Searching for the East in the Shadow of the West: Layla M as the Portrait of an Oriental Woman in Modern Orientalist Discourse

Searching for the East in the Shadow of the West: Layla M as the Portrait of an Oriental Woman in Modern Orientalist Discourse

Eşref Akmeşe
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7180-4.ch037
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Orientalism is defined as part of the discourse of power which includes the purpose of exploitation and domination that represents attribution of “Easterner” qualities that are opposite and inferior to the qualities that Euro-American cultures ascribe to themselves, and labeling them as irrational, uncivilized, inferior, not open to change, and so on. Orientalism, which is an expression of an extensive and long-term cultural and ideological process, states a discourse that marginalizes what it leaves out of Euro-American culture. This style of discourse is effective in different mediums and reproduced consistently. In this chapter, asserted Eurocentric arguments in the modern orientalist discourse are discussed with a critical approach through Dutch director Mijke de Jong's film Layla M. (2016).
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The radical discourse of Islam began to take place powerfully on the world's agenda with the attacks against American targets on September, 2001. The interventions of the United States and its allies to Afghanistan, Iraq and different regions of Islamic geography by showing the actions of radical Islamist organizations as reason have generated many discussions. As the continuation of this process, developments in the Arab geography and civil commotions started at 2010 and continued until today are started a vague new process. Concepts such as the east-west contradiction, the conflict of civilizations and Islamophobia have entered into the main topics of intellectual debates by the reasons of terrorism and armed interventions of the Western world in the Middle East. With the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the Middle East, which has been associated with political instability since before now, was back on the world's agenda with its huge problems. The issue of illegal immigration and refugee, which is one of the most crucial of these problems and turned into a humanitarian drama, fueled the discussions on racism, discrimination and religion by the policies of Western Europe. Discussions with a Euro-American perspective within the framework of aforementioned political developments brought the topic of orientalism back to the center of intellectual debates again. Accordingly, the threat of the chaos in the Middle East to Western Europe by illegal immigration, refugees and sometimes terrorist actions led to discussions about marginalized reflexes of Western societies. In this context, the conditions of Muslims in Europe and their attitudes in the new conjuncture were discussed on various occasions. In this regard, Dutch director Mijke de Jong Un's remarkable film Layla M. (2016) brought this subject to the agenda of the discussion with the perspective of a European director. The film, which represents the radicalization of a Dutch Muslim young woman of Moroccan origin, tabled a current issue within the boundaries of the Eurocentric paradigm with its orientalist discourse. Accordingly, in the article the film is discussed within the framework of the reproduction of the orientalist discourse with its approach to current issues debated in the context of Islam and radicalism. In this regard, the Eurocentric perspective in the presentation of the dynamics of integration of Muslims to Europe and preference of western values to eastern values is discussed in the context of orientalism. There are several reasons why Layla M. is discussed in the context of orientalism debates in the article. Firstly, the film establishes a discourse on the contradictions between the two civilizations by centering an eastern woman from the perspective of a western female director. Secondly, in the film it is talked about Muslims and spoke for them by focusing on a Muslim woman. Thirdly, a marginalizing orientalist discourse is established in the film although “Eastern” Muslims are not clearly dehumanized. Fourthly, although the simple cause and effect relations are used through the east-west contradiction in the film, complex intellectual arguments between radicalism and culture are also used. Finally, the film is a Netflix original production and has the opportunity to reach a wide audience. In this framework, firstly, the main lines of orientalism and concepts related to orientalism are explained in the article, and then the character of the discourse established in the film is studied through descriptive analysis. Within this scope, Layla M. is analyzed within the framework of Edward Said's critical arguments for orientalist discourse in the context of a European director's discourse on the East and Muslims but these arguments are considered only as an analysis perspective.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Orientalism: Images of the east and orientals in the eyes of westerners. The positioning the east as the other for the West to define itself.

Eurocentrism: A concept expressing a European-centered view to history of humanity.

Marginalization: A concept that includes stigmatizing and excluding those who are not from themselves.

Occidentalism: A concept expressing the orientals' approach to the West. A kind of reaction against orientalism.

Jihad: A concept that includes struggling and and fighting for the sake of religion in the sense of Islamic literature.

Assimilation: Dissolution of the minority by majority, likening to itself. Assimilation can obviously take place by using force or without force.

Islam: Belief system based on monotheism originating from the Middle East.

Cultural Hybridity: A concept expressing the formation of new cultural syntheses in the encounter areas of different cultures.

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