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le cross et le culture et le thinking - 21 11 2003 - 00:14 - katatonik

Frontier Orientalism

“I classify the master narrative as “frontier orientalism.” The term of course refers to E. Said’s (1980) work, but also reflects some recent criticism of it, pointing out that his notion of orientalism is to wide and too unspecific.

The mytho-historical meta-narrative basically claims: the bad Muslim and Oriental attacked and seriously endangered our frontier, such as in the Turkish wars at the dawn of modernity, to which Haider refers. The good Muslim, however, defended our frontier, such as the Bosnians before and during the First World War. The good and the bad Muslim thus constitute key metaphors in a dual register, inherent to one and the same narrative. At the beginning of modernity, the bad Muslim was a serious rival and threat to “our” existence. Crushing that rival is portrayed as the decisive precondition for the subsequent rise of Habsburg colonial expansion. At the end of the colonial period, and as a result of that roll-back strategy against the Ottomans on the Balkans, Vienna’s rule over Bosnia serves as the ideological raw material to construct the good Muslim, “our” unwavering ally in difficult times. A second parallel in the paradox therefore displays images of the Muslim as a contrasting device for the ideological construction of an armed border, a frontier. Along that frontier, the Muslim is constructed either as a blood thirsty rival, or as a loyal servant.

The construction of such a dual register of “Orientals” along a frontier is part of popular culture in Eastern and south-eastern Austria. It exists in popular culture, whether Haider refers to it or not in his specific ways, (but of course his activation of the register certainly strengthens it.) Frontier Orientalism is silently ubiquituous in Eastern Austrian poular culture- in architecture, in music, in urban geography, and in school books. The frontier notion, and the related dual register, are inherent to East Austrian toponyms (such as “Pagans Shooting”, Heidenschu├č, or “Turkish Trench Park,” T├╝rkenschanzpark,) to the country’s rich musical heritage, such as Prince Eugene of Savoye’s victory song in Belgrade (“Prinz Eugen der edle Ritter”), folk tales of Ottoman soldiers raping East Austrian women or burning churches, etc., etc. All these elements of popular culture indicate that the frontier is territorial, military, and nearby.

In Frontier Orientalism, the “Oriental” is present in the same area that “we” inhabit today. This is a meta-narrative that has little to do with the constructions of classical colonialism as depicted by Said for British and French elite cultures, such as in Rudyard Kipling’s or Gustave Flaubert’s references to distant colonies overseas. Frontier Orientalism refers to nearby and not to distant territories, it primarily reflects shorter military encounters between rivals instead of long lasting hierarchical administration, and it is part of pre-electronic popular culture, rather than being the result of elite authors’ lifestyles. At the same time, the “Oriental” in Frontier Orientalism is more specific than in classical Orientalism. He is less frequently a Japanese, an East Indian, or a Chinese; usually he is a Muslim.

I identify the most explicit variants of Frontier Orientalism in Spanish-Francist and in Austrian-Pangermanic nationalism. The bad Muslim at the beginning of modernity almost destroyed “us” – in Andalusia and before the city walls of Vienna. His crushing defeat triggered off “our” rise to imperial greatness, expanding across the whole globe under Habsburg leadership in Madrid and Vienna. The good Muslim in the late colonial era stood by “us” when in difficult times, we were junior partners of larger powers (Germany.) The Bosnian defended “us” during the first world war in the south and south-east, Franco’s moorish troops were celebrated as the Rambos of fascism from the late 1930’s on. “


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