Rehab NazzalMural of George Floyd on the Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem, 2020.
Photo: courtesy of the artist

Planes, Trains and Car Bombs: Departures from the Adjectival Orient

Tammer El-Sheikh
The “Orient,” as the Middle East was once called, became a major travel destination in the long nineteenth century of European colonial adventures. Thomas Cook’s travel company enthusiastically promoted the region’s ancient monuments, holy biblical sites, and the newly constructed Suez Canal. This last attraction points to the overlapping colonial and economic interests that gave rise to the tourist industry.

It was precisely this “Orient” that the Palestinian-American literary scholar Edward Said cast in his book Orientalism (1978) as “adjectival.” For visitors it was a place of “sensuality, promise, terror, sublimity, idyllic pleasure, intense energy” — a seduction to which major European, and later American, powers would lay claim.1 1 - Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 88, 118 - 19. In Said’s view, the wildly descriptive imagined Orient passed on from authors such as Gustave Flaubert and T. E. Lawrence tells us much more about the appetites and privileges of these men than it does about the people they encountered during their travels.

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This article also appears in the issue 111 - Tourism

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