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Who’s to blame?
Perceptions & propaganda
The symposium on Orientalism at the Seventh Doha Cultural Festival heats up with pro- and anti-West scholars slugging it out, says Qatar Tribune’s Anirban Ray

Western imperialism versus the Arab world – this became the central theme of a brainstorming session on the second day of the symposium titled ‘Culture and Orientalism’ at the Doha Sheraton Hotel on Sunday.

Lasting almost two hours, it witnessed sharp exchanges between pro-and-anti West thinkers and intellectuals.

Moderated by Ali Ahmed al Khilaish, the concluding session, which about 200 scholars attended, saw Hassine As Seddiq from the Arabic department of Aleppo University, Syria, critiqueing the West for its highly negative perception of the Arab world.

Kareem-Allah Khalikov from the Faculty of Orientalism, Dagestan State University, Russia, countered Seddiq’s views, holding forth on the efforts made by the West for a better understanding of the Arab world.

Blaming the West for hatching conspiracies against the Arab world from a very early time, Seddiq said. "The West had never looked at the Arab world in the right perspective. If they had tried to learn the language and understand the local culture, it was done with the ulterior motive of becoming the master of the region and deciding the fate of our people. Our education system has also been spoilt by the Occident. If today we are considered backward, it is all because of the Western propaganda and certain secret plans they have. They deliberately portray the entire Muslim world in a negative manner. Consequently, they are trying to rob us of our own identity". Agreeing with Edward Said, he remarked that the sole objective of the West has been to "colonise and dominate the Arab region and its civilization".

However, at one point, he almost contradicted himself when he admitted that the West had also undertaken studies in recent times relocking at the Arab civilization.

Pointing out the importance of Arabic language in the Russian region, Dr Khalikov suggested several measures to bridge the growing gap between the Orient and the Occident. He observed that the clash of these two civilizations was not good for the region. Teaching Arabic language to Westerners could play a major role in reducing misconceptions about the Arab world and its culture, he said. "In order to understand better this part of the world, we have set up several centers of learning Arabic and Oriental studies in Russia. Many students enroll in these centers and show keen interest in our institutes. If this could be done so successfully in Russia, why can’t we do the same in Europe and America?"

The audience also reacted sharply to the views expressed by the scholars.

One such came from a Qatari writer and social activist, who said, "I do not agree with Seddeq’s contention. The Arab world always blames the West for its problems. But I wish to say that we ourselves are responsible for the unrest in our part of the world. It is not the Arab intelligentsia but the Western scholars who undertake so many research projects to understand Islam and the Arab region. The West is like the moon - having both the dark and the bright side. If the dark side represents imperialism and colonization, there is a bright side too which stands for democracy, human rights and freedom of the press. Let us also take lessons from them instead of playing these blame games."

(From left) Hassine As Seddiq from the Arabic department of Aleppo University, moderator Ali Ahmed al Khilaish and Kareem-Allah Khalikov from the Faculty of Orientalism, Dagestan State University at the ‘Culture and Orientalism’ symposium at the Doha Sheraton Hotel on Sunday.

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