The orientalism debate: On recognizing the otherness of the other

Asher Susser*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Bernard Lewis, unquestionably the greatest Middle East historian of our times, had clear conceptions of the region and the peoples that were the focus of his decades of scholarship. He believed that to “understand anything at all about what is happening in the Muslim world…there are two essential points which need to be grasped. One is the universality of religion as a factor in the lives of the Muslim peoples, and the other is its centrality.” Lewis, however, had fierce opponents to his views on this centrality of Islam. Chief among them was Edward Said who refused to accept the “notion that there are geographical spaces with indigenous, radically ‘different’ inhabitants who can be defined on the basis of some religion, culture, or racial essence proper to that geographical space.” In the Saidian worldview, the idea that the “Other” was indeed different, was disqualified as politically incorrect and unacceptable. To argue in the name of a Middle Eastern “Otherness” was “essentialist,” “Orientalist,” or even “racist.” Among Western scholars a deeply ingrained reticence evolved to recognize the Otherness of this Middle Eastern Other. Otherness became all too easily conflated with racism and, thus, illegitimate by definition. The penetration of this “Saidism” into academe and the media, of this reluctance to recognize the Otherness of the Other, has led, perhaps more than any other single factor, to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the contemporary Middle East.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-258
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Middle East and Africa
Issue number3
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2018


  • Arab spring
  • Exceptionalism
  • Islam
  • Orientalism
  • Otherness


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