Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

January 6, 2011

What is this “East” you speak of?

Filed under: Categories,Culture,Islam — Razib Khan @ 12:43 pm

Though I agree with the general thrust of Zach’s comment below, I would enter into the record a worry about the categories on offer. A dichotomy between the West and the East enters into the sort of excessively Eurocentric and polar thinking which I critiqued in my essay ‘Taking the end of the age seriously’. It is also the sort of stance which I highlighted in my post ‘Most atheists are not white & other non-fairy tales’. The West & the Rest, or the Colored World, or the Global South, has coherency only in a world where white supremacy is a given. That presupposition is fading away, but the same people who speak of the rise of the ‘BRIC’ nations will still make recourse to colonial and Cold War categories. Too many variables clouds the picture, but too few may leave theoretical money on the table.

Léopold Sédar Senghor

The primitive superstitious barbarism highlighted in the recent posts is a feature of the core Muslim world. Not the East as a whole. In Pakistan politicians may need to know how to pray properly, but in India there are prominent public figures who are atheists. The political father of the nation, Nehru, is well known to have been a secular man in his private life as well. Granted, India is also plagued by the preoccupation with primitive superstition and its relationship to identity politics, often in gruesome barbaric form as in Gujarat. But at least in India there is a countervailing cultural consensus.

But the sort of norms advocated in Pakistan, where non-Muslims are marginalized, and deviation from religious orthodoxy can be a capital crime in the eyes of society, are not found in all Muslim societies. Leopold Senghor, president of Senegal for 20 years, which is 95% Muslim, was the son of a Catholic father and a Muslim mother. He himself was a Roman Catholic. Can one imagine a political career at the apex in any Middle Eastern nation for a man who was raised in a non-Muslim faith, whose mother was Muslim?

There is another way. I doubt that the nations at the center of the Muslim world are paying attention.

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