Jacqueline Oud - Culture

Debate: from colonisation to racism

This article is issued as an reaction on a publication from Edward W. Said in the French newspaper "Le Monde Diplomatique - ed. September 2003" [1]

For your inforamtion: Edward W. Said became a known writer after publishing in 1978 its book "Orientalism - Western conceptions of the Orient". This book is still very popular and in addition, he wrote an afterword to his 1995 edition.

Everyone is aware the the media are taking more and more importance in our lives. It is not only the soap operas that are a becoming a part of our society - and that line out the intellectual level of some of the media - but more in particular the medias have more and more power on what they show us on television especially in documentaries and news-diffisions. It is a fact that people read less and less and thus turn more towards televison. As a result their stream of information is much more influencable since less broad.

The risk of this media of information is that it reaches a large public and we notice more and more that political influence floats into the media. I’m not discussing the dictatorship countries where all information is censured but I’m more precisely pointing out to countries that proclame themselves democratic or republic and stand for freedom of mind. See for exemple Italy where politics and media are combined in Mr Berlusconi. Or even the USA where the governement has a very strong right wing in the medias. This increases the possibility of propaganda on what information is broadcasted to the audience. In times of policial unrest or instability the media are the easiest way to communicate the desired ideas to the inhabitants of a nation. Distorsion is a big risk of which some of us are aware and some are neglecting a big part of it. The risk is a real "brainwashing" and thus it is as an extra weapon in times of war, though it is no longer only used during war! We have learned about this in our history books and is hasn’t finished yet, it seems to have become even more sophisticated.

Besides, this distorted image is not only transmitted into the Western world. It is also the other way around. The cultures that feel "attacked" defend themselves in projecting distorted images from the Western World. Not only as we are told by our media that this is a natural result but also as a reaction. The final conclusion would be that the victimes are at both side and the neither of the sides really know how the other is since both ground their ideas on completely deformed information. In the end, none is really aware of the real culture of the other, of its richnesses and its key elements. For exemple: the USA inhabitants will all be imagined eating the whole day hamburgers from Fast Food restaurants and having their gun next to them, whereas the Arab world will be depicted as men beating their several women and who will have to wear burquas the whole day through. The Europeans in this scenario haven’t changed much since the Middle Age and still don’t know what is happening around them and just drink their wine or beers and do nothing the whole day through.

If we let all this happen, we will all be lived out by our prejudices, creating fear around us on everything that is not like us [2]. We will all have to become identical, doubles, and lose our own capacity of reflection. Then we will all become naturally deprived from our imagination and our creativity.

lets go back to the past. All nations from Europa have their period of colonisaton. We may not be proud of it today but we have been it for a long time. The aim of colonisation was to dominate the inhabitants from a country that was for one reason or another interesting to us [3]. The inhabitants were depicted as stupid and not capable of looking after themselves. This simply because they were not living like we did at that period and it increased the right to change them and become like us. In a way we can say that we are afraid of people that are not like us, we don’t understand them so we cannot foresee their actions, in other words, this unables us to manage and controll them. We are afraid and to react to this fear we defend ourselves with violence. It seems easier to kill the supposed "bad guys" than to try to understand them, in any way, that is the way it has always been.

This period for the Europeans has finished but in a way is has continued... Isn’t the USA of today mainly made out of ancient Europeans?? The Indians that were there - a long time ago now - are no longer the ones that gouvern the USA [4]. It is nowadays the USA that mainly wants to dominate the world so it seems to be the "New Europeans" that are starting their colonisation. Is it fear, is it the need for domination and why does it all seem so required in order to continue living?

Another way could be much more pleasant. If we stop being afraid of one another and try to show some interest in the way other cultures live we might become surprised. It are those "bad" Oriental people that happen to be one of the oldest civilisation on this planet. The Arabs have increased the level of science enormously when they were at their toplevel - when Europe was in the dark part of the Middle Ages. And moreover, the best periodes of history were for exemple the Renaissance where all different cultures met and were people had possibilities to increase the exchange of various science. Art and science improved a lot at that time. Nowadays internet is also increasing the exchange of art and science so we should take advantage of this possibility of cultural enrichment.

In the article written by Edward W. Said, he states that what is need above all is the knowledge of different languages and of world history. It will thus be these 2 parts that will provide you the keys to stay open minded since you can read and understand different cultures, and see the clear lines frome the past that can be drawned to the present. Curiosity can do the rest. The future is in our hands. It is just very important to stay aware that todays world is based on different cultures, it is this crossbreeding of all different cultures from the past, whether considered stupid or backward that have all contributed to the richness of todays world for all of us.
One can never oblige human beings to forget it roots, nor the past and its need for sociability and arts. In July 2003 a film called "Equilibrium" illustrated in a nowadys version the risk of George Orwell’s 1984, on what will happen if we are no longer free to think and are all the same.

Open your mind, read and listen to other people without prejudice and stay open for their way of thinking. If not, how can you suppose they will do so for you!

Some hints for further study:
See Goethe’s "Weltliteratur", William Blake’s works, and ofcourse the essay "Orientalism" of Eward W. Said.
The versions of the published article - his thus last article - as can be found on the internet are in English: Counterpunch.orgor in French : "Solidarité Palestine". The article was originally proposed to "Le Monde Diplomatique".

[1To our regrets, Edward W. Said has left us on the date of September 24th 2003, the following press release announced it.

[2Micheal Moore displayed this very well in his documentary film "Bowling For Columbine", 2002

[3like USA is nowadays intersted in the oil that lies in the Middle East

[4though this is often a tabou, since once again they also were killed

[24 September 2003]

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