Arab Scholar Ibn Warraq Tells "Why the West is Best"

A scathing critique of Islam from within. Interview with Ibn Warraq, the man the NY Sun called "the Bertrand Russel of Islam: "The Ayatollah Khomeini once said that there are no jokes in Islam". You'd better believe it.

Giulio Meotti

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צילום: עצמי

Prior to 2007, Ibn Warraq refused to show his face in public due to fears for his personal safety.

With “Why I Am Not A Muslim”, his 1995 most famous book, he became Islam’s most outspoken critic and the mentor of personalities such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christopher Hitchens.

The New York Sun called him “the Bertrand Russell of Islam”, while others compared him to Voltaire and Spinoza. His new book, “Why the West is Best”, which has just been published by Encounter, is the most generous homage to the Western values ever written by a Muslim-born intellectual.

“Millions of people risk their lives trying to get to the West—not to Saudi Arabia or Iran or Pakistan, they flee from theocratic or other totalitarian regimes to find tolerance and freedom in the West, where life is an open book”, explains to us the English-educated Ibn Warraq. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: this triptych succinctly defines the attractiveness and superiority of Western civilization”.

Under Islam, life is a closed book. “Everything has been decided for you: the dictates of sharia and the whims of Allah set strict limits on the possible agenda of your life. A culture that engendered the spiritual creations of Mozart and Beethoven, of Raphael and Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt does not need lessons in spirituality from societies whose vision of heaven resembles a cosmic brothel stocked with virgins for men’s pleasure.

"The West does not need lectures on the superior virtue of societies where women are kept in subjection, endure genital mutilation, are married off against their will at the age of nine, have acid thrown in their faces or are stoned to death for alleged adultery, or where human rights are denied to those regarded as belonging to lower castes”.

According to Ibn Warraq, an important difference between the West and Islam lies in the use of irony. “Satire has a central place in the Western tradition of cultural self-criticism that goes back to classical antiquity. The Islamic fundamentalist with his murderous certainties cannot bear the ironic outlook. He hates to be criticized and laughed at; he will kill if he thinks you have insulted his religion, or his prophet or holy book. The Ayatollah Khomeini once famously said there are no jokes in Islam. Any civilization that cannot laugh at itself is in a state of decline, and it is dangerous”.

The same for alcohol. “The civilized pleasure of alcohol is connected with the social customs and rituals that define our society. Every liberal knows you can be lashed for drinking in Pakistan”. 

Ibn Warraq says that the origins of the West are often seen in the Enlightenment, but its roots were cultivated in three cities. “The self-evident Western superiority stems from certain principles inherited, and further developed and refined over two millennia, from Athens, Rome and Jerusalem.

"The Greeks gave us the city and the notion of citizenship, the ideals of democracy and liberty, rationalism and science, philosophy and history.

"The Romans systematized the law, defined private property, and emphasized individual responsibility.

"Judeo-Christianity added a sense of conscience and charity, tempering justice with forgiveness, and the concept of linear rather than cyclical time, which allowed the possibility of progress. The Jewish ethic introduced a refusal to accept evil as the norm”.

Warraq slams Western relativism. “Intellectuals and academics have undermined the confidence of the West in its own values and strengths. For more than sixty years schools and universities in the West have inculcated three generations of the young with moral relativism leaving them incapable of passing moral or cross-cultural judgments, and unwilling to defend those values. Post-modernism and multiculturalism have completed the destruction of the West’s self-assurance”.

Then he lashes out against the “intellectual terrorism of left-wing ideologues” such as the Palestinian Arab Edward Said, and his highly influential book, “Orientalism”, that bludgeoned Western intellectuals into silence. “Post–World War II Western intellectuals and leftists were consumed by guilt for the West’s colonial past and continuing colonialist present, and they wholeheartedly embraced any theory or ideology that voiced or at least seemed to voice the putatively thwarted aspirations of the peoples of the third world. ‘Orientalism’ came at the precise time when anti-Western rhetoric was at its most shrill and was already being taught at Western universities, and when third-worldism was at its most popular”.

According to Ibn Warraq, freedom has been betrayed by the Western chattering classes. “Many liberals in the West, from government officials to academics and journalists, have failed to stand up for our fundamental liberties but instead have engaged in appeasement and self-censorship. The shameful abandonment of principle by many intellectuals in response to the fatwa on Salman Rushdie was a foreshadowing of things to come”. 

The Islamic scholar demolishes the so called “Arab Spring”. “I am not at all optimistic about the future of democracy in the Middle East, the Arab Spring should be renamed ‘The Muslim Brotherhood Spring’. There is no such thing as ‘moderate Islamism’. The Islamist parties have been cleverly feeding the gullible Western journalists from Nicholas Kristoff  to Thomas Friedman, and even more gullible Western governments soothing words all the while concealing their true aims, the establishment of a Sharia based constitution and a theocratic state”.

Listening to this brave lesson, one can realize that the long waited “reform of Islam” will might come from within. From heroes like Ibn Warraq. 

But is Islam really "reformable"?