Socio/Political and Historical analysis necessary for my peace of mind.

Category: Orientalism


If I say the words, Islam, Middle East, and Arab… what are the very first things that come to mind?

Orientalism has been on my mind as of late – been doing a lot of reading on colonialism, the middle east, and American foreign policy. The anti-Arab racism that is prevalent in American discourse is really starting to get to me. There are things, that I am starting to notice, that are said about Arabs and Islam that would never be tolerated if said about Blacks or Jews. Yet everyone feels free to spit these things out day to day.

A while back I read a book called Orientalism by Edward Said. In this book, it described how the “western powers” (France, Britain, and America) view the people in the Middle East, Asia, and Parts of Africa. In that we view people in these regions through an ideological lens that prevents us from seeing certain realities. Orientalism is basically how we stereotype these cultures. Said digs through the history of our literature, our media, and our academic writings on these regions and finds a connecting string of bigotry that is prevalent in our views.

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Context Independance

Have you ever read a quote that was taken out of context and used for a purpose that is in direct contradiction to the authors stated position? You know, have you ever been “quote mined*” or seen someone “quote mined” in such a blatant fashion that it is almost laughable?

*Quite mining, for those who do not know, is where someone cherry picks quotes that can be interpreted in a way that is usually either, contradictory to the authors purpose, or extrapolating to a conclusion that can not be logically connected to the authors original intent.

Ever took it upon yourself to look up the cited sources, only to find out that, like in the very next line, the original source is saying something that is the complete opposite of what it was made to say? (This is one of the primary reasons academic check primary sources) You ever had this experience? I actually have, quite a lot.

What this experience has taught me, despite the cardinal rule of “check the source,” is that context matters. Context matters… a lot. The context of a quote can change the entire meaning of the quote. Heck the context of a single word can dramatically change the meaning of the word! Dictionaries have different definitions for a reason! In language, we all know, or should know, that context matters. Context determines the meaning of words and phrases… and without context we can easily be lead to false conclusions about what someone is saying. Understanding context is a necessary skill. You can not analyze anything accurately when you avoid the context of what is written or said. This should be a trivial truism to anyone…. There really is no such thing in language that is “context independent”… because all language depends on context.

This lesson however, is quickly forgotten by most people when they attempt to analyze marginalized points of view. Something odd and fcked up happens to people when they first encounter minority view points on racism, sexism, homophobia, orientalism, Islamaphobia, Anti-American sentiments….etc.. people… just sort of forget that… yeah… context matters. Or maybe I should say, they do not forget that context matters, they simply fail to understand how to apply social, political, and historical context to a given situation.

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