“Western Civilization is not Really a Civilization”: ‘Westophobia’ in Arab Culture

The following article is by Prof. Barry Rubin, contributor to The Jerusalem Post and Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center. Prof. Rubin discusses Islamic “Westophobia”, often overlooked in Western and Arab culture, both of whom tend to blame the West for the woes of underdeveloped regions.

The idea that poverty, relative backwardness, violence and instability must be caused by external circumstances is ingrained in much of the Western intelligentsia. It contributes to a tendency to apologize for those regimes and radical groups that are the main cause of continued stagnation and suffering in the Middle East.In fact, of course, these problems are usually based more on history, culture, geography, ideology and choices made.

For example, Muslim-majority countries have much lower participation of women in society; are more rural and agricultural, and have had no enlightenment or industrial revolution. Governments don’t care about developing good health and educational systems. Lack of freedom and cultural restrictions – things changed and challenged in Europe from the 16th century onwards – harm economic development and social progress. And so on.

Yet the idea that underdevelopment or instability is caused by imperialism is so highly developed among the Western intelligentsia that it ignores the fundamental internal shortcomings that are the real problem, thus understating the problems caused by traditional culture, the need for reform or the value of the virtues that led to Western successes.

MOST REVEALING in this respect is a recent exchange between Syrian author Nidhal Na’isa and Egyptian cleric Sheikh Ibrahim al-Khouli on al-Jazeera television, October 30, 2007. Khouli said: “Western civilization is not really a civilization.”

Na’isa responded by asking, “How did you come here [Qatar] from Egypt in two hours? On camels, it used to take you over six months to make a pilgrimage.” [translations by www.memritv.org] He might have added: Who developed the technology making it possible for you to speak to millions of people through airwaves to a box with pictures and sounds?

Other Arab liberals have pointed out that the ability to build airplanes is superior to the ability to crash them into buildings (the September 11 attacks).

Of course, Khoulib doesn’t so much deny Western technological progress as consider this endeavor worthless. He explains:

“Your concept of progress and backwardness are mistaken. This materialistic, technological progress, which gave rise to homosexuality even among the Church’s clergyman and monks, who even perform same-sex marriages, is not a civilization. It is decay, in the true human sense and in the true moral sense. This runs counter to everything humanity has accepted in its long history.”

Obviously, the idea expressed here and by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – that homosexuality does not exist among Muslims – is false. Homosexuality was glorified in the Muslim medieval golden age, and Na’isa gets in a good crack when he asks about the purpose of the boys who (along with female virgins) are available to the Muslim martyr in heaven.

More basic is Khoulib’s total negation of Western culture, with which he is no doubt unfamiliar: Aristotle and the Arles of Van Gogh; Balzac, Bach and Beethoven; Cocteau, Colette and Chopin; Dickens, Descartes and Debussy; Erasmus and Einstein; Flaubert and Freud, and so on.

INDEED, there are four main pillars critical to the Middle East’s dominant ideology:

• that its problems arise from Western and Israeli oppression;

• that the struggles and violence of radical Arab nationalists and Islamists are based on genuine grievances;

• that the West behaves wrongly because it is hostile or ignorant about Arabs and Muslims;

• and that Arab and Muslim society is vastly superior to the West – which justifies their rejection of it and will ultimately pave the way for their victory over it.

The first three pillars are too commonly accepted in the West; the last is largely ignored – creating a critical flaw in Western thinking, since the key to understanding the Middle East is not “Islamophobia” in the West, but the region’s own “Westophobia.” Within this broad category we can discern many other phobias: of modernity, secularity, democracy, freedom, female equality and of Judaism and Christianity.

THE BOTTOM LINE is that change is needed not in Western policies and perceptions, but in the Middle East itself. After all, the West succeeded precisely – as Arab liberals well understand – because its societies put a priority on internal change: education and honest inquiry; productive virtues; better social infrastructure; more human and civil rights; and a freer culture.

In this regard, a British student who lived in Syria has written a personal account entitled “Syrian Journal” which reduces prevailing myths about the region to rubble. It brilliantly portrays a dictatorship using repression, demagoguery and modern public relations techniques to stay in power. Read it at: (http://tinyurl.com/yw46h9).

Then compare it to a New York Times article on precisely the same topic – “Students of Arabic Learn at a Syrian Crossroads” – which falls for every regime trick and generally portrays Syria as a pretty good society (http://tinyurl.com/2eh2ld).

Confronted by the daily avalanche of naïve nonsense or outright mendacity about the Middle East in the Western media, academia, and sometimes governments, I am haunted by something a Syrian friend told the “Syrian Journal” author:

“You know what pisses me off the most? Not the fascists here. But the appeasers in the West. What sort of message is that sending to us – those of us who want some reform, who want our children to live in an open society like you have in the West?”

7 Responses to “Western Civilization is not Really a Civilization”: ‘Westophobia’ in Arab Culture

  1. fp says:

    The best way to describe this, which I use often in my links blog, is “Upside down and backwards”. These pillars are 180 degrees from reality.

    Any expectation that the ME culture will reform itself under these circumstances cannot possibly be justified. All the more so when the west appeases these unreal notions. This is precisely what pisses the syrian off: that instead of helping the small element in the arab world which would spearhead reform, the west is undermining them (and itself).

    fp
    http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/

  2. [...] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerpt The following article is by Prof. Barry Rubin, contributor to The Jerusalem Post and Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center. Prof. Rubin discusses Islamic “Westophobia”, often overlooked in Western and Arab culture, both of whom tend to blame the West for the woes of underdeveloped regions. The idea that poverty, relative backwardness, violence and instability must be caused by external circumstances is ingrained in much of the Western intelligentsia. It contributes t [...]

  3. Lorenz Gude says:

    Sunni tribesmen from Anbar province in Iraq are not usually classified as Arab liberals, yet they have made a remarkable recoverery from Westophobia with the help of American educators using a textbook written by a Princeton Phd. Of course the American education program was greatly assisted by degenerate fanatics who sexually harassed the tribesmen’s sisters and daughters. Caroline Glick recently opined (http://tinyurl.com/3yz6tc) that Iraq is the only place the US is not pursuing a policy of empty threat and appeasement and Iraq is the only place were the result is NOT a mess, a disaster or a debacle.

  4. David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 11/20/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…

  5. fp says:

    lorenz,

    I would be careful not to attach too much significance to the case you describe.

    as has been argued here, there is a “strongman” component in the arab culture and it is quite likely that it is active in iraq. this does not necessarily signify a solid cultural change. it’s not entirely clear what will happen when the US live and in what circumstances. rifts and alliances flow with the wind.

    moreover, even if were a change, is not one that could be expanded to the whole middle-east.

    fp
    http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/

  6. fp says:

    barry,

    i don’t think he says anything new.

    i am neither an historian or a theologian but as is probably expected, I do not accept that morality and democracy are rooted in religion. I think that morals have a darwinian source, and religion, as a social arrangement, had to incorporate and reflect some of it to succeed (after all, one must ask what is the root of religion).

    but religion per se did not directly produce democracy.
    it’s only when moral elements started to be isolated from religion and further developed in a secular, not supernatural sense, that democracy emerged.

    This has not happened in islam because moral elements, to the extent that it has them, were never isolated from religion and developed in the secular-humanist sense. and one reason was precisely the divinity. that’s why islamic society never succeeded except when it subjugated and exploited other societies.

    So if the argument is that religion in its time was one of a channels via which morals led to democracy, fine. but it was not, imo, the root of the two.

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