Kaplan’s savage Orientalism

The senior US journalist Robert Kaplan is well-connected and famous, a master of prose. He is versed in wrapping his international forays with word-pictures of place, person and context. His texts may ramble in places, but they are rarely ornate. The 'word foliage' displays that do appear are designed to be pleasing, and are sometimes capped with striking titles – what could be more catchy, for instance, than the title of his Sri Lanka-focused piece in the September 2009 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, "Buddha's Savage Peace"? But these invitations to buy into his investigations of the political terrain are mixed with dubious contentions. Notably, his recent interpretations of the Sri Lankan political scene are as simplistic as they are misleading.

Although a longtime reporter, Kaplan was first widely recognised for his striking essay from February 1994, "A Coming Anarchy", also published in the Atlantic. This article was prefaced by the line, "How scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet." Kaplan is currently a national correspondent for The Atlantic, and his essays regularly feature in leading US newspapers. He has revealed remarkable versatility, and ventured into many battle terrains – authoring several books, including Warrior Politics: Why leadership demands a pagan ethos (2001), Imperial Grunts: The American military on the ground (2005) and even a travel book entitled Mediterranean Winter.

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