Be anti-West, be Islamic

Published: December 6, 2010
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The word ‘’West’’ is used as a rhetorical tool to silence liberal Muslims. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Iranian intellectual Jalal Al-e Ahmed first coined the term ‘’Westoxification’’. Ahmed used this term in the context of a stinging critique of ‘’Western civilization’’ and ‘’Western technology’’. He vividly describes this malady of economic, cultural and social disenchantment brought about by Iranian trying to imitate Western models:

‘’I say that gharbzadegi (the Persian term used by Ahmed for Westoxification)  is like cholera (or) frostbite. But no. It’s at least as bad as sawflies in the wheat fields. Have you ever seen how they infest wheat? From within. There’s a healthy skin in places, but it’s only a skin, just like the shell of a cicada on a tree.’’

Needless to say, this concept was attractive to a lot of people including Ayatollah Khomeini, though even today we can detect this same sort of rhetoric in the works of fundamentalist intellectuals like Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Maududi. Furthermore, fundamentalist activists and proponents have used this use of Westoxification widely as an effort to try and deflect criticism of Muslim societies. I have seen this very same use of ‘’Westoxification’’ used on these blogs on Tribune.

But I am not concerned with the validity of Ahmed’s argument but rather with the contemporary usage of the word ‘’West’’ as a rhetorical tool to silence liberal Muslims, especially in contemporary Pakistan. If anything, it is not liberal Muslims who argue for democratic politics, with a framework of political secularism, human rights, equality and welfare who are obsessed with the West. Nor are those liberal Muslims who bravely carry out intellectual critique of our traditions and thinkers of the past in an effort to broaden our understanding of faith. If anything it is Pakistani extremists and fundamentalists who are obsessed with the West.

The draconian blasphemy law

A case in point is the recent case with the blasphemy laws. Now a lot of articles and arguments were constructed against the need for blasphemy laws, and many of the arguments focused on the religious, ethical and political validity of such a draconian law. Indeed, very few if any articles arguing against the blasphemy laws made a reference to the ‘’West’’. But the intellectually bankrupt fundamentalists could only come back with one argument in support for the blasphemy laws, and that went something like this:

‘’We should not imitate the West, we should be proud of who we are and our religion. Just because the West has ‘’freedom’’ doesn’t mean we should copy this’’.

This sort of nonsense was widespread, and I myself had these comments on my blog entry on the blasphemy case. But this is just abject laziness on the part of fundamentalists who instead of engaging with the very strong religious and moral arguments against the blasphemy laws try and deflect attention by citing the ‘’West’’.

It is this intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary conservative fundamentalism not only in Pakistan but across the Muslim World which is worrying. It seems proponents of such a philosophy have no real ethical, spiritual, moral or intellectual basis for their ideas. It seems their only motto, is ‘’the more anti-West the more Islamic’’. But this is just shocking xenophobia which runs contrary to the universalistic nature of the Islamic creed.

Islam of identity vs Islam of truth

The first philosopher of Islam, Al-Kindi was also faced with this same sort of dogmatism which was so fixated on notions of identity, pride and tradition that most scholars forgot the wider questions of truth, morality and justice:

‘’We must not be ashamed to admire the truth or to acquire it, from wherever it comes. Even if it should come from far-flung nations and foreign peoples, there is for the student of truth nothing more important than the truth, nor is the truth demeaned or diminished by the one who states or conveys it; no one is demeaned by the truth, rather all are ennobled by it.’’

The Prophet (PBUH) also remarked poetically that wisdom is the lost camel of the believer, meaning that we should only concern ourselves with the soundness of arguments and not be bothered by race, culture or identity. Indeed as AbdolKarim Soroush points out in his work, it seems some Muslims are obsessed with the ‘’Islam of Identity’’ instead of the ‘’Islam of Truth’.

Modern Muslim societies have become so obsessed with the West due to extremist propaganda, that they have become intellectually paralysed, and morally stunted in trying to outline new frameworks of politics and religious knowledge. Such is the obsession with the West, that conservative fundamentalists have retreated into a crass religious exclusivity, fostering intolerance and a deep seated hatred for those who disagree with them.

Common fallacies explained

Conservative fundamentalists have arrogated the seat of judgment- a seat reserved for God only- for themselves so that they can secure power with no questions asked. But the problem is that if you dig deeper through the works of extremist intellectuals there is nothing of substance. There is only rhetoric, chest-beating and emotional rants about imperialism and the West.

Conservative fundamentalists hence commit some flawed reasoning illustrated in these common fallacies that can be identified throughout their work and rhetoric:

False dilemma This is when fundamentalist ideologues try to portray that there are only ever two options to the complex problems that Muslim societies face, and these two option are only ‘’Islam’’ or ‘’disbelief’’. There is no room for complexity in the minds of such ideologues, for that would undermine their claim to absolute truth.
Ad nauseam This is a common fallacy; when faced with difficult questions and contradictions in their ideas, fundamentalist ideologues just keep repeating the same point over and over again or alternatively appeal to an infallible authority.
Appeal to ridicule This is a form of personal attack against an opponent, usually by making crass remarks about the opponents arguments such as, ‘’You are only a stooge of the West, who blindly follows their ideas’’. It is an attempt to mock the opponent to inspire an emotional reaction from the audience.
Circular reasoning Fundamentalist intellectuals try and make an appeal to the authority of certain Muslim jurists of the past, so if fundamentalists think that the blasphemy law is right by making an appeal to a certain Muslim jurist (who they think is right anyway), how does it prove the validity of the blasphemy law? You cannot prove that jurist X was right by simply saying he was a great scholar, because that is circular reasoning.
False attribution Such is the intellectually bankrupt nature of conservative fundamentalists, that they falsely describe and define concepts such as ‘’secularism’’ or ‘’human rights’’ regularly and consistently. So ‘’secularism’’ means not to believe in God, and ‘’human rights’’ are a tool of imperial control. Nice…
Moving the goal posts Fundamentalist intellectuals love to critique Western society, but if you try and point out some glaring moral disasters in Muslim society, they will simply say ‘’Each country has it’s own system’’. So different societies have to be judged differently, in an effort to justify the extremist ideologues’ ranting.
Reification Treating an abstract entity like ‘’ Islam’’ for instance as if it were a living person or actual physical entity, for example, ‘’Islam tells us we must not pass human rights legislation from the UN’’. Actually, ‘’Islam’’ did not tell you do that, it is simply your own interpretation of the religion. ‘’Islam’’ is not a human being who can speak for itself, there is always a complex process of reasoning and interpretation involved.
No true Scotsman fallacy Pakistani Muslims committing acts of terror/murder? Fundamentalists try and explain this away by saying, ‘’no true Muslim would do such a thing, hence it must be the work of foreign agents’’. This is a form of pathetic dogmatism.
Ad hominem Proponents of conservative fundamentalists frequently attack the personal integrity and character of their opponents rather than actually engaging with the substance of the arguments. I frequently read how some ‘’liberal columnists’’ in the Pakistani media are CIA agents, but you will never see these dogmatic writers engage with the actual arguments themselves.
Argumentum ad baculum Instead of having a civil discussion, some fundamentalists will make an appeal to use force: “If you don’t agree with me then we will threaten you” being the most crass and crude form of dogmatism available in the fundamentalist arsenal.
Appeal to motive I’m sick and tired of reading and listening to how we must ‘’judge the intentions of liberal columnists’’ instead of actually reading what they write. This is the fallacy of appeal to motive. This is a great way of distracting attention away from any embarrassing contradictions in fundamentalist thought.

These are just a few fallacies, but it seems to me that the guiding priority of conservative fundamentalism is simply to oppose the West no matter what.

Unfortunately, this does not foster a genuine sense of moral integrity, intellectual validity or spiritual fulfillment. Instead we are using our religion as a crude shield to try and escape from the challenges of the modern world. It seems that the worst case of Westoxification is affecting our emotional fundamentalist proponents, who cannot make a single point without mentioning the West. How very sad…

ali.ahmad

Ahmad Ali

A medical student and freelance writer who tweets @AhmadAliKhalid

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.