Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Islam and the West

ALASTAIR CROOKE cuts a romantic figure. A thoughtful former agent of Britain's foreign-intelligence service, he has worked assiduously since retiring from MI6 to explain to a suspicious West the violent Islamist movements of the Middle East, such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hizbullah in Lebanon. His "Conflicts Forum", based in Beirut, aims to "engage and listen to Islamists, while challenging Western misconceptions". This is useful work. The West has plainly failed to understand such movements and the reasons for their popularity. Unfortunately, his book is a missed opportunity.

This book argues that what is at stake between Islam and the West is a fundamental clash of values: nothing less than a different way of thinking about human beings. The West, Mr Crooke avers, organises society around the largely amoral appetites and choices of the individual. Islam sees the human as "a multidimensional creature", larger than the sum of his own desires and appetites, informed by "innate moral values", and responsible to the community. And whereas the West imposes on others, "by force if necessary", a soulless philosophy of free markets and personal choice, the force used by Islamist movements is to be understood as an act of spiritual, cultural and social resistance.

A 1960s campus radicalism wafts through the book. Mr Crooke cites the anti-colonial writings of Frantz Fanon with enthusiasm, whereas those of free-market advocates are mocked and dismissed. Far from being closed societies resisting modernity, he says, Iran and its protégés are heeding Ayatollah Khomeini's call to replace the "colonised brain" with the "independent brain". The "resistance" in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan has "shown Muslims that there is an alternative": armed defiance not only against "Western military hegemony" but also against the West's "political stature and narrative".

How much more persuasive this book would have been if Mr Crooke had curbed his enthusiasm, or been just a bit franker about the blemishes on the movements he admires. Instead he glosses over Hamas's suicide attacks on civilians and its notoriously anti-Semitic founding charter. The final straw for this reviewer was a passage in which Mr Crooke quotes approvingly the head of Hizbullah's television station prating about the need for "resistance media" to show "objectivity" and "respect for its audience". Incredibly, Mr Crooke fails to mention that this hate-mongering station routinely pumps out vicious anti-Semitic propaganda, including a drama series that portrays hook-nosed orthodox Jews murdering gentile children in order to use their blood for Passover bread. . .


Islam and the West - What to think?, The Economist (Books & Arts), April 8, 2009.

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