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Posts tagged ‘USA’

Democracy or Democrazy?

Election Day has come and gone but, once again  I have been  reminded of a point I merely hinted at in a prior post; the happy joyful illusion of our supposed total freedom and right of choice as Americans. The greatest example of this chimera was once again, right in front of our eyes in the Presidential race, which, from the writing of our constitution, has been based on a two party system. In essence, the White House is handed between “elephant” and “donkey” every four or eight years, redecorated on the qualms of the First Lady with the chairs in the Oval Office refitted to the comfort of the Chief in Command.

So, I have had to ask, do we really live in a democracy? To me, our democracy seems to be solely the jostling of money from the right hand to the left in order to see who will come out on top.

I argue that the U.S. is NOT a pure democracy in the core of the word:  “Democracy: a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives,” since it is money that creates a transparently lopsided playing field.  We use a unique interpretation of the word, which the majority of us seem quite content not to meddle with, and call our country the best democracy of the world.

In comparison to a vast majority of countries, we have amazing freedoms, electricity and hot running water, a good sanitation system, paved highways, public transportation, an economy that, while extremely weak, has not lost all credibility. We have a currency worth something and a passport that allows us entrance into most lands. We have foreign embassies that can protect us (usually!), and a strong military.  Now that we have established these points, one can understand why we, for hundreds and hundreds of years – and most likely the years to come — have not questioned our form of democracy. This leads me to ask,  how can we judge other forms of governorship if we don’t really live under total democracy?

As stated above, the U.S. largely provides its citizens with a sense of security, which, in part, explains why the American masses support their government in “democratizing” other countries. We want to be seen as the model and the leader and want other countries to follow us.  But, why should we try to impose our type of democracy on countries that are happy with their current situation.  As we are fine with our “democrazy,” let those other states have theirs as well.

Now to why I did  vote for one of the two parties, even though I think my vote is just enabling the “faux” democracy?  After railing on about not living in a true democracy why fall into the same pit whole? Why not vote for a third party or not vote at all? While I want that fairy tale ending, I am a realist when it comes to politics in my country. If I were to vote, for example, for the Green party, while I may have been considered a rebel exercising her hand at the system, I know I would not be changing anything.

One could argue, we have a two party race because of people with the same mentality as YOU (I am talking to myself here), but I disagree. As long as no laws are put in place, restricting big money endorsements in these two parties, red and blue will be our ONLY colors. While the parties have become more and more similar, like our blood which runs blue until coming in contact with oxygen and turning red and visa versa, the parties have come to exist on each others’ breath. I voted because I know our president will be, sadly, either  Republican or  Democrat.

And so, while not even close to perfect, I will continue to take advantage of my ability to vote and the many privileges that come along with my birth right in this country, and the illusions that my  “democrazy” provides.

“Creating” the Orient: Reflection on Part I of Edward Said’s “Orientalism”

 

This summer, while studying Arabic in Beirut, the name “Edward Said” kept popping up continuously and so, as soon as I got back to the states I had to pick up his renowned book: “Orientalism”. His writing, it so turned out, responded to many of my longstanding questions and concerns. Through the telling of the past, Said has given me a much more thorough understanding of the complex relationship between East and West and where we thus stand today.

I must acknowledge that I dislike writing on the many diverse peoples, cultures and states of the Middle East using the over-bearing words “Orient” and “East” and “Middle East”, and likewise “West,” since they are all relative. But, the reality is that the many lands of olives, dabke, hieroglyphics and Arabic are encapsulated in these “umbrella terms.” Pardon me.

In reading “Orientalism,” my understanding of present Western attitudes of superiority towards the East have increased tremendously.  It is astounding to retrospectively observe the West’s historic position in molding this area of the world. As Said puts it: “It is Europe that articulates the Orient; this articulation is the prerogative, not of a puppet master, but of a genuine creator…”

From 1815 to 1914 Europe controlled 85% of the earth but as we will see, “To say simply that Orientalism was a rationalization of colonial rule is to ignore the extent to which colonial rule was justified in advance by Orientalism.”

Orientalism, as a field of study, is quite expansive and to make it palpable for a European audience, scholar d’Herbolet wrote Le Biblioteque Orientale (1697), which organized information on the Orient alphabetically and helped spread the belief in the acute differences of the Oriental in comparison to the European.  Orientalism is therefore: “Knowledge of the Orient that places things Oriental in class, court, prison, or manual for scrutiny, study, judgment, discipline, or governing.”

With help from colonial encounters in the East, the 18th century saw the relationship between East and West grow in complexity. Scholars of the Orient, who most often used other Western scholars to validate their hypotheses, were able to capitalize on the military expansion of European territories and thus systematically increased awareness of the Orient in Europe on THEIR own Orientalist terms.

For example, the definition of the Prophet Mohammad,  in d’Herbolet’s Biblioteque, reads: “C’est le femeux imposteur Mohamet, Auteur et Fondateur de u hérésie, qui a pris le nom de religion.” Since d’Herbolet was considered an expert on the Orient, Mohammad thus becomes a figure of “heresy” in the minds of European readers. The Italian poet Dante Alighieri even brings up Mohammad in his Inferno.  In fact, “Maometto” turns up in the 8th of the 9 circles of Hell.  That Dante talks about Islam in this way shows that the Orientalist vision is “by no means confined to the professional scholar, but rather the common possession of all who have thought about the Orient in the West.” We are seen how by increasing vilification of the Orient Europeans are able to create their own perceived reality. “d’Herbolet’s character of Mohamet is an image” writes Said and just adds to the theatrical characteristic of the portraral of the Orient to the West. Thus, all that is produced by the Orientalists creates, in all it’s falsities, “the very reality they appear to describe.”

“Since one cannot ontologically obliterate the Orient (as d’Herbolet and Dante perhaps realized), one does have the means to capture it, treat it, describe it, improve it, radically alter it,” wrote Said. And today, sadly, it still seems that the West is fighting, both literally and metaphorically, to sculpt the expansive East. In the eyes of many Americans, and certainly by Westerner policies in general, the people, countries and cultures of the lands south and east of Europe are still viewed as something that needs to be tinkered with and changed to fit the Westerner’s (the Orientalist’s?) agenda. So, I ask, have we really moved that far from our ancestral past practices of “Orientalizing the Orient”?

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