In recent years, there have been many attempts, on the part of representatives of world’s intellectual elite, too weaken irreconcilable antagonisms between Western and Islamic mentalities, as the ultimate mean of making this world a better place to live.
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Akbar S. Ahmed’s article “Ibn Khaldun’s Understanding of Civilizations and the Dilemmas of Islam and the West Today”, stands out as the classical example of such an attempt, because in it author strives for nothing less then substantiating the idea that peaceful coexistence of Islamic and Western civilizations is not only possible but metaphysically predetermined, and that those millions of people killed during the course of countless religious wars between Christianity and Islam, is nothing but a side-effect of believers’ inability to recognize Bible and Koran as books that promote tolerance: “The killing of innocent civilians is specifically forbidden in the Qur’an. Killing a single innocent individual is like killing all of humanity, warns the Holy Book” (Ahmed 2002, 2).
Such suggestion alone, significantly undermines article’s logical soundness, because it is exactly killing as many “infidels” as possible, which both: Bible and Quran, explicitly refer to as believers’ foremost duty: “Slay them (infidels) wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out… Such is the reward of those who suppress faith” (Holy Quran 2.191). “But those mine enemies (infidels), which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27).
Apparently, despite claiming to be an expert on Christian and Islamic religions Ahmed had failed to realize that religious wars between Christians and Muslims were not simply the “fluke of history”, but an objective outcome of both religions being mental by-products of Semitic perception of divinity, which implies the existence of “chosen people” who are in favor with God, and “unbelievers” who deserve to be exterminated.
While admitting the fact that the events of 9/11 had produced a heavy blow onto the prospect of Muslims and Christians finding a common ground for mutual respect, Ahmed still believes in negotiations and in what he refers to as “dialogue between civilizations”, as the pathway to assuring peace and stability on worldwide scale: “The events of September 11 appeared to push the world towards the idea of the clash of civilizations, but they also conveyed the urgency of the call for dialogue. The creative participation in the dialogue of civilizations, to find an internal balance between tradition and the world increasingly dominated by technological changes” (Ahmed 2002, 15).
In other words, Ahmed sings an old ecumenist song that, since there is only one God (author assumes this as something self-evident), nothing should prevent believers from praising his name as their full-time occupation, regardless of these people’s religious affiliation. Author denies conceptual validity to the idea that deterioration of relations between Western and Islamic countries, which had taken place in recent decades is geopolitically objective, as well as denying validity to Huntington’s concept of “clash of civilizations”.
Instead, author provides readers with his own insight on what caused the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism, in the first place. According to Ahmed, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism can be explained by the fact that, as time goes by, Islamic societies are becoming increasingly deprived of Asabiyya (social cohesion): “Tribal and rural groups can no longer provide asabiyya… Muslims everywhere will voice their alarm at the breakdown of society.
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They know that something is going fundamentally wrong but are not sure why” (Ahmed 2002, 7). In its turn, author exposes the loss of asabiyya, on the part of Muslims, as the result of Islamic world being affected by Globalization, which Muslims perceive as Westernization: “The scale of the collapse of asabiyya and the power and speed of globalization ― and the two appear to be related ― have challenged ideas of identity which define and shape Muslim society” (Ahmed 2002, 8).
Thus, Ahmed subtly implies that citizens in Western countries have to blame themselves for the fact that they often become targets of Islamic terrorist attacks. This idea actually represents article’s main thesis, even though it is being concealed by author’s continuous references to “education” and “dialogue”, as instruments of turning the Earth in multicultural and multi-religious utopia.
Therefore, despite the fact that in “Ibn Khaldun’s Understanding of Civilizations and the Dilemmas of Islam and the West Today”, Ahmed clearly strives to position himself as “progressive” Islamic thinker, quite incapable of promoting any form of intolerance, his article still contains proofs as to the fact that, even while praising “peace” and “tolerance”, author was never able to bring himself to personally believe in these ideals.
For example, as it appears from article’s context, it is namely the members of Afghani tribe Pukhtuns, who should be solely blamed for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism: “While commentators saw the Taliban as an “Islamic” body, few knew that as much as Islamic fervor the Taliban were driven by Pukhtunwali or the code of the Pukhtuns… There is no limitation of space or time in the implementation of Pukhtunwali: ‘I took revenge after a hundred years and I took it quickly’ is a well-known Pukhtun proverb” (Ahmed 2002, 11). The implicit idea, behind such suggestion can be formulated as follows: let’s exterminate all Pukhtuns and there will be no more Islamic fundamentalism.
In the next part of this paper we will aim at exposing the very premise, upon which article’s conclusions are based as being conceptually fallacious, as well as offering readers our own interpretation of problematics, associated with the subject matter.
As we have mentioned earlier, in his article Ahmed strives to undermine the validity of Huntington’s concept of “clash between civilizations”. The same can be said about Edward Said’s article “The Clash of Definitions”, where author ridicules the very idea that there might be objective preconditions for the Western civilization to be enjoying an undisputed dominance in today’s world, as the result of having succeeded in confrontations with other civilizations: “So strong and insistent is Huntington’s notion that other civilizations necessarily clash with the West, and so relentlessly aggressive and chauvinistic is his prescription for what West must do to continue winning, that we are forced to conclude that he is really most interested in continuing and expanding the Cold War” (Said 2000, 570). While strongly disagreeing with both article’s conclusions, we nevertheless share Ahmed and Said’s negative attitude towards the concept of “clash of civilizations”.
However, this is not due to our belief that people affiliated with different religions and cultures are incapable of clashing, but because today it is only Western world, which can be referred to as “civilization”, in full sense of this word. And the reason for this is simple – the classical notion of civilization implies never-ending cultural and scientific progress. Therefore, there are absolutely no good reasons to refer to groups of people, united by the same language, religion and geographical territory as “civilization”, for as long as these people continue to remain “stuck in time”, in allegorical context of this word.
The true explanation as to why old antagonisms now again define the relationship between Islamic and Western worlds, as it was the case during the time of Crusades, has purely objective essence. Any organized religion can only benefit a particular society when its theological tenets are being continuously revised as time goes by, in order for such religion to remain in touch with objective reality.
However, when religion becomes dogmatically petrified, as it the case with Islam, its clergy begins to encourage believers to adopt an aggressively intolerant attitude towards the very notion of cultural and scientific progress – in the eyes of Islamic fundamentalists, Western civilization’s technocratic essence points out at its ungodliness. Moreover, as it appears from Ahmed’s article, even many comparatively open-minded Islamist intellectuals, also tend to stick to such point of view.
At the end of his article, Ahmed comes up with a suggestion meant to undermine the notion of continuous cultural and scientific progress, as such that is inseparable from the notion of secularization: “The unexpected and unpredictable expressions of religious revivalism today would have surprised the philosophers and sociologists of the modern age. Certainly Nietzsche, who declared God dead, and even Max Weber who saw the Protestant Ethic as laying the foundations for a stable, safe, capitalist, and bureaucratic world, would have been surprised” (Ahmed 2002, 13).
We will dare to disagree – Nietzsche and Weber would certainly never become surprised, as the result of being exposed to socio-political realities in today’s Western countries, because in these countries the Christianity is dead de facto. It is only senile White folks, who continue to actively attend Christian churches, but even they often have a hard time while trying not to fall asleep, during the course of Sunday sermons – this motif is being excessively exploited in “Simpsons”.
On the other hand, the public life even in such comparatively secularized Muslim countries as Egypt and Turkey completely stalls five times a day, when overwhelmingly young Muslim believers get down on their knees and pray Allah, regardless of where the “time for prayer” finds them. Whereas, few Christian fundamentalists, such as Snake Handlers or Jehovah Witnesses, are best referred to as nothing but a pitiful bunch of senile clowns, only capable of causing harm to themselves, Islamic fundamentalists pose clear and immediate danger to the well-being of even such powerful countries as U.S. and Britain.
Let us not forget that it has only taken four years for America to defeat both: Germany and Japan, during the course of WW2; whereas, America’s war against single individual Osama bin Laden has been going on for eight years now with no end in sight. Why is it that, while Caucasian people in Western countries are becoming increasingly non-religious, non-Caucasian people in Muslim countries are becoming increasingly religious, while often going as far as turning their whole countries into clerical Islamic states (Iran, Afghanistan under Taliban’s rule)?
The fact that fact that more and more Caucasians feel themselves being spirituality alienated from Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, simply indicates that they continue to evolve, in intellectual sense of this word; whereas, representatives of overly religious ethno-cultural formations, on the other hand, had stopped in such their development. This explains why Muslims have been living by the “word of Allah” for about 1500 years now, without even trying to adjust Koran to contemporary realities (Taliban had made a point in forcing women to wear black cloaks over their faces, while in public) whereas, White people have been continuously trying to reinterpret Bible, so that nonsense contained in the “good book” would make more sense in their eyes.
In Chapter Thirteen of John Esposito’s textbook “The Oxford History of Islam”, S.V.R. Nasr admits that there were objective reasons that prevented Muslims from being able to secularise their statehood strategies, which in its turn had created a situation that today’s even most advanced Muslim countries can be only be referred to as part of Second World, at best: “The continued political importance of Islam, its relevance to the struggle against colonialism in particular, has prevented secular nationalism from completely dominating politics in the Muslim world.
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This has in turn made state formation, and its relation to pre-colonial and colonial eras, complex and at times problematic” (The Oxford History of Islam, 1999, 549). As history indicates, there is not even a single example of nation-states being able to benefit from adopting an integral approach towards organized religion. Apparently, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are having a hard time, while coming to terms with this simple truth.
Therefore, we can actually agree with the following Ahmed’s statement: “Religion is no longer an “opiate” numbing people into docility; if one needs a drug metaphor, it is more like “speed” (Ahmed 2002, 13). Religion is nothing but a narcotic and it is namely non-Caucasians who get hooked on it with an amazing ease. It not simply an accident that upon their arrival to Britain, Pakistani immigrants do not only fail to adopt a more secularized mode of existence, but they actually strive to turn Britain into a “Northern Pakistan”, while seriously suggesting that the laws of Sharia should be incorporated into British common law.
Thus, it is exactly the influx of non-White immigrants into traditionally White countries that provides a ground for people like Akbar S. Ahmed to speculate that it is too early to proclaim the “death of God”. In Chapter Fourteen of “The Oxford History of Islam”, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad articulates Westerners’ concerns, in regards to “islamization” of Europe in somewhat ironic manner: “The emigration and settlement of Muslims from more than seventy nations to the West has been of some concern. For those in the West who believe in the purity of race, civilization, and culture, or in a supersessionist “Judeo-Christian” worldview, this movement of Muslims is a menacing threat to what they believe to be a homogeneous Western society” (The Oxford History of Islam 1999, 601).
Yet, the real reason why majority of Westerners actively resist the process of “islamization” is because of their utter allegiance to the principle of separation between Church and State, which in its turn corresponds to their essentially anti-religious mode of existence. Apparently, these people are aware that, once Britain completely turns into a “Northern Pakistan”, France into a “Northern Algeria” and U.S. into a “Northern Mexico” – world will be plunged into 21st century’s equivalent of Dark Ages era.
This is the reason why blatant anti-eurocentrism, which defines the semantic properties of Edward Said’s article from which we have quoted earlier, points out to the fact that author is simply being utterly ignorant as to what he tries to argue, in the first place: “I find his (Huntington’s) use of the words “culture” and “civilization” extremely sloppy, precisely because for him the two words present fixed and reinforced objects, rather than the dynamic, ceaselessly turbulent things that they in fact are” (Said 2000, 581). In author’s eyes, drawing associations between the notions of “culture” and “Western civilization” represents an offence against the spirit of political correctness. However, since such an “offence” is not the subject of criminal law yet, we will dare to disagree with Said.
As history shows, every time Westerners were being forced to leave “developing” countries, especially due to “national liberation movements”, these countries would instantly stop developing and to begin rapidly descending back into primeval savagery (Zimbabwe). And the reason for this is simple – it is namely the fact that Western civilization remained utterly dynamic and only superficially religious, throughout the bulk of its history, which allowed it to attain an undisputed geopolitical dominance.
Thus, we can say that today’s confrontation between Western and Islamic worlds is best described in terms of evolutional progress vs. entropy (life vs. death), rather then in terms of civilization vs. civilization. We can also refer to it in terms of objective science vs. morality. However, as we are well aware of, within a context of science vs. religious morality the latter does not stand even a slightest chance.
Ahmed, Akbar S. “Ibn Khaldun’s Understanding of Civilizations and the Dilemmas of Islam and the West Today”. The Middle East Journal 56.1 (2002): 20–45.
Esposito, John. “The Oxford History of Islam”. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999.
Said, Edward. “The Clash of Definitions”. In Reflections on Exile and other Essays. 569-90. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.
Scofield Study Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
The Holy Quran. London: Society for Islamic Unity, 1999.
- Introduction / Outline of Ahmed article’s thesis.
- Critical engagement with Ahmed’s argumentation / Conclusion.