Blind Imperial Arrogance

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Occupation Views: 7129

The great modern empires have never been held together only by military power. Britain ruled the vast territories of India with only a few thousand colonial officers and a few more thousand troops, many of them Indian. France did the same in North Africa and Indochina, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Portuguese and Belgians in Africa. The key element was imperial perspective, that way of looking at a distant foreign reality by subordinating it in one's gaze, constructing its history from one's own point of view, seeing its people as subjects whose fate can be decided by what distant administrators think is best for them. From such willful perspectives ideas develop, including the theory that imperialism is a benign and necessary thing. 

For a while this worked, as many local leaders believed - mistakenly - that cooperating with the imperial authority was the only way. But because the dialectic between the imperial perspective and the local one is adversarial and impermanent, at some point the conflict between ruler and ruled becomes uncontainable and breaks out into colonial war, as happened in Algeria and India. We are still a long way from that moment in American rule over the Arab and Muslim world because, over the last century, pacification through unpopular local rulers has so far worked. 

At least since World War II, American strategic interests in the Middle East have been, first, to ensure supplies of oil and, second, to guarantee at enormous cost the strength and domination of Israel over its neighbors. 

Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate. These ideas are by no means shared by the people who inhabit that empire, but that hasn't prevented the U.S. propaganda and policy apparatus from imposing its imperial perspective on Americans, whose sources of information about Arabs and Islam are woefully inadequate. 

Several generations of Americans have come to see the Arab world mainly as a dangerous place, where terrorism and religious fanaticism are spawned and where a gratuitous anti-Americanism is inculcated in the young by evil clerics who are anti-democratic and virulently anti-Semitic. 

In the U.S., "Arabists" are under attack. Simply to speak Arabic or to have some sympathetic acquaintance with the vast Arab cultural tradition has been made to seem a threat to Israel. The media runs the vilest racist stereotypes about Arabs - see, for example, a piece by Cynthia Ozick in the Wall Street Journal in which she speaks of Palestinians as having "reared children unlike any other children, removed from ordinary norms and behaviors" and of Palestinian culture as "the life force traduced, cultism raised to a sinister spiritualism." 

Americans are sufficiently blind that when a Middle Eastern leader emerges whom our leaders like - the shah of Iran or Anwar Sadat - it is assumed that he is a visionary who does things our way not because he understands the game of imperial power (which is to survive by humoring the regnant authority) but because he is moved by principles that we share. 

Almost a quarter of a century after his assassination, Sadat is a forgotten and unpopular man in his own country because most Egyptians regard him as having served the U.S. first, not Egypt. The same is true of the shah in Iran. That Sadat and the shah were followed in power by rulers who are less palatable to the U.S. indicates not that Arabs are fanatics, but that the distortions of imperialism produce further distortions, inducing extreme forms of resistance and political self-assertion. 

The Palestinians are considered to have reformed themselves by allowing Mahmoud Abbas, rather than the terrible Yasser Arafat, to be their leader. But "reform" is a matter of imperial interpretation. Israel and the U.S. regard Arafat as an obstacle to the settlement they wish to impose on the Palestinians, a settlement that would obliterate Palestinian demands and allow Israel to claim, falsely, that it has atoned for its "original sin." 

Never mind that Arafat - whom I have criticized for years in the Arabic and Western media - is still universally regarded as the legitimate Palestinian leader. He was legally elected and has a level of popular support that no other Palestinian approaches, least of all Abbas, a bureaucrat and longtime Arafat subordinate. And never mind that there is now a coherent Palestinian opposition, the Independent National Initiative; it gets no attention because the U.S. and the Israeli establishment wish for a compliant interlocutor who is in no position to make trouble. As to whether the Abbas arrangement can work, that is put off to another day. This is shortsightedness indeed - the blind arrogance of the imperial gaze. The same pattern is repeated in the official U.S. view of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the other Arab states. 

Underlying this perspective is a long-standing view - the Orientalist view - that denies Arabs their right to national self-determination because they are considered incapable of logic, unable to tell the truth and fundamentally murderous. 

Since Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, there has been an uninterrupted imperial presence based on these premises throughout the Arab world, producing untold misery - and some benefits, it is true. But so accustomed have Americans become to their own ignorance and the blandishments of U.S. advisors like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, who have directed their venom against the Arabs in every possible way, that we somehow think that what we do is correct because "that's the way the Arabs are." That this happens also to be an Israeli dogma shared uncritically by the neo-conservatives who are at the heart of the Bush administration simply adds fuel to the fire. 

We are in for many more years of turmoil and misery in the Middle East, where one of the main problems is, to put it as plainly as possible, U.S. power. What the U.S. refuses to see clearly it can hardly hope to remedy. 

Edward Said is a professor at Columbia University and the author of "The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After" (Pantheon, 2000). 

The article was originally published on Sunday, July 20, 2003 by the Los Angeles Times

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Occupation
Views: 7129

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Older Comments:
i think that he was right on the point

hope allah will show the way for the arab nation to unite and fight their command enemy.

Until we as a nation understand White supremacy we can never understand what is going on, it will not make sense. Some of my friends and work associates thought that I was out of touch then as I was able to predict a few years in advance what would occur they suddenly have decided that I am worthy of advice. I am no smarter than anyone else, i just think differently, out of the box. This perspecive of Said is available just ignored here as irrelevent or crazy.. As long as the media is a lapdog for American foreign policy the American people will continue to be the most uninformed people that I have ever met.

Kevin, what crusades did the Arabs launch against you ? You've got it the other way round, go check out a history book and accept the reality of your crimes.

Indeed, history will tell that the fall of the American Empire was due mainly to Arrogance and Ignorance.

The fact is that the United States implements an imperialistic policy towards the Araband Muslim world for the two reasons mentioned in this article: Israel and oil. From Franklin D. Roosevelt, every U.S. president and administration have based their policies in the Middle East on the well being of Israel. The Nixon administration included oil as a factor, and that also continues to this date. Henry Kissinger, the pro-Israeli Jewish defense secretary, once said, "The oil of the Arabs is too valuable to give up."

Poor Marlene, still in denial, please tell us of these "contradictions." Prof. Said "left" Arafat because of the Oslo Accords, which Said had warned were nothing but a smokescreen for further Israeli expansion. Arafat in his greed accepted the deal, hoping to cement his place in history and secure a few billion bucks, becoming warden of his own people.
Lo and behold Prof. Said's predeiction that the "peace process" was sham has been confirmed several times over. The fact is Edward Said is a highly intelligent and articulate spokesman for the Palestinian cause and he makes zero apologies for it. This is the reason zionist trolls and apologists for empire are intimidated by him. You wont find this titan on CNN or other US state media outfits.
We love you Edward, keep fighting the good fight.

Why still complaining about past Western Imperialism? Arabs were once imperialistic too . . . conducted their own crusades. Best to look at own deficiences and conduct personal and inner jihad.

Yes, Robin Shah. I hope our troops will return soon - but with basically none of the "major appliances" they brought with them into Iraq - insha'Allah. Generally speaking, I would think that a righteous people need only to prepare (patiently) for whatever war Allah (swt) wills that they wage - and may Allah (the One God - the one who alone is good) be with the righteous. Also, I am hoping my nation's government will soon insist that human rights and the capacity for civil defense be considered inseparable parts of any government's philosophy - until Allah (swt) has instructed my government to do otherwise - insha'Allah.

I also feel that petroleum prices are surely too low. I think we Americans should be encouraged to develop our own, domestic sources of energy. I think we should eliminate any harmful effect our economy is clearly observed to have on people of other countries. I also think we should eliminate whatever "economic motivation" we may have for invading other nations in God's name.

Concerning the Zionist agenda, I myself have heard speakers - hosted by Dr. Laura Schlessinger on her nationally syndicated radio talk show - advocating mass emigration of Jewish Americans to occupied Palestine in the interest of the State of Israel. At least one of these speakers asserted that G-d gave the Jewish people the right to possess everything between the Nile and the Euphrates. I have no need to take, on faith, the word of Muslims claiming this is what the Zionists and their supporters have in mind. Citizens of Israel might do well to remember (as long as they are refusing to forget) that "zealots" have gotten their "invincible Israel" into serious trouble in the past - at least once in last two thousand years. May they receive the Peace of the Most High. Regardless of what anybody has planned, it is G-d alone who makes the only plans that in the long run will make any real difference.

Peace be with you.

What an interesting person Prof. Said is; quite a study of contradictions. One wonders why he left Arafat and company for the blind imperalism arrogance of the west.

it is in the interest of the rulers of the peninsula that american triumph in their mandate in iraq.but as things are today it will not be very long when the americans and the british leave iraq and that will be the begining of the end of the unpopular regimes not only in the arabian peninsula but through out the muslim world right from one end of north africa to indonesia.

You protest just a bit too much "Mustafa." Its an old trick using a Muslim name to lend credence to an obviously poor rant against Dr. Said's analysis of the situation.
You obviously have no conception about what Zionism is and its ultimate goals. But I guess when you're down to playing and pretending to be something you're not, that too be expected.

I agree with Mr. Mustapha for his view pertaining to the current situation of the Muslim world. Muslims are today because of their attitude towards fellow Muslims and the humanity in large. We have closed the doors of democracy, ijtihad and guided progress. If we do not like our faces in the mirrors, we tend to throw the mirrors instead of having surgery on our faces. By blaming non-Muslims for our current situation is too much and too easy. Our Mosques have become Muslim ghettos. Tyranny has taken over upon our countries, mosques, institutions, homes and in other areas. We do not believe in democracy, accountability and freedom of speech.

For example, if Saudi Arabia has artificially controlled the oil price under 18 dollars for more than a decade and helped United States enlarging its economy from 7 to 10 trillion dollars in Clinton years, the blame should not go to America but to Saudi Arabian government alone. If Shah of Iran has sold United States the oil for 1 dollar per barrel for 20 years, thus making it a monster in the 1950's and 60's, the onus should not be on America, but on Shah of Iran. We Muslims are habituated to blame everybody without taking responsibilities per se. For 12 long and painful years, our Iraqi brothers were crying for help, suffering from starvation, were literally put in the jail by the surrounding Arabs, the blame should not go to Israel or America, but 1.5 million Iraqis were murdered by Muslims alone. I have more admiration for Pope who has sent food and other items for poor and suffering Iraqis, the administration of Pope has also received Tariq Aziz on human grounds, but shockingly, the Imam of Kaba had not done so even one time. We can have long and crying prayers in Haramain shareefain, but Allah (sbt) will not listen to us because we are not serious about Islam, its mission to serve humanity, to bring justice and civility. Edward Said is a decent fellow and he is highlighting the Zionist agenda. Shuja

Ah, the Arab's are victims. The US is the cause of all unhappiness. Sounds to me like Dr. Said is one of those "Orientalists" he derides. Listen closely, I hear Dr. Said saying "The Arab's aren't mature enough to deal with their own problems".

I disagree.

The problem is not Imperialism; the problem is the political and cultural distortions caused by oil wealth. Immature, highly centralized political systems and near infinite oil wealth provide both the means and the incentive for self-serving leaders to dominate their societies and their neighbors. Are any of the these leaders (Saddam, Saudi family, the Iranian mullahs) more interested in their people's well being than their own personal aggrandizement? The answer is no. Does Dr. Said really feel that the Middle East would be a better place if the ambitions of the strong (Saddam, the Shah, Osama) are limited only by the speed at which they can convert oil in the ground into weapons pointed at their populations and neighbors?

Let's have some perspective. This is not a Middle Eastern problem only. Look at Nigeria, Venezuela, Angola, the central Asian states; same issues. Oil wealth provides irresistible temptations to selfish leaders.

Yes, the West is involved because of the Oil, but doesn't the West have a moral responsibility to try to limit the damage done by the money we pour into those countries? Unless we shut off the oil/money taps, the West will have role in the Middle East. It's implicit in the fact of the trade.

Finally, Dr. Said disgraces himself with his sycophancy to the mob, "(the US's goal is) domination of Israel over its neighbors". What is he talking about? Who on earth actually believes Israel's goal is conquest of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt or Jordan? Dr. Said is on to something when points to "the vast Arab cultural tradition has been made to seem a threat to Israel", except that the threat is not culture, it is the wealth controlled by these militaristic tyran

Tha author is correct in his analysis of the situation in the ME.As he says-'We are in for many more years of turmoil and misery in the Middle East,'-this is the depressing truth...what muslims need to work on is how to deal with and contain-' to put it as plainly as possible, U.S. power'.The islamists have determined their road of resistance-what will the majority do......dua and being proactive is the least we can do.

Edward Said is one of the most prolific and eloquent Palestinian Arab writers of all time. This piece further substantiates the previous statement. As he is a Christian, his work concerning the portrayal of Muslims in the West (especially Western media) must be noted and greatly appreciated by all Muslims. This article speaks volumes in a condensed version of Western ideas and arrogance (not always intentionally). Arabs and Muslims must rise at this moment to furhter investgate future consequences of Western actions and intentions, especially concerning the Middle East. This article is one giant leap in the right direction to do so.

To John Norman,

I would like to ask you if you are familiar about the history of the middle east. From your comment I gather you are not.

For centuries Jews lived peacefully, free to practice their religion, and prospered in Muslim countries in the middle east. They fared much better than their fellow jews in Europe who had experienced a great deal of persecution.

Even in Palestine in the 19th century the jews who migrated from Europe to the then Palestine (now Israel), were able to live there peacefully with the Palestinians until it became evident the Jews had no intention to live among the Palestinians. The European Jews plans to oust the Palestinians from their homes and towns in order to establish a Jewish state is the main reason why all the conflict and hatred escaleted.

By the way have you ever asked yourself why Zionism was a concept that started with the European Jews, not the Arab Jews?

Any people who is displaced, oppressed will hate those who caused such injustice to them. The fact that many Jews are surprised or criticize the hate the Arabs have for them are incredibly arrogant. No journalist in the west will ever dare ask the Jews why they hate the nazis, but they continuously ask the Arabs why they hate the Jews who have displaced, killed, and continue to oppress their fellow brothers and sisters in Palestine.


American foreign policy is contigent upon the aspirations of Zionist or Isralie interest. Any country that is even tentatively challenged Israel will be erased from the earth. Having 400 nukes, 1000 F16 and F15 fighters, Israel is challenging the whole Muslim world relentlessly. Utter one word against Israel, your political carrer will be jeapordized fully. Black mailing, intimidation, name calling are some of the tools the Zionists are using in American media. Americans are descent people, they are the greatest victims of Zionisim. They are mislead by Bernard Lewis, Kristol, Friedman, Hungtington, Wolfowitz, Pearl, Pipes and others. These bunch of crocodiles are using 10 trillion dollar economy to subjugate the whole world to Israel not to United States. Israel has become menace to the world security. Israel has created the greatest begger society in the world. Each of its citizen has taken by force about USD 25 thousand from American treasury in the past 30 years alone. It is the greatest failure story in the history of mankind. A Ugandan citizen has more respect and content than an Israeli. Israel is an artifical state. Manufactured by thugs and theives and terrorists. Israel wants its borders to be extended until river Nile. It has aspirations to occupy Jordan, Syria, half of Egypt, some parts of Turkey. There are some good Jewish people who understand the problem. But, the powerful Zionists would not let them speak.


Arab antisemeticsm ?! Only a rabid zionist living in denial could come up with such a absurd oxymoron. In John Normans case, descendents of european NON-SEMETIC khazarites will do.
The low number of Jews in Arab nations is not the result of discrimination as Israeli propoganda would have us believe. Its well documented that Israeli agents committed acts of terror against indigenous Arab Jews forcing them to come to Israel. Naem Gilani, an Iraqi Jew exiled in New York recently released his memoirs where he clearly cites the use of such tactics.
Not surpringly non-European Jews are treated like 3rd class citizens, as the example of Ethiopian Falasha jews in Israel shows. THey arent even allowed to be buried in the same graveyard as the Azkhenazis who run the country. Israeli is essentially a failed state on life support from the US, and its high time to pull the cord.

LMAO! It must be embarassing for the Jews leaders for being rejected by the Europeans for their proposal to isolate Arafat.I guess they should pour more money in Europe than America.

Praise God! Alarmed at attacks by angry relatives, the U.S. Army in Fallujah did something considered unusual for America's armed forces. They paid blood money for every dead and injured person deemed not to be a combatant. Please refer to Quran 4:92 and Jazak Allahu khair!

Indeed, it is Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) who is the best of planners for we can see - if Allah so wills - that the best of plans are those made by Allah (swt). Thanks to Allah (swt) for patience - as well as for truth.

Assalamu alaikum.

i dont udnerstand why we as muslims should even care about what other people think....because its only their opinion....if america isnt down with the arab world, then good for them....lets try to worry about uniting as muslims first....then perhaps we can reach out to your non muslim brothers and sisters....islam is all about repect and tolerance....and if you feel hatred towards someone talking shit about islam, then you might wanna check yourself as a muslim first....becuase if you have strong faith in islams teachingd and know it to be the ultimate truth, then there should be no reason for ahtred towards shit talking non-muslims...hatre is a sign of doubt.....alright, peace...

Edward Said is in denial - again - about Arab anti-semitism, for one. There are virtually no Jews left in the Arab world because of Arab antisemitism.(2) Israel does not wish to dominate the Arab World (indeed, it is the Arabs who wish to dominate the Middle East); it only wishes to live in peace on its own land. As for Arab self-determination, Said reveals himself as a prize hypocrite. It is the Arabs together with the Turks and the Iranians, after all, who deny the 25 million Kurds their right to self-determination. They also never cease procaliming that the Jews have no right to self-determination. So, Said is right. There will be many years of bitterness and destruction. But it won't be the US's fault. It will be the fault of the Arabs,the Iranians and the Turks.


Thanks to Allah that make find, because with this web site I can say that I have learn much especially about U.SA. (Western) way and interesting in incriminate Islam but what I have understand is Islam is not for Arabs; That make Islam keep developing improving and Islam will fight for his right by Allah wish because is Allah that bought Islam to all mankind and did not keep it to only Arabs.

I can say to does that are supporting, defending and fighting for U. S. A. (Western) should keep On and remember that is not up to Allah wish when is up to his wish One day the will be an end to something call Western or U.S.A. super power what they should remember is that the is super power before them today where is them NO MORE.

TO ARAB'S They should be united and Love them self that is only way to overcome them
Thanks Ma Salaam.