I’ve been reading “Progressive Muslims” by Omid Safi, and I came across a paragraph that captured what I’ve been studying recently. A lot of what I learn revolves around critiques of modernity. I think this program has really opened my eyes to how the world we lived in has been colonized by Enlightenment ideals and concepts, to the extent that we automatically question anything that doesn’t fit that paradigm of thinking – even our own knowledges and cultures.
In crucial ways, being a progressive Muslim means being mindful and critical of the arrogance of modernity – an alleged teleology that posits a Hegelian, unidirectional, and inevitable march towards the end game of modern Western civilization. Progressive Muslims no longer look toward the prevalent notion of Western modernity as something to be imitated and duplicated in toto. In fact, we direct our critique just as much to the West as to Muslim societies.
The West now claims to have a blueprint for what a successful nation should look like: freedom, democracy and free enterprise. Not many people would argue against freedom and democracy, but many progressive Muslims would point out that the foreign policy of America is less than stellar in its support of democracy around the world. Time and time again, the US has supported and armed tyrannical rulers who have oppressed their own pro-democracy citizens (e.g. the US$1.5 billion given to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War).
As for free enterprise, where are the societies that have been wholly lifted out of poverty through free trade and free markets? What about the growing divide between North and South, and the way globalization has been the rich super-rich and the super-poor even poorer?
I absolutely love the way Safi put this: free markets are detrimental to all of us (think of how there is growing inequality in the world and the credit crisis in the US); democracy (who defines democracy? why does the West support undemocratic countries when its in their own benefit and yet still lecture on and on about democracy?); and freedom (what is freedom? why are women in Europe not free to wear a face-veil?
Something I’ve learnt in the last few months is to question every single thing. Every single word needs to be critically looked at. A good example: what is war? Why is Darfur a war and Iraq an “intervention”? I love this quote:
African warlords wage wars whereas western democracies engage in ‘humanitarian interventions’ and the ‘spreading of democracy.’
Where we stand matters. I will post on Foucalt later, because I think it would be very interesting to apply Foucalt to Islam and Islamic knowledge/authority!
What do you guys think of the idea that progressive Muslims need to be critical of the West, and not model themselves blindly according to Western ideals?