Saudi Intellectual: Western Civilization Has Liberated Mankind

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For those of you who may not have heard of Ibrahim Al-Buleihi, his views as a member of the Saudi Shura Council will surprise you.

MEMRI, April 29, 2009:

In an interview published April 23, 2009 in the Saudi Daily ‘Okaz, reformist thinker Ibrahim Al-Buleihi expressed his admiration for Western civilization. The interview was posted on the same day on the Elaph website. [1] Al-Buleihi calls on the Arabs to acknowledge the greatness of Western civilization, and to admit the deficiencies of their own culture. He states that such self-criticism is a precondition to any change for the better. Ibrahim Al-Buleihi is a member of the Saudi Shura Council. [2]

Following are excerpts from the interview:

“If It Were Not for the Accomplishments of the West, Our Lives Would Have Been Barren”

‘Okaz: “I begin with the crucial issue which distinguishes your thought and which your opponents always raise against you – namely, your being completely dazzled by the West, while you completely belittle Arabic thought. Truly, this is the most outstanding feature of your writings. There is also extreme self-flagellation which many see [in your writings]. What is the cause of this?”

Buleihi: “My attitude towards Western civilization is an attitude based on obvious facts and great accomplishments; here is a reality full of wonderful and amazing things. [Recognizing] this doesn’t mean that I am blindly fascinated. This is the very opposite of the attitude of those who deny and ignore the bright lights of Western civilization. Just look around… and you will notice that everything beautiful in our life has been produced by Western civilization: even the pen that you are holding in your hand, the recording instrument in front of you, the light in this room, and the journal in which you work, and many innumerable amenities, which are like miracles for the ancient civilizations.… If it were not for the accomplishments of the West, our lives would have been barren. I only look objectively and value justly what I see and express it honestly. Whoever does not admire great beauty is a person who lacks sensitivity, taste, and observation. Western civilization has reached the summit of science and technology. It has achieved knowledge, skills, and new discoveries, as no previous civilization before it. The accomplishments of Western civilization cover all areas of life: methods of organization, politics, ethics, economics, and human rights. It is our obligation to acknowledge its amazing excellence. Indeed, this is a civilization that deserves admiration. … The horrible backwardness in which some nations live is the inevitable result of their refusal to accept this [abundance of Western ideas and visions] while taking refuge in denial and arrogance.”

‘Okaz: “Sir, you can admire this civilization as much as you want, but not at the expense of others, especially our own civilization.”

Buleihi: “My admiration for the West is not at the expense of others; rather, it is an invitation to those others to acknowledge their illusions and go beyond their inferiority and liberate themselves from backwardness. [Those others] should admit their shortcomings, and make an effort to overcome them; they should stop denying the truth and closing their eyes to the multitude of wonderful achievements. They should be fair towards those nations that achieved prosperity for themselves but did not monopolize it for themselves and instead allowed the whole world to share the results of this progress, so that other nations of the whole world now enjoy these achievements. Furthermore, Western civilization has given to the world knowledge and skills which made it possible for them, the non-Western nations, to compete with it in production and share markets with it. Criticizing one’s own deficiencies is a precondition to inducing oneself to change for the better. Conversely, to glorify one’s backward apathetic self is to establish and fortify backwardness, to strengthen the shackles of apathy, and to eradicate the capabilities of excellence. Backwardness is a shameful reality, which we should resent and from which we must liberate ourselves.”

“Western Civilization is the Only Civilization that Liberated Man From His Illusions and Shackles; It Recognized His Individuality and Provided Him With Capabilities and Opportunities to Cultivate Himself and Realize His Aspirations”

Read the rest at MEMRI

 

Saudi Shura Council Member Ibrahim Al-Buleihi: Progress for Arab and Islamic World Can Only Come from Western Civilization 
The Internet, Rotana Khalijiya TV (Saudi Arabia) – July 23, 2012

 

Arabs Have Nothing to Offer Others – Former Saudi Shura Council Member Ibrahim Al-Buleihi

 

 Saudi Shura Council member Ibrahim Al-Buleihi: Terrorism Is the Product of a Flaw in Arab and Muslim Culture
Saudi TV Ch.1 – 5/23/2006

An Interview with Ibn Warraq on his book “Why the West is Best”

ibn_warraqBy Jamie Glazov On December 16, 2011:

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ibn Warraq, an Islamic scholar and a leading figure in Qur’anic criticism. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Westminster Institute, VA. He has addressed distinguished governing bodies all over the world, including the United Nations in Geneva, and Members of the Dutch Parliament, at The Hague.

In 2007, Mr. Warraq completed a critical study of the thought of Edward Said, Defending the West. Paul Berman, author of Terror and Liberalism, described the book as “a glorious work of scholarship, and it is going to contribute mightily to modernizing the way we think about Western civilization and the rest of the world”.

Mr. Warraq was goaded into writing his first book, Why I am Not a Muslim (1995), when he felt personally threatened by the infamous fatwa pronounced on Salman Rushdie for his book that satirized Islam, its founder Muhammad, and his family. He felt that only a ferocious polemic against Islam as a totalitarian system would wake up Western intellectuals to the dangers that the Iranian theocratic regime posed to our own freedoms in the West. Since this passionate attack on Islam, Mr. Warraq has edited, with long introductions, a series of more scholarly works on the origins of the Koran, and the rise of Islam, works such as The Origins of the Koran, 1998,  The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, 2000, What the Koran Really Says, 2002, and the recent Which Koran?,2011.

images (39)Ibn Warraq’s new book, Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of Liberal Democracy (Encounter Books, December 2011) carries on the defense of the West started in Defending the West. He defines, describes, and defends Western values, strengths and freedoms far too often taken for granted. This book also tackles the taboo subjects of racism in Asian culture, Arab slavery, and Islamic Imperialism. It begins with a homage to New York City, as a metaphor for all we hold dear in Western culture — pluralism, individualism, freedom of expression and thought, the complete freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness unhampered by totalitarian regimes, and theocratic doctrines.

FP: Ibn Warraq, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Let’s start with this question:

What does this book do that is unprecedented?

Warraq: First, thank you for inviting me to Front Page; it has been a while since we talked.

I do not think there are many books on the market that are unashamedly pro-Western, defending, without apologies, Western values, and talk without reserve of the superiority of Western Civilization, and which take on such taboo subjects as Asian racism, Arab anti-Semitism, Islamic Imperialism, the role of Islam and the Arabs in the Slave Trade, the complicity of Black Africans in the enslavement, and later selling of fellow Africans to Arabs, Persians, Indians and Europeans. There also cannot be any books on the market that defend Western Civilization that begin with a walk down Tin Pan Alley in New York City.

FP: What qualities of Western societies make them superior to those societies that have not adopted Western values?

Warraq: The self-evident superiority of the West stems from certain principles inherited, and further developed and refined over two millennia, from Athens, Rome and Jerusalem. We can, perhaps, subsume these principles under the abstract terms rationalism, universalism, and self-criticism, and then unfurl them in the following more substantial manner. Under rationalism, one would include the notions of truth, objective knowledge, and intellectual curiosity. Under universalism, I would include the idea of the unity of mankind, openness to “the Other” (an unfortunate phrase borrowed from recent anti-Western polemics), other ideas, other customs, other people; and finally under self-criticism the willingness to submit all of the West’s traditions to rational scrutiny. Under curiosity, I include all those examples of disinterested study. Other great ideas of the West which further help define its character and explain its success are: the separation of church and state, the rule of law, equality before the law, freedom of conscience and expression, human rights — in short, liberty and individual dignity which must never be sacrificed for some spurious collective, totalitarian goal.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: this triptych succinctly defines the attractiveness and superiority of Western civilization. In the West we are free to think what we want, to read what we want, to practice our religion, to live as we choose. Liberty is codified in human rights, a magnificent Western creation but also, I believe, a universal good. Human rights transcend local or ethnocentric values, conferring equal dignity and value on all humanity regardless of sex, ethnicity, sexual preference, or religion. At the same time, it is in the West that human rights are most respected. It is the West that has liberated women, racial minorities, religious minorities, and gays and lesbians, recognizing and defending their rights. The notions of freedom and human rights were present at the dawn of Western civilization, as ideals at least, but have gradually come to fruition through supreme acts of self-criticism. Because of its exceptional capacity for self-criticism, the West took the initiative in abolishing slavery; the calls for abolition did not resonate even in black Africa, where rival African tribes took black prisoners to be sold as slaves in the West.

Today, many non-Western cultures follow customs and practices that are clear violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). In many countries, especially Islamic ones, you are not free to read what you want. Under Sharia, or Islamic law, women are not free to marry whom they wish, and their rights of inheritance are circumscribed. Sharia, derived from the Koran and the practice and sayings of Muhammad, prescribes barbaric punishments such as stoning to death for adultery. It calls for homosexuals and apostates to be executed. In Saudi Arabia, among other countries, Muslims are not free to convert to Christianity, and Christians are not free to practice their faith. The Koran is not a rights-respecting document.

FP: What in your mind are the greatest achievements of the West?

Warraq: Not only is the West so successful economically, but it leads the world scientifically, and culturally (one only has to look at the list of Nobel Prize winners in science, and literature to gauge the overwhelming triumph of the West in these domains; or at the influence of the Western arts on the rest of the world- both High Culture and Popular entertainment, from Classical music to cinema).

The great ideas of the West—rationalism, self-criticism, the disinterested search for truth, the separation of church and state, the rule of law, equality before the law, freedom of conscience, thought, and expression, human rights, and liberal democracy- quite an achievement, surely, for any civilization-—remain the best, and perhaps the only, means for all people, no matter of what race or creed, to reach their full potential and live in freedom.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: defines succinctly the attractiveness and superiority of Western civilization. We are free, in the West, to choose; we have real choice to pursue our own desires; we are free to set the goals and contents of our own lives; the West is made up of individuals who are free to decide what meaning to give to their lives-in short the glory of the West is that life is an open book,[1] while under Islam, life is a closed book, everything has been decided for you: God and the Holy Law set limits on the possible agenda of your life. In many non-Western countries especially Islamic ones, we are not free to read what we want; in Saudi Arabia, Muslims are not free to convert to Christianity, and Christians are not free to practice their faith — all clear violations of article 18 of the Universal Declaration.

This desire for knowledge, no matter where it leads, inherited from the Greeks, has led to another institution that is unequalled-or very rarely equaled- outside the West: the University. Here the outside world recognizes this superiority; it comes to the West to learn not only about the sciences developed in the West in the last five hundred years — in all departments of Physics, Biology and Chemistry — but also of their own culture. They come to the West to learn of the Eastern civilizations and languages. Easterners come to Oxford, Cambridge, or Harvard and Yale, the Sorbonne or Heidelberg to receive their doctorates, because they confer prestige unrivalled by similar doctorates from Third World countries.

A culture that gave the world the spiritual creations of the Classical Music of Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Schubert, the paintings of Michelangelo, and Raphael, Da Vinci and Rembrandt, does not need lessons from societies whose idea of spirituality is a heaven peopled with female virgins for the use of men, whose idea of heaven resembles a cosmic brothel. The West has given the world the symphony, and the novel.

To paraphrase Alan Kors[2], instead of the rigid, inhuman caste system of India, we have unparalleled social mobility in the West. Western society is a society of ever richer, more varied, more productive, more self-defined, and more satisfying lives; it is a society of boundless private charity; it is a society that broke, on behalf of merit, the seemingly eternal chains of station by birth. The West has given us the liberal miracle of individual rights, individual responsibility, merit, and human satisfaction.

FP: How do you define the West in your book?

Warraq: I define the West through its values of liberty, and rationalism, and then look at their historical origins. The origins of the modern West are often seen in the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, but the roots of the Enlightenment can be found in habits of mind cultivated in Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem, and the institutions that grew from them. The Greeks gave us the city and the notion of citizenship, the ideals of democracy and liberty, rationalism and science, philosophy and history. The Romans systematized the law, defined private property, and emphasized individual responsibility. Judeo-Christianity added a sense of conscience and charity, tempering justice with forgiveness, and the concept of linear rather than cyclical time, which allowed the possibility of progress. The Middle Ages brought a deeper synthesis of Athens and Rome with Jerusalem, laying the foundations for the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, the Enlightenment, and pluralistic liberal democracy.

FP: How is New York City a metaphor for the greatness of the West?

Warraq: In New York, I show the principles of the United States Constitution being applied in a real, vibrant place. I give the term “Western civilization” a physical context in the very concrete of the city. The details of New York’s streets and structures create a believable, breathing image of Western civilization, just as Dickens created believable, breathing characters. See this building, I say—it’s an example of beautiful architecture, one of the glories of New York, and as integral to Western civilization as the works of Shakespeare. See that building—it’s the New York Public Library. Inside the Beaux Arts masterpiece is an institution that embodies key aspects of Western civilization: philanthropy, education, the love of knowledge, the preservation of all the best that has been written and published. Each time you admire the façade of the New York Public Library, you are paying homage to Western civilization. Each time you consult a book in the magnificent Main Reading Room, you are participating in the maintenance of Western civilization. By working and living in New York, you are breathing Western civilization, continuously reminded of its benefits and its values.

Describing a New York street that became known as Tin Pan Alley and the area known as Broadway led me into the Great American Songbook, created by composers and lyricists who were born and lived and worked in that great city. Discussions of Western civilization are too often confined to works of high art that reflect a relatively narrow element of public taste and experience. I maintain that Western popular culture at its best is worthy of respect and should be cherished as much as the operas of Wagner. The work of composers like George Gershwin, born and bred in New York, embodies Western ideals over and above the aesthetic principles of the music itself. I could have written at length about various artists associated with the metropolis—Fred Astaire, P. G. Wodehouse, George Kaufman, the Marx Brothers (born in the Yorkville section of the Upper East Side)—and their contributions to Western popular culture, with creations that are witty, graceful, inspired, and at times touched with genius.

New York, like life, is its own excuse. Nonetheless, no other city in the West—or indeed, in the world—so well exemplifies the inexhaustible possibilities of a modern metropolis, where the inven­tive and enterprising put into practice the many freedoms guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The implausible, well-nigh-miraculous functioning anarchy that we know as New York is adorned with every excellence of Western art. It is a city of manifold suggestions, which ministers to every ambition, engenders a thousand talents, nurtures ingenuity and experimentation.

FP: What changed within Western societies that allowed them to so dramatically outperform other societies over the past 500 years, when that wasn’t the case beforehand?

Warraq: What has made the West successful economically while so many countries in other parts of the world fail to provide adequate food and shelter for their citizens?  The short answer is the Scientific Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, and the Industrial Revolution of the Eighteenth Century, both depended on European Culture, Economic and Political Freedom, that is the institutions and habits of mind developed over two millennia.

Thus we can no longer defend the notion that Western prosperity is founded on the exploitation of poor people in the Third World. The rich countries are rich because of their practices at home, and because of their readiness to adopt and adapt new things, such as Chinese inventions or New World crops. Jared Diamond concluded that the “proximate factors” in Europe’s ascendance were “its development of a merchant class, capitalism, and patent protec­tion for inventions, its failure to develop absolute despots and crushing taxation, and its Greco-Judeo-Christian tradition of empirical inquiry.” Ironically, given Diamond’s otherwise anti-Western animus, some readers disparaged this view as ethnocentric, or as “utterly conventional Eurocentric history,” in James M. Blaut’s words. But Diamond, in fact, was pointing to some key ingredients of Western success; and behind those proximate factors were culture, ideas, and attitudes.

Read more at Front Page

Stakelbeck on Terror: The Unholy Alliance between Islamists and the Left

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Stakelbeck on Terror

Erick Stakelbeck sat down with Frontpagemag.com editor Jamie Glazov, author of High Noon for America: The Coming Showdown and William “Kirk” Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam and Atheism.

The show focused on the unholy alliance between radical Islamists and the radical Left and what can be done to preserve Judeo-Christian, Western civilization:

The Mirage of Moderate Islam

By Daniel Greenfield:

Travelers across the vast stretches of the Arabian desert have been known to get lost and in their thirst and exhaustion hallucinate oases with palm trees and flowing water. Western policymakers lost in the vast stretches of madness that define the Muslim world are even more wont to hallucinate the oasis of a moderate Islam to take refuge in. Whether you’re dying for a drink or a way to reaffirm your reality, a mirage is sometimes the only way you can find it.

Moderate Islam is a mirage, a projection by desperate Westerners of their own values and culture, on an entirely different religion and culture. It is a mirage that many Muslims are eager to uphold, in the same way that desert merchants might sell goblets and bowls of sand to passing travelers foolish enough to confuse water with dust. And like travelers who think they are drinking water, when they are actually swallowing sand, it is a deception that will eventually kill the deceived.
When the Western cultural elite look at Islam, they see what they have to see to avoid falling into crisis mode. Like the traveler who would rather choke on sand, than face up to the fact that he is lost in a desert, they would rather keep most things as they are, even at the cost of the extinction of the nations they preside over, than confront the full scope of the threat surrounding them. A threat that they had a hand in nurturing and feeding in the name of goals that seemed to make sense at the time.
It is easier to segregate a “Bad Islam” composed of a tiny minority of extremists from the generally “Good Islam” of the rulers of the Muslim world and the waves of Muslim immigrants washing up on their shores. That this segregation has no objective reality, and is nothing but a psychological defense mechanism against experiencing the full reality of a disaster. From the Titanic to World War II, there are numerous similar situations in which the people in charge chose to ignore a growing crisis at a horrific cost.
The two primary paradigms through which Western political elites see Islam, is that of tyranny on the right, and the evils of Western foreign policy on the left. Bush employed the former when he defined the problem as being one of tyranny, rather than Islam. Having defined the problem in terms of a majority of “Good Muslims” oppressed by “Bad Tyrants”, Bush tried to liberate the former from the latter, only to discover that there was a good deal of overlap between the two. Under Obama, we have seen the left implement its own construct of Islam, as popular resistance movements against colonial oppression, who are reacting to the evils of American foreign policy. This knee jerk Marxist formula goes one worse than the Bush Administration by defining terrorists as “Good Muslims” and moderates as “Yankee Puppets”.
But the only item of true significance to emerge from the contrast of these worldviews, is the revelation that American political leaders from both sides of the spectrum still view Islam in terms of the old Cold War struggle between Communism and Capitalism. Like many generals who fight every war in terms of the last war, the political leaders of the West still see Islam in Cold War colors, which prevents from seeing it for what it is.
While Islam shares some common denominators with Communism, as well as Nazism, it is also a quite different entity than either one. For one thing it is not Western in any sense of the word. It does not rely on a centralized leadership. It has had over a thousand years to seep into the culture of the regions it has conquered. That has made Islam into an identity in a much more profound way, than Adolf or Vladimir could have ever managed with their own crackpottery.
Islam predates the political movements such as Communism and Nazism that arose to fill a vacuum of faith in a secularizing West with dreams of racial and economic utopias. It is the original sin of the East, a ruthless religion based on stolen beliefs and stolen property, its moment of religious transcendence was not that of the law or the spirit, but the sight of tribal rivalries uniting under a single green banner. The banner of Islam.

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Liberals Against Orthodox Islam

Citizen Warrior:

The counterjihad movement just keeps getting better. Here is a 115-page informative PDF document entitled, “Why All Democrats Need to Start Speaking Out Against Islamic Indoctrination and Supremacist Islam.”

 

Here’s the table of contents:

1. Manifesto against totalitarianism

2. Islam, orthodox Islam and Islamism

3. Getting a better understanding of Islam

4. Online resources used in this document

5. The incompatibility of Islamic doctrines with fundamental Western values

6. Major concerns related to the indoctrination pandemic

7. The unrestricted export of Islamic doctrine to the free world

8. Why conservative Islam critics need to welcome liberals into the movement

9. Developing strategies to counter Islamic indoctrination and protect human rights
Check it out and share it with your liberal-leaning friends and family: PDF Document.

Who’s Destroying Western Civilization?

by EDWARD  CLINE

In his “An Explanatory Memorandum on the  General Strategic Goal for the Brotherhood in North America,” Muslim Brotherhood  member Mohamed Akram wrote:

Enablement of Islam in North America, meaning: establishing an effective and  stable Islamic Movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood which adopts Muslims’  causes domestically and globally, and which works to expand the observant Muslim  base, aims at unifying and directing Muslims’ efforts, presents Islam as a  civilization alternative, and supports the global Islamic state, wherever it is. The process of settlement is a “Civilization-Jihadist Process” with  all the word means. The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a  kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from  within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the  believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over  all other religions.

Steve Emerson of the Investigative  Project on Terrorism notes:

This May 1991 memo was written by Mohamed Akram, a.k.a. Mohamed Adlouni, for  the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the introductory letter, Akram  referenced a “long-term plan…approved and adopted” by the Shura Council in  1987 and proposed this memo as a supplement to that plan and requested that the  memo be added to the agenda for an upcoming Council meeting. Appended to the  document is a list of all Muslim Brotherhood organizations in North America as  of 1991.

There are many fine, important, and informative essays and books on just  how antithetical Islam is to Western values – to individualism, to private  property, to freedom of speech – and on just how insidious and anti-life it is.  But few are the books and essays on why Islam seems to be making progress in its  “grand jihad” against the West.

Who or what is actually destroying  Western Civilization from within? The Islamists? Or the West? What contributes  to the Islamists’ hubris, what encourages them and instills them with confidence  that they can “conquer” the West, and especially the United States. Whose  “hands” are working together with those of the “believers” to bring down Western  civilization and establish Sharia law here and everywhere?

Islam would  be as impotent as Scientology, or of a cult that ascribed mystical powers to  pyramids, or a diet of bottles of Shaklee vitamins. Is Islam imbued with some  inexorable and ineluctable power to conquer the West?

One thing is that  Islamists are shrewd enough to exploit the corrosive policies of cultural  relativism, multiculturalism, the commitment to “diversity,” indiscriminate  “tolerance,” subjectivism, and a host of other policies that assault or negate  reason and all standards of measurement of value, superiority and inferiority.  Islam is as bankrupt of formal philosophy as is the culture it is “sabotaging.”  The intelligence exhibited by Islamists is merely a feral, predatory  intelligence. Islam allows no other kind. Islam does not permit independent  thought, only agreement with arbitrary assertions.

A wolf may be  predatory, but that is how it is programmed by nature. It has no choice in the  matter. A Muslim is a man imbued with volition and the capacity for choice; he  chooses to limit himself to an ideology that permits him to be merely feral and  predatory and submissive. His mind merely detects his enemy’s weaknesses and  vulnerabilities – weaknesses and vulnerabilities that are as self-inflicted as  choosing to be a Muslim – and plots to exploit them.

Those weaknesses  and vulnerabilities are the West’s policies, noted above. And what are the  philosophical foundations of those policies? The reigning philosophy is that one  cannot know anything, either for certain or at all, that all values are  relative, or subjective, that reality is whatever one wishes it to be. On one or  more of those premises, there are no absolutes that a defender of the West can  repair to or uphold.

Read more: Family Security Matters

Questions Facing the Muslim World

by Bill Warner, Politicalislam.com

by Harold Rhode at Gatestone Institute:

Palestinian political leaders, however, seem to have decided that the rewards from the international community, at least for them, will be greater if they are seen as victims receiving perpetual handouts, rather than as leaders receiving rewards linked to accomplishments. The economic system seems to have evolved into bribes in exchange for promises that are never kept, followed later by the request for still more bribes.

Many parts of the world, such as Korea, China, and India – basically medieval kingdoms fifty or sixty years ago — are now among the pacesetters of the modern world, both producing, and improving on, existing inventions. The Muslim world, however, often better off than these countries just half a century ago, has remained as it was, or has even, in many instances, deteriorated.

This inertia in the Islamic world seems to stem not from any genetic limitations, or even religious ones, but purely from Islamic culture.

Although one can gain some insight into Islamic culture from books and other written material, if one is to really understand the Muslim world, there is no substitute for sitting in coffee or tea houses, spending time with Muslims, and asking them questions in their own surroundings and in their own languages. A result of these approaches would seem to indicate, with respect, some of the factors citizens of the Arab and Muslim world might wish to consider to use their extraordinary talents even more fully:

The Ability to Question: Western culture is predicated on questioning: inquiring of authorities how they came to the conclusions they reached — a concept from the ancient Greek word “historayn,” to learn by asking. Although in the Shiite world questioning occurs among religious authorities and the educated elite, in the Sunni world, for centuries, asking questions of those more learned or in positions of authority has been unacceptable. Until Muslims once again allow themselves to ask questions and engage in critical examination, they are disabling themselves from accomplishing as much as they otherwise might.

The Role of the Individual vs. the Role of the Group: In much of the Muslim world, people are often seen not as individuals but as members of particular families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups, or religions. In the Muslim and Arab world, a problem between two people can become a problem between two families, with the individual becoming a “soldier” in the ensuing feud. What an individual might think personally – who is right and who is wrong – becomes irrelevant, fostering a mindset that obstructs the impersonal and dispassionate analytic thinking that defines the modern world.

Encouraging Creativity: A good way to define Western intellectual creativity in the Muslim world is to use the Arabic word ijtihad, roughly meaning using one’s intellectual and reasoning capabilities to determine answers. Today’s Islamic culture seems not to encourage this ability: among the Sunni Muslims, who comprise about 85% of the approximately 1.4 billion Muslims, the “Gates of Ijtihad” were closed about a thousand years ago, apparently for the political reasons: religious authorities declared that all questions had been addressed during the past four centuries, so there was therefore no more need for questioning. Since then, Muslims have been asked to accept institutionally what they learn from their authority figures – as in the word Islam, itself, meaning “submission.” Islamic culture therefore does not only to encourage creativity as much as it might; it appears actively to discourage it: people are educated to memorize, not criticize.

Creativity requires, above all, questioning the accepted ways of doing things. What many Muslims do, therefore – and do very well – is produce things invented by others. The Turks, for example, who have had longer and closer contacts with the West than most other areas of the Muslim world have had, are superb at replicating what others have created. Although the F-16, for example, was created in the US, the only perfect one ever manufactured by the mid-1990’s was assembled in an F-16 plant in Turkey. Individual Turks would have been perfectly capable of inventing an F-16, but often feel constrained to think creatively in their own country. This might be a reason that gifted individuals in the Muslim world who feel the need to expand their abilities often abandon their native countries for the West, and do brilliantly there.

The Ability to Admit Failure and Learn from It: Although no one particularly likes to fail, people in the West expect those who have failed to examine why they have failed, and to learn from their mistakes. Some high-tech firms even try to hire people who have failed at startups in the hope of gaining insights so their companies will not pursue avenues that did not succeed. It is hard to imagine a similar approach in any Muslim country, where it is virtually impossible for anyone publicly to admit failure. The concept of personal honor – (in Arabic, ‘Ayib) what others say about you – is prevalent everywhere: admitting failure means shaming yourself, a situation to be avoided at all costs. In Western culture, this concept of shame is largely alien; we are more of a “guilt” culture, in that what we think about ourselves counts more than how others view us, and largely motivates our advancement.

In Asian cultures, for example, which also care deeply about “face,” a more neutral way of recognizing problems has evolved. The Japanese and the Chinese, for instance, do not say they have failed; they say that the road that had been chosen did not prove to work, so the direction should be changed. This indirect way of admitting failure has helped them advance. Such a blameless approach, however, is virtually non-existent in the Muslim world, and a major reason so much of it remains in squalor.

The results of this contrast – the Asian and Western and Asian cultures on one hand, and the Muslim culture on the other — might be described as two kids of cakes: just looking at the cake tells you nothing about how it tastes. The Western world is like a cake covered with an uninviting khaki-colored frosting. Although it might look awful, the cake inside tastes great: its ingredients are first class and well-baked. By contrast, the Muslim world is like a cake covered with beautiful frosting, but made out of ingredients that might disappoint the people at the table.

The Learning Process: Muslim culture emphasizes memorization. Universities in Muslim lands grant degrees based on the students memorizing vast amounts of material, but not necessarily knowing how to apply them. In engineering, for instance, the Arab world graduates more than 250,000 engineers each year, but when the Arabs want to build an airport, they invariably import foreigners to do it, In the Arab world, engineering degrees often have become symbols of “personal honor” rather than knowledge to be used.

Taking Responsibility for One’s Actions: In the same vein, there is no equivalent in the Muslim world to the Western concept of taking responsibility for one’s actions. The word mas’uliya in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian is usually translated in Western dictionaries as “responsibility,” but it really has a meaning which corresponds more to the Western concept of “being held responsible for, or being blamed for something not going well.” The meaning of this word in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish has little to do with the Western concept of responsibility — defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the ability to act independently and make decisions,” and largely devoid of personal honor.

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