Culture & Imperialism
Imperial power is constructed on a bedrock not only of force but of culture as well. Culture provides the crucial underpinning, justification and validation of empire. Its crudest manifestation is perhaps Kipling’s “White man’s burden.” A more refined version is the French “mission civilisatrice,” civilizing mission. Imperialism is often thought of as a European phenomenon of the past. In fact it continues today in different shapes and forms. Colonial attitudes are masked in new rhetoric. The U.S. carries out its imperial policies behind the facade of democracy and freedom. Culture and politics produce a system of control that transcends military power to include a hierarchy of representations and images that dominate the imaginations of both the oppressor and the oppressed.
Edward Said, an internationally renowned Columbia University professor, practically invented the field of post-colonial studies. His great works Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism have been translated into many languages and are widely used in colleges and universities. The New York Times called him, “one of the most influential literary and cultural critics in the world.” As one of the few advocates for Palestinian rights in the U.S., he was the target of vilification, death threats and vandalism. The Economist said he “repudiated terrorism in all its forms and was a passionate, eloquent and persistent advocate for justice for the dispossessed Palestinians.” He was a trenchant critic not just of Israeli policies, but also of Arafat, the corrupt coterie around him and the despotic Arab regimes. He felt strongly that intellectuals had a special responsibility to speak out against injustice, challenge power, confront hegemonic thinking, and provide alternatives. His friend Noam Chomsky said of him, “Said was one of the most remarkable and influential intellectuals of the last half-century. Much of his immense effort and talent was dedicated to overcoming the insularity, prejudice, self-righteousness, apologetics that are among the pathologies of power and defending the rights of the victims.” His memoir Out of Place won the New Yorker Book of the Year Award. His two books of interviews with David Barsamian are The Pen & the Sword and Culture & Resistance. Edward Said died in New York in 2003.