Over the next couple of days I am going to try and catch up on those blog posts I promised, but have not yet written. This is one of them. There is also the one on why it is Russian-German and not German-Russian. After that I will post some new stuff on Arizona and life here in Arivaca.
The term Orientalist today has a negative connotation and is often used as a term of abuse as a result of the influence of Edward Said and his academic followers. Said wrote Orientalism in 1977, a book which seeks to tar most European and later US scholarship on the Arab world as being essential parts of colonial and imperial projects. The book has a lot of flaws. Not the least is its reduction of European scholarship down to the UK and France. For some reason the large body of scholarship existing in Germany, Hungary and Russia merited almost no attention in the book. Probably because none of these states ever had Arab colonies, protectorates, mandates or even military bases. Hence since there were no overt German or Hungarian colonial projects in the Arab world there must not have been any attempt to study the region. In the Saidian universe the only reason westerners would study the Orient would be so they could exert direct domination over it. This is rubbish.
Orientalist should be a neutral term to describe somebody who studies the peoples and lands of the Orient. There are other better terms for people who acquire knowledge of the Orient for the purposes decried by Said. Imperialists, colonialists and hegemonists are some that spring to mind. Of course the most bigoted and racist commentators on the peoples of the Orient do not call themselves Orientalists, they call themselves Zionists.
Contrary to politically correct dimwits in the US, Oriental does refer to people as well as rugs. It should be noted that the proposed replacement term for Oriental, Asian is totally inadequate. The Orient is not the same as Asia either geographically or in terms of racial catagories developed in Europe. The most famous source of Oriental rugs is Iran. There is no doubt that Iran, both in terms of location and people is Oriental. Neither its location or people are generally considered Asian. Usually Iran is considered part of the Middle East which is part of the Orient, but not part of Asia. Persians as well as Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Turkomen, Baluchis, Arabs and other ethnicities in Iran are all Oriental in terms of European discourses on culture. None of them are Asian in terms of race. Even the US federal government specifically states that for purposes of Affirmative Action that Iranians are white. So lets not have any more deculturated third generation Americans of Korean descent tell me that Oriental refers to rugs not people. No, it refers to both and much more.
The Orient is much larger geographically than Asia. North Africa, the Balkans, Crimea, and the North Caucasus are all historically part of the Orient. They are not parts of Asia. Indeed the stupidity of the term Asia is quite apparent when it is noted that part of Istanbul (the new modern and less Oriental part) is in Asia and part in Europe. Are Turks from Thrace such as Mustafa Kemal, Europeans and Greeks from Izmir (Smyrna) Asians? What is one to make of the fact that most of Russia is geographically in Asia? Such divisions make no sense. Historically, the Ottoman Empire which spread across three continents was considered Oriental by European scholars. Likewise those areas and people of the Russian Empire that had cultures based upon Islam were Oriental. If one goes by geographical or racial catagories instead of cultural ones then you get a bizzare system of classifications. One that does not reflect the actual divisions between peoples and cultures that have historically existed in Europe, Asia and North Africa.
So I am an Orientalist because I study the people and lands of the Orient. I can do so without thinking that the Oriental is inferior or that he is other than fully human. Contrary to Said, I can be both an Orientalist and a humanist.