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The Wicked Civilisation

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The demonization of the Soviet Union came to an abrupt stop with the disappearance of ‎the alleged demon. New allegations were immediately raised against the Muslim world, ‎large parts of which had been partners of the west against the former Mephistopheles. ‎Only the Muslim world posed any threat to the west - especially to America - and that, ‎too, for good reasons, as the West knew well. ‎

The Israel-Palestinian conflict had been there for decades, and now that the common ‎enemy had departed, it was time for Muslims to settle old scores. So, it was not surprising ‎that the London-based Economist newspaper devoted an entire survey to "Islam and the ‎West" in August, 1994. "One of the commonest prophecies of the mid-1990s," opined the ‎newspaper, "is that the Muslim world is heading for a fight with other parts of the world." ‎No points for guessing which other parts they might be. ‎

Why did the Economist think that Islam might go to war with the West? Not because of ‎Israel, or the Gulf War, or the treatment meted out to the Algerian Islamists who won ‎elections there - no, not by a long shot; but because Muslims "feel ashamed of the past ‎few centuries" when they were humiliated by the West. That is to say, Muslims have an ‎irrational chip on their shoulder, not any valid grounds for complaint. After all, India and ‎China had also been humiliated, but they weren't griping against western civilization (of ‎course, this line of reasoning undermines the Economist's thesis, but never mind). ‎

Then comes the demonization, and on two fronts: democracy and women. This article ‎will deal mostly with propaganda centred around the second: and the question it will raise ‎is this - why don't western concern for women and lack of democracy extend to other ‎civilizations? ‎

‎"It is perfectly true that the condition of most Muslim women is not good," observes the ‎newspaper. Let us concede the point that it is "perfectly true" (despite the figures I quoted ‎from a World Bank report on health care (1993) - page 217 - in my article "The Perils of ‎Cultural Absolutism" to the effect that Muslim women are the safest in the world, not ‎only from others, but also from themselves: see ‎here.

The Indian Woman
I have never read anywhere any statement to of the kind that "It is perfectly true that the ‎condition of most Indian women is not good", for instance. This may be because the ‎condition of most Indian women is, in fact, good, or, for that matter, very good. Let's ‎look at the facts. ‎

The Economist quotes ?inevitably - chapter and verse from the Koran: chapter 4, verse ‎‎34 ("On women"). "The hard-nosed version of verse 34 has God saying that men "have ‎authority" over women, and that if the women cause trouble they should be beaten." ‎Ergo, Muslim women are beaten black and blue by their men-folk. ‎

The Economist's logic is interesting. It rests on the major premise "All people abide by ‎the precepts of their holy books". Jesus Christ said to his followers: diligite inimicos ‎vestros (love your enemies); ergo, all Christians have loved their enemies and never - ‎perish the thought - gone out of their way to make enemies. QED. ‎

Homicide and violence take a toll of only 3.6 hundred thousand disability-adjusted life-‎years (compared to 4.3 for women in market economies), Chapter 4, Verse 34 ‎notwithstanding; and the most surprising figure is that related to self-inflicted violence: ‎women in mature economies lose 4.9 hundred thousand DALYs compared to women in ‎the Middle East, who inflict wounds on themselves measuring up to 2.7! Indian women ‎are safer than women in market-economies (only 2.8 hundred thousand DALYs lost), but ‎suffer 10.8 on that scale when it comes to self-inflicted wounds. Why are Indian women ‎so lacking in self-esteem and so depressed? ‎

Tavleen Singh, a columnist for India Today observed (June 19, 2000, page 18): "There ‎are other things we do not see or choose not to....So, it took an American current affairs ‎program, Sixty Minutes, to bring out the full horror of the status of women in Indian ‎society....I watched it in an American living room and saw, as if for the first time, the ‎ultra-sound clinics that provide the new, scientific tools of female infanticide. No longer ‎is it necessary, except in some remote villages, to kill new born girls by burying them ‎alive or poisoning them because they can be killed even before they are born....More ‎than 95% of abortions in India are of female fetuses. We accept this unquestioningly ‎because that is the way things are in our country, just as we accept the fact that thousands ‎of young women are burned to death every year because they do not bring enough ‎dowry....It is again hard to blame our poverty for the ultra-sound clinics since it is mainly ‎middle-class women who patronize them." ‎

Of course, that is progress: from infanticide to foeticide aided by modern technology. But ‎two questions loom: why don't the western media focus on this Indian issue? And why ‎doesn't this happen in Muslim countries? ‎

Female infanticide in Arabia was common when the Prophet Mohammed lived: it was the ‎Koran that put an end to the practice, and it is still because of the Koran, modern ‎technology notwithstanding, that female foeticide does not take place in Muslim ‎societies. The Economist never quoted these lines:‎

‎"When the sun ceases to shine; when the stars fall and the mountains are blown away; ‎when camels big with young are left untended, and the wild beasts are brought together; ‎when the seas are set alight and men's souls are reunited; when the infant girl, buried ‎alive, is asked for what crime she was slain...." (81:1)‎

‎"When the birth of a girl is announced to any of them, his countenance darkens ‎and he is filled with gloom. On account of the bad news he hides himself from men: ‎should he put up with the shame or bury her in the earth? How ill they judge!" (16:57) ‎

Why India's Dalits Hate Gandhi
‎ As for the first question, the answer is simple. There is no need to demonize India, and, ‎indeed, every reason to applaud the country for its democracy, to which the Muslim ‎world seems impervious. According to the Economist, the Muslim world resists ‎democracy because - wait for it - there is no concept of Original Sin in the Koran. "The ‎eating of the fruit is just the breaking of a rule; God ticks Adam off, and that is that. ‎There is no Original Sin, and no acquisition of the power to tell right from wrong. But ‎many people would argue that that power is the basis of free will....And from the concept ‎of free will comes the idea of individual responsibility; and from that, through the ‎curlicues of history, the practice of democracy." (Similar arguments have been made ‎against Islam by Larry Siedentop in his book Democracy in Europe. )‎

When you are out to demonize a civilization, you have to make mince-meat of logic - as ‎well as history. It was news to me that the democratic Greeks were aware of Original Sin; ‎and the Romans until they lost that notion with the onset of Empire. As for the non-‎Christian democracies of the world - India, Taiwan, South Korea - they all rest on the ‎solid foundation of Original Sin. Well, well!‎

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Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, ŽBangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL ŽTEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. ŽHe (more...)
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