It is often hard for us Westerners, who think we are perfect and noble as all get out, to understand why the rest of the world, particularly those on the Eastern side of the globe, hate our proverbial guts. Occidentalism is a small but eye-opening book that examines two hundred years of anti-Western sentiment, where it came from and why it exists. Much of this hatred comes from, as the authors conclude, a spread of noxious ideas that cannot be fought with the same fire from which they originate.
Buruma and Margalit, both of whom hold lofty positions as both professors and authors, have created a nice primer for coming to grips with the ways the rest of the world (or at least half of it) really sees us. Seems that the root of Occidentalism, which we always assume leads to Islam but does not, in fact leads back to the West itself, and their study of the progression of Western ideas provides a historical context by which we see just how the West has influenced everything from Islamic terrorism to the damages of Western Imperialism upon our own evolution.
Both politics and religion play a powerful role in the shaping of anti-Western hate, rage and violence, as documented in our relations with Islamic nations and the current “war on terrorism.” This book presents both sides, theirs and ours, often intertwining the desires of opposites into a tangible understanding of why they hate us, and what we do to make them hate us even more, under the guise of “foreign policy.”
Occidentalism may come off as a bit intellectual for some readers seeking a basic understanding of East-West relations, but that is one of its strongpoints in my opinion – that it is both cerebral and yet somewhat breezy in style, and definitely brief in length, so that a reader with a desire and interest to learn will not be too intimidated. The book certainly succeeds at merging age-old anti-Western sentiment with today’s modern terrorists, making us realize that our relationship with half the world, from Japan and China, the Middle East and the Southeast of Asia, is not at all a positive one but a combustible collection of ideas, values and beliefs that are ready to explode if we do not further our understanding of our own responsibility when it comes to those who see us in a much darker light than we see ourselves.
Yes, we must defend democracy, but we also, as the author’s conclude in their final chapter, must never become like the enemy in our quest to defend it…because then we become “Occidentalists” ourselves. Something to think about as we continue to bomb the hell out of Iraqi families and neighborhoods.