I thought I’d share some of the papers that I’m writing for one of my courses this term. Of course leave your feedback.
Islam undoubtedly suffers from critical bias in the realm of American and European minds. Centuries of colonialism and Orientalist thought have informed the greater publics of both these entities on what and what does not constitute Islam. From such works as A Thousand and One Nights to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, Islam has been demonized in the American/European context. But with the advent of September 11th, Islam is now attacked openly as the icon of everything which goes against that which the “free societies” of the Free World stand for.
Sadly, in the condemnation of Islam, most of those who would banish Islam to the realm of barbarity base their conclusions on the rhetoric of sensational journalism and the subconscious influence of writers like the aforementioned Huntington. Indeed, few Americans or Europeans can base their claims on experience, instead relying on hearsay. In fact, I personally found it absurd that the author of this book would stoop to the level of those that would make such claims by returning volley with such statements as stating that the author’s book, Following Muhammad, was an attempt to show that Muslims are indeed human. For me, this is equivalent of African-Americans needing to prove to white Americans that they are indeed “fully human”.
Part of the reasoning one can see behind labeling an “other” as sub-human is due to the need of certain modern philosophies’ need to have a scapegoat. Batman would be nothing if it weren’t for the Joker. Superman needs Lex Luthor in order to have a conflict (or in colonial powers case, a justification for conflict). It may seem childish to include comparisons between the so-called clash between Islam and the West and that of comic book superheroes but I think there is a lot to be seen in that. Political philosophers such as Huntington and even more specifically Strauss (whose ideology led to the development of the Neo-conservative movements) provided a backdrop in which America had a special destiny in the world. The destiny of America’s state’ism was to fight evil and bring about good and freedom to the world. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islam has come to fill this vacuum.
Ernst points out many key ideals that lead to the formation of this new ideology. A new form of national superiority. One of the key factors in establishing this superiority is the way in which the European and by extension, the Americans, derive their superiority is their claim to the great chain of knowledge. In this interpretation, the Western peoples see themselves as the inheritors of a vast tradition of knowledge and learning. Starting from the Egyptians, moving to the Greeks and into Europe and finally to the United States. This great chain of narration excludes any form of “Eastern thought”. And by placing bounds of exclusivity on this chain of knowledge, the Western Powers have been able to excommunicate Muslims/Islam from this chain. And most importantly, any tradition of knowledge or culture that rests outside this chain are demoted to the station of barbarity and uncivilized.
It would seem from this understanding that Huntington’s Clash should more appropriately be termed as a Claim or Contest To Civilization. The Western ideal does not see room for more than one authenticity pertaining to “being civilized”. Proof for this can easily be found in the language of the colonialists as well as the more modern movements such as the Neo-Con movements. Ernst shows us that many of the colonial masters clearly saw themselves as superiors to their subjects. Persisting to modern times, many Western academics see Muslims as blind, fanatical followers of a religion that suppresses individual thought and rejects (Western) science. In Ernst example of the early 20th Century definition on Asia, one can see that little has changed in the last one hundred years in the way in which the West views Islam: autocratic, fatalistic and anti-Enlightenment.
But miraculously, while European colonialists crudely dismantle Muslims/Muslim thought by process of Reductionism, they fail to recognize a fully authenticated Islam in their own midst: the Balkans. By the late 14th Century, Islam had penetrated Albania. Consequently you can find significant Muslim populations in Bulgaria, Romania and throughout all parts of Eastern Europe. Turkey itself sits on the “line” between Europe and Asia. Are the Balkans somehow stripped of the European heritage simply because of the religious traditions? This ideology points at something greater: the marriage between Christianity and civilization. If one falls outside the fold of Christianity then one is innately uncivil.
The West has not ceased at solely defining what is civil and what is not. Rather, it has extended its defining pen to Islam itself. The West has resorted to communal damnation, condemning all Muslims in all times and places as “evil” based on the actions of either communities which came before or on the actions of a few radicals. I wonder if the reverse were held true, how would white Americans or European colonialists fair if the entire populations of both were condemned by the works of the their predecessors (white supremacists in the case of Americans and the brutalities of colonial ruler ship for the Europeans).
In many ways, it is precisely colonialism that gave rise to the radical, revolutionary interpretations of Islam. Many Muslim thinkers, who were born under colonial/post-colonial rule, developed plans of throwing off the yoke of their oppressors and used Islam as a vehicle for revolution. What the Western Powers fail to recognize is that these are very specific Muslims in very specific times and places making decisions on those conditions and histories. There is a great amount of duplicity in the Western approach to judging Islam/Muslims. At once, American/Western values are seen as ahistorical – they transcend time and space and trump any contenders. Anyone who fails to meet or cede to their criteria are found guilty of ignorance or morally depraved. Conversely, when Muslims or anti-Imperialist critics examine the Judeo/Christian histories/texts, sighting in them numerous examples that could be used to justify violent acts, the Western thought retorts that those were of a specific time and place.
The role of religion, or more specifically, religious thought in the public square is often more a struggle for religious authority, as Ernst points out. This would seem to be true of all traditions. I would further suggest that this ideal could be extended to the dialog on the claim to civilization. For in this argument there is room for only one authoritative voice. The one that is able to ascend will not only be able to define what is religiosity, but more importantly, what isn’t. The same can be said for civility. In the Western mode, there can only be one way of being human/civil. All other modalities are expelled. Ironically, this ideology is embraced by both sides of the “clash”; the inheritors of Colonialism/American Supremacy and the Muslim revolutionaries.