Occidentalism, or hatred of the West

Devadatta

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Occidentalism is the name of a book or rather extended essay or pamphlet that identifies pathological hatred of the West as a worldwide phenomenon with many forms and a long history. It makes connections over a wide & diverse field, as cultural studies/history of ideas sorts of texts will do, and doesn’t really fully frame or very satisfactorily conclude the argument. So it begs some question.

But the core of the argument is very simple: hatred of West is rooted in a much broader social phenomenon, the counter-enlightenment, and that much of the ideology for that hatred originated in the West itself.

Here’s the short list: The romantic revolt in literature, the mythology of the “Russian Soul”, the “German Blood”, the various German philosophers with their recast of Biblical ideology in the form of racial or national will unfolding through history, and the various totalitarian ideologies that seem to naturally flow from this turn in the European mind.

Now the irony here is that ideally all these movements have their uses & their truth. The enlightenment, or rather, its core value the free play of the mind against authority has been a powerful force. It needed to be checked, corrected, criticized, supplemented. In the form of industrial capitalism & consumer culture the enlightenment has, in a sense, become a runaway freight train that certainly needs to be checked. But the point here is that the counter-enlightenment itself became a runaway freight train in the form of the totalitarian mindset.

Besides pointing to totalitarianism, all these turns have something else in common: they arise out of a sense of being on the wrong side of the enlightenment, of being on the outside looking in, and so are responses from the pure place of the “instinctual,” “natural”, “virtuous” country; against the Babylon of the city, whether that city is Paris, London, Rome, New York or the Hague.

All of these “instinctual” responses are rooted in fear of the enlightenment and its core value: the free play of the mind against received authority. They go beyond useful criticism to a kind of hysterical response. So here’s cultural neurosis on a colossal scale.

Talk about civilisation and its discontents! This neurosis of course formed one of the essential underpinnings of a series of European wars and untold carnage. The West has paid a high price for this spiritual civil war.

But the point of Occidentalism is that what was bad for the West has turned out to be far worse for many other cultures. The West, because this schism originated in its own divided mind, is to a certain extent inoculated against its worst excesses; it’s built up some immunity. Other cultures lack this immunity. The book points to the death cults of the kamikaze in Japan (whose martyrs were often more knowledgeable in literature than politics, in German Philosophy than in Shinto piety), the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, who drove whole populations into the countryside to be purified onto death, and the real elephant in the room, the rise of totalitarian ideologies that currently plague the Muslim world.

That the Muslim version of this pathology is particularly virulent and persistent is no accident. A sickness that may only be an episode in many other cultures could be terminal for Islam.

The reason is not hard to find. As already noted, underlying all this is the pattern of rural/urban, country/city, pure village/corrupt Babylon. The authors of Occidentalism, like many others, locate the paradigmatic expression of this conflict in the Hebrew Scriptures; here is the original “rage against the empire”.

(Before anyone goes off on a tangent, the only sin implied here against the Hebrews is their magic with words. The Bible may be the mother of all ideologies, but if the Hebrews hadn’t written it, someone else would have come up with a Grade “B” version, equally dangerous, but lacking the upsides.)

In any case, when Islamist ideologues in the Muslim Brotherhood, or the notorious Said Qutb, imbibed the poison of Western ideology they had no trouble melding it with the totalitarian aspects of the Abrahamic tradition they already knew. Here we have a kind of ideological echo chamber, which must make these ideas feel so convincing to their adherents.

And then you have the nature of Islam itself. Muhammad may be a prophet but he could easily be styled the world’s first fundamentalist. The core of his teaching was to strip Abrahamic religions of all complexities, Christian theology, Jewish questionings, and take it back before Jews & Christians, to what he imagined was the original faith of the legendary Abraham.

At the core, there certainly is a vision & experience of the monotheistic God, closest in character to the G!d who speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. This is the authentic faith of over a billion Muslims, and will not be questioned here.

However, one of the very first verses of the Qu’ran is to the effect that “this shall not be doubted”. And on the back of the monotheistic vision is built a whole structure of legalist/social control that effectively transfers authority from God to the Qur’an to Muhammad to the clerics and now, in many places, to any fool with a beard. (In the interests of disclosure, I too have a beard!)

You know, I think the word “liar” appears at least as frequently as “love” in the Qur’an. And who is a “liar”? Apparently, anyone who questions.

If you took what orthodox Muslims call Shariah out of its religious context, you would probably call it the rules of some dystopian totalitarian state. So again, this leads to an easy & persistent fusion to the totalitarian turn, ancient & modern.

So what’s my point? This most virulent strand of Occidentalism is not only a plague to the vast majority of Muslims, and a decided barrier to the growth of their well being & development, it’s a mortal danger for the rest of us. And I’m not talking about the few hundred or even thousands that terrorists manage directly to kill – hard as this sounds, we kill more people every year in traffic accidents. No, it’s the cascade effect of terrorism. It’s the encouragement of an answering fundamentalism in the West, the election of leaders who’s strategic thinking is strictly schoolyard, who enter into disastrous wars & occupations, who feed & magnify a hundredfold the very phenomena they’re trying to stamp out.

The cure? Muslims can only sort it for themselves. No further imports from the West will help them, certainly not the kind of secularism that’s already at its limit, and invented for other purposes. They’ll need to reinvent themselves, and rediscover the spirit of inquiry through their own internal struggle. From the non-Muslim end, the best thing we can offer is less b.s. and more straight talk, plus the encouragement & support of all progressive voices in Islam as they are now emerging.

Sincerely,
Devadatta
 
Namaste Devadatta,

Open dialogue and discussion....a seeking to understand the others point of view...we must sit down at the table.

I'm not a western apologist. I am a product of the crusades, the arms race, the spread of the almighty dollar, arrogance and ....

tis obvious there are two sides of the coin, and compassion must prevail or the world will be at odds for a while...

one question I have...how do you identify infidel, similar to the question when reading Judaic law...what is the definition of gentile...for if it is us non-jewish, non muslim westerners...and the laws are to be read litterally we may have issues for a long time.
 
Devadatta said:
So what’s my point? This most virulent strand of Occidentalism is not only a plague to the vast majority of Muslims, and a decided barrier to the growth of their well being & development, it’s a mortal danger for the rest of us. And I’m not talking about the few hundred or even thousands that terrorists manage directly to kill – hard as this sounds, we kill more people every year in traffic accidents. No, it’s the cascade effect of terrorism. It’s the encouragement of an answering fundamentalism in the West, the election of leaders who’s strategic thinking is strictly schoolyard, who enter into disastrous wars & occupations, who feed & magnify a hundredfold the very phenomena they’re trying to stamp out.

The cure? Muslims can only sort it for themselves. No further imports from the West will help them, certainly not the kind of secularism that’s already at its limit, and invented for other purposes. They’ll need to reinvent themselves, and rediscover the spirit of inquiry through their own internal struggle. From the non-Muslim end, the best thing we can offer is less b.s. and more straight talk, plus the encouragement & support of all progressive voices in Islam as they are now emerging.

Sincerely,
Devadatta
Namaskar, Devadata ...

I think in these last two paragraphs, you've spoken volumes. Especially in highlighting the fact that we are making matters much, much worse here in the US, and in Western Europe. But especially here in the US, with our power politics, our increasingly-frightening plummeting toward the worst forms (I am choosing my words carefully) of religious conservativism, and the blind, unquestioning obedience of the fuh, I mean, our ruler ... which gets the stamp of "patriotism," while those bold enough to question and conscientiously object, are somehow Benedict Arnolds! :confused:

Frankly, when I hear the word "terrorist," I am not fooled for an instant. I don't even begin to picture some nut with a suitcase bomb (and folks, that's all it might take to friggin' start WWIII, let's face it - oh yeah, GREAT reason for nutjob to pull us out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty after 30 years, and start MAD all over again ... anyone here remember MAD???). Nope, that part scares me, planes and suicide-bombers scares me, and any fundamentalist regime scares me. But those threats, even as they loom large in the present day, don't scare me HALF as much as what you've drawn attention to - our REACTION. Indeed, DO YOU FEEL SAFER nowadays? I mean, Good God, that stupid homeland color crapola is absolutely insane.

I will try to avoid turning total conspiracy nut, in this instance, especially since I am so disgusted by what has happened to this country, that I usually lose my cool mighty quick (yep, I own my share, I know - it's a collective responsibility, so get off the PRIDE horse, if all you wanna do is shout about how the US is God's gift to the world ... my news for you: WAKE UP (err, sorry, a little heated there :eek:)). No, the solution lies in cooperation, education, proper support of the UN (instead of undermining its efforts and refusing to pay dues, which is all the US can ever accomplish), and the mutual recognition and support of all the world's spiritualities and religions which promote the ideals of Peace, Brotherhood, and the mutual Enlightenment of all Mankind.

Islam is one of those, but unfortunately, many of its adherents ... are characterized by a less noble spirit. If we can say this, and be speaking truthfully - and with no intention to offend, then let's not fly off the handle when I point out the obvious ... that there are plenty of Christian fundamentalists, and Jewish fundamentalists, who take things to extremes also. Even in India, Pakistan, and surrounding countries, there is a clash between the fundmentalist strains of Islam and Hinduism. This is lamentable. The only religion, or tradition, of such stature which comes to mind, which does not have an aggressive and radical component, is Buddhism. Indeed, who ever heard of a "Buddhist fundamentalist!" :p That's a ridiculous expression and an oxymoron. I wonder why ... ;)

The Responsibility for change is global, it impacts and rests with each of us as individuals, and you are correct, Devadatta. Those who would seek to impose anything upon another - be it politics (totalitarianism), social & economic pressures (tyranny, oppression), religious ideologies (proselytism), or even Peace (!) ... are destined for failure. Change must be evoked from within (individual, collective), and if the conditions that we mutually desire can only be recognized, then each of us - and nations, collectively - can invoke them. For this reason, we should support the Charter of the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and those who work toward Brotherhood in every country, every religion, under whatever Flag or ideology. To do anything less, is to foster divisiveness and separatism, either overtly or silently ... and the suffering & destruction that results, or continues, is surely as terrible a threat - as the very violence we abhor, in the militant forms ... which we're describing in the first place.

Peace,

andreas
Bar-abbâ
 
taijasi said:
The Responsibility for change is global, it impacts and rests with each of us as individuals, and you are correct, Devadatta. Those who would seek to impose anything upon another - be it politics (totalitarianism), social & economic pressures (tyranny, oppression), religious ideologies (proselytism), or even Peace (!) ... are destined for failure. Change must be evoked from within (individual, collective), and if the conditions that we mutually desire can only be recognized, then each of us - and nations, collectively - can invoke them. For this reason, we should support the Charter of the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and those who work toward Brotherhood in every country, every religion, under whatever Flag or ideology. To do anything less, is to foster divisiveness and separatism, either overtly or silently ... and the suffering & destruction that results, or continues, is surely as terrible a threat - as the very violence we abhor, in the militant forms ... which we're describing in the first place.

Peace,

andreas Bar-abbâ

Thanks Taijasi. I appreciate your heat. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one driven a little over the top by the increasing insanity out there, and about the general complacency in the face of mounting irrationalities - especially the ancient irrationalities we can no longer afford. All our spiritual traditions, including Islam, have a potentially great role to play in reining in this runaway freight train we call modern industrial society. But they won't do it by burrowing yet more deeply into medieval dogmas. Cheers.

Sincerely,
Devadatta
 
wil said:
Namaste Devadatta,
one question I have...how do you identify infidel, similar to the question when reading Judaic law...what is the definition of gentile...for if it is us non-jewish, non muslim westerners...and the laws are to be read litterally we may have issues for a long time.

That's the problem with all fundamentalist/literalist/inerrantist idolaters of mere words. Once something's on the books, no matter how absurd, they're stuck with it.

The word is the last & perhaps most grievous idolatry. (Only love, this side of idolatry.)

Sincerely,
Devadatta
 
Devadatta said:
(Only love, this side of idolatry.)

I think I agree, but my poetry deciphering system has always been weak. One wants to believe that there is aan absolute law that will take the messiness and pain out of life. But that can only be done by love.

luna
 
lunamoth said:
Devadatta said:
(Only love, this side of idolatry.)
I think I agree, but my poetry deciphering system has always been weak. One wants to believe that there is aan absolute law that will take the messiness and pain out of life. But that can only be done by love.

luna
Idolatry is veneration of an empty shell, as contrasted to James 1:22-27. :)
 
lunamoth said:
I think I agree, but my poetry deciphering system has always been weak. One wants to believe that there is aan absolute law that will take the messiness and pain out of life. But that can only be done by love. luna

Well, I was a little obscure there. I was trying not to leave the wrong impression – my specialty! Of course I agree with you.

But a few words on the word:

arch hn o logoV, kai o logoV hn proV ton qeon, kai qeoV hn o logoV.

In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with _ God and God was the Word.

It’s interesting that for many Jews and nearly all Muslims there is the mystification of the word. It’s the text itself that’s considered the miracle, and much effort is expended to show how these texts could not be the product of a mere human mind. For Muslims in particular it’s a little ironic because here you have a book, the Qur’an, in which idolatry is repeatedly condemned and yet the book in itself can easily become an idol.

In Christianity, as you know better than I, Jesus is the word incarnate. For Muslims, this is of the highest kind of impiety. And yet this relocation of the word from text to person is also a move from material object to spiritual, i.e., a decided move away from idolatry.

Muslims & Jews of course effect the same arc from material to spiritual, by the proper use of their texts.

But New Testament Greek is not a sacred language. Instead, Christians have the special skilful means of the person of Jesus Christ. IMHO, Christians who practice based on this inner relationship are far closer to the mark than those literalists/fundamentalists/inerrantists who get so much airtime but who’s fetishizing of the text is not far from idolatry.

Sincerely,
Devadatta
 
Oops! For all you New Testament scholars out there I've just noticed I cut off the first word of the above line in Greek, so here it is again:

en arch hn o logoV, kai o logoV hn proV ton qeon, kai qeoV hn o logoV.

In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with _ God and God was the Word.

Your half-a** scholar,
Devadatta
 
seattlegal said:
Idolatry is veneration of an empty shell, as contrasted to James 1:22-27. :)

Exactly. Switching from a clay statue to a book doesn't gurantee escape from idolatry. It's all in the use. The statue could point to God, and a book could be reduced to a shell.

Sicerely,
Devadatta
 
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