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

3.5 out of 5 stars 44 customer 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
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Review

...an 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 (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,169,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Buruma and Margalit suggest that the hostility to "the West" that exists in much of "the East" is hardly a phenomenon that arises from the peculiar cultural characteristics of the latter. To the contrary, they have much in common with various intellectual movements in the West itself, and indeed, are often direct intellectual descendants thereof. To its opponents, "the West" is a caricature, of intellectual rationalism, political liberalism, free markets, cosmopolitanism, and consumerism--basically, the Enlightenment West--and many in the West itself has risen up against it, most notably in form of 19th century Romanticism. The authors suggest that it is not unexpected that Germany and Russia went further than their Western neighbors in the extremes of romantic nationalism in 19th and 20th centuries, for, to them, "the West" often represented ideas from France or England, which were, somehow, "foreign" to the Germans and Russians. Many ideas of German Romantic nationalists, however, did go on to directly shape the views of the "West" among nationalist/nativist intellectuals among the Russians, the Japanese, the Indians, the Arabs, and the others. Particularly analyzing the intellectual roots of militant Japanese nationalism during World War II (Buruma's specialty as a historian of Japan), the authors show that many of its tenets were in fact completely at odds with traditional Japanese beliefs, while had much in common with the extreme versions of the 19th century German Romantic nationalism, with a few concepts exchanged for supposedly Japanese symbols--Shintoism, the emperor, etc. Indeed, many advocates of the new Japan were themselves students of German ideas and twisted traditional Japanese ideas, concepts, and symbols to fit what they had learned.Read more ›
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