Orientalism always challenges the Western mind: it is Orientalism that makes Western culture incomplete and that the West uses to see itself as whole.
And you know what? It's true. I sat down to think about everything that the image of "the Orient" conjures up: exotic and foreign and mystical and spiritual and barbaric and enlightened and magical and child-like and fresh and demure and submissive and old and unknowable and inscrutable and rigid and traditional and and I could go on and on. I even asked on Twitter.
These are supposedly things which detail how the East is the opposite of the West; how the Orient is contrasted against the Occident. What we in the East are, they in the West are not. The Western imagination has constructed the East as something opposite. Edward Said wrote, "the Orient has helped define Europe (Or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience."
This isn't really new: we've seen this sort of thing play out with respects to the concepts of masculinity and femininity. Masculinity is essentially everything that femininity is not. Similarly, this concept carries over to the West/East dichotomy, to the point where the West is characterized as masculine, and the East as feminine, and so the shit hit the fan.
But back to the descriptors for a second - can we honestly say that the West is none of these things?
Because the West is also exotic and foreign, or else you wouldn't get tourists. The West is also mystical and spiritual and fantastical, evident in the churches and the myths and legends and the folktales and the literature. It is magical, or else a ton of pulp fantasy wouldn't be set in European-esque settings with castles and wizards and dragons and other shit that doesn't exist. You are barbaric, if by barbaric we mean not suited to civilizational standards, and you are also enlightened, because you have produced great thinkers whose writings continue to reverberate in literature and philosophy classes today. There are regions which are still fresh and young and demure to the new world of globalization, and which are traditional and old because they are isolated pockets or resistant to the outside world. The West has secrets, too, and it has its own cultures which will forever be truly unknowable to people who do not actually live and learn and breathe and grow there.
We say this about Eastern cultures, and of being a minority group, but the same is true of the West too. I'll never know what it's like to be white in America or Europe.
So why the fuck do you keep pushing these labels onto us, you little bleeders? Can't you own these for yourselves? Because of this insistence to see the East and West as polar opposites, you have damaged us in the East, using our Other-ness as an excuse to interrogate us, tour us, conquer us, exploit us. You used your position as hegemonic and powerful to force us to accede these terms and names, as though they did not also apply to you.
Time and again, I hear Westerners, particularly Americans of the US and Canadian flavours, lament cultural impoverishment and instead of digging through to your own wonderful, beautiful cultural roots, you turn to us and raid our cultures to prettify your lives.
To those who are guilty, I say this: you damaged yourselves, and by continuing to Other us, you continue to render yourselves incomplete.