The book Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism written by Lockman (2010) delineate the development of Western knowledge about the Middle East and Islam. The scholar, in the first half of this study, discusses the West scholarship imagination of the Middle East starting from the twentieth century. In the second part of the book, the author focuses particularly on how Americans viewed the aforementioned region over the past half a century ending with a discussion of academic politicization; he claims about the divide within the field regarding the academic goals the U.S. and policy support.
Starting with the ancient Roman and Greek conceptions about the world, Lockman continues discussing European ideas regarding Islam. He argues about its emergence in the seventh century and draws particular attention to European imperialism, which is the era of strengthening the U.S. involvement in this region, especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Lockman comments extremism and terrorism of Muslims and the policy of the USA in the Middle East based on the historical and political contexts of the latter. The scholar explains a critical American thought about West Asia: the modernization theory that emerged soon after World War II. He describes the support of the U.S. Government of Middle Eastern studies with the particular role of think tanks.
The researcher finishes persuading the reader that American academic scholarship of the contemporary Middle East perceives it incorrect critiquing Ivory Towers in the Sand by Martin Kramer. The most impressive element of Lockman’s “contending visions” of present and past is his fair appraisal of those, whose thoughts and vision he does not share.
The scientist declares his fundamental intent for writing contemporary scholarly literature. According to Lockman, the aim of the book is to expose to the reader a comprehensive overview of how Western culture examines and perceives the crosscutting areas of Orientalism, Middle Eastern, and Islamic studies. Thus, the author comes up with the controversies surrounding the assiduous misinterpretation of people, cultures, and politics of this particular area by Western societies, especially by the U.S. scholars.
The rise of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies has brought the enduring dichotomy between the West and East since the 1970s. Thus, Lockman strives to expose numerous critiques of the failure of Western educational systems to present a portrait of the Middle East that is devoid of any misconstruction or bias.
Contending Visions presents an informative and accurate recount of the commencement of Islamic identity, frameworks, theories, and perceptions. The last ones provoke the generally ill-informed public to self-critique and self-examine of common misunderstandings associated with the analyzed region. It exploits, which are the essentials to achieve in the epoch of current times.
The central to Lockman’s argument is that the reasons for misinterpretation of Middle East studies by Western cultures are the existing paradigms regarding its people, politics, and region. There was some time when intrigued scholars struggled for combining together various models and theories of interpretation.
Despite the aforementioned, Lockman emphasizes the readers will have access to even more informational sources and might be able to store those facts against each other to demonstrate the fabrications. That may happen even before they comprehend the already familiar prejudice and stereotyping patterns by uncovering the economic, political, social, and cultural factors, which contributed to the recognition of historic context paradigms.
The expert presents the readers’ modern debates between the scholars to allow for a more informed education on Middle East studies. Therefore, the scholar tries to go beyond the perverted “romance” of the evening news.
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Lockman begins by tracing back to Ancient Greek antiquity famous for its “sharp East and West dichotomization.” In the first chapter, the author discusses the culture creation and the manifestation of its roots within contemporary society. For instance, the Christian perceptions of Islam that arose during the medieval period have proven to be durable. Chapter two is the analysis of the relationship between the West and Islam, a born out of conflict.
The concept of the West as “greater” and, thus, Islam is seen by Europe as bizarre and alien or even monstrous. During the exploration age, the adoption of the Eurocentric mentality provoked the “reconceptualization” of European identity. Lockman further discusses the genesis and renaissance of Orientalism; it became a scholarly discipline with the centralism of Islam.
The author also points out the importance of the Area Studies and the Middle East rise in the U.S. society after World War II. The US emerged as a global supreme leader in the world opposing the Soviet Union as another leading power. Lockman further presents Said’s Orientalism and shares the critique and overall reaction to such influential writing. He offers dual criticism while shedding light on the postcolonial theory’s growth in order to make sense of the world.
The last chapter is concentrated on the significance of the alternative options necessary to study Middle Eastern Studies and Islam instead of Orientalism. The latter Lockman considers prominent since the twenty-first century is characterized by the emergence of Islamism as a sociopolitical phenomenon. All in all, the researcher by presenting contrasting and conflicting arguments and sources makes the reader think critically of the Middle East.
Ideas and Impact of Lewis’ and Said’s Scholarship on the Middle East Studies
One chapter of the book, which is devoted to the scholarly debate, is provoked by Edward Said’s Orientalism. Lockman offers the best available short analysis of the views of Lewis, Said, and other major thinkers of those times. However, the author of Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism became a good Said’s follow-up because he traces the history of the Middle East study and analyzes the changes or advances in this field. The Oriental image of the Islamic man was an identity created by Western belief. Muslims represented such a person as a separate type of human that was quite different from the Western one.
Islamic civilization, as Orientalists believed, appeared in the seventh-century, reached its peak in the ninth, and decreased in their creativity after the tenth century. Lockman discusses Orientalism by Said in many details. The latter believed that the indicated concept was a Western construct for restructuring and dominating power over the Orient. Lockman, like Said, stresses Orientalism was a crucial knowledge source, and today is an important discourse with its own rules.
On the other hand, Zachary shares Sadik al-‘Azm idea regarding “Orientalism in reverse.” Al-‘Azm discovered Said’s affirmation regarding the Orient that was a projection by the West. The scholar was convinced that all of the cultural representations are guaranteed to be misrepresented because they lack a foundational basis.
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Orientalism allows for the “us versus them mentality” between the East and the West although it does not mean that misrepresentations have to be always an inevitable part of the process. Lockman does not consider the pointed set of beliefs to be intellectually isolating entirely. He also does not feel that it should be the ideology that Westerners should adopt it to Middle Eastern studies respectively. Nevertheless, the scientist admits the link between colonial policy-making and Orientalist knowledge.
Considering the source materials, Lockman does not use a variety of those while developing his argument. He merely sticks to sources of literature that are published mostly by Said, Lewis, Marx, Weber, Owen, and Roger. In order to upholster his process of reasoning, Lockman utilizes historical sources that were primarily written and uses published articles done by contemporary scholars.
To support his arguments, Lockman does not rely on statistical evidence. He mainly considers the citing theories of those scholars by putting the sources in communication within the place where Lockman seems to fall in his viewpoints.
The researcher goes deeper into the origins of Orientalism’s effects on the mentalities of Western peoples. He provides evidence from different colleagues in this field of science that both oppose and support the argument of Said.
Lockman explores the critique of Said in an unbiased manner. However, it is also clear that historian overvalues Said’s work bringing it to the highest level. At the same time, Lockman while discussing the modernization theory’s impact on the Middle East and Islamic studies is a bit unspecific n his explanations, as well. He does not introduce a modernization theory definition as clear as it is supposed to be and does not develop it with the connection to his argument. There are also some ideas that, in general, this book would have benefited from incorporating various types of resources but not only the literary ones, which he seems to be very favored.
Despite Contending Visions is not an entirely original piece of work, it definitely fits into the scholarly debate center as for the perceptions of Middle Eastern and Islam studies. It is very important to contemporary times, as it brings the reader to the vital topics regarding this science area, and allows its audience to take what they like from the broad rhetoric of Lockman.