Orientalism: Le Point cover depicts exotic Arabs in a colonialist painting.


Take a good look at the picture and at the title, saying: “The Arabs. The little known story of a civilisation. To the Origins of today’s tragedy.” See something wrong?

Le Point, A french magazine, depicts the Arabs here with an “Orientalist” perspective. What is Orientalism?

“Orientalism” is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing Arab culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous. Edward W. Said, in his groundbreaking book, Orientalism, defined it as the acceptance in the West of “the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind,’ destiny and so on.”

Orientalist artists depicts the “Arabian land” as an exotic and mysterious place, a place of high gardens, guards, inactive nobles in white robes. The guard here, has been identified as an ottoman janissary.
The picture couldn’t have existed because Janissaries weren’t present in Moroccan lands. Another mythification and historical misrepresentation of the painter.

Jean-Joseph Constant, known as Benjamin constant, is the painter. He lived from 1845 to 1902.

Le Figaro, last year, wrote an analysis on an exposition dedicated to him.

Personal translation: “They[the paintings] signal well the mirage. But they don’t remind of its dangerousness. With Benjamin-Constant, we are not anymore in the dreamed antiquity of Delacroix nor in the forbidden Hammam of the voyeur Ingres. The very big formats invite us to remove our shoes in private interiors. Or in exploring horizons considered virgin territories, fertile, savage, and therefore good to civilise.

“Therefore good to civilise”. This is here the main problem of orientalism. Not only it depicts the Arab world in a fantasy. It leads the viewers of this art to believe the Arab world is uncivilized, and therefore “civilizable”. No wonder Orientalism was very popular in the second half of the 19th century, the years of colonialism fast expansion.

Le Figaro continues.

Such is the talent, remaining active, of this propagandist painter before even being an artist. […]. this painting[or work] calls for conquest. Benjamin-Constant is one of the best falcons of the [French] Third Republic. 

The fact that such depictions of Arabs continue until today is alarming, it shows perceptions of some citizens in the Western World regarding the Arab world. This bigoted misperception is dangerous and is often the first step, I believe, towards racism.

“Arrêt sur Image”, a French website that analyses pictures, criticizes Le Point because it is unconsciously tying the Terrorist problem with Arabs. Le Point not only miscarry the wide, complex and rich image of Arabs, it also writes a dangerous title.

If we read the two sentences (of the title) as one sentence, it gives. “The unknown history of a civilisation inherent of today’s tragedy”. Perceived like that, the two sentences implies that the Arab civilisations carry in its genes, in its essence, the actual tragedy. The tragedy of Jihadist salafism, carrying the name of the Islamic state, Daesh. It is therefore enough to read a bit quickly [both sentences] to understand that the Arabs, are by definition, terrorists.

Le Point carries the bigotry of millions, that terrorism is uniquely found in the Arab world. 

Le Point has already done worse covers, often directly racist. (See right)

“This Islam without shame” depicts a woman wearing the Burqa, an illegal Hijab in France. In this country, only a very small minority of Muslim women wears the Burqa. This title is openly islamophobe, it describes Islam as invasive, an eater of French culture.

To conclude, imagine for a second if an Arab magazine studied today’s Frenchmen with a picture of Clovis, first French king, or a picture of a Frenchman holding French bread and a croissant. Imagine if an Arab magazine studied the American people with a picture of Cow boys. It would be insulting, bigoted, and not very bright.

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