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Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies Hardcover – March 25, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

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Four characterizations of the West contribute to the anti-Western stance Buruma and Margalit call Occidentalism and are used to justify attacking individual Westerners as less-than-human beings. The West prefers the sinful city to the virtuous countryside; the West destroys heroism and replaces it with trading; the West thinks only of matter and not of spirit; the West worships evil. Buruma and Margalit argue that the first two of those conceptions, typical of secular Occidentalism, are themselves Western, products of European romanticism that early-twentieth-century Japan and Germany exploited to their own ruin. The third idea informs Russia's long struggle with the West but stems from German romanticism, in particular, with its sense of the wounded national soul. The fourth, peculiar to religious Occidentalism, animates radical Islamism but derives from the good-evil polarities of Persian Manichaeism that the young Augustine embraced. Buruma and Margalit conclude that these ideas' lives are "a tale of cross-contamination" that cannot be ended by answering anti-Western intolerance with more intolerance. A timely tract, brilliantly though broadly argued. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review important book on a topic that deserves to be treated seriously by scholars and concerned citizens alike. -- Library Journal, March 15, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 165 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (March 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200084
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200083
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #920,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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81 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on September 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In this short, but insightful, book Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit argue that in many parts of the non-Western world there is such loathing of everything associated with the West - especially America - that anyone living such a lifestyle is inherently depraved and somewhat less than human. This dehumanizing view of the West, as seen by its enemies, is what the authors call Occidentalism.

It is the reverse side of the idea of Orientalim described over twenty-five years ago by Edward Said. According to Said, the Orientalists constructed accounts of the East as a place where life was cheap and inferior to that of the West. These narratives served to justify Western domination. Occidentalism, however, goes a step further: whereas, the Orientalist wished to subjugate and colonize, the Occidentalist wishes to destroy.

This is a book about ideas rather than policy. It deals more with why they hate us for what we are, rather than why they hate us for what we do. The authors describe a "constellation of images" of the West by which its enemies demonize it. They (the enemies) see the West as " a mass of soulless, decadent, money-grubbing, rootless, faithless, unfeeling parasites."

The originality of this study comes from the discovery that many of the negative images that the present-day Islamists have of the West are derived, paradoxically, the West itself. The authors see a "chain of hostility" that goes back two centuries. The anti-Western impulse begins with Herder and the German romantics as a reaction to the rationalist, universalist ideals the Enlightenment and the materialism of the budding capitalist economy.
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53 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A terse but brilliant book tracing the various strands of anti-Western ideology, many of which originated in the West itself. These ideas eventually penetrated Asia and the Middle East, where they were incorporated into supposedly authentic Eastern thought. How ironic that the fiercest anti-Westerners in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China, Japan, etc., owe such a huge intellectual debt to the very thing they hate so passionately.
Mind you, the authors are NOT claiming that all (or even most) criticisms of the West are illegitimate or the product of irrational hatred. Contrary to what some reviewers have said, Buruma and Margalit define Occidentalism fairly clearly. It is an ideology that condemns Western civilization in toto, as inherently diseased, and advocates its complete destruction. It is characterized by an implacable hatred for a whole spectrum of modern developments that (rightly or wrongly) are associated with Western civilization: democracy, technology, individualism. The fact that this ideology is muddleheaded and borrows much from what it most hates does not make Buruma and Margalit's thesis muddled: It is simply a paradoxical fact about this ideology. (By the way, it is NOT "simply conflating enemies of the past and present" to point out Islamism's heavy borrowings from European fascism. The authors are, among other things, trying to dispell certain popular misconceptions and clarify the nature of a movement that has long been mistaken, particularly by many scholars [cough, cough, John L. Esposito] in our Middle Eastern Studies departments, as a misguided but proto-democratic grassroots phenomenon; or by many Christian and Jewish bigots as an inherent, ineradicable part of authentic Islam.)
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Hussain Abdul-Hussain on September 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It is unfair to sum up how the East views the West and coin up a term for this new hypothesis in an essay-long book. The idea of the book in itself is very interesting and deserves a long debate. The authors of this volume, however, survey bits and pieces of ideas from around the world by capturing general trends in non-Western countries while failing to offer any concrete examples material. The book is insightful but brief and very much editrialized.

When Edward Said offered his description of the way Westerners view the East, his point was focused because in the West, such an activity is mostly centralized and undertaken by academics in the anglophone world which counts less than 10 countries. Yet, reversing this trend, that is recording how the world views the West, is certainly not the same. The diverse world with more than 200 nations certainly has diverse ideas and perspectives about the West and it does not sound accurate if we summarize all of these diverse perspectives in such a brief work.

At any rate, the ideas offered in the book are valid, though not enough to put all of the non-Western nations in a single category. The style is rather dry and a reader might find him/herself struggling to keep up with the points the authors try to make.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Keymer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
In Occidentialism, Buruma and Margalit have produced an essay which offers a convenient starting point to an examination of why the West, and the United States in particular, is so hated by the rest of the world. They point to the debt anti-westernism owes to late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century German romanticism and to nineteenth-century slavophiliac thinkers: in particular, the despising of reason and calculation in favor of spirit and national character. But, and here they offer something of even greater value, they point out also the ways in which the current jihadism is radically different than earlier, predominantly western thought: it places westerners and western values flatly in the domain of Satan and provides jihadists with a rationale for all-out, no-holds-barred violence against the West.

The book is elegantly written from start to finish but much too short, enough too short that it is a serious weakness in an otherwise laudable book. There is little time to develop the ideas they throw out (many of themof great interest) and they rely too heavily on the products of writers and intellectuals like them. I wish Edward Said were still alive to engage in dialogue with the authors of this book: I the joining of the two viewpoints would be fruitful. Still, all in all, this is a book worth getting and keeping.

David Keymer

Modesto CA
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