By Farooq Sulehria
July 03, 2013
By narcissistic delusions I mean those bogus myths and baseless clichés that lull the masses into false consciousness and blind them to reality.
When conspiracy theories fail, our middle classes latch on to a few tenuous but fantastic clichés. In both conspiracy theories and clichés, claims do not need to be substantiated.
‘The west has learnt it all from us’, is one such cliché. In recent months, Imran Khan popularised this farce by giving it specificity in an attempt to justify it. The Swedish welfare system, he argued, was an imitation of the Islamic welfare system introduced by Caliph Omar (RA).
For a generation that takes Naseem Hijazi’s fiction for real, such self-serving clichés may help soothe its middle-class sensibilities. However, these cock and bull stories lack any explanatory or descriptive value.
Appealing to raw feelings and emotions, these preposterous but emotionally satisfying clichés only reinforce the myopic world outlook our middle classes espouse.
Since Imran Khan’s narrative regarding the Swedish welfare system as a replication of Caliph Omar’s social engineering has been countered before, let us, therefore, explore some other aspects implied by the west-has-learnt-it-all-from-us narrative.
This old favourite implies that what may be described as the best western values, ideologies and institutions – such as secularism, liberal democracy marked by the electoral system, liberalism, Marxism, political parties, parliaments, trade unions, gender equality, increasing freedom for asserting sexual orientation, freedom of expression etc – have once been in vogue somewhere in the idiomatic Muslim world.
It also implies that the civic sense displayed by western societies in their public life was once practiced by ‘us’. While an exchange of ideas has always taken place and the west benefitted from the knowledge produced in the Orient, there is no evidence to suggest that ‘we’ preceded ‘them’ in the modernity that is attributed to the contemporary west.
Ironically, ‘they’ came in contact with ‘us’ during our ‘golden age’ – through crusades and conquests roughly a thousand years ago. However, they procrastinated until the twentieth century to implement the Swedish model.
As a matter of fact, the west is not more developed and civilised in its public life because it imitated ‘us’. On the contrary, it outpaced not only ‘us’ but the entire colonial world as well.
The progress of the west can be attributed to two main factors. On the one hand, the western world entered the age of capitalism before everyone else did. Hence, the bourgeois revolutions that overthrew vestiges of feudalism also fathered bourgeois institutions and bourgeois rights. On the other hand, subsequent anti-capitalist struggles helped universalise the bourgeois rights. As capitalism grew over into colonialism (and later imperialism), there were material basis available to accommodate the demands by popular classes albeit only after bitter class struggles.
The feudal economic structures in the Muslim world had nothing to teach either to the western bourgeoisie or the western proletariat. Both capitalist and proletarian classes were born after capitalist relations had taken root in the west – and they remained missing in the world inhibited by ‘us’.
Had emulation been the path to development, the entire postcolonial world would have caught up with the west just by imitating it.
But did ‘they’ not steal our science? Yes, they benefitted from the scientific knowledge contributed by the Muslim scientists. But this does not justify the other popular cliché about every scientific achievement, ‘we have known this for 1400 years.’
Ironically, as Krishan Chandra pointed out in his debut novel Shikast, ‘we’ come to know about holy prophecies on scientific discoveries only after the west has discovered them. He may as well have said: let us patent the future technologies the atheistic west is likely to steal from our holy scriptures.
Farooq Sulehria is a freelance contributor.