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Saturday, March 27, 2004

'Occidentalism' watch.

Time to start collecting reviews of Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit's new book, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, by two writers I admire: historian Ian Buruma and philosopher Avishai Margalit. (I've come to know both writers through the New York Review of Books, and especially enjoyed Margalit's recent book The Ethics of Memory.)

In his New York Times review, Gary Rosen writes:

Occidentalism, as they call it, is not a full-blown ideology but rather a "cluster of prejudices": a way of demonizing and inciting violence against the bourgeois West. It is the shared parlance of Maoists and Nazis, Baathists and the Khmer Rouge, 19th-century Slavophiles and today's jihadists. And paradoxically, it too, they argue, is a creature of the West, the bastard child of Enlightenment rationalism and freedom. . . .

Like Paul Berman in his recent book "Terror and Liberalism," they trace the often surprising pathways by which exposure to the West has been transformed into hatred of Western societies. Most Tokkotai [kamikaze] volunteers, it turns out, were bookish radicals, readers who took to heart the lessons of Nietzsche, Hegel and Marx. Pol Pot, while a student in postwar Paris, absorbed the polemics of Frantz Fanon and other bloody-minded Western critics of colonialism, with devastating consequences for Cambodia. Sayyid Qutb came to the United States from Egypt in 1948 to study English and went home appalled by the materialism and gross sensuality of American culture; he became a key ideologist in the development of Islamism. . . .

To the Occidentalist imagination, the modern West comes to life as a collection of weak, complacent merchants, slaves to comfort who know nothing of self-sacrifice; or as a cold, mechanical, ruthlessly efficient "mind," crushing every higher ideal in the name of commercial and technological advance.

Above all, the West is embodied for its enemies in what Mr. Buruma and Mr. Margalit call "the Occidental city." Here the motifs of corruption and degeneracy find a geographic home and a wider cast of sinister characters: Jews, prostitutes, financiers, rootless cosmopolitans of every description. Through the eyes of the Occidentalist, the modern metropolis appears "inhuman, a zoo of depraved animals, consumed by lust." It is a problem whose only remedy lies in the redemptive power of revolutionary violence.

("Is terrorists' hatred of the West the West's own bastard child?" Gary Rosen, New York Times 3.27.04, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 27 March 2004 at 7:04 PM

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