Occasional Paper 5
A Palestinian- American public intellectual of our time late Edward Wadie Said (1935-2003) in his magnum opus, Orientalism (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. 1978) challenged the colonial legacy not just in terms of its ruthless military machine unleased but more devastatingly the invasive epistemology that led to the creation of the ‘non European other’ essentially as impotent and weak. This text led to an uproar among the intellectuals from North American to Europe. Said’s text, Orientalism did two things with scholarship. First it fired up the complacent intellectuals of the Western world even though by then they had read both post structuralists like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida and their analysis which Said himself deploys in his critique. Secondly, his thesis injected a new energy for the non European academics and activists to think in alternative epistemological directions. This resulted in new wave of studies both in the Middle East Studies as well as South Asia Studies both in the Eastern and the Western academia, especially through the mediation works of Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Gyan Prakash, Ranjit Guha and Hamid Dabashi to name a few. New pursuits in the academia emerged: literary criticism, cultural studies, post colonial and subaltern studies became popular research fields with gush of publications and energized debate as if an epistemological decolonization (I am sure, Said would have liked this coinage of his political nuances which he shared with us, italics mine) begun with the new and young scholarship. However, Said in return was heavily criticized by another group of scholars from around the world. Among them were, Robert G. Irwin, Albert Hourani and Bernard Lewis but Bruce Thorton, an American classicist dismissed Orientalism as an “incoherent amalgam of dubious postmodern theory, sentimental Third Worldism, glaring historical errors, and Western guilt.”
However, Said’s supporters having observed the criticism across the academia and after the two reprints by Penguin Books (1985, 1991), invited Said to write an AFTERWORD for the third reprint (also Penguin Books, 1995), was de facto a response to his critics which was welcomed by some of them with edification. But very challengingly Said could no longer go back to the ‘old edition’ without a concerted revision which he genuinely attempted in the AFTERWORD.
Corona (Covid 19) virus is permanently carving and shaping from food patterns, to its production, import and export mechanism, air travel far and wide with an industry that had grown so much, air travel, holidays, leisure and entertainment. From governance, international relations, diplomacy to market and its neoliberal fundamentals of economic order. Human rights, democratic systems, rule of law and judiciary, prisons and rehabilitation. Relationships between men and women families and relatives, religion, religious activities and their institutions and theologies, preaching and teaching. Cultural values, nationalisms, separatist wars, so called purity of races and nations, social etiquettes, traditions, loyalties, symbols and language itself is each taking its own redefinitions seriously. Basically like Edward Said, however critically he portrayed and analyzed the colonial legacy, emphasized the need to decolonize, yet could not go for his third print without a conspicuous revision with his AFTERWORD.
No country in the post Covid 19 era could ‘reprint the old edition’. The old edition is basically declared null and void because it could not contain the magnitude of the pandemic. The old edition de facto was already catastrophic in every way from governance to treatment of nature. Most countries already have accepted that they were not prepared for the worst even though Wuhan was going through its toll. The alarm bells were red and unstoppably ringing in Lombardia, yet the neighbouring Western and the Northern European states probably felt that this might be a repeat of with SARS or MERS epidemic and that their countries might be saved. The warning bells in Italy, Spain and France were perhaps felt as false alarms. Some of them may have thought that they could protect their masses but underestimates their open borders, especially the Northern Italian border with Switzerland and France and with Austria, France with Spain, France and Germany, Germany with the Netherlands, Spain with Portugal, Norway with Sweden are few examples. One can see how such a discretely spreading virus has taken these cluster of world’s most enchanting locations. The UK and the US had sufficient time to be prepared but the opposite happened at such a colossal human cost. At the time of writing the world has suffered and a loss one hundred thousand of its citizens.
A serious assessment and revisions of the ‘old editions of governance’ is a fundamental requirement, they should be made accountable. Governments no longer should be allowed to go back to ‘business as usual’ or to go back to their ‘old edition of the book of political rhetoric’. The masses must bring substantial pressure on their governments to come before the people to assess their commitment to the civic responsibility and the mandate they were given. People must seek and regain their real sovereignty and perhaps re-mandate their political leadership, other civic authorities and redesign models of governance and disaster management. Preparedness, discipline and rule of law have become most primary tools towards stability, security and prosperity. Economics, trade and market must be made as means to human development. The global financial institutions more particularly the multi national corporations that did operate on their own over and above the elected governments must be brought under serious scrutiny and the so- called independent scientific research can no longer afford or be allowed to function on their own whim and fancy. Food security and the biomedical search should be brought under special bodies with transparent and accountable procedures within governance of a country. Scientists, microbiologists, biochemists and other experts in the field of science and new innovations remain human and human error could be at any point of their study, research and experimentation. Hence, stringent laws must be in place to safeguard the health of the larger population.
The untold loss of the elderly who have contributed much to their communities could have been saved. The governments have failed by their mandate to safeguard their elderly and the vulnerable. If the governments cannot protect their most vulnerable then the vociferous campaigns to safeguard human rights in the rest of the world is an empty call for justice and hypocritical all around. The right to live was denied for thousands with no honorable closure for their loved ones. I am reminded of a prophetic voice of our time. He wrote about seven dangers to human virtue, also known as seven social sins or seven blunders. They are still worth our attention, especially in this shared health crisis. They were published in his weekly newspaper, Young India, 25 Oct. 1925, 22 years before India gained independence in 1947.
“Wealth without work
Pleasure without Conscience
Knowledge without Character
Commerce without Morality
Science without Humanity
Religion without Sacrifice
Politics without Principle.”
Those agree to govern cannot be allowed to ‘reprint the old edition’.
Edward Said’s text, where his AFTERWORD facilitated to respond to his critics might have been sufficient. But the in the edition we have been discussing above paragraphs, it should be made mandatory and necessary also move the research field, look for the knowledge gaps, carefully revisit the literature review, retest the rationale, the footnotes, bibliography, references, endnotes and even appendices, the supervisors and readers all must revise each of their status profoundly in the grand picture of society.
A revised reprint is required not necessarily a new book, and it is desired and necessitated by the sheer loss we have incurred – it must be revised and re printed not with the old cover page but with a new hard cover reprint edition in their loving memory. With acute hope and inspired by the fortitude to rise like a phoenix the determination and the peoples’ will make it anew for them and for the future.
Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi, 17 April 2020