MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism

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MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism, by Zachary Lockman. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xxi + 272 pages. Maps. Notes to p. 292. Bibl. to p. 303. Index to p. 308. $65 cloth; $22.99 paper.

The Middle East studies field has been engaged in a process of self-examination since the early 1970s. In the United States, this questioning originated in the discontent of a younger generation of scholars, influenced by the civil rights struggle, the New Left, anti-Vietnam War protest and the feminist movement, not just with area studies but with modernization theory more broadly defined. The idea, increasingly prominent as the 1970s progressed, that scholarly knowledge all too often reflected power relationships rather than dispassionate inquiry, was energized by Edward Said's Orientalism, published in 1978. Said viewed Orientalism both as a discourse that developed over many centuries of contact between the Orient and the Occident, as well as an institutionalized practice manifested primarily in the university. Said's work raised serious questions not only about the conceptualizations of the Middle East used by Western scholars, and their intentions when conducting research, but ultimately about the legitimacy of area studies itself as an institutional framework for generating cross-cultural knowledge.

The proliferation of studies over the past quarter century centered around the concept of "Orientalism" makes Zachary Lockman's, Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism, a welcome addition. Although it professes to offer only an introduction to the debates surrounding Orientalism, Contending Visions presents a comprehensive history of the issues surrounding the rise of Islamic and then Middle Eastern studies in Europe and especially in the United States, as well as an insightful discussion of the critiques of the field that arose during the 197Os and after.

Lockman begins with an lengthy and nuanced discussion of the rise of Islamic studies, both in Europe and the United States. After analyzing the relations between Islam and the West in chapters 2 and 3, both in the Middle East and in Spain, he is particularly concerned to show in Chapter 4, "The American Century," that the rise of Middle Eastern area studies in the United States after 1945 coincided with the development of the Cold War. According to Lockman, the proliferation of Middle Eastern studies programs in American universities had as much to do with the desire to thwart Soviet power as to understand the region's social, political, and cultural complexities. Thus the main motive for funding Middle East area studies was to prevent the region from falling under Soviet influence, both because of its oil resources and strategic geographical location.

Lockman is especially good in his exposition of Said's Orientalism, and the academic and political reactions to it. While a work of great import, Orientalism nevertheless suffers from a number of flaws. That Said was largely unable to explain German Orientalist interest in the Middle East despite the lack of German colonies in the region (or even the strong American concern with the region during the 19th century, also before major political and economic interests had developed) undermines his argument that knowledge of the Middle East produced in the West was correlated with colonial interests. Sadiq al-'Azm's assertion that Said never breaks with Orientalist ontology, thereby creating an "Orientalism in reverse," is another important criticism that Lockman deftly explains.

Lockman is not as strong when discussing the impact of modernization theory on Middle East studies. …