As an individual who has an immense interest in learning more about Orientalism in the ways of its application and implications, choosing to summarize, evaluate, and apply Lockman’s book, “Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism,” for my research project was an easy decision. His book explores the origins of significant terminology as they relate to the organization of our current world, evaluates the telling moments in history that examine the current relationship between the Occident and the Orient, and delves into the specifics of Orientalism as a theory and an area of study.
Lockman’s book will be profoundly useful in two ways for my research on the United States declaration of war on terror. Firstly, the history of terminology and its impact on the development of Orientalism will demonstrate the relationship between the West and the Orient. Secondly, though there is brief mentioning of terrorism throughout the book, Lockman dedicates an entire section in the last chapter to terrorism. He also makes the important distinction between terrorism, Islamic terrorism, and state terrorism.
Though before getting into the specifics of how Lockman will contribute to my research topic, there will be a substantive overview of the book’s main argument.
Lockman details the foundation of certain terms such as Europe, Asia, the Near East, and the Far East through a thorough analysis of Ancient Greek and Roman legacies. The West began considering Greek civilization as the golden age of Europe due to development of certain cultural components that can be observed in what is now called the Western civilization. This longing to link Western civilization to the Ancient Greeks evokes a sense of essentialism at the core of their civilization, assuming that the core values of the civilization itself has not been influenced by outside sources (Lockman, 56).
Lockman later discusses Huntington’s clash of civilizations by discussing the fault lines between them. This discussion leads back to the distinct conflict between Islam and Latin Christendom and the negative depictions and narratives that are spun about one another, though mainly by the West. At the height of the Ottoman power, Europe perceived them as a threat due to their powerful military and control of major trading routes. Knowing that they were lacking, Europe took their superiority complex and applied it to images of the Middle East, creating a contrasting image to themselves, one that displayed the Ottomans as barbaric and arbitrary. With the Europeans going through their reformation and the Ottomans sprouting weakness, Europe’s understanding of the ‘Other’ was now through the lens of oriental despotism. These perceptions thus developed further with Europe’s growing economic strength and global hegemony leading to the development of the conception of Orientalism with Islam at its center.
These early perceptions of Islam and its civilization have had a lasting impact on the way the West interacts with the Middle East today, which can be observed through the discussion of the modernization theory and Orientalism. The concept is based on a society’s ability to go from being a traditional society to a modern one. Lockman examines theorists such as Gibbs and Lewis on how they describe the reason that the Islamic civilization is unable to make the transition.
Gibbs attributes their inability to adjust to medieval Islamic thought and their rejection of Greek rationalist thought, which perpetuates image that Islam is irrational (Lockman, 110-111). Lewis argues that Islam cannot modernize due to its inability to interact with Western connotations of liberal secularism (Lewis, 59). Due to this outcome, the failure to modernize has led to Islamism and terrorism (Lockman, 251). Orientalism comes into play due to the West’s assumption that in order for a state to modernize, they must accept Western moral foundations and thus Westernize. This narrative assumes that the concepts of freedom and liberty in the West are the endgame of rights and anything less is considered unjust and immoral. Lastly, modernization theory demonstrates the contrast between two different stages of human social evolution while Orientalism displays the distinction between two separate civilizations (Lockman, 140).
With understanding the rise of Orientalism and its ramification on the relationship between Western civilization and Islamic civilization, the rise of Islamism and terrorism in the region have been a great way for the West to impose its power and narrative over the Middle East. Lockman explains how the usage of the term terrorism delegitimizes the reality of the struggles that marginalized groups go through by their state (Lockman, 224). Using the term ‘terrorism’ deflects the motives and the context behind the decisions to commit acts of terror and minimizing the actuality of a group’s grievance and aspirations, such as the actions of the PLO against Israel in the 1960s.
Lockman makes a specific point to distinguish the different types of terrorism being discussed in relation to the Middle East. He first points out that the central focus of the United States’ foreign policy in the 1980s was “international terrorism,” potential nonstate terrorist groups who are getting backed by the Soviets during the Cold War. This also includes “Islamic terrorism” due to the United States’ usage of Islamists to fight against the Soviets in the Soviet-Afghan War. He also defines state terrorism as the government using means of terror against their own people, which may have a higher track record than the nonstate terrorist groups (Lockman, 227-228, 232). Lastly, the Orientalist view demonstrates how the need to control another civilization’s ideology can lead to the rise of other contending ideological and political warfare all while suppressing the reality of what is deemed the enemy.
In conclusion, Lockman’s book assembled the necessary knowledge for my research topic that will allow for a deeper analysis of the United States’ war on terror. The theory of Orientalism clarifies the narrative history between the West and the Middle East, the United States and Islam. His specific definitions of terrorism, discussion of the various terrorist actors within the Middle East, and the contextualization of the Cold War and post-9/11 greatly helps framing my research questions.
Lewis, Bernard. “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” Atlantic, 1 Sept. 1990, pp. 47–60.
Lockman, Zachary. Contending Visions of the Middle East: the History and Politics of Orientalism. Cambridge University Press, 2013.