Ibn Warraq says the West has become gun shy in defending the values of Western civilization.
This is a shame according to Warraq, who uses a pen name for safety reasons. In his new book ”Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of Liberal Democracy,” the author of “Why I am not a Muslim” and other books lays out the achievements of the West and makes the case for its superior values, especially in comparison to its rivals. In a recent interview with The Daily Caller, Warraq discussed his new book and his pessimistic outlook on the so-called Arab Spring.
“I am not at all optimistic about the future of democracy in the Middle East — the Arab Spring should be renamed The ‘Muslim Brotherhood Spring,’” Warraq told TheDC.
“There is no such thing as ‘moderate Islamism.’ The Islamist parties have been cleverly feeding the gullible Western journalists from Nicholas Kristof to Thomas Friedman — and even more gullible Western governments — soothing words, all the while concealing their true aims: The establishment of a Sharia-based constitution and a theocratic state.”
See the full interview below:
Why, exactly, is the West best?
Not only is the West so successful economically, but it also leads the world scientifically and culturally. One only has to look at the list of Nobel Prize winners in science and literature to gauge the overwhelming triumph of the West in these domains; or at the influence of the Western arts on the rest of the world — both high culture and popular entertainment, from classical music to cinema. This self-evident superiority stems from certain principles inherited, and further developed and refined over two millennia, from Athens, Rome and Jerusalem.
What qualities of Western societies make them superior to those societies who have not adopted Western values?
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: This triptych succinctly defines the attractiveness and superiority of Western civilization. In the West we are free to think what we want, to read what we want, to practice our religion, to live as we choose. Liberty is codified in human rights — a magnificent Western creation — but also, I believe, a universal good.
In the West, we have the choice to pursue our desires and ambitions. We are free as individuals to set the goals and determine the contents of our own lives, and to decide what meaning to give to our lives. As Roger Scruton remarks, “the glory of the West is that life is an open book.”
The rest of the world recognizes the virtues of the West in concrete ways. As Arthur Schlesinger remarked, “when Chinese students cried and died for democracy in Tiananmen Square, they brought with them not representations of Confucius or Buddha, but a model of the Statue of Liberty.” Millions of people risk their lives trying to get to the West — not to Saudi Arabia or Iran or Pakistan. They flee from theocratic or other totalitarian regimes to find tolerance and freedom in the West, where life is an open book.
What do you think are the greatest achievements of the West?
It is in the West that human rights are most respected. It is the West that has liberated women, racial minorities, religious minorities and gays and lesbians, recognizing and defending their rights. The notions of freedom and human rights were present at the dawn of Western civilization, as ideals at least, but have gradually come to fruition through supreme acts of self-criticism. Because of its exceptional capacity for self-criticism, the West took the initiative in abolishing slavery; the calls for abolition did not resonate even in black Africa, where rival African tribes took black prisoners to be sold as slaves in the West.
The whole edifice of modern science is one of Western man’s greatest gifts to the world. The West is responsible for almost every major scientific discovery of the last five hundred years, from heliocentrism and the telescope, to electricity, to computers.
The West has given the world the symphony and the novel. A culture that engendered the spiritual creations of Mozart and Beethoven, Wagner and Schubert, of Raphael and Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt does not need lessons in spirituality from societies whose vision of heaven resembles a cosmic brothel stocked with virgins for men’s pleasure.
How do you define the West in your book?
The origins of the modern West are often seen in the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century, but the roots of the Enlightenment can be found in habits of mind cultivated in Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, and the institutions that grew from them. The Greeks gave us the city and the notion of citizenship, the ideals of democracy and liberty, rationalism and science, philosophy and history. The Romans systematized the law, defined private property and emphasized individual responsibility. Judeo-Christianity added a sense of conscience and charity, tempering justice with forgiveness, and the concept of linear rather than cyclical time, which allowed the possibility of progress. The Middle Ages brought a deeper synthesis of Athens and Rome with Jerusalem, laying the foundations for the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, the Enlightenment and pluralistic liberal democracy.
What changed within Western societies that allowed them to so dramatically outperform other societies over the past 500 years, when that wasn’t the case beforehand?
What has made the West successful while so many countries in other parts of the world fail to provide adequate food and shelter for their citizens, or to guarantee security or protect human rights? The short answer is the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, and the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. Both depended on European culture, economic and political freedom — that is, the institutions and habits of mind developed over two millennia.
“If we learn anything from the history of economic development, it is that culture makes all the difference,” argues David Landes. By way of illustration, he mentions the relative success of various expatriate minorities in comparison with the dominant population: “The Chinese in East and Southeast Asia, Indians in East Africa, Lebanese in West Africa.” He also points to the Jews and Calvinists as successful cultural minorities in much of Europe. In other words, “Max Weber was right on,” Landes adds, referring to the thesis that Weber made famous in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (first published in 1904). The economic and technological success of the West began with culture, and with principles embodied in its characteristic institutions.
Over the centuries, the West built up a defining set of institutions and ideals. They are not the exclusive property of the West, however: Anyone can rationally choose to live by them without feeling he is thereby betraying his tribe. These values include religious tolerance, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, respect for the individual, protection of human rights, the rule of law, equality before the law, separation of church and state, representative democracy, separation of powers, constitutional limits on state power, freedom of trade, honoring of contracts, private property rights, academic freedom, the encouragement of skeptical and critical thinking, and the methods of scientific research. These are the reasons for the success of the West.
How is, as you write, New York City a metaphor for the greatness of the West?
In New York, I show the principles of the United States Constitution being applied in a real, vibrant place. I give the term “Western civilization” a physical context in the very concrete of the city. The details of New York’s streets and structures create a believable, breathing image of Western civilization, just as Dickens created believable, breathing characters. See this building, I say it’s an example of beautiful architecture, one of the glories of New York, and as integral to Western civilization as the works of Shakespeare. See that building — it’s the New York Public Library. Inside, the Beaux-Arts masterpiece is an institution that embodies key aspects of Western civilization: Philanthropy, education, the love of knowledge, the preservation of all the best that has been written and published. Each time you admire the façade of the New York Public Library, you are paying homage to Western civilization. Each time you consult a book in the magnificent Main Reading Room, you are participating in the maintenance of Western civilization. By working and living in New York, you are breathing Western civilization, continuously reminded of its benefits and its values.
Why have Westerners become so shy in defending Western civilization?
One of the reasons why Westerners feel so shy about defending Western civilization was well-described by James Burnham: “When the Western liberal’s feeling of guilt and his associated feeling of moral vulnerability before the sorrows and demands of the wretched become obsessive, he often develops a generalized hatred of Western civilization and his own country as a part of the West … The guilt of the liberal is insatiable. He deserves, by his own judgment, to be kicked, slapped and spat on for his infinite crimes”
First, there has been the influence of intellectuals and academics who have undermined the confidence of the West in its own values and strengths. Another reason was the intellectual terrorism of left-wing ideologues such as Edward Said, and his highly influential book, “Orientalism,” that bludgeoned Western intellectuals into silence.
As I have argued, Western civilization has been more willing to criticize itself than any other major culture. These self-administered admonishments are a far cry from Said’s savage strictures, and yet they found a new generation ready to take them to heart. Berating and blaming the West, a fashionable game in the 1960s and 1970s that impressionable youth took seriously, had the results we now see when the same generation appears unwilling to defend the West against the greatest threat that it has faced since the Nazis.
Are you optimistic about the so-called Arab Spring to bring Western values to the Muslim societies of the Middle East?
No, I am not at all optimistic about the future of democracy in the Middle East — the Arab Spring should be renamed The Muslim Brotherhood Spring. As one Saudi Arabian journalist surprisingly put it, we are witnessing a political Islamist tsunami as Islamists are all set to gain power in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya while biding their time in Syria.
There is no such thing as “moderate Islamism.” The Islamist parties have been cleverly feeding the gullible Western journalists from Nicholas Kristof to Thomas Friedman, and even more gullible Western governments soothing words all the while concealing their true aims: the establishment of a Sharia based constitution and a theocratic state.
The situation has been aggravated by the Obama Administration taking the side of the Muslim Brotherhood, naively believing that once in power the Islamists will moderate their tone and demands. There is no likelihood of democracy in the Middle East as long as the U.S. government openly seeks to empower the enemies of democracy — the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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