Be anti-West, be Islamic


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 univuniversalistic nature of the Islamic creed.