Essentialism is Not Unique to the West


[H/t Elder of Ziyon]

Essentialism views races, social classes or cultures as possessing a specific set of characteristics or properties. Back in my grad school days many of my colleagues associated essentialist ideologies with the Western world. They tied essentialism with capitalism, colonization and imperialism. Very few were able to grasp the idea that non-Western peoples also hold essentialist views. Here is a typical statement from the Essentialism Page (Emory University):

In a specifically postcolonial context, we find essentialism in the reduction of the indigenous people to an “essential” idea of what it means to be African/Indian/Arabic, thus simplifying the task of colonization.

How about when “the colonized” articulates a similar perspective? Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at UAE University, writes:

The equation of victory and defeat between the Arabs and the Zionist state has always been and will remain zero equation. This means that when Israel is defeated, Arabs have the right to celebrate victory.

Hatred of Israel can be found in the genes of all Arabs. Although it is hereditary, its intensity varies from time to time. [emphasis mine]

Essentialism, it appears, is hardly unique to the West. As Elder of Ziyon reminds readers:

This is not some crazy member of the “Arab street”. This is someone who has a respected job as an intellectual, who is saying that anything that is bad for Israel is, by definition, good for the Arabs. The Arab world, and a large number of its supporters, look at the Middle East as a zero-sum game where when one side wins, the other loses.

History shows that this is not an isolated opinion; in fact, it is still mainstream Arab opinion. Even as pragmatic and moderate a leader as Jordan’s King Abdullah reveals that he still looks at the conflict the same way, that what is good for Israel is bad for the Arab world, although Abdullah is much more nuanced.

Westerners must understand this mindset. We grow up with the idea ingrained in us that the best solutions to problems are “win-win”, where each side can gain or at least compromise in ways where their losses are minimized. This is so obvious to most Westerners that we cannot conceive of a mentality that is exactly the opposite – that if I win, you must lose, and vice versa.

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