December 20, 2004


Interesting tidbit from Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies, by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit:

Most revolutions, religious, political, or combinations of both, are born in citites, as the brainchildren of disaffected city dwellers. Nikola Koljevic, to mention but one typical case, was a Shakespeare scholar from Sarajevo. He spent time in London and the United States. His English was fluent. He was a citizen of the most cosmopolitan place in the Balkans, a secular city of Bosnians, Serbs, Jews, and Croats, a city famous for its libraries, universities, and cafes, a city of learning and trade. Yet there he was, in the mid-1990s, watching his city burn from the surrounding hills. The orders to shell Sarajevo, in the name of ethnic purity and the "resurrection of Serbdom," had been signed by Nikola Koljevic, Shakespeare scholar.

I'm not sure how being a Shakespeare scholar makes one the epitome of urbanization or, for that matter, how the barbarism of the Serb nationalists could be termed a revolution (this book is filled with paragraphs that don't hold up under close inspection), but what I find interesting is why anyone would confuse intelligence or education with a moral sense, as if the former automatically demanded the latter.

Posted by Ideofact at December 20, 2004 12:44 AM

...confuse intelligence or education with moral sense, as if the former automatically demanded the latter.

Indeed, why is this confusion rampant?

Or is this a case of the intelligent revolutionary being viewed as morally superior?
(forget for a moment what it is that he wants to do, and what he is revolting against...just remember that he is revolting against something, and destroying something in the old order...)

Posted by: steve h at December 21, 2004 04:51 PM

I don't think the authors have fallen for revolutionary chic. The book, by the way, isn't too bad overall.

Posted by: Bill at December 21, 2004 05:31 PM

I think the assumption here is not linking education to morality, but that a man who has traveled widely, and has a deep knowledge of other languages and cultures, is less likely to be a xenophobe or bigot.

It's still dubious. To cite a few examples, Qutb, Khomeini, and Pol Pot lived in democracies; Pol Pot had, IIRC, an advanced degree from a prestigious Parisian university. Milosevic had also visited many countries as an official of the Yugoslav central bank.

It does seem true, however, that to be a scholar of a foreign culture is a strange career choice for a nationalist fanatic. I can't immediately think of any similar examples.

Posted by: Alex at December 25, 2004 12:41 AM