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Essay: The Dangerous Myth of Orientalism, and Xenophobia in the West

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  • Subject area(s): Education essays
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  • Published: 8 February 2019*
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  • Words: 913 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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After 9/11 terrorist attack, the reactions against Muslims in American society have changed drastically in America. Extreme security measures in every aspect of American life (communications, transportation), stereotyping visible Muslims as terrorists and the opening of Guantanamo Bay (which is itself a symbol of post 9/11 measures) all happened after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. (Seval, Aumeerally) I am arguing that these drastic changes against a group of people in this context Muslims, can’t be provoked by a single attack. I am exploring the effects of narratives about “the other” and how it is derived from past conflicts and contemporary media. Before 9/11, there was still tension between the American identity and “the other”. The misrecognition of the Eastern culture has caused an alienation of immigrants in America. To understand the misrecognition of a marginalized group of people, the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed has to be understood. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid tells the story of a young man, Changez who immigrates to America for education, but he realizes that he is an “alien” in this land after 9/11 attack happens. This book is important for the discussion of immigrant alienation because it gives a chance for “the other” to tell his own narrative and discovers the reasons why an immigrant gets alienated even though they are living the American dream. I also reveal the difference between toleration and acceptance of the Other in American society pre-9/11 as an evidence to my argument. So, I answer the questions “What is the myth of the other/ the myth of Orientalism?” and “How does the first-person narrative style used by Hamid in The Reluctant Fundamentalist affect the myth of ‘the other’? I argue that the indirect rejection of Changez from the USA is caused by misrepresentation of “the other” in the Western culture. Said argues that the West has identified itself as the opposite of the East. “The Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience” (Said 1). According to Said, alienating the East is a way of identifying the West. This emergence of “the other” is the reason why immigrants are not accepted and become alienated in the Western culture. The tension between the East and the West was present before 9/11 but it only became more prominent after the attack. I think that, the attack was only a breaking point between foreigners and the American society.
The Myth of the Other
Myths are the way we understand the truth with the help of stories. Myths might become accepted as truth in the course of time. Accepting myths as facts is a dangerous path that leads to stereotyping or dehumanizing a group of people. Edward Said argues that Orientalism is a dangerous myth written about the Eastern civilizations by the West. There is a power dynamic in building a myth because history is written by winners. History in this context can be accepted as the facts that shape our framework of thinking about others. According to Said, Muslims are depicted as a threatening other by the West. Islam is depicted as fanatical, angry and violent. This depiction has a lot to do with colonial history. The West gained dominance and control over the East during colonial times, and that relationship is carried into the contemporary times. (Barsamian 54) Overall in the book Changez never states that he is a Muslim, but the Western reader takes the Pakistani character and puts him in this myth where everyone from the East is the same. I am challenging the Western narratives about the East which is called Orientalism. Orientalism is a term used for depicting the East, especially in the context of literature, art and culture. Said gives a different definition of orientalism in his famous book “Orientalism” which takes the power relations between the East and the West into account. “Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” (Said 11)
I argue that the myth surrounding the East is maintained by the Western media in the contemporary times. In the dinner scene with Changez and Erica’s parents, Erica’s dad makes some snide remarks about Pakistan. His remarks are only related to factual knowledge he saw on the news instead of an attempt to get to know the region dynamics and their political culture. “I felt myself bridle. There was nothing overtly objectionable in what he had said; indeed, his was a summary with some knowledge, much like the short news items on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, which I had recently begun to read.” (Hamid 63) add stuff
Hamid challenges Orientalism by placing Changez – a Pakistani “reluctant fundamentalist” as the story teller about a 9/11 story. American reader is silenced by Hamid’s first-person narrative style. (Seval 102) Changez does the thinking for both parties by affecting the reader’s mind. “Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America.” (Hamid 1) By using this technique Hamid catches the stereotypes in readers’ minds, and even if those stereotypes were not there at first, he places them inside the mind of the reader (which is almost like a mind game). Add stuff

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