Edward Said’s Orientalism, is a cornerstone text describing the relationship between discourses, power and the Wests relationship with “The Orient.” He traces the basis of French and British imperialism to a propensity to denigrate islamic based cultures and elevate the status of western cultures. Put more simply, British officers believed that England was god’s gift to this earth, and they were completely justified in forcefully spreading its culture (and taxing the backwards cultures). A central source of these ethnocentric cultural attitudes was “academic scholarship,” mainstream representations and expert opinions of military leaders deployed to the regions. Understandings of these different Middle Eastern cultures were often overgeneralized and un-nuanced, and when somewhat authentic accounts were occasionally written, the state would deploy them to more effectively manage these “backwards populations.” This is to say, British officers didn’t learn about the caste system to develop a more appreciative cultural viewpoint, but to manipulate the different castes against each other.
Said describes the way in which Henry Kissinger reduced the world to a binary of developed and undeveloped to justify the US excursions in Vietnam and Laos. Said acknowledges that there are exceptions to these rules and individuals who are open about their methodology and describe with deep appreciation these other cultures. Critics often choose to highlight a single scholar and argue this redeems their entire discipline. More accurately however is that he is describing a general direction of scholarship and a trend of Western imperialism that can only be explained if a great deal of people are buying into ethnocentric beliefs.