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The End of History and Islaam

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What is the view from within- a Muslim’s view- on the relationship between Islaam and the West?
We have to place the concrete experience of the Muslims with the West in a complex historical context. The firstdialoguebetweenthe West and Islaam was an armed one. The imperialist troops of Europe marched on Africa and Asia, and pounded Muslim societies with superior military technology.

Despite the imperialist onslaught, however, many Arab thinkers called for an adoption of Western modernity, for it had produced coherent societies with a sense of purpose, stable family structures, humanistic value systems, and impressive technological achievements. 

Western modernity, to use post-modern terminology, was logo-centric, based on stable epistemological, moral, and signifying systems. Imperialism, Zionism, racism, and the genocide of Native Americans were all marginalised as mere deviations from an otherwise wholesome humanistic culture. Looking for alternative modernity: This last fact encouraged Muslim intellectuals to deepen their critique of Western modernity and to reexamine their own Islaamic heritage in the hope of finding a new basis for the evolution of a new modernity, one that does not necessarily end with the death of God, the death of man, the destruction of nature and a veritable end of history.

But why do some Western scholars perceive this return to our roots as a threat to their well-being?
I have argued elsewhere that Western modernity is based on a metaphysics of immanence that denies transcendence.
The world is seen as self-activating, self-transforming and self-explanatory. The laws immanent in nature are sufficient as a basis for explaining both man and nature. This is the basis of Western rationalism. Within that frame of reference, the sources of man’s motivation and conduct have to be found within his material self or within natural laws. In other words, man is reduced to nature, the human is reduced to the material. As a result of this process, man began to be defined not interms of his needs, longings, desire to transcend, namely not in terms of his full human complexity, but rather in terms of the simple laws of nature.

This accounts for the centrality of the natural or physical science model, which presupposes a natural man in the Western imagination. On the concrete social level, this abstract concept takes two concrete forms: economic man (Adam Smith and Marx), and libidinal man (Freud). The world founded by Western modernity operated in terms of this image of man.

I am not here referring to the whole Western intellectual tradition, but to what I term the “operative paradigm”- namely the paradigm that underlies concrete political, military and economic decisions. Dissenting humanistic and anarchistic voices do not contribute to the formation of the operative paradigm.

To envisage an image of man different from the one propagated by Western modernity, to develop (or even dream of) a modernity that would not necessarily result in reificationand commodification,andtoseethenaturalsciences as inadequate in charting man’s full complexity: to do this is to represent a real threat, for this new image of man cannot be easily accommodated within the restricted parameters of technological rationalism and value-free rationalisation.

Max Weber predicted that this process, if left unchecked, will turn society into something like a workshop, and will land man in an iron cage, where everything is calculated, instrumentalised. The multi-nationals and the Pentagon operate in terms of a global market that is no different from Weber’s iron cage- a market for one based either on Christian values or on a secularised version thereof.

They reject this insane unilinearity and mentality of conquest. Muslims can definitelyengageinadialoguewith those elements. We can all cooperate in the attempt to evolve a more humane and complex modernity. But there is another form of dialogue; what I have referred to as an “armed dialogue”, in the sense that by resisting we can force the imperialist other to recognise our existence and our rights.

Can you elaborate?
The overarching paradigm in modem Western civilisation is Darwinism. By it’s very nature it cannot accept rational dialogue. Darwinism is committed to evolution, process and survival, its main mechanism is struggle and conflict, and the only way it can resolve conflict is through power Men are either supermen who dominate, or submen who accommodate and submit.

Israel is the living symbol of that in our midst An armed fortress, a little Prussia that bulldozes houses and breaks the bones of a peoplefor one of the main rights enshrined in liberal democracy, namely the right to self determination. This state is supported and subsidised and armed by the liberal west.

Are you implying some kind of basic contradiction between theory and practice in the West?
Western modernity paints a picture society based on the principles of utility, pleasure and self-interest. But of course this is too simplistic and therefore impossible. A process of patching up, of cosmetic “complexification” takesplace. This is not able in Fukuyama’s work.

At one point, the value-free physical science model is presented as the ultimate model, then in the next chapter, his discussion of the dignity of man comes out of nowhere. How can we relate the dignity of man to the laws of physics and nature? So is he revising the whole paradigm? Or is he using two paradigms? If something is of material use but comes in conflict with ideas of human dignity, how can the conflict be settled? The West has opted for the dominance of utility. Dignity is merely a decoration.

So does this amount to a clash of cultures?
The fact of the matter is that there is an Islaamic culture based on the idea of a monotheistic God. Islaam is a symbol of all those cultural formations that still espouse ideas of transcendence. including Western humanism itself. So it is not a case of Islaam versus the West. It is a case of one civilisation based on the denial of transcendence or committed to technological rationalism as opposed to any civilisation advocating transcendence and humanism.

I think this is what Huntington means when he singles out Islaam and Confucianism in the “clash of civilisations. His terminology is very confused but, like Fukuyama, he believes in the end of history, the eventual triumph of the secular, the Western and the moder (all synonymous in his discourse). The only difference, however, is that Fukuyama says we are already there, while Huntington argues that some people are lagging behind, the process is not yet complete, and “something” must be done about it That “something” is the history of Western imperialism.

How can we explain the sudden abundance of literature declaring the end of history?
Actually, for me, it is not that sudden. I discovered America in 1963, and right away I discovered the end of history. The whole enlightenment project with its view of the past as a history of backwardness and darkness implies a negation of history. The technological Utopias of the Renaissance are all based on an idea of end of history. Hegel’s view of history reaches its fulfilmentinthe end of history. The idea of America as a new Zion falls within the same pattern. Fascist ideologies and some revolutionary ideas postulate an end to history. Walt Whitman speaks of America, a new Zion, “scienusing” the past, and terminating history.

But all of this is simply a manifestation of the deeper pattern of applying the natural science model to human society. It meant the liquidation of the category of man as we know it. The end of history is actually the end of human history, and the beginning of natural history. But there is another dimension. I think the West has discovered that its hegemony is weakening and has replaced confrontation with seduction, war with deconstruction. The end of history, and post-modernism, have that in common: they are based on a denial of any possibility of transcendence or reform.

They advocate passivity. This is a perfect strategy for a declining west, when everybody is asked to erase his historical memory and forget his identity in order to become an economic or libidinal man who trades and enjoys in a passive way. He does not seek reform or change or transcendence. But passivity and pragmatism is for us; the West has its guns. Israel with its nuclear arsenal is an apt symbol of this end of our history, of this deconstruction of the human and the transcendental. You spoke in your last book of an Islaamic project What would be its main features?

Part of our Islaamic project is defending man against secular nihilism and amorality, technological rationalisation and instrumentalisation. Western modernity is based on the conquest of nature, exploitation, and war. What about modernity that is based on equilibrium? Developing along Western lines is impossible, because Western modernity is consumerist and wasteful of natural resources. Twenty per cent of the world’s population uses 80 to 85 per cent of its natural resources.

Western modernity, by definition can not beduplicated. We seek a new modernity based not on a revolution of rising expectations and infinite progress, but rather on the idea ofahuman mind at peace with itself, committed to the sanctity of man and of nature, and therefore not bent on conquest and plunder a modernity that balances productivity with ideas of justice, ideas of individual human rights with the rights of the human community.

Many Western scholars are not at all satisfiedwith the certainties of Western democracy and its empirical assumptions its Hobbesian, Darwinian ideologies. Muslims can cooperate with these elements in the attempt to construct a new modernity one that does not do away with man, and that does not declare the end of history.

Abdelwahab Elmessiri -

Abdelwahab Elmessiri [‘Abd Alwahhaab Almiseery] is an Arab thinker and writer.Read More >>

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Last Updated on Sunday, 27 July 2008 10:51  

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