Western Civilization Is Not Universal – OpEd


By Moez Mobeen

The Muslim world has risen once again over the blasphemous film insulting the Prophet of Islam. Although such blasphemous material against the Core beliefs and Creed of the Muslims in the forms of books, theatres, pictures and verbal commentary can be found in the archives of Western Civilization dating back to centuries, in recent years such provocative and sacrilegious attacks on the Prophet of Islam or the Quran has become a tool through which the Western Civilization and its proponents emphasize the ideals which define the Secular West and her civilization. Ever since the birth of the Liberalism in Western Europe and its spread and adoption by countries which now constitute the “Western World”, the leading states of the West have emphasized the universality of Western ideals and promoted “Liberalism” as a global ideology for all to embrace.

After destroying the Ottoman Caliphate, which epitomized the Muslim Civilization and its beliefs, the Western World introduced “liberal” ideology to the Muslim World through European colonialism. But unlike the Americans who also were introduced to “liberalism” through European colonialism and who embraced “liberalism” as an ideology while shrugging off political and military control of European colonialists, the Muslim World rejected not just the political and military control of their lands but “liberalism” as an ideology as well. This is because before the secular revolution in Western Europe, the Islamic Caliphate led the World and pursued the policy of expansion of her frontiers inviting the nations of the world to the Islamic Ideology in which the Muslims had deep conviction and belief. From the time of the first four Caliphs after the death of Prophet Muhammad till the great Ottoman Sultans the military might of the Caliphate helped her expand her frontiers, but it was the intellectual superiority of the Islamic Ideology which won the inhabitants of these new lands to the ideology carried by the caliphate. It is this intellectual conviction in the correctness of the Islamic ideology which caused the Ummah to resist “liberalism” when it was forced upon it by European Colonialists.

In his famous essay titled “The Root of Muslim Rage” published in The Atlantic Magazine in the September of 1990, prominent Western thinker and Orientalist, Bernard Lewis used the term Clash of Civilizations to explain the increasing rejection of Western values and Western civilization by the Muslim World. Explaining his views, Bernard Lewis argued that the concept of Separation of State and Church is unique to the Christian World and that the Muslim World’s experience with religion was totally different from that of Christian Europe. Lewis says:” Muslims, too, had their religious disagreements, but there was nothing remotely approaching the ferocity of the Christian struggles between Protestants and Catholics, which devastated Christian Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and finally drove Christians in desperation to evolve a doctrine of the separation of religion from the state….. Muslims experienced no such need and evolved no such doctrine. There was no need for secularism in Islam….” .

Celebrating the triumph of Western Liberalism, after the fall of communism, American philosopher Francis Fukuyama authored a piece in 1989 “The End of History” in which he went as far as to suggest that with the fall of communism, humanity’s intellectual quest for a universal ideology has ended. Although the essay was more a product of euphoria which had overwhelmed Western philosophers, who were overjoyed on the collapse of the Soviet Union, even in his euphoria Fukuyama admitted that “Liberalism’s” universality didn’t extend to the Muslim World. Fukuyama wrote:” In the contemporary world only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism. But the doctrine has little appeal for non-Muslims, and it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance”. Fukuyama’s thesis about “Liberalism’s” universality was later rejected by his fellow American thinkers, especially, by Robert Kagan in his essay published in 2008, titled “The End of End of History” in which he argued that after the fall of communism it was the political and military power of the Western World which created an illusion of “Liberalism’s” Universality and not the intellectual superiority of the “Liberalism”. In other words, the Western World muscled the nations of the World in to adopting the liberal ideology.

But it was the work of American political scientist Samuel Huntington which he presented in his book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” published in 1996 which powerfully challenged the notion of the “Universality” of Western Civilization. Huntington states:” Throughout Western history first the Church and then many churches existed apart from the state. God and Caesar, church and state, spiritual authority and temporal authority, have been a prevailing dualism in Western culture. Only in Hindu civilization were religion and politics also so distinctly separated. In Islam, God is Caesar; in China and Japan, Caesar is God; in Orthodoxy, God is Caesar’s junior partner. The separation and recurring clashes between church and state that typify Western civilization have existed in no other civilization. This division of authority contributed immeasurably to the development of freedom in the West.”

So the debate about freedom of expression and placing limits upon it in the West as well as asking the Muslim World to understand the limitations of Western Governments and their helplessness in stopping such hateful material against Islam from being published in their societies, is a misleading one. It is misleading because it assumes the universality of Western Civilization and the idea of separation of the state and Religion. Hillary Clinton’s denouncements of the sacrilegious film and its creator are aimed at protecting American interests in the Muslim World by cooling the tempers there. She neither intends to nor believes that such material should be lawfully banned in Western societies because for the Western Civilization there is nothing wrong in creating such a film except for the political fallout of such an act. So Hillary the politician condemns the film but Hillary the ideologue rejects the violent outrage in the Muslim World over it. Neither Hillary Clinton, nor Barack Obama would ever publicly admit the notion of the Clash of Civilizations, which this film so resoundingly signifies. This is because the idea of “Universality” of Western Civilization is a tool employed by Western governments to extend political, economic and military control over the non-Western World.

As for the Muslim World, “looking the other way” is not an option. The consistent and massive mobilization of the Muslim World as a reaction to the repeated attacks on Muslim sanctities by elements from the Western society is enough to prove the unwillingness of the Muslim World to simply “ignore” this issue. More than that, this is a powerful message from the Muslim World to Western societies that they do not believe in Western ideals based on the separation of religion and the state. “Ignoring” the issue or “looking the other way”, for them, is an implicit acceptance of the doctrine of separation of state and religion. But violence and rampage in Muslim streets is also not the answer. So what is the way forward?

The Dilemma of the Muslim World is that it is governed by liberal state structures which espouse the separation of the state and the religion, a legacy of European colonialism. So while the Muslim World erupted in fury against the blasphemous film, the liberal state structures governing Muslim populations did not respond to the Muslim Street. So the demands from the Muslim streets were not channelized in to political actions by governments in Muslim lands like expelling Western diplomats, threatening Western interests or cutting alliances with Western governments. Quite the opposite. Scenes of angry mobs marching towards American embassies and consulates with the state machinery mobilizing and employing heavy handed tactics to protect them signified this dilemma. In the clash of civilizations, between Islam and the West, the Muslim governments are siding with Western states.

The idea of clash of Civilizations is rejected by Muslim Governments as well as majority of the academia in the Muslim World. Not because there is no clash of Civilizations, but because both the Muslim governments and the liberal Muslim academia have convinced themselves of the universality of Western Civilization. They have borrowed the experience of the Christian World about religion and have incorrectly applied it on Islam. They consider the rejection of Western Values by the Muslim World as an outcome of Islamic fundamentalism and they insist that the Muslim World adopt the Western Ideal of Separation of State and Religion. In their opinions and their views, they echo the Western World. But they are gravely mistaken. As Huntington put it :”The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and obsessed with the inferiority of their power”. Unrest, resentment and instability in the Muslim World will continue to exist unless state structures in the Muslim World are radically changed to represent the aspirations of the Muslim masses to unite the Temporal with the Religious and to revive the Political Power of Islam and the Islamic civilization which existed under the caliphate.

Moez Mobeen is an engineer residing in Islamabad and a freelance columnist who regularly writes on Muslim Affairs.

New Civilisation

New Civilisation is an online political journal which provides a unique source of insight and critical analysis regarding the pressing political, economic and ideological issues of the time. Its motivation is to provide an authentic alternative to the standard analysis often found in mainstream outlets – opening a channel for advocates of alternative Islamic political models to present their critiques of other understandings and put forward their own opinions while allowing them to be discussed and challenged within an environment of informed and respectful discourse.

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