Nonfiction. Here we go!Buruma, Ian and Avishai Margalit. Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies. New York: Penguin, 2004. Summary
: An investigation into the origins and permutations of "occidentalism," a dehumanizing, two-dimensional image of the West as it relates to industrialization, economics, ethnocentrism, and religion. Comments
: Obviously intended to be paired with Edward Said's classic Orientalism
and in large part a reaction to the socio-political realignment in the wake of 9/11, this is the sort of comprehensive yet tightly-focused cultural history that I only wish I had the expertise to write. Though the authors contend that Occidentalism actually started in the West and was appropriated by the East, one of the underlying theses that comes out on occasion, particularly in "The Occidental City," is that these culture clashes are virtually prehistorical in their basis and that the supposed two sides of the issue have become oriented to a West vs. East schism.
Otherwise, according to the authors, we can pretty much blame the Germans for every bad idea that has arisen since then. The essentialist notions of "Kultur" that gave rise to the Nazi party has also inspired generations of Japanese fascists, Russian nationalists, and Islamic jihadists. (And, apparently, Judeo-Christian tradition accounts for the rest.) Though I suppose it seems like an oversimplification to demonize one particular ideological movement for such a wealth of bigotry and tragedy (not to mention narcissistic to say that prejudice against the West is the West's own fault), there's no disputing the persuasive power of such revolutionary (bad) ideas.
Naturally, no solutions whatsoever present themselves...but there aren't any quick-fix antidotes for bigotry. (If there were, well, no one would be writing books like these anymore.) Treatments represent the only alternative, and one of the best ones is simple, clear-sighted understanding. In that sense, this book is invaluable. After all, if we conclude that indeed "they" got it from "us," as the authors contend, then there really is no fundamental "us vs. them" schism at all--it's all just one big, dysfunctional "we," reaching as far back in time as all of us can see. Notes
: hardcover, 1st edition, 1st printing Rating
- An innovative, level-headed, and timely investigation into the source of anti-Western stereotypes. Highly recommended.