Category Archive 'Orientalism'

27 Aug 2015

Traveler to the West

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TibetanTeen

10 Mar 2014

A Political Tactical Tradition in the East

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Young Osama bin Ladin (second from the right, in blue bell bottoms) vacationing with his family in Sweden in the early 1970s.

This arresting image of the young conformistically Western counter-cultural Osama happily posing in the midst of a family shopping expedition in Sweden completely undermines the authenticity of the older bin Ladin’s self-assumed role of warrior-prophet. The photo demonstrates that Osama bin Lain was never anything but a spoiled, rich and thoroughly Westernized resident of the modern world using old-time cultural stereotypes to glamorize a cynical and calculated program of terrorism aimed at accessing personal political power.

This kind of opportunistic reversion to a deep-in-culture primitive image of leadership is actually a tactic we’ve seen before. The astute Winston Churchill recognized Ghandi as another practitioner of the same kind of fraud.

“It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor.”

— Winston Churchill, 1930

20 Mar 2006

Decline of Orientalism

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Robert Irwin discusses the reasons for the decline of Arabic and Islamic studies at British universities. At a time featuring a conspicuous need for this specific cultural and linguistic expertise, a suitable candidate to occupy the Sir Thomas Adams Professorship in Arabic, established at Cambridge in 1632, is not in evidence. Irwin attributes the decline in Arabic studies partly to the politically correct disrepute of the field brought about by the influence of Columbia University’s late professor Edward Said:

As far as large sections of the British intelligentsia are concerned, orientalism is thought of as an historical evil, something to be ashamed of and linked, however vaguely, to such wickednesses as crusading, racism, the slave trade, colonialism and Zionism. Orientalism, by the Palestinian literary critic Edward Said, published in 1978, pioneered this paranoid approach to an essentially benign academic discipline. In his immensely influential book, Said presented a somewhat confusing survey of the way Europeans and Americans have written and thought about the orient and, more precisely, about the Arab world. Said argued that orientalism was a sinister discourse that constrained the ways westerners could think and write about the orient. He suggested that there was a malign tradition of disparaging and stereotyping orientals in various ways that went back to Homer, a tradition that was continued by such grand writers as Aeschylus, Dante, Flaubert and Camus. However, Said argued, in recent centuries academics in Islamic and middle eastern studies had been instrumental in framing a mindset that facilitated and justified imperial dominance over the Arab lands. According to Said (who died in 2003), the west possesses a monopoly over how the orient may be represented.

But the contemporary School of Resentment was only partially responsible, Irwin maintains.

Broader intellectual trends have had a role—a flight from difficulty, a suspicion of old-fashioned, fact-bound scholarship and a taste for deconstructive readings of classic works.

04 Jan 2006

B.W. Robinson Dead at 93

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B.W. Robinson
photograph courtesy of Yahya Abdelsamad

The Telegraph yesterday, 1/3, reported the sad news of the death of Basil William Robinson, author and Orientalist, on December 29th at the age of 93.

Born in London June 20, 1912, Robinson was educated at Winchester, and at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. While at Oxford, he prepared a a B.Litt. thesis on the collection of Persian miniatures in the Bodleian Library, which many years later was to form the basis of a comprehensive catalogue.

Upon completing his degree at Oxford, he accepted the post of headmaster of a school at Bognor Regis. He had been an enthusiast and collector of Japanese art, arms, and armor, since boyhood, and in the capacity of a collector became acquainted with A.J. Koop, Assistant Keeper of the Metalwork Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum. An inquiry resulted in a friendship, and with Koop’s encouragement, he sought a post at the Museum. He was runner-up for an Assistant Keeper’s position, but the favorite soon resigned; and, in 1939, Robinson succeeded to the appointment.

He joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1942, enlisting in the ranks, but was sent to officer training school, and then commissioned (on the basis of his knowledge of Urdu) in the 2nd Punjab Regiment. He subsequently served as an Intelligence Officer in the Headquarters of 14 Army, which defeated the Japanese in the course of the campaign in Burma whose major actions were the battles of Imphal and Kohima.

After the end of the war, Robinson was sent to Singapore to be employed, on the basis of his knowledge of Japanese swords, in evaluating large quantities of swords surrendered by the defeated enemy. He was able to obtain the services of Colonel Yamada Sakae, of the 3rd Air Force, who had been a member of the sword evaluating committee of the Japanese War Office, to assist in his task.

He returned to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1946. In the years following the war, Robinson proved a prolific author, publishing monographs on Persian miniatures and paintings, on Japanese swords and armor, and on the woodblock prints of Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi. His The Arts of the Japanese Sword (1961) was one of a small number of post-WWII publications in European languages which played a crucial role in opening up the study of Nihonto to Western students and collectors.

He became Deputy Keeper of Metal work in 1954, and succeeded the illustrious Charles Oman as Keeper in 1966. In 1967, Robinson was elected honorary president of the To-ken Society of Great Britain. He was president of the Royal Asiatic Society from 1970 to 1973. He was Keeper Emeritus at the Victoria and Albert from 1972 until his retirement in 1976. He is remembered with gratitude for his many contributions to the advancement of learning, and with affection by many friends, students, and long-time correspondents.

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Yahya Abdelsamad, Basil William Robinson, Japanese Sword Society of the United States Newsletter, 37:1, February, 2005.


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