How do authors Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit define the characteristics of religious Occidentalism in their chapter "The Wrath of God" found in Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One defining characteristic of religious Occidentalism is the belief that modernization through industrialization leads to jahiliyya. The word jahiliyya translates to ignorance or barbarism. More specifically, its the belief that powerful leaders of powerful nations in the West constantly "seduce" their citizens into turning their back on God and instead worship materialism, such as wealth and military weaponry (p. 104). It's also the belief that powerful leaders are arrogant in that they try to manifest God's power through their own world domination. According to religious Occidentalists, "Worldly authority demands political loyalty that rivals what we owe God" (p. 105). Both worshiping materialism rather than God and worshiping other powers other than God are forms of idolatry, and many biblical passages can be pointed to that liken idolatry with harlotry, or seduction. Hence, in the eyes of religious Occidentalists, the West demonstrates jahiliyya through idolizing materialism and through usurping God's power.

A second defining characteristic of religious Occidentalism is the rejection of Manichaeism. The religion of Manichaeism was formed around a creation myth depicting the universe being created of both a good realm, which was the realm of light, and an evil realm, which was the realm of darkness. According to the Manichaeism creation myth, one day darkness saw the realm of light and wanted it for its own. Darkness's desire created a "cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil," leaving the world in the state in which we know it (p. 107). What's especially important to note is that Manichaeanism teaches the existence of "two separate, independent realms of good and evil," both "ruled by equally powerful forces," which is a theology that Islam rejects. Islam can only believe in "one source for all existence," which is God (p. 107). Therefore, religious Occidentalists see the West, which is controlled by materialism, as being controlled by both the realms of good and evil, which cannot exist in the eyes of religious Occidentalists and must be fought against. Hence, religious Occidentalists see themselves as fighting their own Manichaean war because they see the West as worshiping evil materialism and being the realm of evil, while the East contains the true worshipers of God and is the realm of true spirituality (p. 109).

A third characteristic is the belief that modernization through industrialization leads to "secularization," or rejection of God (p. 112). The reason is because industrialization can only be accomplished through advances in science and technology. New understandings of science lead to new understandings of how the world works, how it was created. For example, the industrial age brought with it a new belief in evolution and a rejection of biblical creationism. Hence, in the eyes of religious Occidentalists, industrialization can only lead to denial of God and worship of science and technology, which is again idolatry.

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