Denial: A Characteristic of the Islamic Mind
By Jacob Thomas
Early in 2006, I discovered a relatively new Arabic web site: www.
It originates in Kuwait, and its goal, as its name Tanweer
(Enlightenment) implies, is to provide a forum for the discussion of
such topics as Religion & Modernity, Civil Society, Democracy,
Human Rights, and Womenís place and role in society.
The subjects discussed in this forum are intriguing, as most of them
would be considered avant-garde by an average Muslim. What
catches my attention in my frequent perusal of the articles on this site
are the readersí comments. They tend to be very negative, and annoyed
by any suggestion of changes in the status quo!
I would like to share with you an article with this title: Inkar
(Denial). The author dealt with the topic of denial as a
characteristic of the Islamic Mind. Years ago, I read books that dealt
with the Arab Mind, but to my knowledge I have not noticed any book
dealing with this larger topic such as the Islamic Mind. Even though, I
would regard V. S. Naipaulís books, An Islamic Journey,
and Beyond Belief, as attempts to fathom and describe this
The writer goes by the name of Ahmad al-Baghdadi; I
presume that he is a Kuwaiti, but of an Iraqi background. He began with
Dr. Kamel al-Najjar, a respected author now living securely in the
West, wrote an article published on the Internet dealing with the Crisis
of the Islamic Mind. What he meant was the mind of Muslims
and not of Islam, as a faith.
This crisis manifests itself as a serious illness besetting
Muslims nowadays, namely their persistent denial of their lack of
progress in the fields of scientific and human endeavors. At the same
time, they keep on claiming that they are Godís best people; thus,
justifying their mistakes or ignoring them in a rather shockingly naÔve
Everyone is aware of this lack of progress. The solution for this
chronic illness requires an acknowledgement of this denial, in the same
way as Dr. al-Najjar requires alcoholics, or drug addicts seeking
healing, to acknowledge their condition, and confess publicly their
desire for a cure. It is only after such a confession takes place that
the treatment for the cure of an addict begins. On the other hand, as
long as an alcoholic or a drug addict refuses to acknowledge the
seriousness and reality of his condition, he is bound to continue in his
substance abuse. People around him notice the results of his addiction,
in spite of the fact that he persists in his denial.
Today, the Arabsí failures are noticeable everywhere: in
education, in economics, in politics, in culture, in administration, in
technology, in manufacturing, and in human relations. If it were not for
the mercy of God and the existence of the West, the Arabs would have
perished, as their life expectancy would not have exceeded thirty years.
[They should thank] the West that provides them with the necessities of
life: such as food, medicines, technology, as well as university
training for those fortunate Arabs [who manage to enter Western
And regardless of this evident lack of progress, we find Arabs
taking a stand against intellectual pursuits, civil liberties, and
science. They neither control the present, nor the future; all they
possess is a past that ceased to exist around five hundred years ago. In
other words, they glory in a culture that is no more!
Just as a car does not move without fuel, so is the condition of
human civilizations; their fuel is liberty and democracy. Arabs refuse
both. But they insist on claiming that they love freedom, intellectual
life, and culture; while they keep on playing a broken record that
proclaims the Westís indebtedness to the Islamic civilization. This is
the apex of delusion!
Today, Arabs are in need of a quick medicine that would end their
addiction to a dead past, and allow them to start a new life. This will
not happen, as Dr. al-Najjar pointed out, unless they are ready to
confess publicly their backwardness. This is the first step. The next
step is the search for a cure. The prescription is ready and available
from the American doctor: freedom and democracy.
That gifted Arab essayist Adonis once wrote: ďA society that
places at the top of the pyramid of its national concerns a policy of an
oppressive security, and makes it the custodian for the conduct of
politics, is in the process of self-destruction. There is no such thing
as security without a security that guarantees freedom and democracy.
Any Arab regime that arrests a citizen on account of his thoughts or
opinions is arresting not merely one citizen, but an entire country. And
a government that sends a citizen to prison for his thoughts is actually
The Arabs today are living in the prison of their past, and the
key to the gate of that prison is lost. Whatís needed is the
destruction of the gate itself, so that they may get out and experience
freedom. Therefore we must destroy the shackles of that imaginary
history that causes us to indulge in claiming a spurious greatness. We
need to learn the lessons of history. Sometimes, however, we deny these
lessons in the name of religion; other times in the name of Arab
nationalism. Such denials lead to the death of any attempt for progress.
So as long as Arabs cling to their concept of history with all its
deceptions without attempting to separate truth from falsehood, facts
from fiction, they will continue in their present state for ever.
These words of al-Baghdadi are strong medicine. They must
express the exasperation of several Arab and Muslim intellectuals who
are fed up with the status quo. The Internet allows them to utter such
words which are regarded as extreme by the very people who need them the
Unfortunately the counter-denials pour into the web site. I was very
disappointed by one response from a person who lives in Kuwait, the home
of the Enlightenment site. I hesitate to share it with
you. This is what he wrote, not only condemning the author of ďDenial,Ē
but all, yes all the contributors to Tanweer.
Unfortunately, there are many like him who prefer to live within the
prison of the past, because they are unwilling to acknowledge their
addiction to a mythical view of Islamic history.
Mr. Badr (full-moon, as his Arabic name means,) shot
back at the article with these shocking words:
Half of those contributing to this web site should be sent to
prison, and the other half, should be confined to mental hospitals.
What a pity that a civilization that persists in denial, and prefers
darkness to light!