THIS SHORT BOOK attempts to diagnose the nature, the cause and the goal of anti-Western attitudes in the world today. Buruma and Margalit's primary target is the Islamist war on Western jahiliyya. This word (from jahila, 'to be ignorant') was used by Muhammad to designate the pagan condition of Arabia prior to the revelation of the Koran. Buruma and Margalit render it as 'barbarism', in order to capture the kind of offence that the Western world presents to the feelings of puritanical Muslims. But their target is not only the Islamism of Bin Laden, for they see this as merely one manifestation of an attitude that has been with us since the Enlightenment. This attitude, they claim, can be witnessed in a variety of literary, religious and political movements, from the State Shintoism of Meiji Japan to the Nazi cult of race, and from the Maoist revolution in China to the Russian Slavophile belief in the purity and passion of the untainted Russian soul.
Their bold assimilation of such disparate cultural and political phenomena is explained in part by the title of Buruma and Margalit's book. They employ the word 'Occidentalism' as a riposte to Edward Said, whose highly influential book Orientalism