Saturday, February 09, 2013

Bonaparte in Egypt, by Haji Browne

As long as I am in the middle east with my reading, I should probably tarry a while and read some related works.  This one I had thought would be the story of a soldier traveling with Napoleon on his adventure to Egypt in 1798.  I was completely mistaken, as it seems to be the work of an academic writing more than a century afterwards.  (The book was written in 1907.)  My disappointment has been mitigated by the realization that the author is trying to describe and analyze the first attempt of a western secular power to subjugate a Muslim nation, which is certainly a timely subject.

A key part of this work is a purported effort to characterize and contrast eastern and western thought processes.  I would like to know more about Haji Browne while considering this, however, I have failed to turn up any information on him on the internet.  The narrative of Napoleon is thus intertwined with paragraphs of psycho-pontificating of this sort regarding the Egyptians:

"For they have always been incapable of taking a broad or general view of any subject. No matter how many-sided a question may be, they, as a rule, can see but one aspect of it at a time. They look, in fact, at all things through a mental telescope that, bringing one narrow and limited aspect of a subject into bold and clear relief, shuts from their vision all that surrounds it. Hence when, as they can and sometimes do, they change their point of view, the change is commonly as abrupt as it is thorough, and those who see only the surface tax them with fickleness. Of late years there have been signs that, at all events, the educated[40] classes are learning to reason on surer and safer grounds; but if the reader would understand their story, he must ever bear in mind the narrow basis of their judgments and, therefore, of their actions."

It seems that his overall theme is that Western civilization is on the one hand drastically different from that of Egypt, yet on the other he will not accept any notion of superiority, since he quite readily brings up all the crimes of the Europeans ranging from the bloodiness of the French revolution to the treatment of the Irish and Jews.  Time to get back on my camel and see where this book is heading ...

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