OCCIDENTALISM by Ian Buruma

OCCIDENTALISM

The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies

KIRKUS REVIEW

How do I loathe thee? Let the mullahs count the ways.

There are many reasons for non-Westerners to hate the West, write Buruma (Luce Professor/Bard College; Bad Elements, 2001, etc.) and Margalit (Philosophy/Hebrew University; The Decent Society, 1996): some may despise the political, military, and economic reach of the First World into every corner of the planet; some may long for a pastoral arcadia in the face of urbanism; some may simply not like Madonna and other bejeweled emblems of Western pop culture. Usefully, the authors, borrowing a page from Edward Said’s Orientalism, collapse this cluster of prejudices into the blanket term “Occidentalism,” which seems a good-enough rubric to encompass the loathing of unreconstructed Communists in Russia and the sputtering hatred of Muslim jihadis alike. “Without understanding those who hate the West,” they write, dramatically, “we cannot hope to stop them from destroying humanity.” The succeeding text offers a guided tour of those enemies, characterized rather sweepingly (“Antithetical of the Western mind is the Russian soul”; “Matter, in the Occidentalist view, shared by some extreme Hindus or prewar Japanese Shintoists, is the god of the West and materialism its religion”). In the end, the enemies of the West seem to be the same as ever: Western-schooled intellectuals and their rural allies, poisoned by mostly German ideas of ethnic nationalism or ideological purity, producing little but “variations on the death cult.” The authors close by cautioning that the rising tide of religious fundamentalism in the West is no answer to the noxious twerps who haunt the backwaters: “We cannot afford to close our societies as a defense against those who have closed theirs. For then we would all become Occidentalists, and there would be nothing left to defend.”

There’s nothing particularly new here, at least not to readers of Karl Popper and Bernard Lewis, but Occidentalism makes for a needed provocation all the same.

Pub Date: March 22nd, 2004
ISBN: 1-59420-008-4
Page count: 166pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2004




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