Al-Ahram Weekly: Why the West Attacks Us

14 09 2007

While I think it’s probably somewhat beyond the scope of a columnist to piece out what the tension between the West and Islam* consists of, I think this editorial piece in Al-Ahram gets pretty insightful toward the middle.

Note to the uninitiated: when he uses the word “Darwinist,” he’s not using it in the sense American Christian fundamentalists use it, to mean “person who believes in evolution.” As far as I know evolution is not a contentious subject in many places besides the United States. Instead, he’s using it to refer to a survival-of-the-fittest mentality.

From Al-Ahram Weekly: Why the West Attacks Us

Surely one of the foremost factors to have fanned the flames between the West and the Islamic world is the West’s Darwinian modernism, which has translated itself into a voracious consumerism requiring an imperialist edifice with an unquenchable thirst for the world’s energy resources to feed it. Most of the world’s energy resources happen to be situated in the Islamic world. It is little wonder, therefore, that the modernist imperialist order fired by its rabid consumerism set its predatory sights on this part of the planet and swooped down so rapidly on Afghanistan and Iraq. It needed to get its clutches on the world’s largest reserves of oil, in the Caspian Sea and in the Middle East, in order to protect its national security, as it defines it, and safeguard the flow of oil at reasonable prices and in sufficient quantities to nourish exponentially growing consumer demand in the US and elsewhere in the West.

The West is not hostile to Islam, per se. It is hostile to a resistant Islam, an Islam that challenges the West’s Darwinism and consumerism. A docile and obsequious Islam is something else; the West is perfectly willing to accept and work with this. Western antagonism towards Islam is not of an abstract metaphysical order; it has tangible historical roots. When this part of the world attempted to resist the onslaught of Western colonialism via the banner of Arab nationalism, the West allied itself with Islamist movements against Arab nationalism. It was only when Arab nationalism receded and Arab resistance raised an Islamic banner that the West began to lash out at Islam. Remember, Bin Laden was originally trained by the US to fight Washington’s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Western Darwinian modernism is not only hostile towards resistant Islam, but also towards all movements that espouse humanitarian values. It, therefore, opposes left-wing Christian groups that defend the poor and environmentalist groups. But it nonetheless perceives Islam as the greatest potential threat. As such, the West does not perceive Muslims and Arabs as autonomous human societies with their own legitimate aspirations and goals, but rather as pliable matter that must be made to submit and be forced into an iron cage — the cage of ever spiralling production and consumption for the sole purpose of material comfort and worldly pleasure. For us merely to suggest other values and aspirations, such as attachment to the land, the defence of pride and dignity, the rejection of laws of competition as the ultimate arbiter, is to doom ourselves to being pegged, in Western eyes, as irrational creatures.

*In fact I don’t often find this dichotomy useful, and I don’t tend to like arguments that use it. But I think that in the United States the conflict between cultures is often boiled down to “Muslims don’t want our values,” which we tend to define as like, sex on television or something, and thus we end up painting Muslims as unsophisticated people. This editorial makes it clear that it’s a much broader conflict than that.