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The cult of exile

Modern intellectuals should stand up for outcasts. But not by pretending to be outcasts themselves

By Ian Buruma   March 2001

Exile is in fashion. It evokes images of a critical spirit operating on the margins of society, a traveller, rootless and yet at home in every metropolis, a tireless wanderer from conference to academic conference, a thinker in several languages, an eloquent advocate for minorities, in short, a romantic outsider living on the edge of the bourgeois world.

This may sound frivolous. For exile is surely no fun. There is nothing glamorous about the poor shivering Tamil, sleeping on a cold, plastic bench at Frankfurt railway station, or an Iraqi, fleeing from Saddam’s butchers, afraid of walking the streets of…

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