Orientalism: Yes or No?

It’s one thing to be a Westerner with a healthy respect and admiration for Eastern cultures; it’s another to make your son wear a hijab to soccer practice in order to intimidate opponents. Pasha Malla helps us sort through a few case studies in Orientalism.

No: You stock your fridge with couscous, hummus, and baba gannouj.

Yes: You stock your fridge with couscous, hummus, and baba gannouj, and when you serve them to guests you holler, “Jihad!” and shoot a Kalashnikov into the air.

No: You enjoy Bollywood films.

Yes: You paint your feet with henna, wrap yourself in a sari and dance down to the local Blockbuster to return your rented copy of Devdas, and when you hand it over to the bewildered clerk at the counter, you lean in, taunting him with your pursed, supple lips before twirling away in a burst of song.

No: You support girls’ right to wear the hijab in public schools.

Yes: You dress your adolescent son in the hijab for his soccer game and tell him that if boys on the opposing team don’t accept him, they are likely just jealous, and possibly infidels—and also, all praise be to Allah, for once he will beat their offside trap and score.

No: You are learning Arabic.

Yes: You are translating the Koran into limericks.

No: You smoke hookah at a local Lebanese restaurant.

Yes: You ride a camel up to the same restaurant and, after tethering it to the bike rack across the street, come inside and say to one of the waiters, “Old Mustafa sure don’t ride like he used to did—hookah me up, will ya?”

No: You are planning a vacation to Egypt.

Yes: You have wrapped your spouse in toilet paper, “to practice.”

No: You burn incense around the house.

Yes: You encourage your spouse to self-immolate should you pass on and be reincarnated as anything less noble than a peacock.

No: You have made generous donations to various tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka.

Yes: You are trying to start up a local chapter of the Tamil Tigers, promising your neighbors and co-workers that there will be Tostitos Hint-of-Lime chips at the first meeting.

No: You sport a bindi on your forehead.

Yes: You sport a bindi on your car. Also: a turban.

No: You support interracial marriage.

Yes: You pledge your eight-year-old daughter to the first-born son of the Guatemalan couple down the hall, telling your spouse, “What? They’re the closest thing to brown we’ve got around here.”

No: You enjoy the music of Ravi Shankar.

Yes: You decide to sire illegitimate children all over America, hoping that one will someday become a Grammy Award-winning soul singer.

No: You decorate your house with the finest Persian and Afghan carpets.

Yes: You hand-knit your carpets yourself, harvesting the threads from the silkworm farm you’ve established out back by the pool shed.

No: You support Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Yes: You think popular Turkish musician Tarkan’s hit single, “Kuzu Kuzu,” should replace all national anthems—except Turkey’s, which will become “We Are the Champions,” by Queen.


TMN Contributing Writer Pasha Malla is the author of four books. He is also the head of TMN’s informal panel of film critics. He lives in Toronto. More by Pasha Malla