Special Report: Islam, Orientalism And the West

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

Were Orientalists at last beginning to wonder about their "Islam," which they said had taught the faithful never to resist unlawful tyranny, never to prize any values over sex and money, never to disturb fate? Did anyone stop to doubt that F-15 planes were the answer to all our worries about "Islam"? Was Islamic punishment, which tantalized the press, more irreducibly vicious than, say, napalming Asian peasants?

We need understanding to note that repression is not principally Islamic or Oriental but a reprehensible aspect of the human phenomenon. "Islam" cannot explain everything in Africa and Asia, just as "Christianity" cannot explain Chile or South Africa. If Iranian workers, Egyptian students, Palestinian farmers resent the West or the U.S., it is as a concrete response to a specific policy injuring them as human beings. Certainly a European or American would be entitled to feel that the Islamic multitudes are underdeveloped; but he would also have to concede that underdevelopment is a relative cultural and economic judgment and not mainly "Islamic" in nature.

Under the vast idea called Islam, which the faithful look to for spiritual nourishment in their numerous ways, an equally vast, rich life passes, as detailed and as complex as any. For comprehension of that life Westerners need what Orientalist Scholar Louis Massignon called a science of compassion, knowledge without domination, common sense not mythology. In Iran and elsewhere Islam has not simply "returned"; it has always been there, not as an abstraction or a war cry but as part of a way people believe, give thanks, have courage and so on. Will it not ease our fear to accept the fact that people do the same things inside as well as outside Islam, that Muslims live in history and in our common world, not simply in the Islamic context?

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page