“Arabs should acknowledge the greatness of Western civilization”

In an interview to the Saudi Daily ‘Okaz, reformist thinker Ibrahim Al-Buleihi -a member of the Saudi Shura Council – expressed his admiration for Western civilization.  Al-Buleihi calls on the Arabs to acknowledge the greatness of Western civilization, and to admit the deficiencies of their own culture. He states that such self-criticism is a precondition to any change for the better.

It is not the very first time Al-Buleihi expresses harsh criticism regarding today’s Arab culture. In a video interview released three years ago, May 2006, he said that “Terrorism is the product of a flaw in Arab and Muslim culture”.  This time, he goes further to tell Saudi readers “If it were not for the accomplishments of the West, our lives would have been barren.”

There is not a specific reason Al-Buleihi admires Western civilization for “there are a thousand reasons, which all induce me to admire the West and emphasize its absolute excellence in all matters of life. Western civilization is the only civilization that liberated man from his illusions and shackles; it recognized his individuality and provided him with capabilities and opportunities to cultivate himself and realize his aspirations. [Western civilization] humanized political authority and established mechanisms to guarantee relative equality and relative justice and to prevent injustice and to alleviate aggression. This does not mean that this is a flawless civilization; indeed, it is full of deficiencies. Yet it is the greatest which man has achieved throughout history.”

The Saudi reformist defends himself from attacks of those who oppose his view, claiming he is “completely dazzled by the West,” while at the same time he completely belittles Arabic thought.”

“My attitude – replies him in the course of the interview – towards Western civilization is an attitude based on obvious facts and great accomplishments. I only look objectively and value justly what I see and express it honestly.”

“Just look around… and you will notice that everything beautiful in our life has been produced by Western civilization: even the pen that you are holding in your hand, the recording instrument in front of you, the light in this room, and the journal in which you work, and many innumerable amenities, which are like miracles for the ancient civilizations.… If it were not for the accomplishments of the West, our lives would have been barren.”

Those who do not recognize the great accomplishments and the beauty expressed in Western civilization lack sensitivity, taste, and observation.

“Western civilization has reached the summit of science and technology. It has achieved knowledge, skills, and new discoveries, as no previous civilization before it. The accomplishments of Western civilization cover all areas of life: methods of organization, politics, ethics, economics, and human rights. It is our obligation to acknowledge its amazing excellence. Indeed, this is a civilization that deserves admiration.”

Because of his publicly expressed feelings and ideas, Al-Buleihi has also been accused of  belittling his own culture and civilization.

“My admiration for the West is not at the expense of others; rather, it is an invitation to those others to acknowledge their illusions and go beyond their inferiority and liberate themselves from backwardness.”

“They should be fair towards those nations that achieved prosperity for themselves but did not monopolize it for themselves and instead allowed the whole world to share the results of this progress, so that other nations of the whole world now enjoy these achievements. Furthermore, Western civilization has given to the world knowledge and skills which made it possible for them, the non-Western nations, to compete with it in production and share markets with it. Criticizing one’s own deficiencies is a precondition to inducing oneself to change for the better. Conversely, to glorify one’s backward apathetic self is to establish and fortify backwardness, to strengthen the shackles of apathy, and to eradicate the capabilities of excellence. Backwardness is a shameful reality, which we should resent and from which we must liberate ourselves.”

“Some Western thinkers wrote that Western civilization is an extension of previous civilizations. How can you, a Muslim Arab, deny this?”, asked the journalist.

Al-Buleihi’s answer points points out that “When we review the names of Muslim philosophers and scholars whose contribution to the West is pointed out by Western writers, such as Ibn Rushd, Ibn Al-Haitham, Ibn Sina, Al-Farbi, Al-Razi, Al-Khwarizmi, and their likes, we find that all of them were disciples of the Greek culture and they were individuals who were outside the [Islamic] mainstream. They were and continue to be unrecognized in our culture. We even burned their books, harassed them, [and] warned against them, and we continue to look at them with suspicion and aversion. How can we then take pride in people from whom we kept our distance and whose thought we rejected?”



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