The Politics of Conceptualizing Islam and the West [Full Text]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 18.3 (Winter 2004/2005)

December 16, 2004

What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, Bernard Lewis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 208 pp., $23 cloth, $12.95 paper.

Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 160 pp, $21.95 cloth.

Thinking Past Terror: Islamism and Critical Theory on the Left, Susan Buck-Morss (New York: Verso, 2003), 160 pp., $22 cloth.

In the last three years, a large number of books have been published, all trying to answer the now-classic post–September 11 question: Why do they, "the Muslims," dislike or hate "us"?—with the "us" variously defined as the United States, the West, or the modern world. Scholarly and nonscholarly curiosity on this topic is not limited to the history of al-Qaeda and a small network of fundamentalist terrorists but also tries to explain why untold numbers of Muslim intellectuals have critical, and even hostile, opinions of the United States and Western civilization. Are critiques of the "West" peculiar to the Muslim world? Are they a reflection of a simple discontent with the international order or a conservative rejection of Western-originated, universal modernity? How should Western intellectuals and leaders respond to the Muslim critiques of modernity, the international order, and Western civilization?