these instant commentators, that the notion that this
seemed like a Middle East style bombing and that there were a couple of swarthy
people around right after the bombing, or seen after the bombing.
[ABC News] Within hours of the explosion, local police and the FBI had issued the All
Points Bulletin looking for three men believed to be of Middle Eastern origin.
[CBS News] Sources tell CBS News that unofficially, the FBI is treating this as a Middle
[CBS News Interview: Steve Emerson, Author] Oklahoma City, I can tell you, is
probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the
EDWARD SAID: And this got them to think that they should talk to me, not because I
had anything to do with it, but because by virtue of being from the Middle East I would
have an inside insight into this. You know, and of course the proposition is so
preposterous and so racist that just if you are from the area you would understand who
and why this is being done. Never thinking for a moment that it was a local homegrown
boy called McVeigh who was totally American in his outlook and was doing it out of the
best principles of American extermination and Ahab-like anger at, you know, the world.
ORIENTALISM AND THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION
SUT JHALLY: Professor Said is not only a literary theorist; he is also a very prominent
and active representative of the Palestinian people. Said grew up in what was then
called Palestine and is now called Israel and the Occupied Territories. When the State
of Israel was founded in 1948, like millions of other Palestinians, Said and his family
were made homeless as well as stateless. These exiled Palestinians now mostly live,
either in the territories under the control of Israel or in refugee camps in the surrounding
countries. One of the things that drives Said is the quest for justice and a homeland for
the Palestinian people. And there is a close connection between Said’s intellectual work
and his political activism. As he himself remarks, he wrote three books that he thinks of
as a trilogy and that in his mind are closely connected together, Orientalism, Covering
Islam, and The Question of Palestine. He believes that finding a peaceful, humane and
just solution to the conflicts in the Middle East, that is finding an answer to the Question
of Palestine, will require overcoming the racist legacy of Orientalism that stresses the
separation of people from each other, that regards difference as a threat that must be
contained or destroyed. Because of the complex and bloody history of the Middle East,
Said regards the situation in Palestine and Israel as the ultimate test case facing the
twenty-first century, of whether we live together in peace and reconciliation with our
differences, or whether we live apart in fear and loathing of each other, constantly under
threat, constantly at war. In seeking a way out of this legacy of mistrust and conflict,
Said draws upon the work of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who gives us the
tools to think about these difficult issues in more productive and humane ways.
EDWARD SAID: Gramsci, in The Prison Notebooks, says something that has always
tremendously appealed to me, that history deposits in us our own history, our family’s
history, our nation’s history, our tradition’s history, which has left in us an infinity of
traces, all kinds of marks, you know, through heredity, through collective experience,
through individual experience, through family experience, relations between one
individual and another, a whole book, if you like, on a series of, an infinity of traces, but
there is no inventory, there’s no orderly guide to it.
So Gramsci says, “Therefore the task at the outset, is to try to compile an inventory,” in
other words to try and make sense of it. And this seems to me to be the most
interesting sort of human task. It’s the task of interpretation. It’s a task of giving history
some shape and sense, for a particular reason, not just to show that my history is better
than yours, or my history is worse than yours. I’m a victim and you’re somebody who’s
oppressed people or so on, but rather, to understand my history in terms of other
people’s history, in other words to try to understand, to move beyond, to generalize
one’s own individual experience to the experience of others. And I think the great goal is
in fact to become someone else. To transform itself from a unitary identity to an identity
that includes the other without suppressing the difference. That, he says is the great
goal. And for me I think that would be the case. That would be the notion of writing an
inventory, historical inventory, which would try to understand not only to understand
one’s self but to understand one’s self in relation to others and to understand others as
if you would understand yourself.
Palestine is so important in this respect because of its local complexities, let’s say Arabs
and Jews, Arab Muslims and Arab Christians and Israeli Jews of themselves very mixed
backgrounds. I mean we’re talking about Polish Jews, Russian Jews, American Jews,
Yemeni Jews, Iraqi Jews, Indian Jews, it’s a fairly complex mosaic somehow finding a
way to live together, on land that is drenched, saturated with significance on a world
scale, unlike any other country in the world. I mean it’s holy to three of the major
religions and every inch of it has been combed over and fought over for the last several
And the pattern so far has been the Zionist pattern which is to say that ‘it’s promised to
us, we are the chosen people, everybody else is sort of second rate, throw them out or
treat them as second class citizens.’ In contrast to that, some of us, not everybody, but
many Palestinians have said, ‘well we realize that we are being asked to pay the price
for what happened to the Jews in Europe, under the Holocaust, it was an entirely
Christian and European catastrophe in which the Arabs played no part, and we are
being dispossessed, displaced by the victims. We’ve become the victims of the victims.
But, as I say, not all of us say, well they should be thrown out. Because we have been
thrown out and so we have another vision, which is a vision of co-existence, in which
Jew and Arab, Muslim, Christian and Jew can live together in some polity, which I think
it requires a kind of creativity, and invention that is possible – vision that would replace
the authoritarian, hierarchical model. But this idea that somehow we should protect
ourselves against the infiltrations, the infections of the Other, is, I think, the most
dangerous idea at the end of the twentieth century. Unless we find ways to do it, and
there are no short cuts to it, unless we find ways to do this, you know there is going to
be wholesale violence of a sort represented by the Gulf War, by the killings in Bosnia,
the Rwandan massacres and so on. I mean those are the pattern of emerging conflict
that is extremely dangerous and needs to be counteracted and I think therefore it’s
correct to say that the challenge now is – I wouldn’t call it anything other than coexistence. How does one co-exist with people whose religions are different, whose
traditions and languages are different but who form part of the same community or polity
in the national sense? How do we accept difference without violence and hostility?
I’ve been interested in a field called Comparative Literature most all of my adult life and
the ideal of Comparative Literature is not to show how English literature is really a
secondary phenomenon to French literature or Arabic literature is kind of a poor cousin
to Persian literature or any of those silly things, but to show them existing, you might
say, as contrapuntal lines, in a great composition by which difference is respected and
understood without coercion. And it’s that attitude I think that we need.
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