As I sat down to collect my thoughts on propaganda, a rather interesting set of messages came scrolling across my computer screen. Most of these messages originated from the social networking website, Facebook. Normally, I disregard them or wait until I have completed whatever project I happen to be working on at the time. However, these messages came in large numbers and detailed an urgent, fanatical euphoria which centered on the headline “Osama bin Laden is Dead.” Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued. A brief journey around the internet; CNN, the BBC, MSNBC, and Al-Jazeera, appears to confirm the reports. I return to Facebook, a myopic, self-promoting, ignorance-spreading, apathy-enabling, desensitizing black hole of worthless information that I both loathe and refuse to wholly detach myself from. Keep in mind; I have this internal battle every time I log on. At any rate, a deeper investigation of the messages and posts available to me reveals the obvious: Americans, many of which are my friends, are having an online pseudo-celebration over the death of a human being. I do not share in their glee. In fact, I slump in my chair, dejected. My mind immediately turns to analysis. Why am I upset about the death of a murderer?
The answer comes rather gradually and in two ‘waves’. The first wave, the most obvious, manifests itself in my firm grounding in the anti-neoliberal-capitalist, want-to-be revolutionary cognizance that informs the way I perceive the world, particularly when I find myself in a negative state-of-mind. Only recently had I even considered Osama a form of revolutionary. Jeremy Prestholdt’s (University of California at San Diego) future project considering the iconography of modern “heroes” in the neoliberal world articulates that:
Osama bin Laden, the most recent and controversial of the icons, has become a powerful symbol of defiance among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. After 9/11 Osama became the embodiment of diverse critiques of US foreign policy and neoliberalism generally. Much like Che, Bob, and Tupac, his image has been broadly commercialized, appearing on everything from T-shirts in South Africa and Venezuela, to mobile screens in Oman and perfume bottles in Pakistan.
Prestholdt’s wide ranging project will engage a number of forms and degrees of said defiance revealed by his comparative inclusion of such diverse examples as Che Guevara, Bob Marley, and Tupac Shakur. It is assumed the analysis of Osama will gravitate towards the most extreme end of the spectrum of Prestholdt’s subjects. I must also note that I do not espouse bin-Laden’s methodology, his vision, or militant and oppressive theological power structures. In fact, he symbolically epitomizes the antithesis of social progression that I hold quite dear. Yet, Osama bin-Laden represents a political, social, and cultural alternative to growing American hegemonic power around the world. Thus, his death yields another crack in the all-to-fragile opposition to the modern form of empire. In simpler terms: while I may not endorse his discourse, his resistance both materially and symbolically bolstered the cause of all who question the direction of modern imperialism.
The second wave alternately, arrives blatantly and immediately. I am overwhelmed by the constant streaming of ecstatic ignorance materializing all around me. Social media outlets are inundated with half-witted and classless remarks extolling the death of a human life. The television media takes a brief hiatus from its usual job of promoting mindless consumption to praise the forces who have committed this bold and necessary act. Footage of riotous parties in the nation’s capital and other major cities rivals that of any major holiday. Pundits laud the administration, the Navy SEALS, American idealism, and revel in the fabricated ideation that ‘militant’ Islam has been dealt a death blow. Without wasting too much space citing all I witness, I can only assume my reader has found themselves immersed in the same. It is through this graphic and appalling display that I seek to connect this whimsical and off-kilter ‘distraction’ to my studies with a course essay meant to cover medieval Mediterranean life. Any correlations on the surface appear contrived, but I’m assured that the ethical tie to bind them is the concept of Oreintalism.
Orientalism, for usage in this essay, is defined by Edward Said in his prominent, if not notorious book of the same title, Orientalism. He assembled the book quite early in his career (1978) that has captivated the entire enterprise of historiography like few ever have. Orientalism forever altered the way in which the Middle East is studied historically and has promoted a complete re-analysis of nearly all prior texts pertaining to the region, Arabs, and Islam. It has fomented numerous debates among intellectuals and has even been utilized for its general argument as a banner project for many colonial studies in the ‘developing world’. “The book is still reprinted, translated (into more than thirty six languages), read and widely discussed all over the world by the followers of many disciplines. Orientalism is one of the most oft-quoted texts across the various disciplines engaged in studying the Middle East or Islam.” Orientalism investigates through expansive research the ways in which the East (specifically the Middle East) has been written about and documented over the course of history by Westerners. He assumes the ultimate conclusion that this documentation must be understood as the major player in polarizing the two regions and inventing a binary power struggle in which the West has subjugated or subordinated the East. In his own words: “The relationship between the Occident and the Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony.”
Said uses his research to conceptualize the idea that the divide created between Europe/America and Asia was fomented by these past works and that the influence they wielded over Western perception perpetuated a great deal of strife that ranged in scope pending the era he tackles. In the most basic form, Said argues that people define themselves by everything that they are not; that by creating an ‘alien’ or ‘foreign’ persona (in this case, the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Oriental’) people can characterize themselves. There is no more common method of manufacturing a unified populace than to create an alien persona and promoting them as an enemy. Once the people have mentally defined (facilitated by the powers that be) the perceived opposition to their way of life; all that must be added is a concocted threat to rile the populace into fervor. He asserts that Westerners have bolstered this attitude of being all-together different (and superior by most measures) throughout history and utilized it to facilitate acts of aggression.
John Victor Tolan’s compilation work, Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam, contains numerous examples that poignantly provide credence to Said’s concept of Oreintalism within the temporal confines of the Middle Ages. Findings throughout the text utterly fit the premise of Said’s theory. Additionally, to reengage with the modern inquiries at the beginning of this essay regarding Osama, these primary sources of centuries ago mirror the rhetoric called upon by the Western media and governments in their outside construction of Muslims. Both modern and medieval outlets manufacture a foreign character so at odds with their beliefs and ways of life that they claim coexistence is not just remote, but impossible. Further, this characterization founds itself on instilling fear within its audience. In both epochs, the Muslim, the Saracen, the Moor, the Ismaili, the terrorist, the extremist, the fundamentalist, does not only represent something wholly oppositional, but seeks to impress his belief structure through violence upon the audience. “Authors present Islam as a religion of the sword, stating that when Muslims preach their religion it is with the sword in hand to kill those who refuse to obey or pay tribute.”
An excerpt from a Pope Gregory letter to Fredrick II of Sicily in 1232 clearly outlines perceived Muslim malfeasant intent: “And a more cruel and lamentable sword cuts us as well. The uncircumcised, placed almost in the middle of the Kingdom, can more easily corrupt the Catholic faith by the venom of their infidelity.” This warning from the Pope to Fredrick scrutinizing the latter’s allowance of Muslims to remain on Sicily attempts to scare the recipient into altogether removing the threat. Despite the potential ‘risk’ of letting Muslims live under Western rule due to their ‘violent’ nature and insatiable appetite for destroying everything Christendom holds dear remains the concept that the past successes Muslims have had are only due to their ‘unchivalrous’ sensibilities. An unnamed Latin scribe, a follower in St. Jerome’s long lineage of monks whose primary purpose was to document major historical events, summed up the initial Islamic conquests of the seventh century as a mere product of pretentious deception. He adds that they “appropriated for themselves Syria, Arabia, and Mesopotamia more through their trickery than the power of their leader, Muhammad.” Much of the work produced on the threat of Islam drew from both sides of the characterization such as Jacob van Maerlant’s (13th century) description in Scololastica: “His [Ishmael’s] lineage will come-as some have written-and subdue the world harshly with cruel deeds. They will hack to priests to pieces and also rape the women. Their horses and their cattle too they will house in holy places.”
The entire Western construction is counterintuitive. This small sample size represents a far larger body of work spanning the entirety of the Middle Ages that echoes the same themes. Were they strong-willed, blood-thirsty, yet, devoted mercenaries of their faith or wretched and unsavory usurpers, or both?
The answer to that question only paints the Muslim in a negative light and renders the answer irrelevant. The product, regardless of details, remains the creation of a temptingly exotic yet foreign character to fear, disdain, and loathe. Once this conception is generally accepted by the majority of the population, action must follow. One needs look no further than the Crusades to verify the connection or identify the type of action espoused. Even allowing for a more objective perspective towards ‘semi-justified’ crusades such as the Reconquista, movement necessitated the project of enemy construction. Under the reigns of the Church, building crusader armies leaned heavily on the types of rhetoric cited above and even went one further tying Muslims, Muhammad, and Islam to Lucifer. Westerners came to see “the Crusades [as] the foreign policy of the papacy against the forces of the Antichrist (in the form of Islam).” The irony being that the earlier alluded to descriptions of Muslims end up fitting the actual crusaders to a tee on their many eastward romps. Said’s lesson reappears; through Orientalizing Muslims, Islam, Arabs, Turks, etc., the powers that be create a space for violence to provide the only solution to a problem ‘they’ fabricated.
These ‘powers that be’ include the Church, the Pope, scribes, or any number of influential actors of the medieval period who control the production of knowledge. These actors have a modern lineage in the form of governments, corporate leaders, and the multi-pronged media monster. The language may have changed, but the message has remained the same. The East is different, so different that you should fear it and anyone who hails from it; particularly if they are Muslim. Coming full-circle, the neoliberal agenda I address in most of my other work sparks the reasoning for modern Orientalism. Islam, like Communism before it, presents globalized capitalism an obstruction. Removing the obstruction by force or conversion without a manufactured pretext would actualize a less cohesive front. Through an historical narrative that never strayed too far from the medieval cited examples, Islam never found a spot of refuge in the Western cognitive but did take a ‘backseat’ to the Red Scare for much of the twentieth century. As communism dissolved and newer leftist movements attempt to gain traction, a new threat was required. Why not resurrect Orientalism? It worked to perfection. One needs look no further than the shirtless, beer-swilling, populace parading around Washington D.C. in celebration of death for proof of this tried and true “institution.”
 Jeremy Prestholdt, “Superpower Osama: Symbolic Discourse in the Indian Ocean Region After the Cold War”, Found in: Christopher J. Lee, Making a World After Empire: The Bandung Moment and its Political Afterlives (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2010), pp. 315-351.
 Daniel Martin Varisco, Journal of Islamic Studies, 2009: 20, pp. 304
 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), pp. 5
 Gloria Adams, “Portrayal of Muslims in Andrea da Barberino’s Guerrino il Meschino, Found in: John Victor Tolan, Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 250.
 Pope Gregory IX, Dum preteritorum consideration in John Phillip Lomax, “Fredrick II, His Saracens, and the Papacy”, Found in: John Victor Tolan, Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 186.
 Chronicle of 754 in Kenneth Baxter Wolf, “Christian Views of Islam in Early Medieval Spain”, Found in: John Victor Tolan, Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 87.
 Jacob van Maerlant, Scolastica in Geert H.M. Claassens, “Jacob van Maerlant on Muhammad and Islam”, Found in: John Victor Tolan, Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 211.
 Separate debates about ‘justness’ of crusades, wars, or battles must be acknowledged in a later project. Anything can be justified with a large enough historical lens in which to rationalize violent action.
 Philip Krey, “Nicholas of Lyra and Paul of Burgos on Islam”, Found in: John Victor Tolan, Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam (London: Routledge, 1996), pp.155.
 Borrowing from Michel Foucault.