New Age Islam
Sat Jul 24 2021, 10:19 PM

Books and Documents ( 15 Jul 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Orientalism in the Civilisational Narcissism — I

By Farhat Taj

To exclude other cultures and sub-cultures of Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim world from the collective suffering from this condition, civilisational narcissism, and to restrict it to the Pakhtun tribal society as a whole sounds even racist.

Tehzeebi Nargasiyyat (civilisational narcissism) is an interesting Urdu book written by a Pakistan writer, Mobarak Haider. The book is psychoanalysis of the Muslim mind that has turned dangerously narcissist. Muslims, according to the book, think Islam is a complete, definitive and final code of life and there is no need for the Muslims to excel in knowledge through hard work, reason and logic. They believe they have the God-given right to rule the world and can use brute force, if necessary, to subjugate non-Muslims. They scream over perceived injustices to Muslims caused by non-Muslims, but simply deny widespread atrocities committed by Muslims against fellow Muslims. They simply lack a positive consideration of others no matter how reasonable and logical it might seem.

The book has been widely discussed in blogs and the media, especially the Urdu media. For example, Khaled Ahmed wrote an excellent piece on the book in a local English daily (‘A civilisation of narcissists’, March 26, 2011). The BBC Urdu website presented several articles on the book. In all media discussions the book has been appreciated and the writer, Mobarak Haider, presented as a scholar who has rightly indentified the personality disorder of Muslims, especially those in Pakistan. It is, however, striking to note that none of the media discussants pointed to a serious flaw in the book that can make it controversial in the sight of those who agree with the basic thesis of the writer.

Let me say at the outset that my criticism of the book must not be seen in any way as an attempt to belittle Mobarak Haider’s status as a scholar or the rationality and importance of the basic idea in his book. His key idea — that a large section of the Muslim population, especially in Pakistan, is inflicted by civilisational narcissism that he rightly regards as a disease destructive for Muslim societies and a danger for peace in the world — is mainly correct. I disagree with him when he applies this idea to the entire culture, socio-political system and the whole society in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan as well as the neighbouring Pakhtun tribes in Afghanistan.

This is not to say that there are no tribesmen and women suffering from civilisational narcissism. Indeed, there are some such Pakhtuns, just like there are people in other ethnicities and cultures of Pakistan and the wider Muslim world. But to say that the Pakhtun tribal culture is collectively suffering from civilisational narcissism is plainly wrong. Moreover, to exclude other cultures and sub-cultures of Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim world from the collective suffering from this condition, civilisational narcissism, and to restrict it to the Pakhtun tribal society as a whole sounds even racist, although Mr Haider might not have intended to invoke racism against the Pakhtun.

I would like to reproduce some of Haider’s sweeping judgements and faulty assumptions about the tribal culture, society, socio-political system and current ground reality since 9/11. In the column next week I will deconstruct these judgements and assumptions.

The tribal way of life is an early stage of human civilisation and thus the tribals mainly depend on their traditions. Their decisions are not based on reason and logic. Every tribal person is subjected to a collective tribal compulsion to adhere to the tribal way of life. This happens even if he or she is not kept under pressure by the tribal chief (the readers should note the connotation of the Pakhtun tribal system, which is assumed to be egalitarian and free from the dictatorial rule of tribal chiefs). It was the pre-Islam Arab tribal society of this kind that Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) had to deal with to spread the message of Islam among them. The writer seems to imply that the Pakhtun tribal culture of today is like the Arab tribal culture of the 7th century.

The tribes of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region are in a state of war against the whole world since 9/11. It is said that they are fighting to preserve their tribal traditions and way of life from outside interference. This argument is wrong when judged by the past and current conduct of the tribal people. They have integrated themselves into the modern economic structures of Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond. They are thus economically at an advanced stage of civilisation, but continue to stick to a backward culture that does not sit well with modern civilisation embraced by people around the world, including tribal people elsewhere. Their cultural backwardness is the fruition of their collective tribal narcissism. Blinded by their collective narcissism they hate modern civilisation and want to impose their backward culture on the wider society in Pakistan, Afghanistan and even globally. Their continuing cultural backwardness in the face of their advancement on the economic front even renders the economic theory that trade and commerce play a key role in the progress of human civilisation questionable.

The writer notes that over generations the tribal people have been coming down from the mountains into the plains of India to peacefully settle there. Hundreds of thousands of tribal people have been living in the big urban centres of Pakistan and around the world, including in the west, and have never encountered cultural clashes with the surrounding majority societies. This implies that the only way for the tribal people to integrate or assimilate in a superior civilisation is to first be free from the clutches of the collective tribal dictatorship, where the collective tribal narcissism prevents them from integrating with modern civilisation. This also implies that the tribes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region can be collectively civilised if there they are conquered by a superior civilisation on their native land.

Over the centuries the tribes have been clashing with civilisations. They have been joining the barbarian armies from the north invading the Hindu and Muslim civilisations in India. They have been the turbulent frontier of the Mughal civilisation. They have been clashing with the British civilisation. They actively participated in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Motivated by their tribal pride they have handed their leadership over to Arab al Qaeda terrorists and together the two are clashing with the US-led global alliance in the war on terror. They believe their tribal civilisation being attacked by the global alliance is innocent and do not hesitate to take revenge from innocent people in other civilisations. Thus they kill countless Pakistanis in terrorist attacks in response to some civilian casualties in drone attacks on the tribal area. In their tribal narcissism they consider innocent Pakistanis far lesser innocent than their own tribal holy warriors or innocent tribal casualties in the drone attacks. (To be continued)

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban

Source: The Daily Times, Lahore