Occidentalism: Are We All In This Together, After All?
February 4, 2004 6:18 AM   Subscribe

The Occidental Tourist: The West is the pest, according to a cracking, provocative article from wise old Ian Buruma, and wily occidentals who gingerly try to sidestep the shit and try to make the U.S. take all the blame may be underestimating their involvement. [Via Arts & Letters Daily.]
posted by MiguelCardoso (13 comments total)

 
The blame for what? Involvement in what? The delusions of paranoid Islamic murderers?
posted by dydecker at 7:07 AM on February 4, 2004


We are the borg!
posted by PigAlien at 7:50 AM on February 4, 2004


Buruma should stick to the clear-eyed inside/outside descriptions of places and people he does so well. This sort of thumbsucking Big Picture piece is both beyond him and beneath him. There's absolutely nothing new here except the absurd term "Occidentalism," a desperate attempt to link together a random collection of historical tidbits—a 1942 Japanese conference, German resistance to Napoleon, Al-e Ahmad's "Gharbzadegi" ("Westoxication" or "Weststruckness"), &c &c, all leading up to this resounding passage:
In the West itself, we must defend our freedoms against the holy warriors who seek to destroy them. But we must also be careful that in doing so we don't end up undermining them ourselves. In the balance between security and civil liberty, the latter should never be sacrificed to the former. We should also guard against the temptation to fight fire with fire, Islamism with our own forms of intolerance. To think that we are at war with Islamism in the name of Christianity, as some zealots believe, is a fatal error, for that is to conform precisely to the Manichaeistic view of those who seek to defeat us. Muslims living in the West should not be allowed to join the holy war against it. But their rights as Europeans or Americans must be respected. The survival of our liberties depends on our willingness to defend them against enemies outside, but also against the temptation of our own leaders to use our fears in order to destroy our freedoms.
Can anyone still read this kind of op-ed rhetoric without falling asleep?
posted by languagehat at 8:02 AM on February 4, 2004


interesting though i find little "new" in these observations. The Author mentions the 1942 Kyoto conference but does not add the 1942 Wannsee conference.
Also, japanese imperial ambitions start even before 1905.

Calculation -- the accounting of money, interests, scientific evidence, and so on -- is regarded as soulless. Authenticity lies in poetry, intuition, and blind faith.

Young Diogenes: "Father, I cannot shave coins with you any more."
posted by clavdivs at 8:05 AM on February 4, 2004


derailing:
Can anyone still read this kind of op-ed rhetoric without falling asleep?

Huzzah! The point precisely!
Who the hell are these reductionist round-ups for? Why does (say) the NYT routinely waste space on near-content-free exhortations?

"The politics of failure have failed!" is hysterical as a line with parodic intent; beyond pathetic as something intended to be read, and reasoned upon, by an adult.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:43 AM on February 4, 2004


I'm not sure that the post gets it right in explaining what Buruma is really advocating. I think this article is primarily designed to argue in favor of traditional liberalism against both Bush's policies and the anti-war movement.

"Occidentalism" is a very clever turnaround of Edward Said's "Orientalism", which was originally a way of denouncing the racist caricatures of the "Other" that Westerners had about the Islamic world. Buruma seems to be saying that an equally caricatured vision of the West is the fuel for Islamic terrorism. That caricature sees Westerners as less than human, and so people in the West who believe that they can become exempt from that hatred, because they share the terrorists' anti-Americanism, are deluding themselves about the terrorists' motives.

Buruma concludes by arguing that the values of West are legitimate, and that the real danger is abandoning those values and agreeing with or even becoming the racist caricatures of the West as evil that the terrorists are offering. Instead, the solution lies in promoting the liberal values of the West in cooperation with moderate Islam.

How you got from that to "the West is the pest" I don't know.

All that is a worldview that is striking in how it differs from the anti-war movement, at least here in Europe, which blames the US and Israel specifically for the origins of terrorism, denounces the extension of Western values, and believes that by supporting the Palestinians and opposing the US, Europe can remain outside of a war between the Islamic world and the US.

I agree with Buruma, and believe that the current climate makes this kind of liberalism very scarce. The anti-war movement (at least in Europe) is in fact guilty of "Occidentalism". They are playing on the same side as Bush in trying to turn this into a war between good and evil. It has become unacceptable in a lot of European society to assert that you believe in liberal Western values of freedom and democracy for everyone, even if you believe that Bush is working against those values. Just by using the word "enemies" to refer to the terrorists, Buruma is going out on a limb compared with standard left-of-center opinion.

(On preview: yeah, languagehat, liberalism is boring. More fun to crank up the "Bush is evil!" "No, Islam is evil!" rhetoric.)
posted by fuzz at 8:47 AM on February 4, 2004


We are the Borg!

Actually, I think he's insinuating that *they* are the Borg, precisely because, he says, they think that *we* are the Borg. In other words, their Borgness is driven by their perception of us as the Borg. And I think his argument falls apart because of that, notwithstanding his auto-apologist attempt at the end to appear pragmatically reasonable - "Even though they are the Borg, we should not think of them as the Borg, because we (unlike them) are reasonable people," etc.
posted by carter at 9:12 AM on February 4, 2004


We are the Borg!
I always thought we were a little more Ferengi, myself.
posted by wendell at 11:45 AM on February 4, 2004


yeah, languagehat, liberalism is boring

You've penetrated to the heart of what I was saying, and your reading skills dazzle me. adamgreenfield, who thought I was making a point about empty rhetoric addressed to no apparent audience and designed simply to show off the author's high moral standards (and in this case random bits of historical knowledge), should take lessons from you. Oh, and you get extra points for that penetrating analysis of the term "Occidentalism." It would never have occurred to me that this was a takeoff on Said's "Orientalism"; now that this is explained to me, I too will join the moral chorus. Liberalism is good! Intolerance is bad! We must all fight the good fight! The politics of failure have failed!
posted by languagehat at 12:18 PM on February 4, 2004


fuzz did a great job of summarizing the essay, and carter did a wonderful job of embodying the problem that Buruma describes.

carter: "Even though they are the Borg, we should not think of them as the Borg, because we (unlike them) are reasonable people," etc.

One point that Buruma makes is that there are a lot of people who prize unreasonableness. carter is implying that the people who Buruma dubs "Islamists" think that they (unlike us) are reasonable, and that we (unlike the Islamists) are reasonable. But the Islamists, in Buruma's view, reject reason as an inferior Western value. They believe that reason needs to be crushed, and Westerners need to be wiped off the earth.

Buruma makes the point that bin Laden and his millions of sympathizers have thoroughly dehumanized Westerners in an immoral, sickening way. During World War II, American editorial cartoonists depicted Japanese as buck-toothed vermin. That made it easy to round up American citizens of Japanese descent and lock them away in concentration camps, and it made it easy to drop two atomic bombs on them. Now bin Laden and his followers think of Westerners the same way. That's a serious problem.

As fuzz noted, the term "Occidentalism" is a reversal of Edward Said's renowned "Orientalism" -- a description of the way Westerners objectified Asians and Middle Easterners. In the last few years, Occidentalism has eclipsed Orientalism in harmfulness.

It's commendable when you identify racism in members of your own ethnic group. It's advisable to recognize when people have racist feelings about your ethnic group.
posted by Holden at 12:29 PM on February 4, 2004


Buruma makes the point that bin Laden and his millions of sympathizers have thoroughly dehumanized Westerners in an immoral, sickening way. During World War II, American editorial cartoonists depicted Japanese as buck-toothed vermin. That made it easy to round up American citizens of Japanese descent and lock them away in concentration camps, and it made it easy to drop two atomic bombs on them.

The comparison of The Bin Laden Islamic dehumanization and the internment of americans of japanese descent works to a point, a very small point. Yes, the images of japanese as inferior and sub-human was prevalent and even filtered down to alot of american children to say the lest, adults. Remember, the british overestimated the japanese in Singapore, they too, thought the japanese incapable of fighting on equal terms. But not all americans of Japanese descent were placed in this terrible camps, Hawaii for example or the east coast of the united States. also, many Japanese americans fought against the axis with honor above and beyond the call of duty. Sure, some americans fight for bin laden, but not whole divisions.

despite what you may think, dropping TWO bombs was not an easy decision. (personally, i would have not)
posted by clavdivs at 2:40 PM on February 4, 2004


clavdivs, I think a more appropriate comparison might be that of Muslims fighting in the US armed forces, despite anti-Muslim sentiment in the US. Japanese-Americans fought for the US despite being interned and having their property and businesses confiscated. A lot of the Japanese Americans who fought for the US in WW2 were recruited directly from the internment camps. The Japanese American battalion, the 442nd, was the most decorated battalion in WW2:
    The 442nd/100th sustained 9,486 wounded and over 600 killed suffered, the highest casualty rate of any American unit during the war. For their heroism, the men of the 442nd/100th won fifty-two Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars and the Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously to Pfc Sadao Munemori. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team also won seven coveted Presidential Unit Citations for its performance. The men in the 100th Battalion alone had earned 900 Purple Hearts, thirty-six Silver Stars, twenty-one Bronze Stars, and three Distinguished Service Crosses.
After 9/11, a J-A friend (who was interned) immediately identified very clear parallels between anti-Muslim rhetoric and the anti-Japanese rhetoric after Pearl Harbor.
posted by carter at 3:52 PM on February 4, 2004


clavdivs, I think a more appropriate comparison might be that of Muslims fighting in the US armed forces, despite anti-Muslim sentiment in the US.

agreed, though the number of new muslim-americans joining the service may not be as high as in the japanese situation in 41-42'.

the 442nd was a remarkable battalion.

After 9/11, a J-A friend (who was interned) immediately identified very clear parallels between anti-Muslim rhetoric and the anti-Japanese rhetoric after Pearl Harbor.

agreed, the parallels are there. I wonder the important question though, have we learned anything from this? Government I mean. I'm not sure but would like to think so.
posted by clavdivs at 4:41 PM on February 4, 2004


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