Nasir Khan, August 17, 2013
I would like to add a short note to Mary Scully’s excellent piece on Orientalism, which evinces a general perspective on western attitudes in academia and western people towards the ‘Orient’. The very use of such terms transports us into a mythical East, romanticised and mystified when seen by the western academics and scholars. We may not be happy with such terms and their usage in the contemporary world; they nonetheless reveal much about the history of colonial supremacy and white superiority. During the growing power and expansion of colonialists, especially in the East including the Middle East and North Africa, they were able to resort to dehumanise the conquered ‘natives’ by focusing on their being the ‘Other’. That cleared the conscience of the colonial administrators from any moral inhibitions they might have had about the way they treated the colonised or enslaved people or races. A stark picture of that reality is the African people who were denuded of any humanity to start with, caught as if they were animals and transported to the new world of Americas. The way the British treated the people of India after the 1857 uprising against the foreign rulers was also another major reflection of the colonial attitudes towards the ‘Other’. What was lacking was any basic human impulse to look at the colonised people as full human beings. But to do so would have changed the right to rule and control.
The expanding colonial powers assumed they were civilising the uncivilised, who in Kipling’s words were ‘half devil and half child’. Many pressure groups, the press, literary figures and religious establishment contributed to the imperial control. Even a socialist thinker like Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932) gave a guarded support to imperial expansion because he saw in it some material benefits for the colonised people when he said: ‘A certain tutelage of the civilised people over the uncivilised is a necessity.’ Thus the White races were doing God’s work for the dark and brown races!