The One Sided Mirror: How Occidentalism Missed The Boat


To provide insight on why the West has enemies, Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit’s “Occidentalism” portrays an enemy full of jealousy and envy who hates capitalism and imperialism. Unfortunately, “Occidentalism” was written from the Western perspective and fails to reflect on the roots of this resentment.

Buruma and Margalit mention that contemporary Occidentalism is often focused on America and that “anti-Americanism is sometimes the result of specific American policies…which is normally used as shorthand for U.S. imperialism. [But] Whatever the U.S. government does or does not do is often beside the point.” Ironically, what the author ignores is the collateral damage of U.S. policies that have created emotional victims whose semi-distorted image of the West cuts their wounds deeper.

“Occidentalism” feeds into the West’s perception of the “other” as Russell Jacoby explains in “The Terror from Within.” “We prefer to imagine threats as emanating from aliens and foreigners” due to “small variations” that “elicit more rage because they imperil identity.” “Occidentalism” hovers above this reality and does not portray the whole picture.

They consider the “intellectual trap to avoid” as the “colonial guilt,” with the fact that “European and American histories are stained with blood, and Western imperialism did much damage.” The West is not required to apologize for the gallons of blood on their hands or to turn a blind eye when tragedies occur around the world. However, it is naïve to presume the only basis for this Occidentalist hatred is differences in values.

Some Occidentalists are not ranting about the evils of capitalism or the perceived lack of heroism in the West. Instead, they want to know why a drone dropped a bomb in their backyard or why their village was wiped out with a weapon that was “made in U.S.A.” It is this emotional toll that is the basis of hatred that can lead to violence if their image of the West follows what “Occidentalism” defines. However, the notion that Occidentalists solely contemplate how to rid the world of barbarians is misleading. Most are reacting from the viewpoint of a victim from a recent incident or, unfortunately for the West, from a long list of tragedies and historical biases.

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