17 August 2005


Occidentalism, by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit describes not so much a worldview, but a multifaceted prejudice against the West and Westerners. Occidentalists believe that Western ideas, including liberal democracy and capitalism, are inherently dehumanizing, and have already dehumanized Westerners to the point where they are less than human. Some Occidentalists are violent, like al-Qaeda. Some are Westerners themselves, engaging in nihilistic self-loathing. Indeed Buruma and Margalit trace the literary roots of Occidentalism to the West itself, particularly German Romanticism and its toxic offshoots, National Socalism (Nazism) and Marxism.

They quote Wagner, who stated that the dangerous, seductive Venusberg in his opera Tannhauser, "stands for 'Paris, Europe, the West': that frivolous, commercialized and corrupt world in which 'freedom and also alienation' are more advanced than in our 'provincial Germany with its comfortable backwardness.'" (p22)

Thus Occidentalism is anti-urban (specifically anti-Western urban - the West did not invent the city), but "far from being the dogma favored by downtrodden peasants, Occidentalism more often reflects the fears and prejudices of urban intellectuals, who feel displaced in a world of mass commerce." This is because "in an Americanized society, dominated by commercial culture, the place of philosophers and literati was marginal at best." (p34)

Now, however, "most devout Muslims are not political Islamists so much as advocates of enforcing public morality. They yearn for what they see as the traditional way of life, with they identify with Islam. Even if they have little idea what the ideal islamic state should look like, they care deeply about sexual mores, corruption, and traditional family life. Islam, to the believers, is the only source and guardian of traditional collective morality. And sexual morality is largely about women, about regulating female behavior. This is so because a man's honor is dependent on the behavior of the women related to him. The issue of women is not marginal; it lies at the heart of Islamic Occidentalism." (p128)

So what we have here is a prejudice against the West, which received its first expressions in the West itself. These expressions were adopted for use against the West by those who hated it, and elaborated by various non-Westerners to suit their situations. The most news-grabbing current form of Occidentalism is what I call the Bastard Jihad, which mis-identifies Islam with the pre-Islamic honor/shame cultures in which Islam took root. The role of women in these societies comes more from the honor/shame focus of these societies, which limited the liberation of women that Islam had begun.

Some in these societies feel their religion under mortal threat from Globalization (which they see as Westernization), but their religion is secure. Islam transcends culture and will survive and prosper in any case. Even their cultures will survive. It is only the honor/shame orientation of their cultures that will not withstand the onslaught of Globalization.

Well, good riddance to it. As I have stated elsewhere, Islam already transcends honor/shame morality, because it is theologically impossible to humiliate a Muslim. Yet, the rhetoric of humiliation, based on honor/shame cultures, is what the Bastard Jihad uses to whip up the hatred it needs to motivate its cannon fodder. It's not just an abomination, it's a shame.

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