Sunday, November 11, 2007

Others' vices

From a review of Ibn Warraq's Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Said's thinking, which has destroyed departments of Middle Eastern Studies throughout the world by turning scholars into activists (which means they do both things badly - as do journalists who propogate Pallywood fictions), is finally coming under consistent attack. The latest is this book by Ibn Warraq, the review of which includes the quote below.

Warraq then turns to Said’s misrepresentation of the West as a xenophobic culture, fearful of the “Other” and cultural difference. Warraq explodes this canard by identifying what he calls the “three golden threads” woven through Western culture since the time of the Greeks: rationalism, universalism, and self-criticism. As Warraq argues, Western intellectual curiosity has driven an interest in other cultures and peoples and created a magnificent edifice of scholarship formalizing that interest. The Western notion of a universal human nature reinforced this intellectual openness to other cultures. And self-criticism has been the engine of the West’s improvement, leading to the rejection of traditional practices that were unjust or inefficient, as Warraq shows with his discussion of the British Empire’s war on slavery. In fact, the West’s most trenchant critics, Said included, have always been Westerners.

It is the absence of these golden threads, Warraq believes, not Western crimes abetted by “Orientalism,” that accounts for the backwardness and stagnation of the Muslim Middle East—a region that with few exceptions lacks interest in other peoples, adheres unthinkingly to fossilized traditions, and is unable to look critically at its failures. These characteristics have fostered a paranoid cult of victimhood that blames the West for the failures of Middle Eastern regimes. Said’s work encourages such thinking: “In cultures already immune to self-criticism,” Warraq writes, “Said helped Muslims and particularly Arabs, perfect their already well-developed sense of self-pity.”

To which should be added:

Warraq, however, is honest enough to accept that his three golden threads have a tendency to degenerate into dangerous weaknesses. Rationalism becomes scientism, universalism becomes a flabby tolerance that disguises a lack of conviction, and self-criticism becomes an irrational self-hatred. Add multiculturalism’s sentimental adulation of a non-Western “Other,” superior to the money-grubbing Westerner, and the self-loathing West has essentially validated the jihadists’ reasons for wanting to destroy it.


Hazar Nesimi said...

Said plays right into our prejudices at the time when the self-reflection was needed in the Muslim world - retrospectively the best time, when this self-reflection and criticism was at its peak was in early 20th century - also the high time for orientalists. World War I stopped the reform in in its track, and here - i have to admit - the role of colonialims is very strong, in addition to the lack of the local willpower. Could things have been different... perhabs, but Muslim world was already at the point of no return by then. The lack of interest in outside world has intensified after World War I. I dont like Warraq especially for his saccarine praises for the Western society, but he has a point

Riri said...

We deserve everything we get I suppose. The only way to defend ourselves is to rebuild ourselves, with silent dignity. Emotional outpourings of rage and hatred which stem obviously from our complex of helpless inferiority does nothing but humiliate us further....Let them talk, let them hate, let them caricature...we have better fish to fry and it is getting desperately urgent!

NoolaBeulah said...

I must confess that the reason I reproduce these things is not so much for what they say about the Muslim world, but for what they say about us. That was really the reason I started this blog; I was sick and tired of the educated elite and their cultural self-denigration.

But not only were we doing ourselves a disfavour, but in seeing the rest of the world only as 'victims of Western imperialism, capitalism, etc', we reduced their actions to mere reactions to the West. Insofar as the victims accepted this viewpoint, they were also made weaker.

But I think you are both saying that anyway, so there's not much point in me going on about it.

Riri said...

But recognising our faults is always a good thing. We have been a victim of colonialism, tough luck. We can still rebuild our strength but it will take us longer that's all. I know how frustrating it might sound to a Westerner when some educated elite keep blaming the West, but believe me it is the best there is about you (meaning the West), your power lies in your constant self-criticism. If only we were like that, everything would be much better for us....