Can an academic field be a tool of oppression? Edward Said believed so, and in his book, Orientalism, he describes what he sees as a power structure that is based around an incorrect perception of the Islamic World, that is perpetuated by the West. However, Said’s assertion would not go unchallenged. World renowned scholar of the near east, Bernard Lewis, would take up the mantel to defend the discipline Said attacked. Both Said and Lewis would then be critiqued by political scientist, Fred Halliday, for ignoring what he believes to be the real question about Orientalism. We are going to look at what Said means by the term “Orientalism”, and his critiques of it. We will then examine Lewis’s interpretation of Said, and why he found it problematic. Then we will analyze Halliday’s critique of both Said and Lewis, and whether each of them believe historical objectivity is possible.
To Said, Orientalism is more than just an academic discipline. It is a power structure that is used to justify and facilitate the actions of western governments, in particular Britain, France, and the United States, in the Middle East. Beyond the base level academic definition, he defines Orientalism as “a style of thought based upon… distinction made between ‘The Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘The Occident’.” He also defines a third level of Orientalism, “the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient.” The “corporate institution” is the mechanical part of Orientalism as a power structure. According to Said, the academic level is used to define the geographic area of study; the second level is used to create a justification for imperialism; and the third level is used to facilitate the creation of stereotypes and justifications. This is how Said sees Orientalism as a power structure that is used as a tool of oppression.
The second level of Orientalism is where Said’s issues really begin. He implies that “the Orient” is not a creation of the peoples who live there, but rather a creation of outsiders. He talks about how the Europeans created the idea of the Orient as a political, social, and ideological construct. To Said, the structure of Orientalism is ultimately a result of Western dominance over the East, and that this dominance in culture perpetuates the perception of the Orient as being “Oriental”. It can be interpreted as a self-perpetuating cycle. The more the West dominates the east, the more Oriental the east becomes. And the more oriental the east becomes, the more the west needs to dominate it. But what does a self-professed Orientalist have to say about Said’s work?
Bernard Lewis, one of the last scholars willing to identify themselves as an Orientalist, directed his critique at Said’s terms, and how he defined them. He identified Said’s thesis as “Orientalism derives from a particular closeness experienced between Britain and France and the Orient.” He sees Said’s focus on late 19th and early 20th century British and French Orientalists as being problematic. To Lewis, this is far too narrow of a focus to accurately portray the field of Orientalism. Lewis points to Said’s lack of German sources to be especially egregious. He also takes issue with Said’s implication that a non-Arab learning Arabic does not qualify someone to comment on the Orient. This implies that knowledge on a subject can have ethnic exclusivity. Lewis interprets that Said disapproves of how knowledge about the Orient is gathered, quoting numerous violent terms, Said used in reference to westerners acquiring knowledge about the Middle East. 
Halliday begins his critique of Said by putting Orientalism into a broader context, pointing to previous writers who critiqued the concept of Orientalism. He describes Said’s work as simultaneously “coming at the end of” and “negating an earlier body of debate.” Halliday was somewhat critical of Said’s rejection of a materialist critique, and choosing to use a literary critique instead. The biggest critique Halliday has for Said is that his work focuses on the literary discourse of the Orient, rather than the societies or politics.
He has many of the same critiques of Lewis’s work as well. He describes both of their methodologies as being “literary” and “ideological.” Said is too focused on the literary and ideological thoughts of the British, French, and Americans, while Lewis is too focused on the literary and ideological thoughts of the people themselves. Traditional Orientalists, according to Halliday, focus too much on language. Lewis expresses that the origins of words influence their future meaning. He attributes this to the influence of Classicists, who focus on studying ancient Greek and Latin in their attempts to understand the classical world. He is also critical of Lewis’s emphasis on the Islamic Religion for understanding the Middle East, portraying Lewis’s use of it to be deterministic.
Halliday prefers “An element of distance,” when examining the region. He uses materialist approach to the Middle East, looking at what is actually done in the society and how it functions, rather than what the literary class portrays. However, he does devote more time to criticizing Lewis than he does Said. This is most likely attributed to his personal relationship with Said. Halliday is probably more inclined to be sympathetic to Said’s methodology, because of its connection to previous Marxist works, even if he eschewed a materialist analysis.
So what do these three believe about scholarly objectivity? Of the three, Said is the least likely to believe, especially for westerners. He speaks of how the media in all its forms perpetuates stereotypes about the Orient and its people to the point where you cannot separate it from reality unless you are a member of the subject group. Bernard Lewis is the most likely of the three to believe in scholarly objectivity. The fact that he is defending what he sees as an honorable academic field displays his feelings toward scholarly work. Why defend an institution and field of study if you do not believe it is possibly to obtain objective truth from it? Halliday is also likely to believe in scholarly objectivity, but unlike Said or Lewis, he believes it comes from a materialist analysis of society, culture, and politics, in contrast to Lewis and Said, who are inclined to focus on ideology and literature.
So is Orientalism a tool of oppression? If you are someone from a supposedly oppressed group, like Said, a Palestinian, than you are more likely to believe that the institutions and academic disciplines used to study your group are a tool of oppression. On the other hand, if you are a member of a group that is accused of being an oppressive force, like Bernard Lewis, than you are more likely to deny any such accusation. Both have a vested interest in defending their group, and to undermine the other, haven taken a level of pride in their group based identity. Said sees his group, and thereby himself, being negatively portrayed by Western institutions; While Lewis sees his group being accused of racism, which in the modern world is the most damaging accusation that can be leveled at someone of European descent.
So here we have learned of why Said sees Orientalism as a tool of oppression, and his critiques of said field over all. We have looks at Lewis’s response to Said, and his interpretation of his work. And we have look at Halliday’s response to both, and whether or not scholarly objectivity is possible.
 Edward Said, Orientalism, (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), 2
 Said, 3
 Said, 3
 Said, 6-7
 Bernard Lewis, “The Question of Orientalism”, The New York Review of Books June (1982), 9
 Lewis, 10
 Fred Halliday, “Orientalism and its Critics,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1993), 148
 Halliday, 150
 Halliday, 151-152
 Halliday, 148
 Halliday, 149
 Halliday, 148
 Said, 25-28