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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Sunday, 23 April, 2006

ORIENTALISM VS. OCCIDENTALSIM AND THE COLUMBIA'S SYMPOSIUM:
Specious Academia or International Politicking!

By: Ghoma

        Orientalism, the set of ideas and images through which the West saw/sees the "Other" and by which came to identify itself. The West has been using Orientalism, in the last three centuries as the ideological framework to its rapacious invasions, pillaging, and continuous middling. Though, through time, these campaigns have been changing their tactics nevertheless their goals remain the same: the subjugation of the Orient for the purposes of exploitation under the cover of, in Chateaubriand's words, "to teach the Orient the meaning of liberty," and Kipling's "civilizing mission," and suchlike empty babbles. However, the "Orient", in its perennial passivity, has not faired any better. It encountered Western aggressiveness with Eastern escapism to Religion and its past hang-overs. It still insists in seeing the world in a pre-Renaissance mind-set!

        In its post-colonial frenzy, the Orient, has been long grumbling and complaining about its spoiled treasures and lost identity and above all about the continuous intrusions in its affairs by the same powers that have been urging it to modernize. The decolonization efforts have been long and slow due in no small part to the ineptness of the colonized themselves and to the concurrent imperial hegemonies in one form or another. The campaign went through various phases and took different forms, and the latest was to turn the ideological lenses by which the West looked at the colonized, in the other direction, back on the West itself! Reactive and unoriginal as it maybe, the Orient, unlike South-east Asia, has dealt with Orientalist ideology in very superficial way, that's, by turning it on its head first, and second by using its main theses to re-enforcing the already held stereotypes and prejudices about the West. What came out of the deconstructive and reverse engineering processes was an incoherent and half-baked eclectic set of ideas which can be subsumed under the rubric (opposite of Orientalism) "Occidentalism!" The notions about the West and its civilization, values, interests, and which are used -not to further interests or gain power but rather- in a negative and reactive critiques, in presumptuous sort of ways, as to teach the West, if not the world, about the ethical life by religionists, or the meaning of "true democracy" by, for example, a regime like the Libyan one -with its wanna-be-intellectuals and flimsy pseudo-scholars of worst 3rd World stamp!

        In March (22 & 23), about 100 people, from politics, business, and academia, from the USA and Libya, met at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) for a two-day symposium under the sonorous heading "Prospects for Democracy".The sponsors of the conference were in addition to Columbia University, The International Center for the Studies of the Green Book, the D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, and al-Fatah University in Tripoli, Libya. The participants from the US included some familiar names in Middle Eastern Departments around the country, from politics the assistant secretary of State, David Welch, and from Libya were a bunch of hangers-on to the Green Book Center who pass themselves for scholars and the flakiest 'thinker' of them all, Qaddafi, who perorated in direct connection via video teleconferencing!

        While, at the face of it, some parity seems to be there, among the four main sponsors: university to university and center to center, the symbolism of political participation was less so and was a bit slanted. To the direct intervention, though from long distance, of the Libyan head of state, Qaddafi, was matched, at least theoretically, with the presence of the relatively low-ranking participation from the US-government of the assistant secretary of State. The 25 or so American scholars were matched by presumably the same number of "Greenies" -pseudo-savants whose only merit to scholarship came through militancy in the thugism of the Revolutionary Committees. The participation of Qaddafi and Welch gave the gathering a profile and an air of purposefulness beyond what usually is given to an academic gabfest.

        One is tempted to dare say the gathering was more than what it purported to be: an academic discussion of a relevant issue. It's all the imprints of being a work of pros associated with foreign policy honchos. It's not out of the imagination nor that far-fetched conjectures to think that the department of State or some other agency could have suggested to Columbia the idea of the need for the academy to chip in to ease the difficult transition of a pariah state and its much vilified figurehead, from the isolation they were boxed in, towards rehabilitating them and therefore re-inserting them back into the main stream of, if not civilized, then just normal states's statuses. As it stands, it appears the administration and its foreign policy pundits have found themselves in a quandary over how to reward a dictator who's surrendered his alleged WMD without much ado, and in the same time keeping enough pressures to bring him to toe the line and accept the rest of the conditions(dicktats) deemed necessary for Libya to become accepted as 'normal state'. Despite all the shameful surrenders and give-aways -Lockerby ,WMD, and all- relations between the USA and Libya are still encountering resistance from some groups, who apparently have different interests and agendas! On the other hand, the imperatives of hegemony have required to set tough conditions and, in the process, have sprinkled here and there some rough bumps along the road to recovery. Perhaps the conference was intended, if not to remove some of the bumps, at least, to make one more step in smoothing the way towards the final goal , that's, normality - this time under the respectability of academic cover.

        Here where academy ' s role comes handy: after all the real and imagined horrible deeds attributed to Qaddafi, and the ugly images which completed the picture -from lunatic to flaky to mad dog- it takes more than the good will from the oil companies, or even Qaddafi's admission of guilt and compensations that went with it, to normalize a state and humanize its people. To bring a head of state out of the can of the worst villain and his country as the worst rogue state, to both being normal, if not civilized, it takes real brain power to find ways to certify of their sanity and thus normality -the equivalent role of psychiatrists and psychologist in bringing someone out of the insanity status. The move could have two possible scenarios: one malicious, that's, of patronizing and condescending to show these people and their intellectuals and leader swinging between the extremes of a fool and a clown -they cannot help it! the other is benign, to show the 'leader,' not just as another caudillo, but a living, thinking, and caring soul; and his country has, beside oil, also warm bodies who search and think. Thus, a "scholarly collaboration," as dean Lisa Anderson put it, would resonate with Qaddafi's "mind-based faith and dialogue for the benefit of mankind." And Qaddafi's funny yet outrageous claim again, "Western democracies are fake, farcical....There is no state with democracy except Libya on the whole plane," with David Welch's, "I think it is really important that American students and the larger community get exposed to people we don't agree with..."

        These are mere guesses and conjectures since, as usual, academia chose to stick to its privileged status and not to divulge the true purposes of what could be compared, if not to a wall- shattering, at least to a cracking of a chink out of it, event. The "it's academic" here could be construed in both the whats and whys! The silence gave grounds to the cloud of suspicion which's surrounded the confab and gave it a whiff and a sound, a bit different from just a meeting of like-minded albeit with divergent views. For, "Prospect for Democracy" has a nice ring and rhyme to it to serve -among other things- as a cover to laundering the Green Book 's gibberish into the Ivy-League's respected halls! Though the theme may sound as legitimate academic pursuit, the beats that came out of it may not have been enough to answer the question why Columbia and its selected participants have chosen such a topic, and let themselves be perceived, if not used, as a trojan horse for admitting the Green Diarrhea on democracy as a legitimate subject worthy of academic discussion. Is there, at least, one more good reason for doing such a thing? Yeah! beyond getting deep-pocket sponsors (to pay for the gathering, as the Middle East Initiative's funds for democracy or the Green Book Center) the buzz word "democracy" goes a long way and captures the attention of, and also may curry favors with, many. By choosing such a topic, Columbia has hit two birds with one stone: getting sponsors - maybe more- and be in tune with same drumbeats the neo-cons have been humming - in the process maybe make some favors, as with Qaddafi, in giving him forum to freewheel even for an hour or so, for a possible endowment!

        A stroke of genius or pure luck on the part of Qaddafi! For years he and his munchkins have been spending a huge amounts of money to promote the cure-all potions of the Green Book as a serious stuff to be taken seriously. Not much of success has been achieved so far for the Green Book, if we compare it with similar booklets as Moa's Red Book or Marx' Communist Manifesto, etc., despite the many translations, events, and paid trips to many so-called scholars, the outcome so far was close to zilch. No one in the latest Sorbonne's uprising, or the rest of Europe, nor among the boiling masses of Latin America, Africa, etc., are calling for the adoption of the "3rd Universal Theory," or brandishing the Green Book! Why? Because people are smarter than they're usually credited for. When there's no beef or substance people know how to tell the gimmicks from original work. It doesn't take the proverbial rocket-scientist to figure out that a half-literate beduin with no apparent super access to wisdom than the average Joe -of course, if we discount his own self generated hallucinations of greatness (Some beduins did the same before but at least were smart enough to call upon Higher Authority for their inspirations!) to redeem the world and correct its mistakes, all in one shot. A small time soldier whose only contribution to fame were a coup-de-etat and a gamut of stupidly conceived and badly executed call-to-fame actions and schemes; and, which have left many wondering whether the guy's synapses were still connecting, was/is in no position to theorize and philosophize about themes and subjects some real brainy and committed folks have spent entire lives trying to fathom and still came short.

        So why such a guy get the attention of seemingly smart and respected people to take him seriously and were willing to sit and listen to his diatribes about the democracy they're so fond of, of being: "false," and " fake" ? Money! Money, in free market, can buy a lot of things, especially among folks who've nothing else except selling air for commodity. Academia is becoming a place where everything under the sun not only can be of interest but can also find justifications, that's, at its best. Add to these politics and academia sinks into the swamps.

        Call the "symposium" an add campaign. To break the ice of Qaddafi's isolation and to present him, instead with the usual dehumanizing epithet of terrorist, this time as a statesman and thinker who's pondering the same questions the West, presumably, has been pushing on the area since the days of the Crusaders: to propagate enlightenment in his neck of the woods. Re-introducing him, not just as a ruler-for-life dictator, but more importantly, as an intellectual in tune with his times, who's contemplating the same issues that are near and dear to the USA and its neo-conservatives's agenda: how to democratize the Arabs and cast the Middle East in Uncle Sam's image. Change the reputation and polish some images before admitting the guy to the club of the lackeys? Hallelujah! academia has joined the traditional villains -State department, Intelligence agencies, etc.- into the coddling of corruption and autocracy!

        On the face of it, there' s nothing wrong with academia hosting such gatherings to bring some understanding between disparate parties. The problem with such events resides in the use each side, but particularly in this case, the Libyan regime, will make of it. If there's any harm from such events, it's in giving a lot of chow for the dictatorial regime to squeeze for its benefits and chew on until the next stroke of luck. The real harm comes not from any potential breakthroughs that may occur in the turbulent relations between the two sides, but rather from the fallout effect the Libyans will feel falling on their heads and deafening their ears . If the regime has worked hard and has spent real money and efforts was to promote the so-called "Third Universal Theory" and its fountainwell the Green Book. To have finally brought such an endeavor into one of the bastions of knowledge in the main financial capital of the world, New York, was tantamount to getting a manna, only instead from God, this time from Uncle Sam! It can be compared to a masterstroke of Libyan diplomacy; and no less than a brilliant maneuver by the Dean of SIPA, Lisa Anderson -who's also happened to be a member of the Green Book club!- in bringing this event to fruition.

        The regime will milk the event for the foreseeable future to validate its claims, first at home, and then worldwide: there's substance to the "Third Theory!" After all, those"brilliant minds" at Columbia have gathered just to discuss its contents and no less important its originality, and to look for the contributions it brings to human thought and experience. Certainly, now the hired guns, the spinmeisters, have plenty of ammunition in their arsenal to spare. The 200-plus members of the World Center for the Green Book Studies (all those opportunists and their brothers and sisters, who disguise their intellectual prostitution under the innocent guise of pure scholarship) will have some success to show the Leader; and will exploit the symposium to the bone for the next eons of years to collect more perks. And once again the illiterates and semi-literates, who live under the dictatorship, are the real losers and who feel the brunt of such garbage every day of the week. They will find themselves overwhelmed, outmaneuvered, and possibly confirmed in what the "leader" already has repeatedly called them of: morons who have no brains big enough to follow his thoughts and understand his good intentions.

Ghoma
Ghoma47@hotmail.com

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