Beyond orientalism: A study of three Arabic women writers
Elhajibrahim, Samah Samih
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In 1978, Edward Said, a Palestinian-American literary theorist, published his famous book, Orientalism. The book was an attack on the concepts of "Orient" and "Occident". Said described orientalism as a discourse that helped the West colonize the East. Recent events such as the illegal occupation of Iraq, the war on Afghanistan and U.S. interference in Lebanese affairs, all helped to bring orientalism to the fore. Today, some Arab scholars are questioning if orientalism actually ended. This study argues that orientalism did not vanish but has simply taken on a new form. The aim of this thesis is to study Edward Said's theory of orientalism and examine his notion that literary production provides the raw material of politics. To examine orientalism and colonialism in the Arab world, I use novels written by three Arab women writers (Fadia Faqir, Pillars of Salt; Yasmin Zahran, A Beggar at Damascus Gate; and Ahlam Mosteghanemi, Memory in the Flesh). The novels are used as tools with which to build the thesis that orientalism and colonialism continue, largely unchanged, and form the basis for the troubled relationship between the Western world and the Arab world. I argue that orientalist discourse still functions to justify and perpetuate the political, economic and military hegemony. This thesis also highlights the solutions introduced by Edward Said and the three novelists in order to move beyond orientalism and colonialism. By using novels to examine Edward Said's theory of orientalism, this thesis provides a twofold contribution to the field. First, it provides an example of how novels can be used to study social and political phenomena and how novelists are political thinkers who raise the consciousness of the society. Second, this thesis demonstrates how the study of the literature of other cultures can provide the reader with the opportunity to make a place in their mind for a foreign "other." Unlike the media which have the tendency to magnify the differences between cultures, novelists focus on the humanity of the characters, thus diminishing the differences between the reader and the character and providing the reader with light that illuminates, otherwise invisible problems.