Leaving Islam




What’s Wrong with Moderate Muslims?

Jacob Thomas


Judging by the proliferation of Arabic web sites, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that a great deal of ferment is going on among Arab writers and intellectuals. Early this year, I was pleased to discover on the Internet two Kuwaiti sites, one giving us an online edition of the monthly journal, Al-Arabi, and the other site with a very intriguing name: Tanweer, i.e. Enlightenment. I hope to share with you my comments on the various subjects being discussed on these sites which will give us a sample of the many concerns of the rising Arab generation.  

In the meantime, I go back to a familiar source I usually consult about the current preoccupations of the Arab mind. My eyes were caught by an article in the January 18, 2006 , issue of Al-Sharq al-Awsat, with this rather shocking title: Those Savage and Barbarian Westerners?!  

I am sure the writer did not mean these words to be taken literally, since his article contained strong criticisms levelled at the Arab-Muslim civilization. With tongue in cheek, he resorted to sarcasm to drive a point about the lack of openness and honesty in the way many Arab writers engage in their critique of the West. I must add though, that not long ago, Muslims in general actually looked down on Europeans, and regarded them as barbarians. For example, in his Preface to “The Muslim Discovery of Europe :” (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1982,) Bernard Lewis wrote:  

“In the Western tradition of history, the term discovery is commonly used to describe the process by which, from the fifteenth century onwards, Europe and more especially Western Europe set about discovering the rest of the world. The theme of this book is another and parallel discovery, similar in some ways, different in others … in which the European is not the explorer discovering barbaric peoples in strange and remoter places, but is himself an exotic barbarian discovered and observed by enquirers from the lands of Islam.

                                                                                                p. 11 [Emphasis is mine, JT]  

The author of the article in Al-Sharq al-Awsat proceeded to contrast the Arabs’ critiques of the West, with their unwillingness to apply the same standards of criticism to their own history and civilization. He began by stating:  

The Arab press is full of analysis and critique of the Western world, its peoples, traditions and history. It is normal that colonialism, the slavery in the United States, the violence and savagery that accompanied the occupation of various countries, and specifically the organization of the State of Israel; all these are topics that question the validity of Western morality.  

He went on to describe the extremely negative attitude of several Arab writers vis-à-vis the West:  

Both nationalists and Islamists are convinced that Western democracies are a sham. These perceptions are not only widespread, but have become standard rituals that precede every mention of the subject of democracy. In fact [this critique of Western democracies] has become as necessary as the ritual ablution without which a [Muslim’s] prayer is not valid!  

One of the Western virtues is that criticisms of the social or political order form an integral part of their cultural heritage. If it were not for this Western tradition, it would have been impossible to expose the infractions of basic human rights that took place at Abu Ghraib. In fact, it was the existence of these basic democratic institutions that led eventually to the abolition of slavery in the United States . This same democratic impulse brought about an end to colonialism. And it is this very spirit that will bring an end to the policies that prevailed at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo , the occupation of Iraq , and President Bush’s “Homeland Security” law. 

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