[Marxism] To Ian Buruma

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 5 09:26:16 MST 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 By 1947 the swastika had been replaced by the 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. arms."

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 notes:

"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 democracy and 
Pepsi-Cola hating Islamicists who evoke the Orcs in The Lord of the 
Rings movie, since 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.

In Turkey, 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 was.

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


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