Benazir Bhutto on Islam and the West

Posted: November 3, 2010 in Don't Miss!
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Benazir Bhutto, to me, personifies the balanced rhetoric politicians and human rights activists preach of when they talk about open and fair dialogue beween Islam and other Abrahamic religions. She had a way of not only looking inwardly at the socio-political conditions in her native Pakistan, but also the ability to intelligently juxtapose them on a global scale to come up with some of the most brilliant (and unbiased) insights I have encountered.

As a scholar and political leader, Bhutto ventured in a direction that most of her contemporaries would not even dream of: that of criticizing the all-powerful religious establishment. The following is an excerpt from Bhutto’s book, “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West”. One can only imagine how much bravery and gumption it must have taken a female Muslim politician to write these words.

On the post – 9/11 Muslim backlash against Western society:

“One billion Muslims around the world seemed united in their outrage at the war in Iraq, damning the deaths of Muslims caused by U.S. military intervention without U.N. approval. But there has been little if any similar outrage against the sectarian civil war, which has led to far more casualties. Obviously (and embarrasingly), Muslim leaders, masses, and even intellectuals are quite comfortable criticizing outsiders for the harm inflicted on fellow Muslims, but there is deadly silence when they are confronted with Muslim-on-Muslim violence. That kind of criticism is not so politically convenient and certainly not politically correct. Even regarding Darfur, where there is an actual genocide being committed against a Muslim population, there has been a remarkable absence of protests, few objections, and no massive coverage on Arab or South Asian television.

We are all familiar with the data that pour forth from Western survey research centers and show an increasing contempt for and hostility to the West, and particularly the United States, in Muslim communities from Turkey to Pakistan. The war in Iraq is cited as a reason. The situation in Palestine is given as another reason. So-called decadent Western values are often part of the explanation. It is so much easier to blame others for our problems than to accept responsibility ourselves.

The colonial experience has obviously had a major impact on the Muslim psyche. Colonialism, resource exploitation, and political suppression have affected Muslim’s attitudes toward the West and toward themselves. No one doubts that the record of the West in majority Islamic nations is not a pretty one. But what outsiders did in the past does not exclusively account for the quality of Muslim life today. There are a rush and an ease to condemn foreigners and colonizers, but there is an equally weighty unwillingness within the Muslim world to look inward and to identify where we may be going wrong ourselves.

It is uncomfortable but nevertheless essential to true intellectual dialogue to point out that national pride in the Muslim world is rarely derived from economic productivity, technical innovation, or intellectual creativity. Those factors seem to have been part of the Persian, Mughal, and Ottoman past but not the Muslim present. Now we see Muslim pride always characterized in the negative, derived from the notions of “destroying the enemy” and “making the nation invulnerable to Western assault.” Such toxic rhetoric sets the stage for the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West every bit as much as do Western military or political policies. It also serves as an opiate that keeps Muslims angry against external enemies and allows them to pay little attention to the internal causes of intellectual and economic decline. Reality and intellectual honesty demand that we look at both sides of the coin.” (2007; 7)


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