Cover image for Occidentalism : the West in the eyes of its enemies
Occidentalism : the West in the eyes of its enemies
Buruma, Ian.
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Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Press, [2004]

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165 pages ; 20 cm
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CB245 .B875 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Provides a thought-provoking analysis of the stereotypes and misunderstandings about the Western world that ignite anti-Western political movements, tracing the roots and evolution of such phenomena and examining why they have found a ready host in the Islamic world. 35,000 first printing.

Author Notes

Avishai Margalit is Schulman Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

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-centuryapan 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 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Well-published scholars Buruma (Luce Professor of Human Rights & Journalism, Bard Coll., and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books) and Margalit (Schulman Professor of Philosophy, Hebrew Univ., Jerusalem) provide a brief but engaging discussion of the East/West cultural fault line. They seek to explain how the "dehumanizing" picture of the West-which they call "Occidentalism"-originated and developed. Using examples from various settings, the authors discuss how Western misconceptions and stereotypes emerged in different countries and how anti-Western cultural mindsets have perpetuated Occidentalism in the contemporary world, especially in Islamic countries. At times, the authors tend to oversimplify modern Islamism and mistakenly treat it as a monolith. Nonetheless, this is an important book on a topic that deserves to be treated seriously by scholars and concerned citizens alike. A complement to the larger works of Bernard Lewis (e.g., The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror), it is recommended for public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/03.]-Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The late Edward Said caught the attention of the scholarly world 25 years ago when he showed that Americans and Europeans have long viewed the East in patronizing and reductionist ways, with disastrous consequences. With this insightful new book, Buruma (Bard College) and Margalit (philosophy, Hebrew Univ.) offer a companion piece to Said's Orientalism (CH, Apr'79) that explains how religious and intellectual leaders throughout Africa and Asia have come to despise the West. The authors make clear that these critics took their lead from European intellectuals who were critics of liberalism and modernity. Examples include the Russian Slavophiles, who expressed contempt for a Europe based on selfish individualism and godless rationality, and the German Romantics, who saw the heroism of the selfless knight giving way to the guile of the commercial speculator. The point is clear: Occidentalism is a reductionist view of the West that argues that the US and Europe (and Israel) have infected the rest of the world with a culture based on irreligiosity, commercialism, and license. No few words can do justice to the brilliance with which Buruma and Margalit develop these arguments, but within less than 150 superb pages, the authors have cast the present (and therefore the past) in a fresh light. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All levels and libraries. S. Bailey Knox College



In July 1942, just six months after the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor and overwhelmed the Western powers in Southeast Asia, a number of distinguished Japanese scholars and intellectuals gathered for a conference in Kyoto. Some were literati of the so-called Romantic group; others were philosophers of the Buddhist/ Hegelian Kyoto school. Their topic of discussion was how to "overcome the modern." It was a time of nationalist zeal, and the intellectuals who attended the conference were all nationalists in one way or another; but oddly enough the war itself, in China, Hawaii, or Southeast Asia, was barely mentioned. At least one of the members, Hayashi Fusao, a former- Marxist-turned-ardent-nationalist, later wrote that the assault on the West had filled him with jubilation. Even though he was in freezing Manchuria when he heard the news, it felt as though dark clouds had lifted to reveal a clear summer sky. No doubt similar emotions came over many of his colleagues, but war propaganda was not the ostensible point of the conference. These men, the literary romantics as much as the philosophers, had been interested in overcoming the modern long before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their conclusions, to the extent that they had enough coherence to be politically useful, lent themselves to propaganda for a new Asian order under Japanese leadership, but the intellectuals would have been horrified to be called propagandists. They were thinkers, not hacks. "The modern" is in any case a slippery concept, but in Kyoto in 1942, as in Kabul or Karachi in 2001, it meant the West. But the West is almost as elusive as the modern. Japanese intellectuals had strong feelings about what they were up against, but had some difficulty defining exactly what that was. Westernization, one opined, was like a disease that had infected the Japanese spirit. The "modern thing," said another, was a "European thing." There was much talk about unhealthy specialization in knowledge, which had splintered the wholeness of Oriental spiritual culture. Science was to blame. And so were capitalism, and the absorption of modern technology, and individual freedoms, and democracy. All these had to be "overcome." A leading film critic, Tsumura Hideo, excoriated Hollywood movies and praised the documentary films of Leni Riefenstahl about Nazi rallies, which were more in tune with his ideas on how to forge a healthy national community. In his view, the war against the West was a war against the "poisonous materialist civilization" built on Jewish financial capitalist power. All agreed that culture--that is, traditional Japanese culture--was spiritual and profound, whereas modern Western civilization was shallow, rootless, and destructive of creative power. The West, particularly the United States, was coldly mechanical. A wholistic, traditional, classical Orient, united under divine Japanese imperial rule, would restore the warm organic community to spiritual health. As one of the participants put it, the struggle was between Japanese blood and Western intellect. The West, to Asians at that time, and to some extent still today, also meant colonialism. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, when China was humiliated in the Opium Wars, educated Japanese realized that national survival depended on careful study and emulation of Western ideas and technology. Never had a great nation embarked on such a radical transformation as Japan between the 1850s and 1910s. The main slogan of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) was "Bunmei Kaika," or "Civilization and Enlightenment"; that is, Western civilization and enlightenment. Everything Western, from natural science to literary realism, was hungrily soaked up by Japanese intellectuals. European dress, Prussian constitutional law, British naval strategies, German philosophy, American cinema, French architecture, and much, much more were taken over and adapted. The modern, then, referred to that "European thing," but also to the Japanese effort to make it their own. The transformation paid off handsomely. Japan remained uncolonized and quickly became a great power that managed, in 1905, to defeat Russia in a thoroughly modern war. Japan's industrial revolution did not come long after Germany's, with equally dislocating effects. Large numbers of impoverished country people moved into the cities, where conditions could be cruel. The army was a brutal refuge for rural young men, and their sisters were sometimes sold to big city brothels. But economic problems aside, there was another reason many Japanese intellectuals sought to undo the wholesale westernization of the late nineteenth century. It was as though Japan suffered from intellectual indigestion. Western civilization had been swallowed too fast. And that is partly why that group of literati gathered in Kyoto to discuss ways of reversing history, overcoming the West, and returning to an idealized spiritual past. Excerpted from Ebk Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes by Buruma All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

War Against the Westp. 1
The Occidental Cityp. 13
Heroes and Merchantsp. 49
Mind of the Westp. 75
The Wrath of Godp. 101
Seeds of Revolutionp. 137
Notesp. 151
Indexp. 157