Associate Professor of Philosophy at Laval University in Canada, previously Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Law at the Lebanese University, he holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Paris VIII in 1980, and has authored numerous studies, research papers and published books.
The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha held its weekly seminar on Wednesday November 11, 2020 hosting Dr. Suhail al-Qash, Professor of Political Philosophy at Laval University, Canada, to present a lecture titled “Lebanon: The Fragmented Mirror: Orientalist Narratives”.
Dr. al-Qash began his remarks by noting axiomatic constants that lend unity and cohesion to the multiplicity of orientalism’s narratives. These include the central notion of the “nahdah” or “renaissance” as a landmark in Arab societies' adoption of Western modernity, taking place at two different stages: the establishment of the Rome-based Maronite school at the end of the sixteenth century, and Bonaparte's campaign against Egypt at the end of the eighteenth century. The first takes up the encounter of Western modernity with Eastern Christianity, while the second takes up its encounter with Islam.
After describing various differing types of orientalism, al-Qash referred to the relationship between European authorities in their element of nation-state and orientalist knowledge as accompaniment to the transformation of nation-state into empire, citing Ibn Khaldun’s dictum describing the emergence of a unified state, namely that “there must be a socially unified state” (be it tribe, clan, or ethnic group), capable, through force of its group solidarity and partisan spirit, of defeating all other parties and uniting them in a homogeneous state. al-Qash added that notwithstanding its current applicability to the modern state, it remains the case that the fusion of several ethnicities into one people has generally been accompanied by characteristically violent practices against pluralism and diversity, in the name of a homogeneous unity and an approaching future.
al-Qash highlighted the impossibility of confining classification of orientalist discourse to ideological or political models contiguous to authority, and/or justifying such authority: at least since World War II the traditional orientalist model had been forced to keep in pace with new developments, such that, as Jacques Berque stated, orientalism inevitably had to renew its vision and define new approaches appropriate to the new situation.
The researcher concluded with the suggestion that the West, having invented modern anthropology (Ethnologie), discovered that this emerging science that studies primitive societies was not suited to the study of ancient civilizations, and that not all non-Caucasians could be considered as “primitive;” it therefore “invented” orientalism to study these other civilizations. Therefore, the problem the Arabs have had is that the orientalist did not come alone to learn about their civilization, but rather came along with armies of occupation and a compelled modernity. The Arabs thus related to the orientalists with hostility given this perceived relationship with colonial authority, and were later surprised to discover, in Jacques Berque and his ilk, the existence of a scientific orientalism coming to them out of a genuine attachment to their civilization, and a love of science. All their prior experience with the West did not lead them to imagine such a possibility, given their perspective of the established linkage of the West with oppression and authoritarianism.
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