Two Countenances of the West
The West displays two features: one political, the other intellectual. Its political orientation serves as the most outward manifestation or veneer of western civilization. The intellectual foundations of Western civilization illustrate its general world view. We must diligently distinguish between these two aspects. Only then can we find the proper way of confronting the West. This path must be traveled with prudence.
Even though the West has grown old, it maintains tremendous political, economic, military, and technological power, simultaneously wielding a formidable propaganda and communication apparatus to manage the world's perceptions. Equally important, the global economy is controlled and regulated by Western financial institutions.
The West's advanced systems and institutions often legitimize its political power, ensuring its decisive presence in all significant global developments. The military might of Western capitalism is also vast, and even if we concede that official military pacts are not as common as they were, the military and destructive power of the West remains intact.
Politically, the West aims to govern all corners of the world and to dominate the theory and practice of international relations. It possesses the material and symbolic sources of power simultaneously, and it will stop at nothing to achieve its goals and protect its interests. Our struggle with the West is of life and-death importance.
In its political embodiment, the West does not wish us-or any people-to be independent, free, and masters of our own fate. For if one feature of Western imperialism is violating others' territories and exploiting their economies, the concomitant feature is dominating the world of ideas. The West propagates a world view that lures its prey into subjugation.
We confront a determined enemy that brings all of its material, military, and informational resources to convince us to surrender, or risk being destroyed if we resist. The bitter experience of confrontation between domination-seeking powers and the oppressed masses is too evident to be hidden to anyone.
In political confrontations the enemy uses the mask of science and culture to deceive us. But in reality its only wish is to induce a people to surrender to its wishes and serve its interests, and to appropriate all of the victims' resources to serve the imperialist power.
Although the West has no qualms about using the most repressive and violent techniques, even its military and overtly oppressive measures are shrouded in seemingly humanistic and misleading guises that divert public opinion from reality.
When colonial powers violate other peoples, they never concede that their aim is to rob the victims' resources or to subjugate them politically. Instead, by abusing their persuasive powers, they try to disguise their crimes through words and ideas that are acceptable to all of humanity. From old times, colonial powers have used the excuse of developing and civilizing other peoples to violate them and rape their lands. Today, like before, the political motto of the West remains defending freedom, human rights, and democracy.
At this juncture our struggle against the West is central to our survival. Any form of reconciliation and appeasement, given the penchant of the opponent for deception, will lead to nothing but our debasement and trampling on our pride. We must struggle against this with all our might, and victory is not beyond our reach. We must depend on God and ask for His guidance, relying on our own historical identity which we have regained through our revolution. With faith in the power of an awakened people and by strengthening the desire for independence and freedom, we must stand firmly opposed to an enemy that lacks humanitarian incentives. This is indeed possible. The awesome resistance of our nation to the conspiracies and crimes of the oppressors can be a lesson for all nations who wish to regain their independence and pride.
Yet, while ignoring the politically treacherous goals and conspiracies of the West can be catastrophic, we cannot see the West merely in political terms or reduce its whole civilization to political issues. This would also lead us to a harmful dead end.
Western-civilization is not limited to its political aspects. Alongside Western politics, there is a system of values and thinking which we must also come to understand and learn to deal with. Here we are confronted with our philosophical and moral opposite, not just with a political rival. To understand the West, the best tool is rationality, not heated, flag-waving emotionalism. Not just here, but nowhere, can force offer an effective response to a way of thinking that we consider flawed. That would be self-defeating and counterproductive.
However, mired as they are in shallowness and hype, it is possible that opportunists will take any thought and culture that their audience dislikes and give it political salience and call it a conspiracy to destroy their political base. This does not come from contemplation but from the need to justify their irrational encounter with opposite views, obviating the need for education and a more powerful logic. This is very common among the overly politicized.
Resorting to force is appropriate in confronting a military invasion, conspiracy, or political sabotage. But the way to oppose thought and culture is not through the use of military, security, and judicial means, for using force only adds fuel to the opposite side's fire. We must confront the thought of the opponent by relying on rationality and enlightenment and through offering more powerful and compelling counter arguments. Only comprehensive and attractive thinking can repel this sort of danger. If we do not possess such logic and knowledge, we must endeavor to attain it as our first priority. Islam furnishes us with such a capability. And if some Muslims are devoid of it, the fault lies with them, not with Islam.
If, God forbid, some people want to impose their rigid thinking on Islam and call it God's religion-since they lack the intellectual power to confront the opposite side's thinking on its own terms-they resort to fanaticism. This merely harms Islam, without achieving the aims of those people.
In rejecting the West we wish to free ourselves from its political, mental, cultural, and economic domination, for as Muslims, we differ from them fundamentally in world view and values. Thus, to understand our points of contention and to negate the rival's domination, we have no choice but to :appraise and understand the West precisely and objectively.
We have to keep in mind that Western civilization rests on the idea of 'liberty' or 'freedom'. These are indeed the most cherished values for humanity in all ages, and to be fair, Western civilization's march from the Middle Ages to modern centuries has broken many superstitions and chains in thought, politics, and society. The West has indeed freed humans from the shackles of many oppressive traditions. It has successfully cast aside the deification of regressive thinking that had been imposed on the masses in the name of religion. It has also broken down subjugation to autocratic rule. These are all positive steps and adaptive to the traditions of creation. Yet; at the, same time, the view of the West about humans and freedom has been rigid and one dimensional, and this continues to take a heavy toll on humanity. When confronting the opponent in the name of rejecting the West and defending religion, if we stifle freedom we will have caused a great catastrophe. Neither the traditions of creation allow this nor does Islam desire it. But if rejecting the West means' critiquing its view of freedom, humanity, and the world, then we will have achieved our most fundamental historical mission. Indeed, we take issue with the West on the notion of freedom. We do not think that the Western definition of freedom is complete. Nor can the Western view of freedom guarantee human happiness. The West is so self-absorbed in its historical setting and thoughts that it cannot see the calamities that its incorrect view of humanity and freedom has caused. If we look at the West from the outside, we can objectively judge this issue. But achieving this important task requires much intellectual rigor and knowledge.
Adapted from the book: "Islam, Dialogue and Civil Society" by: "Sayyid Mohammad Khatami"
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