Ian Buruma on
to www.marxmail.org on February 5, 2004
Dear Professor Ian Buruma,
As a Bard College
graduate from the class of 1965, I continue to be impressed by the
transformation of what Walter Winchell called
"the little red whorehouse on the Hudson"
into a wholly owned subsidiary of George Soros's Open
Society. Along with your fellow NY Review of Books contributor Mark Danner on
the Human Rights faculty, Bard seems uniquely positioned to lead the legions of
the Cruise Missile liberal-left.
In the latest Chronicle of Higher Education (http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i22/22b01001.htm),
you have an article titled "The Origins of Occidentalism" that stakes
out the rather courageous position that the West must resist Islamic
radicalism. One reading it is reminded of those propaganda films from WWII when
a swastika was seen sweeping across Europe like a vast
oil spill on the Atlantic. By 1947 the swastika had been
replaced by the hammer-and-sickle. And, today, in the latest phase of the war
against the Other, the symbol of evil is the Islamic
crescent. Joining with Thomas Friedman and other guardians of the Rational and
Enlightened West, you look to Turkey
as a symbol of what the rest of the Islamic world can become:
"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.
In your view, the war against the West has less to do with
imperialism or global inequality than it does with hatred for modernization and
universalism. Since Jews supposedly symbolize these values, they are singled
out by terrorists. Supposedly, Islamic radicals are following in the footsteps
of European fascists and Japanese militarists who "sought to smash
'Americanism,' Anglo-Saxon liberalism, and 'rootless cosmopolitanism' (meaning
Jews)." Hence, Auschwitz, Pearl Harbor
and 9/11 become amalgamated.
One wonders where you get this prettified version of
Anglo-American society. My studies of English and US
history leave me with an entirely different perception. Rather than a tableaux
based on the Bill of Rights, NPR's "All Things Considered" and the Universalist Unitarian Church, I see an open sewer of blood
and shit. In John Toland's biography of Hitler, he
"Hitler's concept of concentration camps as well as the
practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English
and United States
history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa And for the
Indians in the Wild West; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency
of America's extermination-by starvation and uneven combat-of the 'Red Savages'
who could not be tamed by captivity."
In other words, Hitler drew inspiration from your
"liberal" and "rational" Great
Britain and USA
when it came to core aspects of his genocidal program. Not to speak of his
admiration for another element of our culture. Nazi marching band music was
copied from American Ivy League football rallies that Hitler heard on records
brought back to Germany
from one of his henchmen who had been at Harvard.
It also seems highly specious to depict pro-Western
moderates in Islamic countries as defending democracy from a siege mounted by
Pepsi-Cola hating Islamicists who evoke
the Orcs in The Lord of the Rings movie. History teaches a somewhat different lesson.
In 1992, when being poised to won an electoral majority, the
Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was thwarted by the Algerian army which arrested
most of its leadership. Since then, guerrillas fighting in the name of the FIS
and its more radical offshoot, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), have fought a
terrorist war with the Algiers
regime. It is difficult for any rational and fair-minded person to choose sides
in a war which has cost civilian lives on either side, although you appear to
profess sympathy for the uniformed torturers whose disrespect for democracy
touched off this disaster.
the story is depressingly similar although at less cost to civilian bystanders.
In 1998 the moderate Welfare Party, which was also the largest party in
Parliament, was banned and its leaders were charged with sedition. Although the
ban was expressed in terms of suppressing fundamentalist challenges to Kemalist secularism, it seems much more likely that
unhappiness over an 80 percent annual inflation was being channeled through the
Islamist party, just as resentment over corruption and poverty in Algeria
Since the United States
and England had
backed all and any efforts in the Arab and Islamic world to smash Marxist
parties, it is no big surprise that hatred of imperialist exploitation is
taking a rather atavistic form as hijacked planes are used as terrorist
weapons. As Malcolm X, another Islamic radical once said, the chickens are
coming home to roost.
Louis Proyect, '65