Sunday, June 18, 2006

Occidentalism and "Anti-Imperialism" (Marko Attila Hoare & Ian Buruma)

The latest issue of the on-line journal Democratiya carries an intelligent and useful article by Marko Attila Hoare, "Occidentalism and 'Anti-Imperialism'", which offers a critical analysis of one of the most pervasive and pathological derangements of contemporary 'progressive' and 'left' opinion.
'The perfect is the enemy of the good' - this is a proverb that applies to the seductive but bankrupt ideology of 'anti-imperialism', which presents itself as opposition to the most powerful form of oppression but which in practice is something much less positive, indeed negative and reactionary. [....] As an eighteen-year old Trotskyist and 'anti-imperialist' at the time of the 1991 Gulf War, I can testify to the empowering sense of self-righteousness I felt as I demonstrated against the US and its allies, in the course of which my views became increasingly extreme: I fervently believed that the US-led intervention was by far a greater evil than Saddam's occupation of Kuwait; that it would be a blessing for humanity if the US and its allies were defeated; that such a defeat would trigger revolutionary outbreaks across the Middle East and even in the West.

Such were the views of a teenage zealot with no knowledge of the Middle Eastern peoples or appreciation of their interests. I debated at the time with Kanan Makiya, the great Iraqi dissident, who shocked me by saying that it was in Iraq's interests to be liberated by the US. Makiya derived his views from his great knowledge of Middle Eastern politics and his love for the Iraqi people; I derived mine from abstract principles. It was only when my own mother's country, Yugoslavia, was torn apart by local fascists that I gradually came to realise that Makiya had been right, and to comprehend the political and moral bankruptcy of 'anti-imperialism'. It is very easy to be ideologically purist when it is someone else's country that is at stake; much more difficult when it is one's own, and one's own people are being slaughtered.

For the rest of this article, for the sake of style, we shall drop the quote marks around the term 'anti-imperialism'. Yet, as Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit show in their fascinating, insightful and elegantly written introduction to the philosophy of anti-Westernism, the term tends not to mean opposition to 'imperialism', but something at once darker and fundamental to modern political thought. What follows should not be taken as an attack on the small minority of decent, sincere anti-imperialists who genuinely oppose oppression and injustice on an internationalist basis – today anti-imperialists of this kind are very much the exception rather than the rule.
Hoare's piece is a review essay on the valuable and illuminating book by Avishai Margalit & Ian Buruma, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies (Penguin, 2004/2005). I strongly recommend reading Occidentalism, which has the virtues of being brief and well-written as well as historically informative and analytically perceptive.

A condensed and preliminary version appeared as an article by Margalit & Buruma, "Occidentalism", in New York Review of Books (January 17, 2002). The central argument was boiled down even more concisely in a 2004 piece by Ian Buruma, "The Origins of Occidentalism", in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Vol. 50, Issue 22 - February 6, 2004 - Page B10). (See below.) As Buruma says in his CHE piece:

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When the West is under attack, as it was on September 11, it is often assumed -- not only in America -- that the West means the United States. [....] [T]he United States, as the only Western superpower, has indeed come to stand for the West as a whole. And countries, such as Israel, that are looked upon as U.S. proxies provoke violent hostility for that reason alone.

However, the kind of violence currently directed at targets associated with the West, from the World Trade Center to a discothèque in Bali, is not just about the United States. Nor can it be reduced to global economics. Even those who have good reason to blame their poverty on harsh forms of U.S.-backed capitalism do not normally blow themselves up in public places to kill the maximum number of unarmed civilians. We do not hear of suicide bombers from the slums of Rio or Bangkok.
Something else is going on, which my co-author, Avishai Margalit, and I call Occidentalism (the title of our new book): a war against a particular idea of the West, which is neither new nor unique to Islamist extremism [JW: my emphasis]. The current jihadis see the West as something less than human, to be destroyed, as though it were a cancer. This idea has historical roots that long precede any form of "U.S. imperialism." Similar hostility, though not always as lethal, has been directed in the past against Britain and France as much as against America. What, then, is the Occidentalist idea of the West?

That is the problem that vexed a group of prominent Japanese intellectuals who gathered for a conference in Kyoto in 1942. The attack on Pearl Harbor was not the ostensible reason for the conference, but the underlying idea was to find an ideological justification for Japan's mission to smash, and in effect replace, the Western empires in Asia. The topic of discussion was "how to overcome the modern." Modernity was associated with the West, and particularly with Western imperialism.

Westernization, one of the scholars said, was like a disease that had infected the Japanese spirit. [....]

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 machine civilization without spirit or soul, a place where people mixed to produce mongrel races. A holistic, traditional Orient united under divine Japanese imperial rule would restore the warm organic Asian community to spiritual health. As one of the participants put it, the struggle was between Japanese blood and Western intellect.

Precisely the same terms had been used by others, in other places, at other times. Blood, soil, and the spirit of the Volk were what German romantics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries invoked against the universalist claims of the French Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and Napoleon's invading armies. This notion of national soul was taken over by the Slavophiles in 19th-century Russia, who used it to attack the "Westernizers," that is, Russian advocates of liberal reforms. It came up again and again, in the 1930s, when European fascists and National Socialists sought to smash "Americanism," Anglo-Saxon liberalism, and "rootless cosmopolitanism" (meaning Jews). Aurel Kolnai, the great Hungarian scholar, wrote a book in the 1930s about fascist ideology in Austria and Germany. He called it War Against the West. Communism, too, especially under Stalin, although a bastard child of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, was the sworn enemy of Western liberalism and "rootless cosmopolitanism." Many Islamic radicals borrowed their anti-Western concepts from Russia and Germany. The founders of the Ba'ath Party in Syria were keen readers of prewar German race theories. Jalal Al-e Ahmad, an influential Iranian intellectual in the 1960s, coined the phrase "Westoxification" to describe the poisonous influence of Western civilization on other cultures. He, too, was an admirer of German ideas on blood and soil.

Clearly, the idea of the West as a malign force is not some Eastern or Middle Eastern idea, but has deep roots in European soil. [Regarding the western elements in the ideologies of contemporary Islamist radicalism, including its anti-westernism, see also the important book by Malise Ruthven, A Fury for God. --JW] Defining it in historical terms is not a simple matter. Occidentalism was part of the counter-Enlightenment, to be sure, but also of the reaction against industrialization. Some Marxists have been attracted to it, but so, of course, have their enemies on the far right. Occidentalism is a revolt against rationalism (the cold, mechanical West, the machine civilization) and secularism, but also against individualism. European colonialism provoked Occidentalism, and so does global capitalism today. But one can speak of Occidentalism only when the revolt against the West becomes a form of pure destruction, when the West is depicted as less than human, when rebellion means murder.

Wherever it occurs, Occidentalism is fed by a sense of humiliation, of defeat. [....] Humiliation can easily turn into a cult of the pure and the authentic. Among the most resented attributes of the hated Occident are its claims to universalism. Christianity is a universalist faith, but so is the Enlightenment belief in reason. [....]
Just as the main enemies of Russian Slavophiles were Russian Westernizers, the most immediate targets of Islamists are the liberals, reformists, and secular rulers in their own societies. They are the savage stains that have to be cleansed with blood. But the source of the barbarism that has seduced Saudi princes and Algerian intellectuals as much as the whores and pimps of New York (and in a sense all infidels are whores and pimps) is the West. And that is why holy war has been declared against the West.

Since the target of the holy warriors is so large, figuring out how to defend it is not easy. But it is not immediately apparent that a war against Iraq was the most effective way to fight the Islamist jihad. [....] 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. [....]
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=> Marko Attila Hoare, for his part, brings out some of the errors and dangers involved when western 'progressives' misunderstand or are seduced by these ideological temptations. Among other things, he correctly notes that the more mindless forms of alleged "anti-imperialism" often wind up, in practice, justifying or excusing (non-western) imperialism--not to mention racism, religious bigotry, fascism, and even genocide. He concludes:
For the religious Occidentalists - be they Muslim, Jewish or Christian - politics are seen in Manichean terms as a conflict between the absolute good and the absolute evil, between which there is no middle ground. The same could be said for left-wing anti-imperialists, whose demonisation of the liberal-capitalist West has frequently led them to be blind to the reactionary, criminal nature of Iraqi Ba'athists, Serb Chetniks, and Islamist terrorists, not to mention the earlier crimes of the Soviet Union and Communist China.

Buruma's and Margalit's work also indicates the thin line dividing [alleged] anti-imperialism from imperialism. The nationalist Occidentalists' desire to liberate their respective nations from Western domination, real or perceived, goes hand in hand with imperialisms of their own. The syndicalist fathers of Italian Fascism saw Italy as a 'proletarian nation' denied its rightful place in the world by the established capitalist powers of Britain and France, and advocated colonial expansion as a response. Hitler sought to free Germany from what he perceived to be the domination of international Jewish finance-capital; the quest for lebensraum was part of this goal. And the Japanese nationalists of the 1940s adopted the name 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere' as a fig-leaf behind which their empire could pose as the embodiment of Asian freedom from European colonialism. Likewise, the Marxist-Leninists who ran the Soviet Union were ideologically 'anti-imperialist', but were nevertheless guilty of some of the worst acts of imperialist aggression in human history. More recently, Saddam's occupation of Kuwait and Milosevic's assaults on Croatia, Bosnia and the Kosovo Albanians were all acts of imperialist aggression, but justified with an anti-imperialist rhetoric that sections of the Western left accepted. The anti-imperialism of Occidentalists is ultimately not about opposing imperialism, but about opposing 'the West'; its political model and cultural values. Buruma's and Margalit's Occidentalism is required reading for all those wishing to understand why such anti-imperialism should be rejected.
Read the whole thing (below).

--Jeff Weintraub
====================
Democratiya (#5)
June-August 2006
Occidentalism and 'Anti-Imperialism'

Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemiesby Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit
Penguin (reprint edition), 2005, 176. pp.

Marko Attila Hoare

'The perfect is the enemy of the good' - this is a proverb that applies to the seductive but bankrupt ideology of 'anti-imperialism', which presents itself as opposition to the most powerful form of oppression but which in practice is something much less positive, indeed negative and reactionary. In simplest terms, 'imperialism' can be defined as a state's pursuit of empire or the expansion of its power, through acquiring territory from, or power over, other states or peoples. No reasonable person would not oppose this, but 'anti-imperialism' today means something other than opposition to imperialism. 'Imperialism', in the eyes of the average 'anti-imperialist', is coterminous with 'the West', i.e. with the US and its West European and Israeli allies. As such, it is used to refer to the bloc of states that dominates the world today, and there is undoubtedly something emotionally appealing to the individual 'radical' in apparently fighting that which is all-powerful. As an eighteen-year old Trotskyist and 'anti-imperialist' at the time of the 1991 Gulf War, I can testify to the empowering sense of self-righteousness I felt as I demonstrated against the US and its allies, in the course of which my views became increasingly extreme: I fervently believed that the US-led intervention was by far a greater evil than Saddam's occupation of Kuwait; that it would be a blessing for humanity if the US and its allies were defeated; that such a defeat would trigger revolutionary outbreaks across the Middle East and even in the West.
Such were the views of a teenage zealot with no knowledge of the Middle Eastern peoples or appreciation of their interests. I debated at the time with Kanan Makiya, the great Iraqi dissident, who shocked me by saying that it was in Iraq's interests to be liberated by the US. Makiya derived his views from his great knowledge of Middle Eastern politics and his love for the Iraqi people; I derived mine from abstract principles. It was only when my own mother's country, Yugoslavia, was torn apart by local fascists that I gradually came to realise that Makiya had been right, and to comprehend the political and moral bankruptcy of 'anti-imperialism'. It is very easy to be ideologically purist when it is someone else's country that is at stake; much more difficult when it is one's own, and one's own people are being slaughtered.
For the rest of this article, for the sake of style, we shall drop the quote marks around the term 'anti-imperialism'. Yet, as Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit show in their fascinating, insightful and elegantly written introduction to the philosophy of anti-Westernism, the term tends not to mean opposition to 'imperialism', but something at once darker and fundamental to modern political thought. What follows should not be taken as an attack on the small minority of decent, sincere anti-imperialists who genuinely oppose oppression and injustice on an internationalist basis – today anti-imperialists of this kind are very much the exception rather than the rule.
Before examining the theoretical meaning of anti-imperialism, it is worth listing at least twelve practical reasons why the phenomenon, in its left-wing manifestation to which I once subscribed, is a negative one:
1) Anti-imperialism is impotent. The left-wing radicals who describe themselves as anti-imperialists, and who engage in the unending, indiscriminate demonisation and denunciation of the US and its allies, have no idea about how to 'defeat imperialism', nor any means to bring it about. The high-point of the Western left's anti-imperialism was probably the US defeat in the Vietnam war - brought about in part by the anti-war demonstrations in the West, it is true, but also by a set of fortuitous circumstances: the largeness of Vietnam as a country (with one quarter the population of the US); the skill and dedication of the North Vietnamese / Vietcong resistance; and the support given by the Soviets and Chinese to the latter. Take away such circumstances and anti-imperialism is a broken reed. Thirty years after its defeat in Vietnam, the US and liberal Western capitalism are stronger than ever. Even the million-strong monster demonstration in London against the Iraq war failed to prevent British participation. Anti-imperialism gives moral satisfaction to the anti-imperialist, but does not actually weaken or halt 'imperialism' in any way.
2) Anti-imperialism has no positive content. The socialists who opposed World War I, and the left-wing radicals who demonstrated against the Vietnam War, did so in the belief that they were fighting for a better society - one that the Bolshevik Revolution and the Communist victory in Vietnam seemed to them to be heralding. Now that Communism has been discredited and there is no alternative to the Western liberal-capitalist model on the horizon, the current generation of anti-imperialists continue to demonstrate against Western intervention and the liberal-capitalist system, but without offering anything in return: the idealists have been transformed into nihilists; their victory promises not a better, more just and egalitarian world, but the triumph of genocide in the Balkans and fundamentalism in the Middle East, in return for a minor setback to our own democratically elected leaders.
3) Anti-imperialism is redundant. It is perfectly possible to oppose acts of Western military intervention that one considers wrong, without subscribing to an anti-imperialist ideology. Rightly or wrongly, large segments of the Western elites opposed intervention in World Wars I and II and in the Vietnam War. Opposition to the US intervention in Iraq united the British Conservative politicians Malcolm Rifkind, Douglas Hogg and Douglas Hurd; the presidents of Russia and France; the currently ruling Spanish Socialists; and the Pope - yet none of these is lumbered with an anti-imperialist ideology. Nor does support for one act of Western intervention imply support for them all: Clare Short supported intervention in Kosovo but opposed it in Iraq; Boris Johnson opposed it in Kosovo and supported it in Iraq; each justified their stance with reasoned arguments. Anti-imperialism merely confuses the debate over the rightness or wrongness of a given act of intervention, by loading it with ideological baggage.
4) Anti-imperialism is based on a faulty theoretical model that owes more to Christian modes of thinking than to Marxism or socialism. The popularity of the term originally derived from Lenin's concept of imperialism as the 'highest stage of capitalism', whereby the cartelisation of capitalism at the national level stifled domestic competition and resulted in heightened conflict between the advanced capitalist countries, in which the export of capital to third-world countries was eventually backed up by military invasion and colonisation. Right or wrong, this was at least a sober theoretical model, but it is one that has been jettisoned by contemporary 'anti-imperialists' in favour of a model derived from the Christian concept of Satan, or the all-powerful force for evil. In place of Lenin's concept of rival imperialist powers engaged in an unending struggle with one another for control of the world's riches, they understand 'imperialism' to mean a homogenous bloc possessed of a single evil will. Often this is equated with Washington, with the assumption that Britain, Israel and other close US allies are mere minions of the US. This fails to take into account the fact that even in the US alone, the political and economic elite is divided between different, often mutually hostile institutions and interest blocs, no one of which alone represents the 'US' or 'imperialism'. Over intervention in the former Yugoslavia, the US establishment was bitterly divided. Yet the anti-imperialists imagine all these competing, contradictory interests to be a seamless, dark unity. Consequently:
5) Anti-imperialism writes off the struggle within the ruling elite. Anti-imperialists necessarily see all mainstream politicians as representative of a single bourgeois or imperialist interest, and are therefore unwilling to accept that some factions within the ruling elite may be pursuing more progressive policies than others. Again, this tendency has its roots in a Protestant obsession with inner purity of belief, over and above the concrete results of actions, so that the 'hypocrisy' of 'bourgeois' politicians is more important to the anti-imperialists than whether or not their policies bring objective benefits. The fact that liberal, conservative or social democratic politicians in the US, Britain or elsewhere may be genuinely sympathetic to oppressed nationalities such as the Iraqi Kurds or the Kosovo Albanians, and may be pushing for policies that would benefit them, in opposition to other Western politicians who would prefer to ally themselves with the Saddams and the Milosevics, is of no interest to the anti-imperialists, who will not throw their weight behind the progressives in these debates. Yet it is precisely in this arena that the most important political questions of the day are being decided.
6) Anti-imperialists attack the symbol rather than the essence of imperialist intervention. The political weakness of anti-imperialism, and its inability to mobilise effective force against 'imperialism', mean that the anti-imperialists must confine their actions to opposition to the most high-profile 'imperialist crimes': those that take the form of dramatic, publicly announced military interventions: e.g. the liberation of Kuwait or the liberation of Iraq. Yet these form the exception to the norm of Western policy, which prefers collaboration with brutal regimes to confronting them. The anti-imperialists therefore take no action to protest the worst Western crimes - collusion with the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in the 1970s, with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, with Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, each of which resulted in tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths. Yet they rallied against the British intervention in the Falklands, or the NATO intervention in Kosovo, which involved death-tolls in the mere hundreds (and actually had positive results for the Argentines and Kosovo Albanians). A parallel can be drawn with the readiness of Western leftists to mobilise in the 1980s against Apartheid South Africa; many did so on account of their genuine horror at the brutality and oppression of Apartheid, but others were merely spurred instinctively by the symbolism of 'white-on-black' oppression, and were consequently not moved in the 1990s by the incomparably worse 'black-on-black' oppression in Rwanda or 'white-on-white' oppression in Bosnia.
7) Anti-imperialists act as objective allies of the most reactionary factions in mainstream politics, against the mainstream progressives. The high-profile acts of Western military intervention that arouse the anti-imperialist ire are precisely those that are likely to have at least some progressive content - because they are public and must rely on a degree of public support, which is unlikely to occur without some justification. The NATO intervention in Kosovo liberated the Kosovo Albanian population from Milosevic; the US intervention in Iraq liberated the Iraqis from Saddam and introduced the beginnings of democracy and pluralism to the country. The anti-imperialists, in their determination to oppose the symbolic act of Western military intervention, line up with those reactionaries who oppose such intervention because they are perfectly happy to continue intervening in the old, quiet, utterly reactionary way - through supporting the likes of Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. Hence, during the 1990s, when Britain's Conservative government colluded with Milosevic's genocidal policies, the anti-imperialists failed to mobilise. But when the Labour government in 1999 reversed British policy, and attempted to halt Milosevic, the anti-imperialists mobilised in opposition, demonstrating their preference for the prior, Conservative policy.
8) Anti-imperialism is based on a demonstrable falsehood - that Western military intervention always has negative results. Everyone knows that British and US military intervention liberated Western Europe from Nazism, and most anti-imperialists would concede that this was a good thing, but few are willing to acknowledge the implications of this for the anti-imperialist paradigm. External military intervention by Western 'imperial' powers helped to ensure the victory of the American Revolution; the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire; the triumph of Italian unification; the liberation of Poland and Finland from Russia and the South Slavs from the Habsburg Empire. The anti-Nazi resistance movement in Yugoslavia during World War II received crucial military support from the Western Allies, including the bombing of enemy targets (and involving the killing of many civilians). Conversely, the failure of democratic states to intervene militarily led in the 1930s to the fascist victory in Spain, the Italian conquest of Abyssinia and the Nazi conquest of Czechoslovakia. The Western Allies could arguably have saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish and other lives by bombing the railway lines to Auschwitz, but chose not to; they nevertheless defeated Hitler, ended the Holocaust and saved hundreds of thousands more. Western military action could have halted the Rwandan genocide and prevented the Srebrenica massacre. Western military action did end Saddam's persecution of the Kuwaitis and Kurds, and Milosevic's persecution of the Kosovo Albanians. Yet the anti-imperialists persist with their myth that Western military intervention must necessarily bring totally negative results - not because it is true, but because their ideology depends upon it.
9) Anti-imperialism is anti-internationalist. By rejecting Western military intervention, the anti-imperialists reject the only means by which Western progressives can hope to halt genocide and fight oppression and tyranny abroad. The more honourable and decent anti-imperialists have been ready to express solidarity with the suffering people of Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. Yet such expressions of solidarity do nothing to halt genocide or persecution. By rejecting Western military intervention, the anti-imperialists confine themselves, at best, to being passive spectators in foreign conflicts. More usually, however, they are uninterested in such conflicts, unless and until the Western powers intervene in a more high-profile manner - in which case the anti-imperialists invariably mobilise to preserve the status quo and defend the fascists and persecutors from 'Western military intervention'.
10) Anti-imperialism is itself an expression of an imperialist mind-set. Anti-imperialists are fundamentally uninterested in the rights or wrongs of a conflict in a foreign country; their sole concern is their own geopolitical agenda. Thus, over Yugoslavia, they tended to support Milosevic's Serbia on an 'anti-imperialist' basis, sacrificing the rights of Milosevic's Croatian, Bosnian or Kosovar victims to the 'higher' anti-imperialist cause (in fact, the Western powers themselves aided and abetted Milosevic - but that's another story). Likewise, the anti-imperialists would be happy to consign Iraq to rule by Islamic fundamentalist mass-murderers - just so that the US can suffer a defeat. This is called subordinating the interests of non-Western peoples to Western political concerns, and is the direct counterpart of the readiness of Western Cold Warriors to support every brutal right-wing dictator - Somoza, Fahd, Marcos, Pinochet, Suharto - provided he was anti-Communist. For the Western imperialists of the left and of the right, non-Western countries are mere battlefields for the struggle against their own enemies - whether 'imperialist' or Communist. Anti-imperialists differ from right-wing imperialists in their choice of enemies, yet the two camps are mirror-images of each other, not opposites.
11) Anti-imperialism means allying with local oppressors against local democrats. In the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and elsewhere, those most committed to democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the rights of women and national minorities, invariably tend to look to the West as a source of inspiration, in contrast with the fascists, theocrats and ethnic-cleansers who mobilise on the basis of xenophobia, national chauvinism and religious fundamentalism - and anti-Westernism. In painting 'imperialism' as the root of all evil, the anti-imperialists give grist to the mill of the local oppressors - Iraqi Ba'athists, Serb Chetniks, Islamists and others - who blame their countries' ills on Western interference and demonise their liberal domestic opponents as stooges of the West. By blaming the West for everything that goes wrong in the Balkans, the Middle East and elsewhere, the anti-imperialists absolve the local oppressors of responsibility for their crimes - and turn their backs on the local progressives who try to oppose these crimes.
12) Anti-imperialism slips effortlessly into opposition to Western values. It is perfectly possible to oppose the negative aspects of Western policy abroad - such as unfair trade rules or the bombing of civilians - while upholding the values of Western liberal democracy: parliamentary sovereignty, the rule of law, separation of powers, multi-party elections, equality of the sexes, gay rights, free trade unions, etc. Yet the anti-imperialists tend to see Western values themselves as a form of oppression. They prefer the regimes of China, Belarus, Zimbabwe or Cuba to those in the West, and oppose not merely the means by which the US seeks to introduce democracy in Iraq, but the goal itself. They rage against the 'colour-coded revolutions' that overthrew the neo-Communist regimes of Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan - not because they genuinely fear these countries will be 'enslaved by imperialism', but because they hate Western-style liberal democracy. The anti-imperialists object little, if at all, to genuinely imperialist crimes by non-Western states: China's colonialism in Tibet; Argentina's invasion of the Falklands; Iraq's occupation of Kuwait; Serbia's wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo; Russia's assault on Chechnya. Ultimately, anti-imperialism is not really about opposing imperialism, but about something else.
It is the last of these practical problems with anti-imperialism that indicates its ideological and psychological origins. As Buruma and Margalit show in Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies (first published in 2004 by Atlantic Books as Occidentalism: A Short History of Anti-westernism), anti-imperialist ideas can form part of a larger phenomenon of 'Occidentalism': the ideology of violent opposition to Western political and moral values; not just democracy and political pluralism, but also individualism, the emancipation of women and sexual freedom. The authors discuss a wide range of regional case-studies under the umbrella of Occidentalism: Japanese nationalists; Russian Slavophiles; German Nazis; Korean Communists; and, of course, Islamists. All these groups arose in opposition to a perceived Western enemy; in one way or another, they all sought to understand the reasons for Western success - both technological and organisational - and apply them to resist the Westernisation of their own societies. The authors discuss a range of historical phenomena that are in some ways related to Occidentalism, including Romanticism, fascism, totalitarianism and Communism. They present the paradox of Occidentalism: that the Occidentalist mind-set is itself forged through close contact with Western ideas and culture, and that the Occidentalist can therefore never entirely escape the West.
Buruma and Margalit discuss the Occidentalists' hatred of the Western city, with its relaxed social mores and sexually liberated women, which they find deeply threatening. At the psychological level, therefore, Occidentalism is related to sexual insecurity and fear of the body. Discussing the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb and the stay in the US which shaped his subsequent ideology, the authors note: 'In his letters home, Qutb was particularly distressed by the 'seductive atmosphere', the shocking sensuality of daily life, and the immodest behaviour of American women' (p. 32); 'He found the spectacle of young women dancing to a current hit, "Baby, It's Cold Outside", horrifying.' (p. 118). This psychological dislike of the Western lifestyle is linked to a political dislike, as the Western cultural system involving individual choice, personal autonomy and the acceptance of difference and a degree of selfishness makes individuals immune to the fundamentalist or totalitarian temptation: 'The Occident, as defined by its enemies, is seen as a threat not because it offers an alternative system of values, let alone a different route to Utopia. It is a threat because its promises of material comfort, individual freedom, and the dignity of unexceptional lives deflate all utopian pretences.' (p. 72) Occidentalism therefore involves some political and psychological themes that are fundamental to the human condition.
There is a certain tension, in Buruma's and Margalit's thesis, between the general and the specific. On the one hand, they attribute Occidentalism to a range of individuals and groups, from Marx, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and T.S. Eliot through Hitler, the kamikaze, Mao and Pol Pot to bin Laden and the Serb besiegers of Sarajevo. This suggests that Occidentalism is a universally present and unavoidable element in the modern world; a constant shadow to modernity. Yet, on the other hand, the authors portray certain cultural milieus as having a particular affinity to Occidentalism, among them the milieus of German nationalism before World War II (unlike its British or French counterparts) and Russian Orthodox Christianity (unlike its Protestant and Catholic counterparts). It is unclear from the authors' account whether, for example, an Anglo-Saxon variety of Occidentalism is possible. On the one hand, they point out that 'Neither capitalism nor liberal democracy ever pretended to be a heroic creed' (p. 71); they contrast the Occidentalists' thirst for heroism, self-sacrifice and martyrdom with the liberals' acceptance of the ordinariness of everyday life for the majority of people: 'Liberals, in line with a Puritan tradition, have learned to accept this. More than that, as witnessed by seventeenth-century Dutch painting and English novels, they recognise that the unexceptional, everyday life has dignity too and should be nurtured, not scorned.' (p. 71). This suggests that the Anglo-Saxon and Dutch cultural traditions are not conducive to Occidentalism; a viewpoint that may be valid, but that will undoubtedly be challenged.
That Buruma and Margalit do not describe an Anglo-Saxon version of Occidentalism may also be because they believe that for the political and intellectual classes in the original 'West' - Britain, the US and the Netherlands - there was no Western 'other' against which to identify themselves (though English nationalists have traditionally felt an explosive mixture of admiration and hatred for the enticing, overwhelming and threatening culture of their French neighbours and enemies, feelings that may resemble those of Occidentalists toward the West). If this is indeed what the authors believe, then they are following the familiar path of theorists of nationalism, such as Liah Greenfeld and Adrian Hastings, who view England as the prototypical nation-state, on the model of which subsequent nation-states necessarily defined themselves; only the first-comer could be free of the influence of prior examples. Be that as it may, the question of whether Occidentalism is a universal phenomenon or one that is specific to region and epoch is one that needs to be resolved.
Buruma's and Margalit's Occidentalism stands in the tradition of the elegant, sweeping surveys of a broad topic, such as the classics Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson and Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism by Perry Anderson. As such, it suffers from the dangers inherent in such surveys: of oversimplification, and the squeezing of specific cases to fit the general theory. Thus, Buruma and Margalit claim: 'Before taking on Stalin's Asiatic hordes, [Nazi] Germany went to war with the West. This assault on the liberal democratic states, seen as artificial, rationalistic, racially hybrid, materialist, and lousy with greedy Jews, was a pure example of murderous Occidentalism in the heart of the European continent.' (p. 35). This is a gross oversimplification - among other things, it was Britain and France which declared war on Germany, not vice versa. The authors' attribution of Occidentalist tendencies to American neoconservative circles (p. 59) also fails to convince; while the neoconservatives share with Occidentalists a dislike of soft-liberal flaccidity and compromise, a love of dynamism and a confrontational style, they also believe precisely in the need to spread Western values throughout the world; if this can be encompassed within Occidentalism, then the term has been stretched to the point of meaninglessness. Buruma and Margalit are correct to point out the Occidentalist implications of some of Marx's ideas (pp. 102-103, 109-110) - something that too many Marxists have avoided acknowledging. Yet Marx was also, of course, a great champion of Westernisation and globalisation - a paradox that requires acknowledgement.
Lest it appear from this that Buruma's and Margalit's work lacks nuance, mention should be made of their most illuminating sub-categorisation: the division of Occidentalism into the racial or national variety on the one hand and the religious or political on the other. As they put it, 'there is a difference between those who fight for a specific nation or race and those who go to battle for religious or political creeds: the former exclude outsiders; they believe they are the chosen ones. The latter often makes claims for universal salvation.' (p. 101). The division, they add, is not clear cut, and they point out a fact often forgotten by opponents of the Iraq war, who mention, endlessly, that Ba'athist Iraq was a secular state with nothing in common with Al Qaeda: 'the Ba'athists, when it suits them, have also encouraged religious terrorism against the Western "Crusaders" and "Zionists." Saddam Hussein, for one, liked to portray himself as Saladin, saviour of the Arabs, riding his white steed to wipe out the infidels.' (p. 146). Nevertheless, the qualified division of Occidentalism into two types is an important one. For the religious Occidentalists - be they Muslim, Jewish or Christian - politics are seen in Manichean terms as a conflict between the absolute good and the absolute evil, between which there is no middle ground. The same could be said for left-wing anti-imperialists, whose demonisation of the liberal-capitalist West has frequently led them to be blind to the reactionary, criminal nature of Iraqi Ba'athists, Serb Chetniks, and Islamist terrorists, not to mention the earlier crimes of the Soviet Union and Communist China.
Buruma's and Margalit's work also indicates the thin line dividing anti-imperialism from imperialism. The nationalist Occidentalists' desire to liberate their respective nations from Western domination, real or perceived, goes hand in hand with imperialisms of their own. The syndicalist fathers of Italian Fascism saw Italy as a 'proletarian nation' denied its rightful place in the world by the established capitalist powers of Britain and France, and advocated colonial expansion as a response. Hitler sought to free Germany from what he perceived to be the domination of international Jewish finance-capital; the quest for lebensraum was part of this goal. And the Japanese nationalists of the 1940s adopted the name 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere' as a fig-leaf behind which their empire could pose as the embodiment of Asian freedom from European colonialism. Likewise, the Marxist-Leninists who ran the Soviet Union were ideologically 'anti-imperialist', but were nevertheless guilty of some of the worst acts of imperialist aggression in human history. More recently, Saddam's occupation of Kuwait and Milosevic's assaults on Croatia, Bosnia and the Kosovo Albanians were all acts of imperialist aggression, but justified with an anti-imperialist rhetoric that sections of the Western left accepted. The anti-imperialism of Occidentalists is ultimately not about opposing imperialism, but about opposing 'the West'; its political model and cultural values. Buruma's and Margalit's Occidentalism is required reading for all those wishing to understand why such anti-imperialism should be rejected.

Marko Attila Hoare is an Advisory Editor of Democratiya. Formerly a Research Fellow in the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, he is now a Senior Research Fellow at Kingston University, London. He is the author of How Bosnia Armed, a short history of the Bosnian Army, published by Saqi Books in 2004. His second book, Genocide and Resistance in Hitler's Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943, will be published later this year by the British Academy in association with Oxford University Press.
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Chronicle of Higher Education
Vol. 50, Issue 22 - Page B10
February 6, 2004
The Origins of Occidentalism
By IAN BURUMA

When the West is under attack, as it was on September 11, it is often assumed -- not only in America -- that the West means the United States. This goes for those on the left, who believe that U.S. foreign policy (or "imperialism") and U.S. corporate power (or "globalization") have brought the suicide bombers and holy warriors upon America by marginalizing and bullying the millions of people who have failed to benefit from the capitalist world order. But it also goes for conservatives, who think that Islamist radicalism, like Communism before, is an attack on "our values," that is, on the "American way of life."

There is some truth to those claims. The worldwide reach of Wall Street, Hollywood, and the U.S. armed forces invites resentment. And to the extent that those institutions represent the American way of life, they are indeed targets of the Islamist jihad. It is also true that U.S. foreign policy can be misguided, even brutal. And global capitalism can do a great deal of damage as well as good. Finally, the United States, as the only Western superpower, has indeed come to stand for the West as a whole. And countries, such as Israel, that are looked upon as U.S. proxies provoke violent hostility for that reason alone.

However, the kind of violence currently directed at targets associated with the West, from the World Trade Center to a discothèque in Bali, is not just about the United States. Nor can it be reduced to global economics. Even those who have good reason to blame their poverty on harsh forms of U.S.-backed capitalism do not normally blow themselves up in public places to kill the maximum number of unarmed civilians. We do not hear of suicide bombers from the slums of Rio or Bangkok.

Something else is going on, which my co-author, Avishai Margalit, and I call Occidentalism (the title of our new book): a war against a particular idea of the West, which is neither new nor unique to Islamist extremism. The current jihadis see the West as something less than human, to be destroyed, as though it were a cancer. This idea has historical roots that long precede any form of "U.S. imperialism." Similar hostility, though not always as lethal, has been directed in the past against Britain and France as much as against America. What, then, is the Occidentalist idea of the West?

That is the problem that vexed a group of prominent Japanese intellectuals who gathered for a conference in Kyoto in 1942. The attack on Pearl Harbor was not the ostensible reason for the conference, but the underlying idea was to find an ideological justification for Japan's mission to smash, and in effect replace, the Western empires in Asia. The topic of discussion was "how to overcome the modern." Modernity was associated with the West, and particularly with Western imperialism.

Westernization, one of the scholars said, was like a disease that had infected the Japanese spirit. The "modern thing," said another, was a "European thing." Others believed that "Americanism" was the enemy, and that Japan should make common cause with the Europeans to defend old civilizations against the New World (there would certainly have been takers in Europe). There was much talk about unhealthy specialization in knowledge, which had fragmented the wholeness of Oriental spiritual culture. Science was to blame. So were capitalism, the absorption into Japanese society of modern technology, and notions of individual freedom and democracy. These had to be "overcome."

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 machine civilization without spirit or soul, a place where people mixed to produce mongrel races. A holistic, traditional Orient united under divine Japanese imperial rule would restore the warm organic Asian community to spiritual health. As one of the participants put it, the struggle was between Japanese blood and Western intellect.

Precisely the same terms had been used by others, in other places, at other times. Blood, soil, and the spirit of the Volk were what German romantics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries invoked against the universalist claims of the French Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and Napoleon's invading armies. This notion of national soul was taken over by the Slavophiles in 19th-century Russia, who used it to attack the "Westernizers," that is, Russian advocates of liberal reforms. It came up again and again, in the 1930s, when European fascists and National Socialists sought to smash "Americanism," Anglo-Saxon liberalism, and "rootless cosmopolitanism" (meaning Jews). Aurel Kolnai, the great Hungarian scholar, wrote a book in the 1930s about fascist ideology in Austria and Germany. He called it War Against the West. Communism, too, especially under Stalin, although a bastard child of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, was the sworn enemy of Western liberalism and "rootless cosmopolitanism." Many Islamic radicals borrowed their anti-Western concepts from Russia and Germany. The founders of the Ba'ath Party in Syria were keen readers of prewar German race theories. Jalal Al-e Ahmad, an influential Iranian intellectual in the 1960s, coined the phrase "Westoxification" to describe the poisonous influence of Western civilization on other cultures. He, too, was an admirer of German ideas on blood and soil.

Clearly, the idea of the West as a malign force is not some Eastern or Middle Eastern idea, but has deep roots in European soil. Defining it in historical terms is not a simple matter. Occidentalism was part of the counter-Enlightenment, to be sure, but also of the reaction against industrialization. Some Marxists have been attracted to it, but so, of course, have their enemies on the far right. Occidentalism is a revolt against rationalism (the cold, mechanical West, the machine civilization) and secularism, but also against individualism. European colonialism provoked Occidentalism, and so does global capitalism today. But one can speak of Occidentalism only when the revolt against the West becomes a form of pure destruction, when the West is depicted as less than human, when rebellion means murder.

Wherever it occurs, Occidentalism is fed by a sense of humiliation, of defeat. Isaiah Berlin once described the German revolt against Napoleon as "the original exemplar of the reaction of many a backward, exploited, or at any rate patronized society, which, resentful of the apparent inferiority of its status, reacted by turning to real or imaginary triumphs and glories in its past, or enviable attributes of its own national or cultural character."

The same thing might be said about Japan in the 1930s, after almost a century of feeling snubbed and patronized by the West, whose achievements it so fervently tried to emulate. It has been true of the Russians, who have often slipped into the role of inferior upstarts, stuck in the outer reaches of Asia and Europe. But nothing matches the sense of failure and humiliation that afflicts the Arab world, a once glorious civilization left behind in every respect by the post-Enlightenment West.

Humiliation can easily turn into a cult of the pure and the authentic. Among the most resented attributes of the hated Occident are its claims to universalism. Christianity is a universalist faith, but so is the Enlightenment belief in reason. Napoleon was a universalist who believed in a common civil code for all his conquered subjects. The conviction that the United States represents universal values and has the God-given duty to spread democracy in the benighted world belongs to the same universalist tradition. Some of these values may indeed be universal. One would like to think that all people could benefit from democracy or the use of reason. The Code Napoleon brought many benefits. But when universal solutions are imposed by force, or when people feel threatened or humiliated or unable to compete with the powers that promote such solutions, that is when we see the dangerous retreat into dreams of purity.

Not all dreams of local authenticity and cultural uniqueness are noxious, or even wrong. As Isaiah Berlin also pointed out, the crooked timber of humanity cannot be forcibly straightened along universal standards with impunity. The experiments on the human soul by Communism showed how bloody universalist dreams can be. And the poetic romanticism of 19th-century German idealists was often a welcome antidote to the dogmatic rationalism that came with the Enlightenment.

It is when purity or authenticity, of faith or race, leads to purges of the supposedly inauthentic, of the allegedly impure, that mass murder begins. The fact that anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, and a general hostility to the West often overlap is surely no coincidence. Even in Japan, where Jews play no part in national life, one of the participants at the 1942 Kyoto conference suggested that the war against the West was a war against the "poisonous materialist civilization" built on Jewish financial capitalist power. At the same time, European anti-Semites, not only in Nazi Germany, were blaming the Jews for Bolshevism.

Both Bolshevism and capitalism are universalist systems in the sense that they do not recognize national, racial, or cultural borders. Since Jews are traditionally regarded by the defenders of purity as the congenital outsiders, the archetypal "rootless cosmopolitans," it is no wonder that they are also seen as the main carriers of the universalist virus. To be sure, Jews had sound reasons to be attracted to such notions as equality before the law, secular politics, and internationalism, whether of a socialist or capitalist stamp. Exclusivity, whether racial, religious, or nationalist, is never good for minorities. Only in the Middle East have Jews brought their own form of exclusivity and nationalism. But Zionism came from the West. And so Israel, in the eyes of its enemies, is the colonial outpost of "Westoxification." Its material success only added to the Arab sense of historic humiliation.

The idea, however, that Jews are a people without a soul, mimics with no creative powers, is much older than the founding of the State of Israel. It was one of the most common anti-Semitic slurs employed by Richard Wagner. He was neither the first to do so, nor very original in this respect. Karl Marx, himself the grandson of a rabbi, called the Jews greedy parasites, whose souls were made of money. The same kind of thing was often said by 19th-century Europeans about the British. The great Prussian novelist Theodor Fontane, who rather admired England, nonetheless opined that "the cult of the Gold Calf is the disease of the English people." He was convinced that English society would be destroyed by "this yellow fever of gold, this sellout of all souls to the devil of Mammon." And much the same is said today about the Americans.

Calculation -- the accounting of money, interests, scientific evidence, and so on -- is regarded as soulless. Authenticity lies in poetry, intuition, and blind faith. The Occidentalist view of the West is of a bourgeois society, addicted to creature comforts, animal lusts, self-interest, and security. It is by definition a society of cowards, who prize life above death. As a Taliban fighter once put it during the war in Afghanistan, the Americans would never win, because they love Pepsi-Cola, whereas the holy warriors love death. This was also the language of Spanish fascists during the civil war, and of Nazi ideologues, and Japanese kamikaze pilots.

The hero is one who acts without calculating his interests. He jumps into action without regard for his own safety, ever ready to sacrifice himself for the cause. And the Occidentalist hero, whether he is a Nazi or an Islamist, is just as ready to destroy those who sully the purity of his race or creed. It is indeed his duty to do so. When the West is seen as the threat to authenticity, then it is the duty of all holy warriors to destroy anything to do with the "Zionist Crusaders," whether it is a U.S. battleship, a British embassy, a Jewish cemetery, a chunk of lower Manhattan, or a disco in Bali. The symbolic value of these attacks is at least as important as the damage inflicted.

What, then, is new about the Islamist holy war against the West? Perhaps it is the totality of its vision. Islamism, as an antidote to Westoxification, is an odd mixture of the universal and the pure: universal because all people can, and in the eyes of the believers should, become orthodox Muslims; pure because those who refuse the call are not simply lost souls but savages who must be removed from this earth.

Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews, among others, but did not view the entire West with hostility. In fact, he wanted to forge an alliance with the British and other "Aryan" nations, and felt betrayed when they did not see things his way. Stalinists and Maoists murdered class enemies and were opposed to capitalism. But they never saw the Western world as less than human and thus to be physically eradicated. Japanese militarists went to war against Western empires but did not regard everything about Western civilization as barbarous. The Islamist contribution to the long history of Occidentalism is a religious vision of purity in which the idolatrous West simply has to be destroyed.

The worship of false gods is the worst religious sin in Islam as well as in ancient Judaism. The West, as conceived by Islamists, worships the false gods of money, sex, and other animal lusts. In this barbarous world the thoughts and laws and desires of Man have replaced the kingdom of God. The word for this state of affairs is jahiliyya, which can mean idolatry, religious ignorance, or barbarism. Applied to the pre-Islamic Arabs, it means ignorance: People worshiped other gods because they did not know better. But the new jahiliyya, in the sense of barbarism, is everywhere, from Las Vegas and Wall Street to the palaces of Riyadh. To an Islamist, anything that is not pure, that does not belong to the kingdom of God, is by definition barbarous and must be destroyed.

Just as the main enemies of Russian Slavophiles were Russian Westernizers, the most immediate targets of Islamists are the liberals, reformists, and secular rulers in their own societies. They are the savage stains that have to be cleansed with blood. But the source of the barbarism that has seduced Saudi princes and Algerian intellectuals as much as the whores and pimps of New York (and in a sense all infidels are whores and pimps) is the West. And that is why holy war has been declared against the West.

Since the target of the holy warriors is so large, figuring out how to defend it is not easy. But it is not immediately apparent that a war against Iraq was the most effective way to fight the Islamist jihad. Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime was a murderous dictatorship that deserved to come to an end, but it was not in line with the holy revolution. There is no evidence that Saddam wished to destroy the West. Osama bin Laden clearly does, and he is still at large. It may even be that attacking Iraq, however gratifying in many ways, has made the defense against Islamist revolution harder. Moderate Muslims everywhere are cowed into silence by aggressive U.S. actions, for fear of being seen as traitors or, worse, barbarous idolators.

As even President Bush has been at pains to point out, the battle with religious terrorism is not a war against Islam, or even religion. Violent attempts to force secularism on Muslim societies in the past invited the problem of religious extremism and should not be seen as the solution now. Zealotry was in part a reaction against the aggressive secularism of such regimes as Reza Shah's in Iran during the 1930s. If political freedoms are to be guaranteed in the Muslim world through popular sovereignty, religion will have to be taken into account. The best chance for democracies to succeed in countries as varied as Indonesia, Turkey, and Iraq is if moderate Muslims can be successfully mobilized. But that will have to come from those countries themselves. Even though Western governments should back the forces for democracy, the hard political struggle cannot be won in Washington, or through the force of U.S. arms.

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.

Ian Buruma is a professor of human rights, democracy, and new-media studies at Bard College and a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. He and Avishai Margalit, a professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, are the authors of Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies, which will be published by the Penguin Press next month.

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