August 2, 2003
The Guardian

A Window on the World

Western scholars helped justify the war in Iraq, says Edward Said, with their orientalist ideas about the 'Arab mind'

by Edward Said

. . . The major influences on George W Bush's Pentagon and National Security Council were men such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, experts on the Arab and Islamic world who helped the American hawks to think about such preposterous phenomena as the Arab mind and the centuries-old Islamic decline which only American power could reverse. Today bookstores in the US are filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, the Arab threat and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political polemicists pretending to knowledge imparted by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange oriental peoples. CNN and Fox, plus myriad evangelical and rightwing radio hosts, innumerable tabloids and even middle-brow journals, have recycled the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalisations so as to stir up "America" against the foreign devil.

Without a well-organised sense that the people over there were not like "us" and didn't appreciate "our" values - the very core of traditional orientalist dogma - there would have been no war. The American advisers to the Pentagon and the White House use the same cliches, the same demeaning stereotypes, the same justifications for power and violence (after all, runs the chorus, power is the only language they understand) as the scholars enlisted by the Dutch conquerors of Malaysia and Indonesia, the British armies of India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, West Africa, the French armies of Indochina and North Africa. These people have now been joined in Iraq by a whole army of private contractors and eager entrepreneurs to whom shall be confided everything from the writing of textbooks and the constitution to the refashioning of Iraqi political life and its oil industry.

Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilise, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires.


["This order reveals the true motivation for the present occupation: absolute power for U.S. corporate interests over Iraqi oil," said IPS Senior Researcher Jim Vallette. "This is the smoking gun that proves the Bush administration always intended to free corporate investments, not the Iraqi people."--"Groups Demand Repeal of Bush Immunity for U.S. Oil Companies in Iraq," Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, July 23, 2001]

M. Shahid Alam, "Bernard Lewis and the New Orientalism," The Wisdom Fund, June 29, 2003

[. . . the push to bring democracy and free markets to the Middle East was "the moral mission of our time", to be compared with the civil rights movement that ended racial segregation in America.David Rennie, "Critics of US policy are racist, says Rice," The Telegraph, August 9, 2003]

William Blum, "The Incantations of Empire: Myth and Denial in the War on Terrorism," CounterPunch, August 12, 2003

Patrick J. Buchanan, "Imperial wars, then & now,", August 13, 2003

[Bush speaks in the name of the founding fathers but believes he is doing the work of the holy father. He cannot do both and condemn fundamentalism. But if he feels he must try, he might start with the sixth commandment: "Thou shalt not kill."--Gary Younge, "God help America," The Guardian, August 25, 2003]

[He who warns of the "clash of civilizations" is incontestably right; . . .

The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing. . . .

But Hollywood is "preparing the battlefield," and burgers precede bullets. The flag follows trade.--"Constant Conflict," Parameters, Summer 1997, pp. 4-14: US Army War College]

Chris White, "9/11 in Context: A Marine Veteran's Perspective," CounterPunch, Otober 28, 2003

George Soros, "The Bubble of American Supremacy," The Atlantic Monthly, December, 2003

Eric Hobsbawm, "The last of the utopian projects: Perestroika plunged Russia into social ruin - and the world into an unprecedented superpower bid for global domination," Guardian, March 9, 2005

Noam Chomsky, "Who Owns the Earth?,", July 5, 2013

Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, "Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference," Princeton University Press (July 25, 2011)

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