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Monday, April 12, 2004

'Occidentalism' watch, part III.

The Economist reviews Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma's new book, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies:

Their thesis refers to “Orientalism”, a book published in 1978 by Edward Said, a Palestinian writer who died last year. Said's argument was that western scholarship disdains and distorts the Islamic world in subtle ways that provided an intellectual backdrop to colonialism and post-colonial domination. In the authors' summary: “Some Orientalist prejudices made non-western people seem less than fully adult human beings; they had the minds of children, and could thus be treated as lesser breeds.”

Occidentalism is the mirror image of this: the dehumanising view of the West held by many of its enemies. It reduces the West, and especially America, to a symbol of evil, “a mass of soulless, decadent, money-grubbing, rootless, faithless, unfeeling parasites”. For Occidentalist fanatics such as Osama bin Laden, this legitimises mass murder. . . .

But the authors do not interpret the world's present predicament as a clash between the West and Islam. They see instead a lengthy battle of ideas in defence of the open, the tolerant and the free against totalitarian ideologies both religious and secular. They warn against the utter refusal to try to understand fanaticism and the cringe of colonial guilt that appears to justify it. However much damage the West did and does to the East, that does not excuse barbarism. To argue that it does is Orientalist condescension.

("Anti-western fanatics," Economist 3.18.04)

Previous installments of "Occidentalism Watch" are here and here.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 12 April 2004 at 5:28 PM

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Next: Transcendentalism's shadow.



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