02 January 2008

East v West: Terrorist All-Star Game

Ian Buruma & Avishai Margalit, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies

Recently we started getting coursebooks in stock at work and, as curiosity dictates, I started skimming through some to see what some of the NYU profs are assigning this term. This one, Occidentalism caught my eye and I ended up reading the whole thing in spare moments over two days. It's not a lengthy tome, but it's an easy read as well as, I think, a well thought out work. The major premise, as I gather it, is that militant Islamism is just the latest in a line of ideologies spawned to opposed "the West." This entity is really the intertwined systems of scientism, progress, democracy, capitalism and not the monolith that those who wish to counter it (with violence it should be noted) would like to make it out to be.
One of the major points that the authors repeatedly make is that a lot of "anti-Western" thought is actually Western (and more specifically, western European) in origin. In fact, a good deal of it is Western systems of thought--communism, fascism, romanticism--that are introduced in one form or another to non-Westerners and summarily bastardized in a context that doesn't mirror that within which the ideology originally grew. It should be duly noted that popular support for such anti-Western sentiment tends to increase because of the disconnect that natives feel between what Western-educated (or connected) elites of their home countries end up doing in the name of "progress" there. Just as many in the "West" have a poor grasp of the realities away from their doorsteps, those in the "East" or "South" have similarly skewed visions of what it means to be "Western" in origin.
I'm off now to search for come critiques of this book, since I'm sure there are a few, but I must state that this book isn't some apologetic for Eurocentrism or West-ism or some other nonsense. I have plenty of issues with elements of global capitalism and misused technology and imperial tendencies. Nonetheless, I'm no romantic (in the true sense of, say, German Romanticism, which is discussed at length in the book) about some idealized past or harbor the delusions of heroism that inform the basis of much anti-modern thought. Anyone who reads here knows my support of responsible scientific inquiry and my disdain for religious and spiritual hokum. Whatever, I'm losing my train of thought...
The point is this book is a quick and intelligent read, definitely for anyone who'd like a good geneology of the roots of anti-modern ideologies, particularly ones that espouse violent means. I'd love to get comments on this from anyone else who has read it.

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