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August 02, 2006



I think Arkoun is correct in saying that Muslims crucially define themselves against what they perceive as the Western protagonist. He also asserts that Muslim victimology and/or subservience to 'the West' is in part down to our failure to invite the best of European intellectual reasoning to interact and interrogate the Muslim tradition (minus the orientalism). I agree.






as salaam alaykum

thank you for the post. while i've also been frustrated by muslim attitudes toward western societies, i wonder whether either of the two things you mentioned (growing up in the west and patronizing western capitalist franchises) are fair criticisms or your friends (and, by extension, of western muslims).

must they be loyal to the society in which they are raised (although a certain degree of gratitude may be in order, that is not the same thing)?

how does eating at mcdonalds make them more western (this may be on the mark for "home country" muslims who then seek out western goods, but i don't see how in the case of those who have been raised with mcdonalds around them)?

perhaps you mean that your friends (and western muslims in general) benefit from the very things they criticize. i would suggest that they benefit from and criticize different things.

or perhaps you mean that they fail to appreciate the real ideals of western socieities (personal liberty, for example). this makes sense in my view, but could be equally said of non-western muslims as of western muslims. nor is it necessary for them to identify with a western society simply because they recognize (some of) its virtues.

overall, it seems legitimate to me that one can grow up in a western society, recognize its claims on oneself as well as its virtues, and still wish to dissociate from its fundamental beliefs and practices. (perhaps THAT's a uniquely western attitude, but i hope not...)


abd: waalaykum assalam

My main point was that the lines they drew between themselves and their society were arbitary, contradictory to their own practices, or based, as Yakoub says in the first comment, on the idea that the more "anti-Western" you are, the more Islamic you must become.

The McDonald's incident was funny for other reasons too, but has details I am not allowed to divulge :-)

Yakoub and Baraka: assalamu alaykum

Many thanks!


While I agree with almost all of the points in the post, I would like to make a few remarks about your use of the term Occidentalism. I bring this up because you started your post with a reference to Edward Said and his critique of Orientalism. But Said's theory springs largely from Foucault's analysis of power (and discourse) -- Orientalism is what it is because of the structures of power and hegemony that exist (and have existed) in the world, a structure that was epitomized in the European colonial project. Orientalism is not just stereotypes: it is a full-fledged discourse. And so for example, it is not just negatively essentializing the Other, it is also fetishizing and exoticizing the 'Oriental' subject. Part of the reason that McWorld continues to dominate today is because "Westerners" are happy with a shallow understanding of Orientalism and they think they are rid of the problems of their 19th century predecessors. Because people don't stereotype anymore. And so it's all good.

But that is a false sense of security -- or rather, a false sense of satisfaction. A good way to understand the Orientalist phenomenon would be through parallel examples in the field of Race and Ethnicity studies. Eveyrone has stereotypes about everyone else. But white stereotypes about other races are so much more problematic than Black or Asian stereotypes about whites because whites occupy the dominant order. And power makes all the difference. It just doesn't work the other way. I am not saying that one set of stereotypes are worse or more immoral than others. I am just pointing out their different practical implications. These stereotypes do not occur in a vacuum: there are existing structures of hierarchy.

Theories of Occidentalism aren't new (there's Ian Buruma, for one). Attempts have been made again and again since Said's groundbreaking work on Orientalism. But the significance of these theories haven't even come anywhere near the impact of Said. While I don't disregard the validity of some of their claims, I think their works show that they've simply failed to understand Orientalism properly. I am not negating Muslim stereotypes about the West. In fact, as my friends are well aware, I have always been a staunch critic of such stereotypes. In fact, I was even foremost in pushing for and eventually chairing last year's CIR conference on the topic of "Muslim Discourses on America", if only because the previous year we had a conference on "American Discourses on Islam." All I'm saying is that a so-called Occidentalism, while it may be as true as its theorists make it out to be, is just not the equal counterpart of Orienatalism.

Since this issue is inevitably connected to the question of "clash of civilizations", I would make a brief comment here. I do not believe in the Clash theory (the most notorious exponent of which was Samuel Huntington). There would be a real clash of civilizations if the 'civilizations' of the world (mainly so-called "Islam" and so-called "West") were on an equal playing field. But reality is quite far from that. Of course I don't think that everything is just great, and warm and fuzzy. I actually sympathize with Arkoun's theory of a 'clash' of imaginaries (Yakoub has already mentioned Arkoun above; he also had a number of recent posts on him at Anarcho Akbar). Some of the problems of the Muslim imaginary are precisely what you have outlined above: the tendency to essentialize the West.

But anyways. All of this aside, thanks for a great post. I particularly sympathize with your remarks on Harun Yahya. The pseudo-scientific apologia of such folks is one of the problems that Muslims need to cure themselves of.


arafat: salam

Yes, you're right. Power is a key component in Said's work.

My use of 'Occidentalism' was, partly, tongue-in-cheek, to prod Muslims into thinking about their own views of others, as well as questioning other people's view of them (I've only read Buruma's articles, so can't comment on his Occidentalism). But you're point stands and is worth remembering.


jazak allah khayr! to prod muslims into thinking is something we all need to do more of :-)


*please share with all

>>>I haven't seen anyone else write or talk of this subject about the Muslim extremists like al Qaeda and the like, but I have to ask all the Muslims, where in the world is your common sense? Why are you letting a few bad guys dictate to you what you should be thinking and believing as though you cannot think for yourself.
>>>You people need to reassess your belief system. These extremist psycos are using your own people against each other, and stirring up discontent by telling everyone that their god wants them to bring an end to this world by killing everyone that doesn't think like them, even if some of their own get taken out at the same time. These people are just psycotic murderers. They act like they know better than God. Don't you think that if God wanted only murdering Muslims in the world, he would have made only murdering Muslims right from the start? ---Somebody is making this stuff up for their own personal gain--- and way too many of you are buying into it. All the holy war and jihad stuff these idiots are spreading around is their own personal ego. They aren't thinking about anyone else but --themselves--. The trouble makers are playing your news sources like 'a musician playing a musical instrument', fabricating and twisting words to get people hating each other. If everyone fights and kills until there is no one left, these psycos think they will be there to step in as king.
>>>What kind of god loves war and fighting? That is the stuff that comes from the minds of men. What kind of nice god, who supposedly created this world and is loving, kind, and all powerful, would want to see his creations kill and destroy each other? Do you really think that your God would ask a couple of nut jobs to get other people to kill anyone who doesn't follow them? And what kind of ignorant people would actually be happy to go blow themselves up and kill any and all people, animals, and plants around them just because some egotistic psyco asked them to? Are these people --totally brainwashed-- or --are they really that stupid--? One thing is for sure, "There has never been a shortage of those who would be god or king". People, be very skeptical about anyone who wants to talk you into anything extreme. Use your heads.
>>>There is a severe lack of common sense and vital knowledge about the origin of religion, how new religions get started, and the history of ancient rituals and believing. This is a wonderful planet we call home and most people know very little about it, even though there is information everywhere. We deal with other people all day long and yet most understand very little about the way the human brain works. We cannot let a few egotistical psycos cause the destruction of our world.
>>>I know that whatever your beliefs and disagreements with others, that "most" of the population of this planet are basically the same. We have the same basic wants and needs in that, we all wish to be able to move about freely and safely. We all want to be able to have a nice home and raise a family and to be able to provide for them. Many of us do not agree with the way others run things, but killing them just because some idiot says to is not the answer and you know it. We need much more communication and sharing of information between people to deal with these problems, and "always" get information from as many different sources as possible on the important subjects in order to get the whole story. At the same time we need some of us to be 'not so sensitive'. We need to be more flexable, giving, and understanding, with more emphasis on sharing. You know, common sense things that promote harmony and happiness.
>>>I am asking all the good Muslims in this world to speak up against the extremists like al Qaeda, Hamas, Taliban, and all the radicals that preach such extremism. Let them know that your god is a god of love and would never want to see his creations kill each other, and there is definitly no nice, loving god telling them to go kill. Somebody is not telling the truth, and it looks like some are so power hungry that they will stop at nothing to gain more control. Use your common sense and "remember to be very skeptical of anyone talking extremism and killing". After all, don't you think that if there is a god that is all powerful and wants the world to be destroyed, that he is very capable of doing it himself at any time just by merely thinking about it? Come on people, lets get a grip and act like the family we are supposed to be.


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