June 18, 2009
In his landmark book Orientalism, the late American scholar Edward Said argued that orientalism - especially the academic discourse on Arabs, Islam, and the Middle East that primarily originated in England, France, and later in the United States - was a political doctrine that portrayed Middle Eastern culture as inferior and assisted in the subjugation and colonialism of the West over the East.
Since its publication in 1978, Orientalism has been one of the most influential and debated books of the last 30 years, criticized by some for its methodology and scholarship, while being embraced by numerous other critics as the foundation for post-colonial critical theory.
Post-Orientalism: Critical Reviews in North African Social and Cultural History, a new book by Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, Ph.D., professor and chair of the University of New England's Politcal Science Department, is a critical assessment of the reactions to Said's Orientalism, especially with respect to the literature on North Africa in the last 30 years.
Post-Orientalism was published in Arabic in June 2009 by the Center of Arab Unity Studies, Beirut, Lebanon, one of the most prestigious academic centers in the Middle East.
Professor Ahmida writes that despite Said's critique of orientalism, the orientalist model and categories are still dominant in the field on North African studies, and alternative scholarship needs to address the limits of not only the orientlaist, but also colonial and nationalist models.
"Said gave a critique but without presenting an alternative paradigm to orientalism, which explains its persistence," Professor Ahmida explains. "The other mainstream models are the colonial and the nationalist. Both are essentialist models flawed by racism and elitism regarding the view of the civil society in North Africa."
Post-Orientialism is organized into four sections: on method, culture and colonialism; Islam, civil society and citizenship; comparative histories of the nation-state; and finally Libya and its historical specificity.
Ali Abdullatif Ahmida
Professor Ahmida was born in Libya and educated at Cairo University in Egypt and the University of Washington in Seattle. His specialty is political theory, comparative politics, and historical sociology of power, agency and anti-colonial resistance in North Africa, especially modern Libya.
He has published major articles in Critique, Arab Future and International Journal of Islamic and Arabic Studies. He is also the author of The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonialization and Resistance, a book published by State of New York University Press, 1994. This book has been translated into Arabic and was published in a second edition by the Center of Arab Unity Studies, 1998, Beirut, Lebanon. His 2005 book, Forgotten Voices: Power and Agency in Colonial and Postcolonial Libya, was published by Routledge press. It was also translated and issued in Italian and Arabic.
Dr. Ahmida is the editor of Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the Maghrib: History, Culture and Politics, published by Palgrave Press in 2000. He has also recently edited Bridges Across the Sahara: Social Economic and Cultural Impact of the Trans-Sahara Trade during the 19th and 20 Centuries, which is scheduled for publication in September 2009.
He has lectured in a variety of U.S., Canadian, European and African Universities and colleges, and has contributed several book reviews, articles and chapters to books on the African state, identity and alienation, class and state formation in modern Libya.
Professor Ahmida has received many academic grants and awards, such as the Social Science Research Council National Grant Award, the Shahade Award, and the Kenneally Cup Award in 2003 for distinguished academic service at University of New England.