Orientalism Revisited, Warped Views Of East And West Sow Conflict

The discourse of East and West, and specifically Islamic East and Christian West, is flawed and implicitly destined for conflict. A view from Latin America as Paris burns.

In the Coptic quarter of Cairo
In the Coptic quarter of Cairo
Hamurabi Noufouri

BUENOS AIRES — In his first year as head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has not tired of denouncing a tragedy that is being tolerated in part as a calamitous result of the "Orientalist" outlook pervasive in the West. He has condemned the persecution and attempted expulsion of Christians from the Middle East before the world's silent gaze — in a manner he has observed, not dissimilar to another silence, before the violent persecution of the Jews.

"Now it is the turn of the Christians, and the world says little," he said. Why?

It is not the first time the world fails to react to events, and it is impossible to attribute the inaction to one, universal behavioral trait of governments or nations, nor even to regional "idiosyncrasies." Still, the Pope's outcry prompts one to wonder if this "hindered" sensitivity is perhaps the fruit of a prejudice that impedes us from seeing Christians in the Middle East as "like ourselves" or even as "proper" Christians.

To some it might sound contradictory to speak of "Christian Arabs" or "Arab Jews," and more so if we already have our mind set around the false synonym of "Muslim-Arab-Bedouin." Too many texts erroneously equate Arabs with Muslims (and vice-versa), and it is difficult not to picture Bedouins when you hear "Arabs."

Muslim greetings in Buenos Aires. Photo: BLMurch

People are surprised to hear that Arab immigration to Argentina began in the 19th century, alongside the Jews, and that most of these were Christian farmers unrelated to nomads, as were the fewer Arabic-speaking Muslim migrants. We might find it more surprising to recall that these were the descendants of the world's first — original — Jews and Christians.

It is a flaw in our collective perception, which is difficult to correct as long as we see the world divided into East and West, with the West as the natural home of Judeo-Christianity and "civilization." It is what the historian Edward W. Said referred to as Orientalism, which attributes an inherently "barbaric" nature to Arabs (or Bedouins), stripping the Arabs of their religious diversity, and Christianity, Judaism, Islam and even secularism of their linguistic varieties, geographical mobility and evolution over time on all fronts.

Opposing words and worlds

It is a negation of diversity on both sides, symbolically excluding Arabs and Muslims of a "Western" universe exclusively based on the Judeo-Christian heritage, and making the Orient exclusively Islamic. This determinism is the source of absurd expressions like Islam and the West, which makes all Arabs Muslims, until proven otherwise.

This vision of Islam is necessarily one opposed to "the West" — the Judeo-Christian, civilized West — given the implicit antagonism of placing two opposing words together: East and West, civilization and barbarism.

This false vision is bound to displace or dislocate millions of secular Jews and Christians living in the "East," or secular citizens of Muslim heritage living in "the West," and effectively assign them as being outside their "natural" setting. As if they were foreigners from nowhere, or a social anomaly to be rectified sooner or later.

The victims of discrimination are thus surreptitiously handed responsibility for being victimized, and rejection of their discrimination is silenced. One sees that when a lengthy association is established between what is seen (evidence) and the absurd (prejudice or interpretations), the latter is strengthened and the former weakened, as stereotypes will only pay attention to anything that confirms them. The rest is dismissed as noise.

The criminal attack against Charlie Hebdo targeted this weakness: hoping that the "reaction" would cancel any acceptance of differences. And when diversity diminishes, democracy suffers.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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