Morsal Shaif Haidarah
Research scholar in English University of Madras Chennai, India.
There is a continual discursive struggle for hegemony as social groups attempt to articulate their particular vision of the nation as general, taken for granted, natural, and universalized reality for all through the media. (Gavrilos 431)
The above quotation indicates that in a nation, where there are more social classes, the dominant class tries to make its ideologies and values as the representative values for the whole nation. Also in the level of the states, the more powerful the States are, the more they try to make their values and culture universal, unquestionable and therefore must be taken for granted. They tend to regard others’ values and cultures as being inferior and worthless. This kind of hegemony between States is called imperialism. A.G Frank points out that imperialism is “the use of political and economic power to exalt and spread the values and the habits of a foreign culture at the expense of native culture” (qtd. in Tomlinson 3). Edward Said (1997) quoted from Michael Barratt-Brown that “ imperialism is still without question a most powerful force in the economic, political and military relations by which the less economically developed lands are subjected to the more economically developed”(qtd. in Said 282). These definitions connect imperialism to power, domination and hegemony. This connection will help in understanding how the shift in the balance of power will lead to attack and counter attack between Islam and Christianity.
The West has always used their power to impose their values and way of life on the Eastern countries contriving all possible means to achieve their goals. One of these means is creating an erroneous image about the East claiming that this creation is scientific. The West considered themselves as liberalist and claimed the superiority of their culture in dealing with the Other. In order to achieve their goals, they established different institutions to propagate their interpretation of modernity. Scholars who wrote about the Middle East were mostly under the western views of the superiority of western culture. It was only Said in his book, Orientalism (1978), who introduced a new approach that challenged the western views on the Orient in general and on Islam in particular. Said refused the claim that Islam dominates Muslim behaviours. Said’s Orientalism also challenged western claims that attaining progress requires the uncivilized people to adopt the inherited western style of life in order to embrace modernity. Said detailed many issues concerning the knowledge of the West about the East. He described this knowledge as “nothing more than a structure of lies or of myths which were the truth about them to be told” (6).The West either America or Europe, Said argued, cannot establish their superiority without contrasting themselves to a created Other who “helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting images, ideas, personalities and experience” (ibid 1-2). This Other is called the Orient.
Orientalism can be understood as a discourse which outlines the image of the social, cultural and political life of the Orient and serves as the basis of the created Oriental knowledge. The West cannot portray the Orient without this created knowledge, “I believe no one writing,
thinking ,or acting on the orient could do so without account of the limitation on thought and action imposed by Orientalism”(Said1978, 3). He added “because of Orientalism, the Orient was not (and is not) a free subject of action or thought” (Ibid 3).
This indicates that the relation between the East and the West is understandable if one grasps the celebrated political background of Orientalism. Before the rise of America as a super power, England and France dominated the Orient and created the body of knowledge about it. In the nineteenth and in the late twentieth centuries, America started to dominate the Orient through many means, one of them being their films which are an extension to the policy of the government. They create a bad, hostile, Arabic character who is a threat to the existence of the American nation in order to justify the over use of arms and power to domesticate this threat. In other words, the American filmmakers have created the Orient according their own design. Arabs as terrorists in American popular culture, especially in films, are created for the purpose of ruling and interfering in the Middle East. Hollywood is one of these institutions that create a mythical Arabic character who matches with the character that American policymakers want for the exploitation of the Arabs. This character is usually a villain who contrives to destroy the interests of America.
But how did the new born State, America, formed its image of the Arabs and the Muslims? The answer is that if one wants to understand the present, he/she has to look on the past. Therefore, tracing the old images of Arabs in western culture helps to better understand the nature and the source of the present images. The views of the Middle-East as decadent and corrupt are age old. The distorted image of Arabs in modern age is a product of centuries of prejudice and misconceptions. This article talks about the evolution and development of the negative image of the Arabs in the Western and American popular culture through historical times- emergence of Islam, the Crusades and the Western clash with the Ottoman Empire
The Created Image of Arab: a Mix up between Ethnicity and Religion
I have not been able to discover any period in European or American history since the Middle
Ages in which Islam was generally discussed or thought about outside a framework created by passion, prejudice and politics interest. This may not seem a surprising discovery, but it included in it the entire gamut of scholarly and scientific discipline which, since the early nineteenth century, have either called themselves collectively the discipline of Orientalism or have tried systematically to deal with the Orient. (Said 1997: 24-25)
…some European scholars, writers and others appropriated certain images and notions about the East and Islam from what they had come to perceive as Europe’s distinctive past, refashioned them in keeping with their own contemporary concerns, and propagated hem as relevant for their own time. (Lockman 8)
The first quotation by Edward Said indicates that partiality against Islam started in the Middle Ages. This is not surprising since studying the Orient is a Western tradition as indicated in the second quotation by Lockman. These stereotypes that one witnesses today are a result of a long history of prejudice and bigotry. The Europeans, in each age, take the images of the different Other propagated in the past and recycle them for the present and the future. Christians’ first attack was mainly directed against the messenger of the new religion. This attack marks the beginning of stereotyping Arabs as anti-Christian pagans. The proliferation of the disparaging texts against Islam preceded and accompanied the Crusades against Muslims. These texts were established to highlight the superiority of Christianity over Islam. The prominent images of Islam at that time are that Islam is a religion of violence opposing the Christian religion of peace, Arabs are promiscuous; Prophet Mohammed is an imposter and anti-Christ. These pessimistic
views on Islam in the Middle Ages aimed at presenting the conflict between Christianity and Islam as a war between light and darkness. During the Crusades, the Christian leaders’( the priests of that time) vilification of Islam was an attempt to convince and engage the public in their war against Islam.
Daniel, Southern and other scholars, according to Lockman, explain that early medieval European writers opted to write about the Muslims in ethnic rather than in religious perspective. They usually called them ‘Saracens’, the Greek and Latin term for Arabs, derived from a Greek word for tent (i.e., the tent-dwellers). Late Roman and early medieval Christian observers had viewed the Saracens/Arabs as a particularly greedy group of pagans. This indicates that Europe’s effort to label Arabs as pagans rather than bearers of a new monolithic religion shows that their prejudice was directed against the new religion and not only against the ‘Saracens’ who were, for the Christians, group of pagans. The Christians, who were believed to be the bearers of a monolithic religion, cannot think that the Arabs, the pagans, can follow a monolithic or true religion. According to Lockman(2009), the Arabs were represented as: “a plague upon Christendom, spreading devastation wherever they went, but in principle no different from the other pagan peoples whom God had sent to scourge and test his faithful”( 24-25).
Hence eighth century marks the beginning of the prejudice towards the Arab Muslims by the West. Misconceptions originated with the birth of Islam, which was considered as a direct threat to the spread of Christianity. To deter others from coming into direct contact with Muslims, early Christian writers presented Islam with a distorted image. During this period, Arabs were considered as a ruthless and ignorant people for being deceived by the prophet Mohammed and adopting Islam.
The Christians started writing about the prophet claiming that he is an imposter and a false prophet. Edward Said(1997) points out that the Christian prejudice was directed against the prophet’s personality and ignore his followers’ belief “ it did not matter that Muslims consider a prophet and not a God; what matters to the Christians is that Mohammed was a false prophet, a sower of discord, a sensualist, a hypocrite and an agent of evil” (Said 5).
Denial argues that to demoralize the new religion, Islam, early writers lost no opportunity to vilify Islam and its founder the Prophet Mohammed. Islam was not recognized as a religion and so Arabs were idolaters. Padgen argues that at the beginning the Christians never considered Islam as a monolithic religion and so Mohammed was calling Arabs to worship old deities, “His close associates were called Jupin, Apollon, and Tervagant, all corruptions of the names of classical deities” (Padgen 211). The Christians could not accept that Muhammad received a genuine revelation from God, and at popular levels the Christians believed that Muslims are trying to replace the worshiping of Jesus by worshipping another God called Mohammed. Therefore, in popular songs and poems of the time, the Saracens were often represented as idolaters who worshipped their pagan God “Mahomet.” Others claimed that the Saracens actually worshipped three idols, Mahomet, Apollo and Tervagant, imitating Christian trinity. Khalin(2004) points out that even the great Muslim heroes who were admired by the western people as for the knight Saladin (Salah al Deen) were recreated as a chivalrous man who inherited these qualities from his Christian mother.
According to Daniel, in the eighth century, St. John of Damascus “began the long tradition of attacking Mohammed for ‘bringing in God’ in order to justify sexual indulgence” (Daniel 14). Khalin( 2004) points out that St. John was the first Christian to call the prophet Mohammed as imposter and false prophet, “Mohammed, the founder of Islam, is a false prophet who, by
chance, came across the Old and the New Testament and who, also, pretended that he encountered an Arian monk and he thus devised his own heresy” (qtd. in Khalin 146).
The image of Islam as a pagan religion continues till the twelfth century when the Christians got exposed to Islam as it spread westwards. Though the Christians realized Islam as a monolithic religion, their abhorrence of Islam continued due to the affirmation of the new religion that it came to correct the Christian’s belief that Jesus is a God, but merely a prophet of God. The Christians felt hurt and realized Islam as a real challenge to Christianity. Islam was then shown as a religion that spread through the sword. So the recent image of Arabs as cruel and barbaric and does not value human existence or freedom of choice was the image that popular works introduced during the Middle Ages. According to Lockman( 2009), “Islam was depicted as a religion of violence, bloody and cruel, its adherents fanatics who offered those they conquered the grim choice of conversion or death” (35). Lockman points out that though negative and bizarre image were propagated about the Chinese, Indians and even the Jews during the Medieval ages, from eleventh and twelfth centuries image of Islam was distorted in a unique way in the imagination of the Western Europeans due to the closeness of Islam to Christianity on the one hand and due to Islam’s views on Jesus whom the Christian worship as God on the other. These two reasons placed Islam on top of the threats to Christianity invoking fear and hostility that ended in regular disparagement between the two.
The third reason why the Christian is at odds with Islam is its expansion in the Christian lands in the twelfth century. Islam spread and conquered most of the countries of Byzantine Empire such as Syria, Egypt, Palestine and even Spain, leaving for the Christians Anatolia, Greece and small parts of the Balkans and Italy. The unconquered countries had to live in fear of further Arab attacks. Lockman asserts that:
That Christians in western Europe – or at least that very small minority of rulers, officials and churchmen who in an age of almost universal illiteracy, poor communication and general ignorance of the world could form any more or less accurate picture of what was going on – perceived these developments as disastrous is also clear. Palestine, the “holy land” in which Christianity had been born, had been lost, along with vast territories in Asia and Africa in which Christianity had long been the dominant faith; and with the Muslim invasion of Spain the threat reached western Europe itself, with the Pyrenees eventually marking the unstable border between Christian and Muslim domains and an apparently high likelihood of further Muslim advances into the heartlands of western Christendom. (ibid 23)
Padgen recalls that in 1142, Peter the Venerable, abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Cluny, set out for a pilgrimage from Paris to Santiago and to inspect various Cluniac foundations. During this tour he noticed the influence of Arabic and Islamic culture on the Spanish. From this time on, he started the war on Islam, a war of words and images. To do so, he wanted to know more about Islam. He started to study and to translate the Quran. The efforts were continued by the church. Lockman points out that Peter Venerable (1094-1156) looked at Islam as “Christian heresy and argued that it could not be destroyed unless its errors were understood” (ibid 29). For this purpose, he assigned a group of translators to translate the Arabic texts into Latin. The text of Quran was translated in 1143. In the translated texts of Quran, they found that Arabs were “far from salvation – in denying that Jesus Christ is God or the Son of God, and in venerating the seducer Mahomet as a great prophet of the supreme God” (ibid 3). These propagated ideas end up in launching wars. The Abbot’s derogatory projection of Islam preludes the second crusades. The Crusaders believed that controlling the Muslim heresy was possible by seizing the historically religious places as Jerusalem and by alleging Muslims as
weak and corrupted people who claimed to be something, but in reality they were something else. Macfie points out that before “the dispatch, by the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus, of Christian missions to the East”, the history of oriental studies can be traced to the year 1312 when “the Church of Council of Vienna decided to establish a series of chairs in Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac in Paris, Oxford, Bologna, Avignon and Salamanca” (Macfie 19).
You are a people sprung from the more temperate regions of the world, and you lack neither
martial prowess nor discretion: you are a people both disciplined in camp and skillful in the field of battle. Thus endowed with wisdom and courage, you are embarking on a memorable enterprise. Your deeds will be sung down the ages if you rescue your brothers from this danger .
. . May those who go forth as champions of Christendom mark their clothes with the sign of the Cross . . . Rid the sanctuary of God of the unbelievers, expel the thieves and lead back the faithful(qtd. in Lockman 28)
The above lines are the famous speech of Pope Urban on November 17, 1095, when he called upon all the Christians to unite and fight the Muslims or what he called “enemies of God”. This speech preludes the first crusade war. This speech shows the Pope’s belief in the superiority of Christianity and their land over Arabs whom he described as “thieves and a danger” to all Christian while Christians are the “knights of Christ” and “armies of god”. According to Padgen, the Pope called to liberate “the holy places of Christianity, which had fallen into the hands of the Muslims” (225). The Pope called this war a pilgrimage. The crowds chanted slogans against Islam threatening its destruction and retaining Jerusalem. There were many derogatory phrases that were used to describe the Muslims by the Pope in his letters to the regions where he could not reach in person. He described the Muslims as “The barbarians in their frenzy” in a letter to the knights of Flanders, urging them to join the Crusade. Said (1978)also points out that Chateaubriand asserts that the Crusades were meant to prove the superiority of Christianity over Islam:
The Crusades were not only about the deliverance of the Holy Sepulc’hre, but more about knowing which would win on the earth, a cult that was civilization’s enemy, systematically favor-able to ignorance [this was Islam, of course], to despotism, to slavery, or a cult that had caused to reawaken in modern people the genius of a sage antiquity, and had abolished base servitude? (qtd. in Said172)
Both Gibbon (2001) and Lockman (2004) argue that the first Crusade was called for by the Pope for different reasons. The most important reasons are: first, to reclaim Palestine and especially Jerusalem that was seized by the Muslims Seljuq. Second, to regain Spain, and third to help the emperor of Byzantium who was defeated by the Seljuq in 1071. But the most important motivation of the war was the change in the balance of power which again plays an important role in the Christians’ launch of attack against the Arabs. In short, before the Crusades, the Western Europe witnesses a remarkable economic growth which was used for the support of this attack.
The Crusaders launched their first Crusade War under the leadership of Peter the Hermit, swearing to clear their way to Jerusalem from all Jews and pagan Muslim s by chopping their heads or converting them to Christianity. They went to wipe out or to convert “any non-Christian they found in their path” (ibid 229). The Jews were the first victims. They were annihilated in the Rhineland and baptized by force in Regensburg. The Crusaders then crashed the town of Zemun and then sacked Belgrade until they moved on to crush the Seljuq city of Nicaea (modern Iznik).
Then they marched to Antioch and headed towards Jerusalem and lay siege to it for seven months before the actual attack that resulted in rivers of blood.
Jerusalem was retaken by Muslims under the banner of Selah Al-Deen in 1187 (known for the West as Saladin). The Crusaders failed to regain it by force until 1229 when the Roman Emperor Fredrick II regained it through negotiation and this exposed him to excommunication for being friendly with the Muslims. In 1244, the city was taken over again by Muslim till the British occupation. Lockman points out that:
…in the course of the Crusades, western European Christians began to develop better defined images of Islam. But better defined did not necessarily mean more accurate, for even as a handful of scholars began to try to acquire a less distorted understanding of Islam, other scholars, chroniclers, poets and story-tellers were generating and spreading the most bizarre notions about Islam and Muhammad, notions which would persist for centuries and which sometimes still surface in western popular culture today. (Lockman 29)
These wars reinforced hatred and disgust among Muslims as well as Christians. Ali (2002) points out that “The Crusades left a deep mark on European and Arab consciousness” (Ali 42). Padgen argues that the colossal historical implication of the Crusades had its influence on the later generation. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it was still feasible in Europe to consider the Crusades as a heroic success against the enemy of the entire Christian, European world. After the victory of the first crusade, there were some poems that stereotype Muslims as pagans and barbarians, the dominant image at that time. One of these poems is that by the poet aster Graindor of Douai. The poem is a call by Christ on the cross to the Christians to kill the disobedient Muslims:
Friend, the people are not yet born
Who will come to avenge me with their steel lances So they will come to kill the faithless pagans Who have always refused my commandments.
Holy Christianity will be honored by them
And my land conquered and my country freed. (qtd. in Padgen 227)
Hence the portrayal of the Arabs during the Crusades is on purpose and has propaganda just the same propaganda of the later Orientalist. Catherine Luther et.l (2012) point out that:
During the Crusades (AD 1096– 1291) and Europe’s later colonial expansion into the Middle and Far East, Arabs were depicted as an exotic race and one that hindered the progress of civilization. Western Europeans portrayed them as a people who represented all that stood against Christianity. These portrayals served as a means by which Westerners were able to justify to themselves and to others their actions to colonize and dominate the Arab world. (109) Ottoman Empire
The historical conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the West is also helpful for
understanding the origin for some of the current stereotypes in Western culture. Said (1978) points out that the Westerners will never forget the destruction of Roman Empire at hand of the Ottomans. This disgust of the Ottomans accounts for the creation of many negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims that still exists till the current time. The monarchal system and the Ottoman expansion westward were the two factors that account for the propagation of many of these negative images. Ottoman Empire was considered as a despotic and the people were submissive, yet merciless. They were submissive because they believed in the divine right of the king. The Muslims must submit and not choose as Christians.
In 1399, for Europe, the Islamic Ottoman Empire was the most dangerous and threatening force. It was the next strong and ambitious Islamic Empire after Abbasid dynasty. After the deterioration of Islamic power by the Crusades and the Mogul invasion, the Turcoman tribal groups from Central Asia started fighting for control of the lands bounded by the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the easternmost flank of the diminishing Byzantine Empire. This Empire was for the West an example of despotic Muslim empire that threatened the Europeans and their values. The Europeans attempted to defend their frontiers during this time.
As the Ottomans moved westward, Byzantine emperor, John V Paleologus, pleaded the pope for help, but his request was not granted. In 1364, John I appealed for Serbian and Hungarian help without avail. In 1366, the Serbian king raised an army which was crushed in Chernomen (Cirmen) on the Maitsa River and his men were slaughtered in such numbers that the field was known as “Destruction of the Serbs”( Padgen 256). In 1389, in the “Field of Blackbirds,” near the town of Pristina, Sultan Murad I defeated a united army of Serbs, Albanians, and Poles, and the entire of Macedonia was incorporated into the Ottoman state. But the Ottoman Emperor was killed in this battle. Padgen points out that when the news of his death reached Europe, King Charles VI of France ordered thanks to be sung in Notre Dame. Charles thought that the Sultan’s death would stop the Ottoman advance towards Europe. Murad was succeeded by his son Bayezid. Gibbon (2001) points out that in 1394, he laid siege of the city of Constantinople. But he was defeated by another Muslim army led by Turkic-Mongol chieftain Timur-i-Lang, “Timur the Lame,” known in Europe as Tamerlane or Tamburlaine. In 1405 this leader died and Bayezid’s successor regained most of the Ottoman territories and after his death, his son Murrad the second laid siege to Constantinople in August 1422 but abandoned the siege after one month. It is only Mohmet who conquered the city in 1453.
The fall of Constantinople in 1453 heralded the utter destruction of the old Byzantine Empire and the rise of the new regime of the Ottoman Turks. This clash prompted the West to project the Arabs (Muslims) as a threat. They nurtured mistrust and fear of the new power rising in the Arabian Peninsula. This new faith was represented a real challenge to the dominant Christendom. The calls for other Crusades against Muslims after the fall of Constantinople continued. On September 30, 1453, Nicholas issued a bull to all the Christian princes of the West to join a new Crusade against the anti-Christ who are now in Constantinople. On 23 September, 1463, Pius made a speech to the College of Cardinals once again, demanding action before the Turks finally swept all of Europe before them. In October, he formally declared a new Crusade, which he planned to lead personally.
Western Supremacy and Ottoman’s Decline
Islam had a long history of being cast as Christianity’s great “other.” Now, in a somewhat more
secular age, with the idea of a modern West replacing the idea of Christendom, Islam was often cast as the West’s polar opposite, a distinct civilization in its own right but sharply differentiated from the West and located on an entirely different historical trajectory. Among Orientalist scholars, among writers and in the popular imagination, Islam was often portrayed as lacking those very qualities which had made the West great: if the West valued freedom, rationality, progress and enterprise, Islam was now perceived as fostering servility, superstition, stagnation and indolence. Many European observers from the later sixteenth century onward were coming to see just these things as characteristic of Islamic societies, including the Ottoman Empire. (Lockman 62)
Enlightenment era had been synonymous with the intellectual, philosophical and artistic awakening of Europe. Great ideas and ideals were shaped during this momentous period of
Western history. However, the image of the Other remains unaffected by the movement. The chain of images about Arabs in the past passed on to the new generations influenced by the old image of the Greeks. Historically, for the West, the Eastern people are incapable of change, submissive and ruled by minority.
Though Western literature invokes a hostile image of theTurks, who were depicted as cruel, violent and fanatical and harem oppressors in the sixteenth century, there were many objective attitudes towards the Sultans. The greatness and justice of these Sultans were contrasted with their own societies. Lockman argues that Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, who served as the Habsburg emperor’s ambassador to the Ottoman court in 1554–1562, honoured the Ottoman social and military elite:
no single man owed his dignity to anything but his personal merits and bravery; no one is distinguished from the rest by his birth, and honor is paid to each man according to the nature of the duty and offices which he discharges . . . Thus, among the Turks, dignities, offices, and administrative posts are the rewards of ability and merit; those who are dishonest, lazy, and slothful never attain to distinction, but remain in obscurity and contempt. This is why the Turks succeed in all that they attempt and are a dominating race and daily extend the bounds of their rule. (qtd. in Lockman 44)
This remarkable admiration of Ottoman Empire that was common during the sixteenth century is turned to abomination in the seventeenth century because of the change of the form of government in Europe in the sixteenth century. This change was the result of a remarkable economic blooming in the European states and military degeneration and corruption in the Ottoman States. Lockman points out that the Western Europeans have nothing to admire in the Ottoman society. They are depicted as ignorant, boorish, dishonorable, immoral, dishonest, incompetent, corrupt and irrational. They were not worthy of ruling the others. They were oppressors and corrupt. Lockman points out that Lucette Valensi , in her book , The Birth of the Despot( 1987), argues that the change of the perception of the West towards the Ottoman is connected to the influence of the Reformation period in Western countries.
Richard Knolls in his book, The General History of the Turk, discusses the religious and military challenge of Muslim Turk whom he describes as “the present terror of the world” (qtd. in Curtis 46). Though he never left England, he said that the Turkish expansion to Europe was not because of the strength of their faith, but because of their deceit, cunningness and because of being “devoid of all faith and humanity” (qtd. in ibid 46).
After ascending of the western power during the Enlightenment period, and the waning of Ottoman Empire, there was a natural shift in the European perception of Islam and Arabs from a threat to Christendom as primary theme to a land of fantasy and exoticism inhabited by people culturally and religiously inferior. This process of creating a cultural other bolsters the Europeans and later the Americans to define themselves. The West considered themselves the offspring of the great ancient “Greek freedom” which limited the power of the kings in contrast to the Ottomans who were inheritors of “Asian despotism” which gave absolute power to the Sultan. In fact, Asian despotism was developed into Oriental despotism by Western political thinkers in the eighteenth century, a concept demonstrated by what they think to be the Ottoman absolute power. This concept flourished in nineteenth century till today in variety of forms. Padgen(2008) recalls that:
By the late seventeenth century, the political system that supposedly prevailed throughout the whole of Asia had come to be known as “Oriental despotism.” The term, or at least its popularity, we owe largely to the French philosopher and doctor François Bernier (1620-1688), and it was
based on his experience of Mughal India. But the principles would do for all three of the great Muslim empires of the period. And in a somewhat different register, it would do also for China. (346)
Michael Curtis (2009) points out that Nicholas Boulanger (1722-1754) wrote about the Muslims in his book, The Origin and the Progress of Despotism, which was published after his death in 1764. In this book, he argues that in the early past, despotism was linked to “religion that was based on fear, primeval terror of the heavens.”(Curtis 58). Curtis explains that though sometimes perception of Oriental despotism is not free from stereotypes and misunderstanding, it did not come out of ignorance about the Orient. So, for him those travelers, who told the stories of Muslims, mostly told the truth. He argues that Oriental despotism was not a fantasy, but “rather a style of politics and society embodying certain characteristics, such as arbitrary autocracy, opulence, and lack of political and economic development” (Curtis 68).
According to Padgen, Bernier claims that the ruler in the East did not rule the state but owned it. He did everything not on the basis of a followed legislation but the legislations depended on the whims of the ruler. Bernier links this way of despotism to Muslim rulers, for example, the Ottoman, the Persian and the Mughal in India. Padgen recalls the view that only in the Orient exists what Montesquieu called “political slavery”, the absence of any liberty to be active or articulate oneself autonomously of the sovereign’s determination. Unlike the monarchs, in the republic the sovereign’s will was not enforced through honour in the case of the former or through virtue in the case of republic , but through fear, that is why in despotic states, in particular those in Asia, religion is so important, for all religion is always “fear added to fear.” Such laws as do exist in Oriental despotisms are few and unchanging, since “when you instruct a beast, you take care not to let him change masters, training, or gait; you stamp his brain with two or three impulses and no more”( qtd. in Padgen 348).
During Enlightenment era, America achieved its independency. This means that the prominent images of Islam in these ages, as aggressive and irrational and violent was transferred to American popular culture from the West, especially during the Americans conflict with the Barbers. The Americans also considered the Ottoman’s expansion as a threat to Christianity. This expansion was considered as religious war enforced by the ruthless Muslims and their religious rival. Douglas Little points out that the widely read North American Review (1821), considered the expansion of Ottoman Empire as “a war of Crescent over the Cross” and claimed that “whenever the arm of Sultan prevails, the villages ,churches are leveled with the dust or polluted with the abominations of Mohometenism.”(Little12). The Innocents Abroad (1869) by Mark Twain is the most sarcastic and racial book against Arabs. It stereotypes Arabs as savages, a bloody race and an intolerant people. Little explains that this book, The Innocents Abroad, describes Arabs as “people by nature and training filthy, brutish ignorant, unprogressive and superstitious and the Ottoman as “a government whose three Graces are Tyranny, Rapacity [and] blood” (qtd. in Little 13). Twine also found the Arab Palestinians as “mired with dirt, rages and vermin.” They are “barbarous ignorant and savagery”, the Egyptians who are boasted off by Arabs as putting on “air on unbecoming savages ( qtd. in ibid 13).
This indicates that the clash between the West and the Arabs is a clash between civilizations. So any change in the representation of each other’s culture will be difficult unless both sides abandon the belief that their culture is the only universal one and that the Other’s is inferior and backward.
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