August 13, 2012

On Accusations of Orientalism

Is there a lazier way to dismiss analysis of the contemporary Middle East than by leveling a blanket accusation of Orientalism?

Rami Khouri:

[The] discussion of how events will unfold in post-Assad Syria is riddled with wildly unsubstantiated speculation and pessimism, often tarnished by doses of Orientalism, anti-Arab and anti-Islamic racism [what is the Islamic race? -- Ed.], and plain old-fashioned amateurism and ignorance.


The prevalent speculations I refer to include that Syria will long remain locked in domestic strife; the Alawites will face eternal hostility and revenge; sectarian civil war is likely to break out; the post-Assad struggle for power will be chaotic and perhaps violent; Syria could easily break up into several smaller ethnic statelets linked to neighboring states or compatriots; Syria’s collapse will trigger warfare across the region, and a few other such scenarios.

It occurs to me that learned students of civil wars and insurgencies as phenomena might argue there are ample, non-racist reasons to believe that any of the above might happen in Syria. It also occurs to me that students of the conflicts in Lebanon (1975-1990) and Iraq (2003-present) might also find reason for any of the above to happen in Syria -- but these concerns can safely be dismissed as Orientalist. There is actually nothing to fear, because as Khouri helpfully explains:

The Syrian people are too intelligent, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan to allow themselves to sink into a dark pit of sectarian warfare.

[Editor's note: the history of civil wars, eastern and western, is filled with people too intelligent, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan to fight them.]