EUROCENTRISM

Image Source: GoodreadsIntroduction:

Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, Said published his most influential work Orientalism in 1978. His main thesis was that the Western Academic discipline that studied the east by means of which the Orient was produced as a figment of the Western imagination for consumption in the West, and also as a means of sub-serving imperial domination[1].The term Euro-centrism is coined by post-colonial writers during the 20th century to express the European Colonial attitude and the justification of that period by European writers. In layman’s term Euro-centrism means, the way in which the Europe (West) looks at the East. The process of the West looking at the East from their lens (perspective, culture, ideologies, background, etc.) gave rise to Eurocentrism or Orientalism. Orientalism is a way of looking at the other, through the perspective of one’s sameness. Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work, Provincializing  Europe highlights that there are many Europe’s germinating in the imagination of our countrymen. He attempts to provicialize the magnified image of Europe in our mind.  Thus, Chakrabarty joins the project of Said  of destabilizing the euro-centric discourse that often take us captive. Since we were subjected to colonization for such a long time we ourselves cannot be completely free of our Euro-centric lenses i.e. the way in which we see or understand ourselves in relation to the West. Another major drawback is that we look at the colonial past with the lens of the colonizers and not the colonized. Some of the idiosyncrasies of the Euro-centric positions are the conquest of continents through violent colonial ideology and ruthless elimination of the feudal power structures of these continents and the plunder of resources and impoverishment of Afro-Asian countries. They then created oppressive structures that plundered our resources and degraded us to the ranks of animals or lower[2].

Origin:

Euro-centrism or Orientalism is not colonial in its origin but it dates back to the 5th Century B.C.E. Herodotus, the Greek philosopher refers to the barbaric Asians who lack individuality and freedom. Euro-centrism is common to the history of Europe yet this view cannot be generalized as the view of all European writers. It’s only during the 19th and early 20th century authors, Euro-centric approaches became more pronounced than ever. Hegel’s “universal theory of the history of the Spirit” gave birth to a Western mind-set of Western superiority and ethno-centrism that continues to influence a host of authors including Max, Engel’s and other left wing thinkers even today. He considered all non-Europeans as devoid of (Spirit) Geist. Therefore, they were reduced to mere objects for the universal realization of the Geist and its History. For him neither Africans nor Indians have a history, no spirit no subjectivity. For Marx, India was a land of frozen history because Indian history is the history of the conquerors. Therefore, Indians had no history or at least no known history.  Fortunately,  he changed his views in his later years.

Problem:

According to Frantz Fanon and Edward Said, the power of representation of Orient, of Islam, of Migrants, of the Third World and of Europe come under sharp scrutiny and we steadily began to understand how the colonial empires had shaped our lives and coloured everything in the world as we know it. Orientalism’s are many for e.g. Portuguese Orientalism, Franciscan Orientalism British Orientalism, etc. In India in general it would refer to the British while the Portuguese Orientalism is often forgotten. Drawing from Michel Foucault, Said’s main thesis explained that it was through the academic discipline of orientalism that the orient was produced as a figment of the Western imagination for consumption in the West, and also as a means of serving imperial domination. The impact of his work has made the words ‘orientalism’ and ‘orientalists’ as standard ways of designating any attitude of knowing the Third World which is actually meant to serve Western interests.

Let us have a brief idea about the time and location from which the colonial representation of India that underwent dynamic changes under British colonization. It started with the conquest of Bengal in 1757 by the East India Company and it is this event that inaugurated a marked change in the orientalization of India. For administrative purposes the officers of the company needed to have knowledge about the people they were ruling. Hence, several administrators learnt Sanskrit and Persian (Note: Sudras were not given the opportunity to learn Sanskrit but the British were taught Sanskrit. It could be because higher castes were forced to teach them.). Since they learnt the language , they soon produced texts like ‘The History of Hindustan’ in 1768-71 and ‘A Code of the Gentoo Laws’ (translation of the Dharmashastras) by N.B. Haldead in 1776. Later several officers notably, William Jones, James Mill, H.T. Colebrooke, John Shore and Francis Galdwin produced the Orientalized version of India. A number of research journals followed and spread the orientalised knowledge in European universities. Scholars who didn’t have direct contact with India imagined Europe’s childhood in India.

One of the significant features of colonization was that it was more than just a civilizing mission in which Europeans introduced languages such as English, French and Spanish but it was a process of Europeanizing of the natives. The colonial plan of the hybrid native is described by T.B. Macaulay as “Indians in blood and colour but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect”. Therefore in order to own ourselves we need to own our own past. As historian Eric Hobsbawn reminds us, “History is the raw material for nationalist or ethnic fundamentalist ideologies… If there is no suitable past, it can always be invented… The past legitimises. The past gives more glorious background to a present that doesn’t have much to celebrate…” since it is the past that influences our present and shapes our future, we need to own our past. In order to do so we need to know our history and interpret and understand it.

Europe saw India from a superior position and hence failed to accept the otherness of India. Great personalities like Max Weber saw Europe as the necessary condition for development of a civilized life. He credited the western rationality for the technological, scientific and economic progress. Husserl elaborated on the specificity of the western rationality in which he inquired into the transcendental aspect of the European man. According to the Cartesian Meditations all scientific enquiry and all human encounter is transcendental and hence phenomenological. Therefore the spiritual teleos of European spirit to infinity marks the difference between the European and Indian or Chinese. European heritage of rationality has the aim of realizing infinity and evolving humanity to greater perfection. Therefore in order for us to become greater, we will have to Europeanize ourselves, whereas they will never, Indianize themselves.

Solution:

We need to find a way that will help us deal with various problems affecting us. We could make use of communicative understanding as proposed by Juergen Habermas and Husserl’s phenomenology as tools to help us in our endeavour. Habermas rejects Euro-centrism and proposes a new path we could follow in our times which will help us to face the challenges posed by rational thinking, socio-political and culture diversity. Today we are no longer living in a world of monolithic and mono-centric nodal point but rather our world runs forward with many centres and rationalities.  Habermas proposes a few points, which are as follows: –

  1. We learn from the perspective of the defeated and not from the victor’s perspective.
  2. The colonizers need to take responsibility for the harm and help in lowering the burden of those oppressed by them.
  3. Habermas and Derrida: by accepting and being open to other rationalities and cultures other than occidental.
  4. Dialogue needs to be taken seriously if we wish to resolve the crisis of modernity in all its aspects.
  5. He proposes tolerant co-existence of different cultures and life-forms in national and international contexts.

Though his method is effective it is too idealistic since we cannot hope that everything will go smoothly and therefore we will adopt the phenomenological method of Edmond Husserl and apply it to study the Gaunkaria. By using this method we hope to get rid of at least most of our biases since we cannot be bias, by claiming that we have no biases. By using this method we hope to achieve understanding of the Gaunkaria as far as possible without our colonial lenses.

[1]Ato Quayson, Postcolonialism-Theory, Practice or Process?(2015)(Polity Press, 65 Bridge Street, Cambridge), Introduction: Postcolonizing, 4.

[2]Identity, Difference and Conflict- Postcolonial Critique(2013), “Ecocentrism” – Ed. Dr. George Rajmohan(ATC, National Printing Press, Banglore), 116.

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