REFLECTIONS: Orientalism and Occidentalism in times of post-modern communication


by Dr. Razan Jadaan

Independent Researcher and Writer, Dubai

It seems that it is time for the worldwide cultures to go through a co-existential evolution. It is time for the cultures of the Orient and the Occident to realize a horizontal view of the world, to appreciate a broader perspective of the globe. Tools, methods and the rapidity of communication serve societies to find their ways to engage with each other in understanding, mutuality, dialogue, and peace. It is a fact that the worldwide experience of reality is diverse. The globe appears to shape itself by the extensive cultural and cognitive constructions, fueling reality and keeping it in motion, in a continuous, dynamic and transformative movement.

Forms of thought that are mirrored in different societies move between reality, axioms, truths and half-truths, within a worldwide framework of linkages and webbings, including social media, mass media and digital communication. Building on that, grows the convincement that every society creates its own cognition, structures of thinking, action, reaction, and interaction within its natural and social environments. From there, one can imagine how every society has its own special cultural window from which it views reality, evaluates its happenings and communicates with it in a constructive or destructive way.

Human beings possess an instinctive passion for the continuous discoveries of their surroundings, viewing the sky as the limit. This natural ambition appeared to be ugly in some phases of history and aesthetic in other chapters of time. It is observed – from what history has documented – that brutality invades the past and the present of the inter-cultural scene in the relationship between the West and the Arab World.  Following this brief introductory observation, six insights come to mind, discussing the contemporary state of inter-cultural communication and relationships.

As a first reflection, two angles can be seen in the communication between the Orient and the Occident: the world controllers and the controlled in it. The world rulers monopolize the political, international and military world power. Global disasters, disorders or achievements, don’t surprise this side of the world, because it considers those positive or negative developments as part of its successful plan of a mono-civilizational spread of power. The other part of the globe represents the peoples that are busily drained, working hard to secure their existence, their good health and dignity. Those peoples try to survive while their cultures lack the qualities of independent development, authenticity, trust, self-confidence, honour, and a clear steady identity. At the same time, it is important to mention a third part of the world’s population, representing a minority in societies that initiates a pillar for constructive communication, playing a vital role in changing conflict into dialogue between cultures.

A second reflection of the current inter-cultural scene can be seen in the lifestyle of the Arab world. The postmodern Arab societies are experiencing artificial cultural developments and superficial social risings. This imaginary Arab renaissance is currently being guided by ongoing colonialist intentions and ambitiously supported by an assimilative globalization, calling this shallow and naive progress: “The Arab spring”.  On the other hand, Europe and the U.S.A. find themselves on a march backwards to the deficiency of freedom, equality, ethics, objectivity, rationality, and human rights; those same elements that were historically the main reason for the West’s expanding horizons to enlightenment and prosperity. However, words may not have the patience to wait and exhaust observations and analyses, urging societies to awaken the thriving of their authenticities and aesthetics, in order to continue, without delay, their cultural development into autonomous and independent civilizations.   

A third observation of the contemporary inter-cultural communication is the appearance of two terrorisms around the world: the radical Oriental terrorism and the extreme Occidental one. The Oriental terrorism actualizes itself in politicizing religion, instrumentalizing belief and in binding both belief and religion with social absolutisms on the one hand, and with political systems of power on the other. This situation offers a fertile ground for mysterious brutal movements to grow around the global community, manipulating cultural forms of thought in the name of gods and Holinesses. These ravaging movements interpret Islam and its principles in a distorted way, instrumentalizing it in order to propagandize for violence, leading to the downfall of societies into a destructive destiny, reducing the value of human existence, destroying others and life itself. The Occidental terrorism is similar to the Oriental one in its fanatism. The Western terrorism is reflected in racism, ethno-centrism, postmodern colonialism, cultural imperialism and prejudiced stereotyped mass media judgments of the world. This approach leads to ghettoizing policies by the marginalization of cultural spheres of narratives, when approaching inequality, false diplomacy and violence, representing lots of political ideological formal and informal western tendencies, even in the name of democracy at many times.

A fourth attribute of the inter-cultural scene is the constant Occidental persistence on an inertial interpretation of the Hegelian dialectic of progression. The Western interpretations are built on the historical hypothesis of the vitality of a dualistic opposition to reach advancement in evolution. Verifying this observation, the West decided for the Soviet Union to be its opponent, as their ideologies were in conflict between capitalism and communism during the 20th century. Moreover, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Occident built for itself another opposite in its cognitive construction, starting a new postmodern conflict against the religion of Islam and the Arab World. The West is keeping itself consistently busy today, with the building of illusionary narratives against the Arab world and societies similar to it, consequently leading to a conflictual dialectic between cultures.

A fifth presence in the inter-cultural communication is the technological aspect.  Technology opened the doors to numerous social and mass media communication opportunities.  It provided the world with access to a worldwide web of public opinions, with communicative flexibility, speed and unlimited informational exchange, causing some to face technological addiction, others to find it increasingly hard separating digital experiences from everyday life, and it is directed by inter-cultural dimensions to clash, driving them towards the streams of conflict.  In any way and in every way, communication technology continues to play a fundamental role at exceeding the geopolitical boarders and the limitations of time, place, space and constructions of thought. Information reaches most parts of the world at every moment, without hindrance, regardless of the contents or meanings it carries, and despite the wonderfulness or decadence of the quality of the messages traveling around the World Wide Web.

Last but not least, with the pandemic of COVID-19, the world experienced an alarming biological global event over and above the cultural and inter-cultural crises around the world. This terrifying pandemic and its consequences engaged with might and intensity the world’s global resources and systems.  No more than mere assumptions know about how it started, where it is heading, how it would end, and what final impact we can expect on the world’s environment. Initially, public opinions did not understand the nature of the pandemic, whilst specialists and governments were unable to help the majority of their peoples in consciously overcoming this calamity, understanding its consequences and aftermath. Between the many occurrences, truths, lack of objectivity and reality, most governments were found unprepared, seemingly lost and unable to protect or serve their societies. At the same time, governments remain fully alert and capable in the art of completing “deals of the century”, selling artillery, supporting wars around the globe or even leading them. For such activities, money suddenly appears, as well as the international political energy for global conflict and the re-awakening of perplex ambitions, once again, moving the world backwards towards the activation of the classical old clash between the axes of capitalism and communism, highlighting the antagonistic dynamic between the Eastern block and the Western one. In addition to that, the creation (or fabrication) of the so-called enemy Islam (and the Arabs) is being subbed for the communist opponent as a third pole of the equation, confusing the Western historical narrative of the dualistic antagonism of progress. The global economic and international chaos created by the pandemic contributed to an international twirl towards politicizing and militarizing, causing further confusion between human health awareness and inequality, between humiliation and dignity, between the revival of cultures and their recession, and between devoted unselfish ethics and greedy egoism.

In the end, even if the contemporary multidimensional scene of reality seems to be thorny and miserable, there is always hopeful optimism to end the cultural and inter-cultural global crisis towards a reformist civilizational evolution. Enlightenment and ethical knowledge make it possible for societies to widen the horizons of their thought patterns, realizing that the diversity of perspectives and the difference of viewpoints are a nature of reality. Once societies embody this awareness they should be able to elevate over and above their axioms and truisms, think outside of the framework of their thought, consciously comprehending and encompassing other points of view and actions with a maintained identity; in authenticity, with respect and dialogue.

Concluding from those impressions and contemplations, it seems that it is time to reflect on the diverse global crisis fundamentally, create a mutual inter-cultural illumination, search for ethical information, and research for authentic knowledge, hoping to find a worldwide harmonic consensus, towards a constructive postmodern inter-cultural communication.

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