Friday, December 07, 2012

Why So Many Muslims Are Angry at the West

Every semester, I teach a freshmen-level course at Amarillo College titled "Introduction to World Religions." It's the toughest teaching assignment I have. In about 40 hours of total class time, I introduce, and we explore, five major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I have been teaching this course for six and half years now. During that time, every semester I've made it a point to read something that is new to me and related to the topic. One of the class sessions on Islam is titled, "Why Are They So Angry? Historical Sources of Muslim Irritation at the West." The following is an overview of two of my better sources for this class period. These are some of the notes I take with me to class:

“The Roots of Muslim Rage” by Bernard Lewis, first appeared in the Atlantic magazine in September 1990. The tag line reads: "Why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified." Yes, the article came out more than a decade before September 11, 2001. It's now over twenty years old. But as you'll see, not very much has really changed since then. And that's why I believe this article is still pertinent. Here's what it has to say:

In order to provide some perspective, Lewis points back to German philosophers of the early twentieth century. Typically, they spoke of America as a civilization without a culture. Sure, they said, the United States is emerging as a world power. But unlike Germans, who are an “authentic” people, Americans lack the vitality and integrity of a long-standing, traditional culture. This view was absorbed by some Muslim intellectuals of the time. It is likely that they saw themselves as belonging to the same category as the European nations. Regardless of significant differences, they all possessed a time-honored, settled way of being.

Following the complete collapse of the Third Reich, German influence in the Muslim world was replaced by Soviet-style Marxism. As we know, the Soviets saw America as the most advanced and, therefore, the most dangerous version of Western capitalism. Again, much of this perspective would have been absorbed in regions of the world where Islam was the dominant cultural force.

Still later, the powerful West was demonized even by—in some cases, especially by—writers in Europe and America. According to this storyline, the innocent Adam and Eve of the East were being ruined by the evil serpent of the West.

No, the foregoing does not represent the source of Muslim rage against the West, particularly the U.S.  After all, it’s not as though the Nazi regime would have been sympathetic to Middle Easterners or to Islam. The same goes for atheistic Communism. How could the Soviet system have looked kindly at Islam with its devotion to Allah and the Quran? So, again, these items are not the source. However, they certainly encouraged the rise of Muslim resentment against the U.S., which in these instances represented a sort of common enemy that lived on the other side of the Atlantic. So what are the causes Muslim rage? Lewis lists three things:

1.  American support for the State of Israel (page 7).
2.  American support for hated regimes (7).
3.  Most offensive of all, iimperialism (8). But, says the author, that word "imperialism" has to be understood in the way it is used and heard in the Muslim world. There it has a religious flavor, “being used in association, and sometimes interchangeably, with ‘missionary,’ and denoting a form of attack that includes the Crusades as well as modern colonial empires. This is especially repugnant to Muslims because, in their eyes, the people being subjugated are the ones with the right religion. “What is truly evil and unacceptable is the domination of infidels over true believers” (9). 

So much for Lewis. My second source on this question is a series of lectures on Islam presented by Bill Humble who taught for many years at Abilene Christian University. In his presentation on "The Muslim World," Humble sized up the question with five points, some of which overlap with the article by Lewis. Why are Muslims angry at the West? Humble says:

1. Resentment at their own economic and military inferiority compared to the West.
2. American diplomatic and financial support of Israel against the Palestinians
3. American military presence in Saudi Arabia, the home of the two most holy cities in Islam: Mecca and Medina.
4. American military actions in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. While many Muslims hated and feared Saddam Hussein, they hate the West even more. They want U.S. and NATO military forces out of Muslim countries.
5. The impact of secular western culture (videos, music, magazines, television, etc.). "To many Muslims, especially those in traditional societies, American popular culture looks a lot like old-fashioned paganism, a cult that worships money and sex. For such people, Islam is an oasis of old-fashioned family values." Imam al-Awlaki, Washington, D.C.


Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Have you read either of Lewis' books "What Went Wrong?" or "The Muslim Discovery of Europe?" both very good books.

Bobby V

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi, Bobby. I have a copy of WHAT WENT WRONG? that I picked up a few months ago. It's still waiting on the bookshelf for me. I have not seen the other book by Lewis that you mentioned here. Thanks for pointing it out to me.