Wilful imaginings

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ISSUE 345

Merryl Wyn Davies shows how Orientalism feeds both Islamophobia and Muslim fundamentalism. ‘How does a nice, sensible Welsh girl like you end up joining a religion o !ili"an" unda!en"alis"s who suppress wo!en#$ In"er%iewers ha%e endlessly asked !e "his &ues"ion' (he &ues"ion is predica"ed on "he proposi"ion "ha" nice and sensible people do no" beco!e )usli!s, and by i!plica"ion "here ore "ha" no )usli! is ei"her nice or sensible' (he lack o niceness or reason is pro%ed by "he second asser"ion* )usli!s in "o"ali"y, and presu!ably by "heir na"ure, are !ili"an"' )ili"ancy is synony!ous wi"h "he dread word unda!en"alis" "ha" clearly needs no de ini"ion' (he logical conse&uence o !ili"an" unda!en"alis! is "he sel + e%iden" obser%a"ion "ha" all )usli!s suppress wo!en' In "he percep"ion o "he in"er%iewer "hese "er!s belong "oge"her* because Isla! o ers no al"erna"i%e, beco!e a )usli! and "ha" is wha" you ge"' , course, in"er%iewers o "en play de%il$s ad%oca"e asking aggressi%e &ues"ions "o s"i!ula"e robus" rebu""al' In which case, "hey !us" be aware o "he possibili"y o an al"erna"i%e %iew' So why does i" ne%er occur "o "he! "ha" de%ilishly reduc"i%e s"ereo"ypes ac"ually i!pede and o "en preclude sensible discussion o "he al"erna"i%e %iew' -ei"her "he con%en"ional &ues"ions nor "he ro"e answers "hey are designed "o elici" describe or help anyone unders"and who I a!, "he world I inhabi", how I know and unders"and Isla!, and "he condi"ion o being a )usli!' Why has "his &ues"ion, and %aria"ions on i"s "he!es, beco!e "he essen"ial nor!, "he se" e.a!ina"ion "o which a )usli!$s e.is"ence !us" be subjec"ed# (he answer is ,rien"alis!, "he "radi"ion and scholarship by which Wes"ern ci%ili/a"ion por"rays and percei%es Isla! and )usli!s' 0igh" ro! i"s incep"ion, Isla! was percei%ed and represen"ed in Europe in a par"icular way' ,ne can begin wi"h "he pole!ics o 1ohn o 2a!ascus c344 52 and !o%e orward "o "he produc"ion o propaganda and popular li"era"ure produced "o s"i!ula"e, e.plain and jus"i y "he cen"uries long projec" known as "he 6rusades' (he 6rusades were a se!inal projec" or "he repossession o "he Holy 7and by Wes"ern 6hris"endo!' I" re&uired a ra"ionale "o e.plain why "he )usli! rulers and popula"ion o "ha" region were illegi"i!a"e and un i" occupan"s o "he place where 6hris" had walked on Ear"h' (he basic represen"a"ion o )usli!s "ha" e!erged was o !ili"an", barbaric ana"ics, corrup", e e"e sensualis"s, people who li%ed con"rary "o "he na"ural law 8 a concep" de ined by canon laws and philosophy o 6hris"iani"y' E%en when )usli!s were por"rayed in popular !edie%al li"era"ure as e&ui%alen"s o knigh"ly Wes"ern coun"erpar"s, "hey were co!ple"ely ,"her because "hey were beyond "he pale o 6hris"iani"y, addic"ed "o wrong religion which "hey persis"ed in passiona"ely belie%ing' (he ailings o )usli!s s"e!!ed ro! "heir belie s' Wha" !edie%al Europe !ade o Isla! and )usli!s has been described by 9ri"ish his"orian -or!an 2aniels as ‘knowledgeable ignorance$, de ining a "hing as so!e"hing i" could no" possibly be, when "he !eans "o know i" di eren"ly were a%ailable'

a source o encourage!en" or nos"algic ro!an"icis! abou" "he per ec"ions o )usli! ci%ili/a"ion in his"ory and hence a recrui"ing agen" or a wide %arie"y o Isla!ic !o%e!en"s' I" has genera"ed a sense o e. by de ini"ion "ha" which is o ended agains" !us" be . when i" e.is"ence o .(he essen"ial ea"ures o "he !edie%al represen"a"ion o Isla! and )usli!s ound a new lease o li e wi"h "he rise o "he .rien"alis! is "ha" i" !akes )usli!s inco!prehensible ye" predic"able' 5nd i"s persis"ence in his"ory and !odern "i!es !eans "ha" Isla! and "he Wes" ha%e been engaged in a clash o ci%ili/a"ions since <rophe" )uha!!ad began preaching his )essage' Is "oday$s ‘war on "erroris!$ "he prelude "o a clash o ci%ili/a"ions# (he &ues"ion is in e%ery newspaper and !aga/ine' I" did no" need "he righ"+wing 5!erican poli"ical scien"is" Sa!uel Hun"ingdon "o de%ise "he &ues"ion= "he idea has ne%er ac"ually gone away' (here is a sense in which . "he shield and sword o )usli!s "he!sel%es' 5!ong )usli!s "he e. a con"inen" increasingly aware "ha" i" was he!!ed in and cu" o ro! "he riches o "he world by )usli! "erri"ory and power' English philosopher :rancis 9acon described "he .""o!ans as "he ‘presen" "error o "he world$' Wha" Europe calls "he ‘5ge o 2isco%ery$.ious e.rien"alis! has beco!e an e%en grea"er proble!' I" has beco!e "he scapegoa".is".per"s on Isla! and )usli! a airs is no" "ha" i" is knowledge.clusi%i"y.ercise "o circu!%en" i"s dependence on )usli! lands' I" brough" Europeans in"o closer con"ac" wi"h and e%en"ual con"rol o )usli! lands' )edie%al ideas abou" Isla! and )usli!s go" a new lease o li e during "he colonial period when "hey were used as jus"i ica"ion or ruling and !anaging "he subjec" people' Such European disciplines as an"hropology.is" no" only in "he a""i"udes and ac"ions o an obno. has been de!ons"ra"ed "o e.rien"alis!' I" is "he li"erary con%en"ion o !uch o "he ic"ional and "ra%el li"era"ure o Europe' (hus. bu" "ha" i" is knowledge "ha" does no" apprecia"e i" is wrong' (he au"hori"y o .rien"alis! and "he au"hori"y i" gi%es "o Wes"ern e. e%ol%ed and de%eloped on "he "ene"s o .pec"s ro! a )usli! iconoclas" in ideas.rien"alis!. poli"ical science and de%elop!en" s"udies. .plored and began "o es"ablish i"s coloni/ing presence around "he globe. o being apar" and di eren" wi"hin )usli! co!!uni"ies and socie"ies "ha" has no preceden" ei"her in Isla! as religion or )usli! his"ory' 9ecause .453 "he . "he non+ )usli! and )usli! popula"ions o Wes"ern na"ions' 0acis! and discri!ina"ion in "owns and ci"ies across Europe and -or"h 5!erica e. i" inds i"s ou"le"s in plas"erboard !o%ie %illains as well as s"ra"egic poli"ical "hinking' 9u" !os" o all i" inhibi"s. sensible people' 9u" in recen" years .""o!an E!pire' 5 "er "he :all o 6ons"an"inople in . as well as "he s"udy o non+Wes"ern ci%ili/a"ions such as Isla!. or i"s la"es" bu// word Isla!ophobia.""o!ansbeca!e a new "hrea" on "he borders o Europe."re!e ringe* "hey can be i!plici" in "he co!!onplace a""i"udes and in or!a"ion o well+ !eaning and well+in"en"ioned nice. "hen. i" is also knowledge' (he real proble! wi"h .rien"alis! as knowledge has i!!ense prac"ical conse&uences' I" s"ruc"ures "he learned books as well as "he popular press. since he e!bodies so !any o "he essen"ial de"ails o "he "i!e+honoured i!age o wha" "he Wes" e. India and 6hina. ro! "he )usli! perspec"i%e.sa!a bin 7aden is u""erly predic"able.rien"alis! has beco!e "he jus"i ica"ion or e%ery sense o grie%ance. rhe"oric and ac"ion' Fear and discomfort (he au"hori"y o .rien"alis! is no" si!ply prejudice. was an e. cons"rains and pro%ides an edge o ear and disco! or" in "he rela"ions be"ween ordinary people.

dispossession and dehu!ani/a"ion o anyone who is no" ‘us$' (he conse&uences are real. prejudice. sis"erhood are genuine and au"hen"ic re le. philosophy. )usli!s bli"hely proceed "o !isunders"and "he!sel%es' (he sel +descrip"ion "ha" has beco!e co!!onplace a!ong )usli! groups. where di erence and dis"ance were !anu ac"ured.de ended' (ha" which is "he subjec" o discri!ina"ion. 9aghdad or -ew >ork or on "he s"ree"s o 9ri"ain' Shared cultures Wi"h "wo co!plici" sys"e!s o sel +jus"i ica"ion and sel + ul illing inco!prehension rein orcing "he di%ide. Europe ac&uired . a sys"e! o %alues applicable irs" and ore!os" "o )usli!s' Isla! canno". reasoning and e"hical ra!ework. "echnology."ensi%e orces o conde!na"ion' 9ro"herhood. wha" we ha%e is no" a clash o ci%ili/a"ions bu" !u"ual co!plici"y in proli era"ing !u"ual inco!prehension' . i!po"ence and rus"ra"ion o being a )usli!' 5r!ed wi"h "he con%ic"ion o being !isunders"ood. organi/a"ions and !o%e!en"s is no" a cri"ical agenda or addressing ac"ual proble!s bu" a projec"ion o per ec"ions "ha" !akes arri%ing a" a con"e!porary in"erpre"a"ion o how "o enac" and li%e by )usli! belie s and ideas al!os" i!possible' So. li"era"ure and cul"ure o )usli! ci%ili/a"ion' (here are "housands o words in English 8 such as algebra.is"ence' 9o"h lea%e ou" an essen"ial de"ail' (here would be no Europe as we know i" wi"hou" Isla!. we can reco%er "he building blocks o a new sense o in"errela"ionship. i!aginings and knowledgeable ignorance propels. dis"or"ed. alcohol 8 "ha" are rou"e !aps o "he posi"i%e con"ribu"ion )usli!s !ade "o European ways o li e' Indeed. or ra"her ough" no" "o be !anipula"ed in"o ‘!y ellow )usli! righ" or wrong$' (he e. de"er!ined. no !a""er wha" i"s ac"ual i!per ec"ions in prac"ice' (he !os" sub"le and or )usli!s perilous conse&uence o . is "here any way orward# (here is' In "he roo" o an"ipa"hy. wil ul. appalling hu!an su ering whe"her in <ales"ine or Israel. oppression. despoiling ne!esis o i"s con"e!porary e.is"ence "oday or in "he u"ure "ha" can be concei%ed wi"hou" in"erconnec"ion wi"h "he Wes"' We ha%e "o go back "o his"ory and see how !uch Europe gained ro! "he knowledge and ideas in science. ellow eeling. co!pa"ibili"y and !u"ual enligh"ened in"eres"s' . oppression and all !anner o wrongs is "hereby es"ablished as bo"h innocen" and good.rien"alis! and Isla!ophobic ac"ions is "he silencing o sel +cri"icis! and "he slide in"o de ending "he inde ensible' )usli!s decline "o be openly cri"ical o ellow )usli!s. les" "his be seen as gi%ing aid and co! or" "o "he e.is"ence and increasing ocus on .es o Isla!' 9u" Isla! is supre!ely a cri"ical.rien"alis! pro%ide "he per ec" ra"ionale or !odern )usli!s "o beco!e reac"i%e.rien"alis! !akes )usli! ci%ili/a"ion "he dark al"er ego o European ci%ili/a"ion' )usli! .ed co!pany. uels and "hen jus"i ies aggression. wi"hou" "he cons"an" in"erconnec"ion wi"h )usli! ci%ili/a"ion' 5nd "here is no )usli! e. /eni"h. ac"i%i"ies and rhe"oric in !i. addic"ed "o a cul"ure o co!plain" and bla!e "ha" ser%es only "o increase "he powerlessness.cciden"alis! !akes "he Wes" "he dark.n bo"h sides. "heir ideas.

beca!e in"egral par"s o "he rise o knowledge and "echnical progress in European li e' (his con"ribu"ion occurred and was possible because bo"h Isla! and "he Wes" had a co!!on con"e. "ha" de or! our po"en"ial. how "o a""ain a jus". e&ui"able and inclusi%e social and poli"ical order' (o "hese co!!on concerns "hey bring a par"icular way o seeing proble!s. wri"er and cul"ural cri"ic. ibn Sina and al+Hay"ha!. di%er" us ro! "he !os" cons"ruc"i%e use o our insigh" and abili"ies' In shor" we ha%e "o ad!i" "o errors and re!edy wha" we ha%e go" wrong' (o do "ha" we ha%e "o be able "o e. !ake our deba"es no" predic"able bu" co!prehensible "o each o"her' Merryl Wyn Davies. as dis"inc" ro! speci ic doc"rines. how "o sa%e "he Ear"h. as !ono"heis"ic world%iews. precep"s and ideals. liberal hu!anis!.plain oursel%es.i"s crowning glory." and legacy ro! "he ?reco+0o!an world and bo"h. beco!e sel +cri"ical and conscious o "he alse cons"rain"s we ha%e "aken or nor!ali"y and au"hori"a"i%e knowledge. who had "heir na!es 7a"ini/ed. had "o re%ise and cri"ically e%alua"e "he ideas o ?reek "hough"' 6hris"iani"y and Isla! share "he co!!on legacy o "he 5braha!ic "radi"ion' (here are %alues. and no si!plis"ic de ini"i%e answers' (he "rouble wi"h hope ul al"erna"i%e s"ra"egies is "hey begin wi"h a change o !indse"' (hey can opera"e only i we are prepared "o unlearn. hu!an be""er!en". ro! Isla!' Isla! "augh" Europe "he %ery idea o reason as well as how "o reason' )usli! "hinkers like ibn 0ushd. is au"hor o Introducing Anthropology and o"her books' . are concerned abou" where science is going. "ha" are co!!on "o bo"h or !arkedly si!ilar' (here is a re"elling o his"ory and ideas "o be under"aken' (he Wes" has "he "ask o learning "o "hink di eren"ly abou" where i" ca!e ro!' (he )usli! world !us" re"hink where i" is' I" needs "o learn how i" %alues* i"s !oral and e"hical i!pulses are no" a separa"e order bu" in"egral par" o "he co!!on concerns o con"e!porary hu!an dile!!as' )usli!s wan" sus"ainable i!pro%e!en".

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