Tuesday, March 01, 2005

'Islamic culture: An easy scapegoat'

I permitted myself to post the whole article by Soumayya Ghannoushi who is a researcher in the history of ideas at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London; in the hope that you will read it to the end. This is what many people from that area [Middle East] think (not neccessarily my opinion), to reach them and show them the sincerety of the West and Bush's plans in meddling in their affairs you may have to consider a 'different' approach then villifying their religion, humiliating them at every turn and destroying their homeland by continuous interventions.; so that eventually they can turn to their own projects of reformation and democratisation with all that it entitles.
Ok enough blabbering here is the article .

"Ever since the monumental day of 11 September 2001, the world has been inundated by stale cliches and dim-witted myths, poorly disguised as honest academic research and free, objective journalism.
In this great hyperbole, the world appears broken into two opposite trenches: a sphere of freedom, morality and civility, confronted by its antithesis: an enslaved barbaric realm that encapsulates all that "we" are not.
The far-stretching lands of Islam loom largely in this bleak uncivilised sphere. If the modern West is dynamic, the world of Islam is stagnant. If it is governed democratically and honours self-ownership, Islam is plagued by a despotism that crushes the individual altogether out of existence. If it is rigorously rational, the world of Islam is the embodiment of raving instincts and wild emotionalism.
This discourse, which derives its roots from the tradition of Orientalism responsible for rearticulating and institutionalising the enormous arsenal of mediaeval Christian terms, narratives, images and myths about Islam and its world, had been severely undermined by the waves of Third World national liberation movements and the ever-growing tradition of post-colonial studies which question the essentialism and readymade models asserting the uniqueness and cultural purity of the West as opposed to the East's backwardness and stagnation.

With the dramatic events of September 11, however, this discourse was able to rear its ugly imperialist and colonialist head once more, reformulate its postulates and recycle its old stereotypes of Muslims, their world and faith.
What had 30 years ago been cause for embarrassment and disrepute, was once again restored to normality, even respectability. Muslims thus found themselves the object of incessant condemnation and vilification.
When it comes to the subject of Islam and Muslims, even the most elementary requirements of responsible objective scientific research could be dispensed withWhile not even the weak, marginalised Muslim minorities in the West were spared, the world powers that reign over the destiny of the Middle East and the greater part of the Muslim hemisphere assumed the role of the innocent victim of "Islamic aggression", who bore no responsibility whatever for the tragic crises of the region, from war, chaos and occupation to economic backwardness and political despotism.
Even those of little if any knowledge of Islam and its intensely complex historical condition, movements and traditions now entered the unrestricted open market of Islam.
When it comes to the subject of Islam and Muslims, even the most elementary requirements of responsible objective scientific research could be dispensed with.
We have thus become used to seeing parts of Quranic verses extricated from their contexts and combined with other fragments to distort the general meaning, to hearing Quranic verses confused with sayings of the prophet and talk of otherworldly punishment and reward represented as rules determining treatment of non-believers in this world.
And daily we bear witness to the hideous spectacle of ignorance, arrogance and prejudice parading freely across the larger part of the countless analyses, columns and articles on Islam and its world that stretch across pages and pages of newspapers, glossy magazines and academic reviews.

The 19th century European travellers' distant detached observations of the strange ways of the Muslim other, the Christian missionary, colonial administrator and military generals' representations of the remote world of Islam, are now replaced by ones by journalists, Islamologists and so-called experts.
The distorted and confused conception of the Islamic faith and historical experience these hold finds its roots in three elements essentially. First, a recycled Christian memory of Islam that remained active even in the era of secularisation.
The mediaeval Christian view of Islam as a deviant heretical creed continues to survive within a "secularised" framework. For although Christian theology has lost the vanguard role it had enjoyed during the Middle Ages, its content has been largely stripped of its transcendental character and rearticulated within a modern essentialist philosophy.
Secondly, the shift in the balance of power in favour of the modern west and emergence of an international order that gave the upper hand to the European powers over the rest of the globe, mainly in the south Mediterranean hemisphere. And, finally, the deep crises and high level of political disintegration that accompanied the accelerated decline of the Ottoman Empire and, since the beginning of the 19th century, came to characterise the whole Muslim world.
These three interconnected factors gave the modern west leave to silence Islam's voice and impose itself as the unique power of logos, of understanding, revealing, categorising and modulating Islam and its societies.

Since culture is an easy target, readymade postulates and categories are constantly invoked to explain all the ills plaguing the Muslim world. And it is precisely through this gate that thinkers with little acquaintance with Islam have engaged in a polemical discourse on Islam overwhelmed with superficiality, generalisation and distortion.
But beyond the superficial cultural explanations behind which hide western elites and decision makers, how can we make sense of the crises that dominate the scene in the Muslim world in general and the Arab region in particular? Could we dissociate the current condition of this sensitive part of the globe from its active near past, from the colonial policies and foreign interventions that still dictate much of its fate?
Could we separate the region's situation from the mammoth structure of a world order governed by great powers headed by the American giant, which reign over the destinies of the people of the Middle East?
If we are to gain insight into the grave phenomena emerging in the Islamic world, we must begin by freeing ourselves of the blind, naive essentialism characteristic of a great many analyses of the problem, which seek theological explanations for highly complex historical phenomena.
The intensely intricate nature of the Islamic socio-political situation marked by striking contradictions and strong tensions is better understood when viewed within the context of the waves of Western imperialist expansion, of the crises of the post-colonial state and the reality of social deprivation, economic dependence and decadent educational systems unable to fill the vacuum generated by the erosion of traditional learning centres, along with the marginalisation of the Muslim masses from the political system.

The situation is further complicated by American foreign policies in the Middle East, its backing of Israel's military occupation of Palestinian land and shameful military occupation of Iraq, which according to the most modest estimate available, has resulted in the deaths of over one hundred thousand Iraqis and wrought havoc in the country's infrastructure.
The countless innocent Iraqi lives it wrecks and the enormous American resources it devours (a colossal $240 million) are in the eyes of the architects of this latest of America's colonial ventures, justified by the underlying aim: imposing military dominance over this country, thereby laying hands over its enormous oil fields and subduing the entire strategic Arab region to American hegemony fully.
Only the terminally naive and politically blind may, indeed, be duped by the heroic rhetoric of bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq and the region. If anything, the US is widely regarded by the majority in the Middle East as a crucial obstacle in their struggle for freedom from oppression.
It is interesting that the most despotic states in the Middle East region are those who have the closest ties with the US and its Western allies. One, indeed, may legitimately ask if such totalitarianism is the product of Islam, or whether it is the creation of Western policies themselves.

It is to the West's hegemonic self-engrossed policies and bleak historical record in the region that we should turn if we are to understand the causes of the great turmoil shaking Muslim societies to their very depths.
Indeed, much to the horror of the journalists and intellectuals acting as the "enlightened missionaries" of new colonialism, it is America's statesmen, generals and moneymen that hold the key to our search for the origins of "Islamic" fanaticism and extremism, not the texts of the Quran or the tradition of Islam's Prophet as they never tire of repeating.
And even if we chose to accept Bush and Blair's rhetoric that places the "enlightened free world" above and in opposition to the rest of humanity staggering under the weight of fanaticism and extremism and if we were to see bin Laden and al-Zarqawi as the natural product of an Islamic culture in need of remoulding through educational reforms, we would still be faced with the following question:
What of the expressions of fanaticism in the Western "free" world itself? Where are we to classify yesterday's brutal totalitarianisms of the likes of Nazism, fascism and Stalinism and today's ascending extreme political right?

Could Le Pen of France, Jorg Haider of Austria or the deceased Dutch rightwing politician Pim Fortuyn be described as by products of the mighty western modernity and its sublime cultural values?
If that is the case, then a process of cultural reform would seem to be even more urgently needed in the west, since unlike the elements emerging from the shadowy impoverished and powerless Muslim world, these rising forces have at the service of their fanaticism, once in power, a staggeringly potent military machine that threatens to bring death and destruction to much of the globe.
Once more, the keys to world peace and stability it seems are in the hands of the "enlightened free world", not in the realm of darkness and decadence that stretches across the rest of the globe; in Washington and London not in Baghdad and Gaza."


Louise said...

Hmmm!! Reminds me of the old saying that when you point an accusing finger at someone, you might do well to notice the direction the rest of your fingers are pointing. So many times the "accusation" itself is the very thing that it accuses of. This article has many such statements. Am frankly, I am more than a little tired of stereotypers lambasting the stereotypers for stereotyping by sterotyping them, if you get my drift. This horse is dead and he should quit beating it. If he wants some fresh thinking, perhaps he should teach by example.

Highlander said...

I agree with you on several points Louise, but I needed to show you and others how many of the ordinary people think so that if someone wanted to reach to them they would find a way. We can't be all enlightened now can we ? otherwise there would be no problem. I admit it was a long post so thank you for actually reading it and making the effort to comment. :)

AlanK said...

Libyan that must have taken some time to find

The article does make some interesting points, but it fails to address any issues in islam, not to mention being very defeatist and pessimistic.

One point being that it treats the islamic world as a whole monolithic culture as well as that of the west rather than of different groups and nations, as it makes no distinction between politically secular nations like libya and more religious regimes like saudia arabia. also ignores differences in west eg US, Uk and France + Russia.

but analysis was interesting to read if flawed

Libyan one question, if that is true that is what people think what solution do you think would be best. Big question I admit

Highlander said...

Good question Alan, I'll answer very briefly in this comment as I'm planning a post about that...to leave you guys a bit more in suspense I guess ;). Anyway to address this question Muslims must take a hard look at themselves and study the possibilities of some reforms in the same light as those scholars in the 18th century did and those in the 13th century took. There is a wonderful Islamic revivalist movement which does not get the attention it deserves except in some academic circles. But the issue is not easy either because we have become a global society and things which crop up in Tokyo affect Zanzibar. I can merely suggest but if I had a solution I would probably be in the White House ;). Great analysis you made there Alan . Thanks to you and Louise I can cast a fresh unbiased look at that article.

Anonymous said...

What have I missed?


Anonymous said...

What did I miss?


Louise said...

The thing is, Highlander, nobody comes through the study of history with lily white hands. We're all guilty of bloodletting and oppression at one time or another in our history. And we've all got the propensity to judge others based solely on what we perceive them to be doing. It's like you said: We can't all be enlightened.

So it annoys me when some academic thinks that the evil doer or the ignoramous exists only in the "other" society, or, for that matter, only in his own society (a la Juan Cole or Noam Chomsky).

In fact, it especially annoys me when the accuser is an academic. Afterall, isn't academia supposed to be the place where one searches for truth? Shouldn't they be looking at the whole picture from all angles and always be prepared to adjust their theories and points of view? I know that doesn't happen very much in academia these days, which is really tragic.

For the past 50 years, all the ordinary Westerner knew of the Middle East is what the dictators allowed to be published or broadcast. Ordinary citizens in the Middle East were being brainwashed by their dictatorial regimes; regimes which at the same time and by the same means, projected a very negative image of their own societies for Westerners to view.

So just how are ordinary folk, whether in the West or the Islamic world to understand the real truth about each other. It's the classic Yin-Yang of history that has always been with us.

AlanK said...


that was a coincidence, just after you mentioned jumblatt, now he is almost everywhere, even on this UK MP blog. I would agree with you, he does not sound a great person but perhaps he can change especially with the changes occuring in lebannon


Anonymous said...

Jumblatt is a very dark character Alan. The civil would have been for nothing if he gets in power.

Louise said...

Okay, Highlander. I’ve reread the article by the so-called academic. One of the first statements she makes pretty much sums up the character of the whole article:

“..stale clichés and dim-witted myths, poorly disguised as honest academic research.”

No wonder Al Jazeera chose to publish it.

What she is offering here is classic leftwing rubbish, littered with an assortment of “big words” meant to convey the impression that she must be highly educated – “postulate”, “hegemonic”, “polemical discourse”, “essentialism”, for example, and most hilarious of all – “hyperbole”. Right there, are the four fingers pointing back in her own direction. Her essay is full of it.

This doesn’t teach what you think it might, Highlander. Instead, it tips off the astute reader to the fact that the author is merely an indoctrinated stooge. She is a tool whose sole purpose is to keep hate alive and keep dictators in power. She is, as she so aptly words it herself, a “hideous spectacle of ignorance and arrogance.”

Anyone who has been reading this stuff for the past 30 to 40 years should recognize the pattern. There is the standard rhetoric, outdated in the extreme, stale, and devoid of any real argument. She beats at the “Orientalism” school of thought, for example, as though it still had life. Some 40 to 50 years after the colonial era wound down, she must still rely on it to fuel her silly diatribe. She brings up the obligatory swipe at Christian crusades, which ended nearly 700 years ago.

Supposedly an academic, she admonishes contemporary journalists for lacking “the most elementary requirements of responsible objective scientific research…” - yet shows none of it herself. She makes sweeping statements condemning writing that has appeared since 9/11, but gives virtually no real examples of it.

Instead, she relies on the standard fodder that formed the foundation of old school Arab Nationalism – lambasting things like imperialism and colonialism – overusing statements, like the following, which serve solely to intimidate and dismiss anyone who may want to disagree:

“Only the terminally naive and politically blind may, indeed, be duped by the heroic rhetoric of bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq and the region.”

This woman IS the Pim Fortuyn, the Le Pen and the Jorg Haider of the Muslim world. She is the Ward Churchill of whatever college has the misfortune of employing her.

Her modus operendi is to shield and protect the Saddam Hussein's and the Osama bin Ladins of the Muslim world, by diverting attention away from the rot that is at the core of her nationalist and Islamist buddies' ideology.

This is not the solution, Highlander. She is the problem.

Louise said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Louise said...

Sorry for the double post. Either my computer or blogger is not working well right now.

Highlander said...

That is an interesting analysis Louise, you've actually gone back and re-read her article wow. I'm going to do the same thing and in my mind's eye try to delete all the rhetoric in her essay, then see what is left :) Obviously Arabs have to find a way to communicate with the west that would get to the point, I don't think she intended to be leftist propaganda and all that, my explanation for this 'bombastic' article is just Arabic method of writing. Now Arabs write beautifully but the audience also must be targeted. This article I think would go well with an Arab audience they would understant what she meant and not take that she is protecting Saddam et al, but I think she should rewrite this stuff to present her ideas to the western reader in the way he/she would understand it. whatever I'll go re-read her stuff. Thank you for participating in the conversation.

Louise said...

Sorry darling, that's utter garbage. Arabs don't need to learn how to express themselves well. I mean what the heck do you think you are doing???

There are dozens of good Arab blogs out there, each of which illustrate forms of expression which are reasonable, well honed and articulate. Mastery of the English is not the problem. It is the lack of integrity, the absense of a desire to continually learn, the willingness to abandon bankrupt ideologies, to question, to adopt and adjust to changing times.

This woman is simply parroting 40 to 50 some years of leftwing propaganda, a propensity that is certainly not unique to Arabs. It is so tightly scripted and predictable, it would be laughable, if it weren't for the victims she and her type have left in their wake.

She and the hundreds of others who parrot this nonsense need to be taken to task. They are the ones who sit silently ignoring the mass graves, the gassed villages, the brutality of the regimes that have produced the stagnation, blaming everything instead on the West, instead of engaging in self-reflection, criticism and growth.

I noticed she also took the obligatory swipe at those Western countries that propped up brutal regimes during the Cold War, but as per required in the ossified leftist script, she conveniently declined to acknowledge the brutal regimes that were propped up by the Soviet union during the same era, and with which virtually every country in the Middle East was aligned at one time or another. Like all third world countries, they were masters at playing the superpowers off against one another.

I am not surprised though. This is the oh-so-typical "half the story is better than the whole story" line that legions of far left extremist the world over have staked their academic careers on.

She and her kind, of whatever natinality are the Arabs' worst enemy, Highlander. They prefer to maintain the status quo and the privileged positions it has granted them.

You are way too kind, my friend.
Every sorry excuse they offer needs to be challenged BY ARABS, and your blog could easily be one of the places where that happens. Will you take up the challenge? Or will you go on making sugary sweet, polite excuses for the real oppressors of your people?

Anonymous said...

Why do you think I'm blogging my dear Louise? it is to show there is another way. It's not mastery of the English which as you rightly noticed which is the problem. On the contrary, it is mastery of the form of expression which I think can do the trick, obviously you've noticed that on the other Iraqi ,Egyptian, Kuwaiti etc... blogs you are able to relate with them as well ? right? what do you think we all have in common ( apart from blogging in English) which makes you enjoy ( I hope ;)) visiting and reading us more than others..I'm not sure I can put my finger on it exactly, but I sure enjoy each one of them :)

Louise said...

I know what you are trying to do Highlander. Please re-read my first paragraph in my posting at 1:56 AM, the last sentence in particular. You have the gift required to articulate an point of view and to do it well.

You ask what I would like to read. What I like is personal experience and original thought and analysis, like this guy. There are numerous others.

Anything that is simply rote repetion of ancient leftist rhetoric is pointless banality. Your last two posts provide quotes depicting just that kind of thing. It's offensive, insulting to the intelligence of ordinary people, old and useless. The only thing we learn is the extent to which academia has been highjacked.

And speaking of highjacking, you say that this article that I have critiqued would be well received in the Arab world. That's the problem, Highlander. The Arab world has been fed this slanted garbage for 40 years or more and it's nothing more than hate mongering. When this highjacking ends, the Arab people will have the freedom they deserve.

You can help to achieve that with your blog. It begins with honesty and original thinking and will ultimately produce an Arab renaissance. That is the challenge I propose to you. Maybe you could start by replacing Gandhi's words at the top of your blog with a statement from an Arab philosopher. What are you waiting for?

Anonymous said...