A View From The West

The Snake Charmer by Jean-Leon Gerome
The Snake Charmer by Jean-Leon Gerome

There’s a blue room, with an Arabic on every side of the wall. The sheik and mercenaries sit comfortably, looking at the nude little girl whose body wrapped by a purple snake. Beside the little girl, an old man are playing some enchanting song from his flute. The little girl grab the python, she tries to make it dance with her. Her naked body made an erotic image for the sheiks, who are longing to touch her body. Her pale, white skin made a soft contact with the purple reptile, dancing and moving slowly as the song is playing.

“It’s not a girl. It’s a boy.” Ega Nindita, my fellow scholar, told me.

“What? A boy? It’s a girl!” I recalled the image on my head. A naked girl, with her purple snake.

“How do you know that it’s a girl? You can search the painting in the internet. It said that it’s a boy.” Ega smiling.

Jean-Leon Gerome created The Snake Charmer circa 1870. The painting is used for the cover of Orientalism, the book written by Edward W. Said. Orientalism give us the perspective about how Western world see the Arab world ( The Orient ) at the end of 19th century. Judgment and prejudice are very common at that time, and that is one of the main paradigm that Said criticize.

If we look at the painting again, we could understand what kind of interpretation and judgment that the Westerners used to have when it comes to the Arab people. The naked boy holding python on his hand, in a room that looks like a mosque. I don’t want to speculate here, but what is your impression when you see that painting? The inaccuracy of the painting show us how European see Arabs only from their point of view. The idea about the West and the East is a concept that Westerners build themselves. Edward Said said, that the Westerners were identifying the East so they could identify themselves. By make the other, they found their own. They are nothing like The East, because they are The West.

The false judgment are actually a common thing. We could find hundreds of stereotypes of people or races. But the European used to use their judgment unconsciously to build their own identity. Later, the Oriental is not only Arabs, but also Chinese, Malay, and anything but West.

“The painting symbolize what the Westerners used to had in their mind about us, the Orient. And that is what Edward Said try to criticize on his book.” Ega tries to summarize the book by it’s unique yet provocative cover.

With the boy replaces the girl, the image is getting weirder while also disturbing. Is it any true, the fact that the Arab world used to live side by side by prostitution? But isn’t prostitution are find almost everywhere in the world? So if the East supposed to be different than the West, and the West are having the prostitution as well, what are the differences between them?

I guess we’re not that different from each other. Sometimes, the differences are made by ourselves.


2 thoughts on “A View From The West

  1. Its very interesting what You write.I remember a conversation i’ve had once with my flatmate.We’been talking about Indian girls we work with.For the starters.Later on it gone wilder.We talk about women’s issues in general.About Arabian countries as well.I know that talking about women’s rights it can make things limitated.We were talking about differences in upbringing,about forced marriages,honour killings…… I think i have in me lots respect for other cultures,other people.But there are some things i cant accept or at least i cant understand.And my flatmate She was telling like You-We look at the East[Orient] from European point of view.What does it mean? Does it mean that girl who is being forced for marriage She doesnt want She wont be unhappy because She doesnt know other life?I like this quote from Edward said ,but i still dont understand.If we assess things from our point of view where it leaves all this political corectness we are so proud of.Oh no,i am not right at the moment there is very much according to the rules of political corectness.I think that You and my flatmate are right,but i still cant find error in my way of thinking.If We understand differences can We tell that We dont Like something or We cant?I think that European have own identity so why they have to build themselves through attitude towards Orient?They can have own opinion,cant They?Anyway thank You for an inspiration:-)

    1. Telimena42, I’m very, very happy with your reply. It is something that I look forward when I post a topic on my blog. Anyway, I understand completely about your confusion here. For starters, I want to explain about Said’s thesis a little bit more. Said is not against a free way of thinking. He actually encourage that. The big problem Said found in the world when all of this Orientalism happened, is when the European are forcing their ‘point of view’, not only for judging and identifying, but also changing the very social structure of the Eastern world.
      Like we all know, British colonized Egypt, India, etc. French colonized Libya, Algiers, and almost all of the North African country. This Orientalism came along with the practice of colonial. The problem came when the colonies are helpless to form their own identity, because the French (European) are unconsciously identifying these “oriental world” by build roads, changing their social structure, forcing their law, etc. To summarize it, colonialism cause a disadvantages to the country who suffered (colonies).

      About your main question, – please correct me if I’m wrong – “is it wrong if we hate something that we thought it’s wrong? Especially when it come from other culture?”

      Well, I don’t think you are wrong. It’s okay to say that something is not right. But we really have to be careful to not easily judge people from a different background (this is purely my opinion), because sometimes what we think is wrong is considered right on them, and vice versa. I agree with your friend on this one. I don’t think that you have a wrong way of thinking. But that’s not what Orientalism about, actually. 🙂

      So, the main idea of Said’s thesis is about the concept-making that European did when they colonize the Eastern country, and how it makes a HISTORY and also a KNOWLEDGE that – sadly – everybody in the world seems to agree: “There are The West and The East. And both of them are ‘very different’.”

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