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Iraqis in Syria, Orientalism and The Economist

September 28th, 2009 · 2 Comments · Politics

A wide-ranging post today. First, a few interesting revelations about the Iraqi Baath Party – and its exiled leaders. Also, a rant against The Economist. And an article you must read before you ever use the word ‘Orientalist’ again.

Andrew Lee Butters has written this piece for Time magazine. Called “Can former Iraqi Baathists in Syria ever go home”, he looks at the apparent split between the hardline Iraqi Baath, and a more moderate Iraqi Baath in Syria.

The former is led by one of Saddam’s former Vice Presidents, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. The moderate wing is led by Muhammad Younis, one of Saddam’s advisors. Interestingly, Younis-the-moderate is the man blamed by Iraq for the August Baghdad bombings. Also interesting is a very strong quote from Al-Douri, which is the real story. He says:

“We know America has an interest to return Iraq as a strong country and to stabilize the region. If America withdraws from Iraq now it will have a criminal responsibility.”

The real story, then, is “Iraqi Baath leader calls on Americans to stay in Iraq”. Shocking.

Ok, moving on. I have beef with The Economist. Yes, yes, I know its coverage is impressive. Its analysis is often spot on and hardhitting. But their policy of never having bylines means you don’t know what to expect from each article. Take a look at these two:

First, Deterring Foreign Investors tackles the sell off of the oil industry. It criticises the government’s reluctance to sell Iraq to powerful western companies. And it cloaks this in the language of “technical expertise”. Iraqis don’t have the capability to run their own oil fields, so it’s better just to sell the family jewels. It lectures Iraq, in words which could’ve been penned by a Washington neo-con think-tank. And then concedes that Iraq’s oil experts do exist – but they’re in exile. So maybe that’s the solution then?

Second, The Economist lavishes praise on South Africa’s new president Jacob Zuma. And the reason – he’s not as left-wing as he was expected to be. In fact, he may be even more conservative than his predecessor. If you want to read into The Economist’s ideological line, then this is the article to do it.

Away from The Economist, former Guardian Middle East editor Brian Whitaker (whose tantalising new book, What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East, has just been published by Saqi) explains exactly what Orientalism is, and what it isn’t. In the article published last year, he accuses many academics of using the word, without understanding it.

“If the Iraq war achieved nothing else, it did at least remind us that orientalism can serve as the cultural arm of western imperialism. But is it always so? Orientalism, for Said, was a one-way process — “us” otherising “them” — though, as he seemed to acknowledge towards the end of his life, it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. …

In 1978 it was scarcely imaginable that large numbers of Arabs and Muslims would one day reclaim orientalism for themselves and, far from objecting to being designated as “the other”, would turn it into a badge of honour. That, basically, is what happened. Islamists and Arab traditionalists have embraced a kind of reverse orientalism that caricatures and stereotypes “the west” while espousing “traditional” (sometimes newly-invented) “Arab-Islamic” values.”

Essential reading.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Analitikis // Sep 30, 2009 at 4.42 pm

    Hi Sasa,

    Said defines Orientalism as a created body of theory and practice for which, for many generations, there has been a considerable material investment for the production and domination of the “orient” and, subsequently, the “oriental”. The romanticized “orient” was a product of knowledgeable manipulations and it just happens that the “oriental” realized that instrumentalizing that image would make ends meet (tourism), and in the process started to believe that this is what he really is or ought to be… The author has a point but, from what I read, fails to go beyond the obvious in his analysis.

  • 2 EM // Oct 5, 2009 at 9.21 pm

    Hi Sasa,

    Said defines Orientalism as a created body of theory and practice for which, for many generations, there has been a considerable material investment for the production and domination of the “orient” and, subsequently, the “oriental”. The romanticized “orient” was a product of knowledgeable manipulations and it just happens that the “oriental” realized that instrumentalizing that image would make ends meet (tourism), and in the process started to believe that this is what he really is or ought to be… The author has a point but, from what I read, fails to go beyond the obvious in his analysis.

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