Western civilization is Indo-Islamic under its skin

By Razib Khan 25 Comments


I’ve been in this game for a long time. Back in the middle of the 2000s, I observed that people of Muslim and Indian origin had sensitive and peculiar reactions to criticisms of their religion. Muslim cases are well known. Less well known is the violence and menace associated with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre play which affected Sikh sensitivities.

Then there was this, 5 Die in India During Protests Over Falwell:

Five people were killed in western India today in clashes between Hindus and Muslims that started during protests over remarks by the Rev. Jerry Falwell in which he called the prophet Muhammad a terrorist, the police said.

An American preacher says something offensive about Muslims, and Hindus and Muslims start killing each other in India! Absurd. Ridiculous. Barbaric.

I may not have said it in those words but that’s what I was thinking. In contrast, in the West religious beliefs are not sacred, and we can express content and derision without worry.

Or so I thought. Over the past few years, there has been a tendency in American culture to emphasize sensitivities, hurt feelings, and emotional reactions, over reason, when it comes to offense. Indians, and Muslims, were offended at criticisms of their religions and identities because religion and identity were sacred for them. Well, it turns out that in the West we’re going back to that state of affairs as well.

It seems that human cultural forms have the lowest energy state. And that state is a sort of identitarian honor culture.

I still think your religions are dumb. But when in glass houses…

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25 Replies to “Western civilization is Indo-Islamic under its skin”

  1. Razib,

    There’s something to this but I think there are important differences:
    1. Wokeness seems to be integrally tied to Marxism, specifically the idea that justice and injustice sticks and lingers across generations, as do oppressor and oppressed classes. Microsensitivity to hurt feelings is about pushing back against injustice, at least in the woke peoples’ worldviews.
    2. People who complain about hurt feelings seem to go to some lengths to rationalize those hurt feelings. Perhaps inadequately and based on disputable assertions, but they at least make the attempt. Religious people either make no such attempt or refer to some imaginary man in the sky.

    Does this make sense or are these trivial differences in your view?

    1. “Religious people either make no such attempt or refer to some imaginary man in the sky”

      If your familiar with them, as the religious are, scriptures, doctrines and theology already provide extensive rationals.
      Whereas for the woke, they’re declaring a brand new sin, so the reason why it is a sin needs to be provided.

  2. 1. Wokeness seems to be integrally tied to Marxism, specifically the idea that justice and injustice sticks and lingers across generations, as do oppressor and oppressed classes. Microsensitivity to hurt feelings is about pushing back against injustice, at least in the woke peoples’ worldviews.

    i think the marxist connection is overdone. it’s there, but a lot of the woke ppl are semi-literate. they don’t know about marx. they’re just using the tool at hand. but the same could be said for religious offense. in pakistan christians are accused of blasphemy out of self interest

    2. People who complain about hurt feelings seem to go to some lengths to rationalize those hurt feelings. Perhaps inadequately and based on disputable assertions, but they at least make the attempt. Religious people either make no such attempt or refer to some imaginary man in the sky.

    one woke arg. is that attacking peoples’ identity is attacking their existence. their humanity. religious people say the same thing, as their religion is the most precious thing to them. so i see these two as very similar.

  3. West=Indo-islamic is false on 1 count.

    Islamic rulers used to rule many if not all parts of India for hundreds of years. OTOH, it is the west which is dominant over the traditional Islamic lands over the past few centuries. As much as the West, Russia has neutralized Islamic power in central asia , which provided shock troops for Islamic expansion till 17th century. Russia is also ascendant in the Arabic countries like in Syria.

    Hindu appeasement of Muslims comes from Gandhiian values and basically Indic values of religious tolerance. West’s appeasement of Islam comes from guilt complex which is squeezed to the hilt by Muslims. More Muslims are victims of self-made civil wars and bad governance and hence masses of refugees , the more sympathy is given by leftists and liberals

    West’s appeasement of Muslims comes from over-confidence that Islam is a cake walk for governance and world orde; it remains to seen.

    1. You are wrong. Muslim “appeasement” began after Partition as a way to (1) keep the peace and avoid communal riots as much as possible, and (2) some sense of noblesse oblige, of considering Muslims who remained in India to be a beleagured minority at the mercy of a majority that hated them and their religion (for both valid and bigoted reasons.)

      But your opinion seems to be shared by Hindutva advocates, which is why our government is doing the things it’s doing.

      1. Your #1 is correct, and that is a cause of rise of hindutva parties .

        It is not a matter of noblesse oblige – as there have not been real nobles in India except Maharajas. It is a matter of sticking to law and order , with the given set of laws. The second point, ham handed and half hearted approach to law and public order is a recurrent feature of Independent India , nothing directly to do with Muslims, whether Congress days or nowadays

      2. I think the downtick of Islamic violence after fall of ISIS has moved the spotlight to Hindu and White violence. The CAA , NRC et all would have been received better, lets say in the 2000-2015.

        With lack of Islamic violence, right wing lurge appears disproportionate cruel towards Muslims. Even for some of my Hindutva friends, they are like “let them be, they have already lost, why poke them more?”

  4. I am saying west’s attitude to Islam and Muslims comes from different history than India’s history and traditions. West’s attitude to Muslims comes from over-confidence while Hindu attitude comes from under-confidence

    1. Yeah, this seemed prescient;

      “the West’s appeasement of Muslims comes from overconfidence that Islam is a cake walk for governance and world order”

      20th century Western liberals viewed Islam as some backwards superstitions that cute, brown child races do, that will naturally wither away under the light of “Reason” and Western ideals.
      In the 21st century they been shown that this was presumptive but they’re having a hard time internalizing it.

    2. i don’t think so. i think the ones who are ‘pro-muslims’ are the most westernized. that’s not a coincidence.

      all the stuff about gandhian tolerance of indian pluralism is irrelevant. china is pluralistic too. they have no issues oppressing muslims.

  5. Delhi 2020 follows a template that has been established for some time now – as is seen in Mumbai 1993 and Gujrat 2002 before: An act of conspicuous provocation from a section of Muslims results in massive retaliation from a section of Hindus. Casualty numbers are skewed against Muslims but not without significant numbers of Hindu dead/injured. The police are used cynically by the ruling party to manipulate a majority sense of outrage. Foreign media and domestic left wing media paint a completely one-sided picture of the violence. Other domestic media cater to the Hindu rightwing.

    Polarization grows. The liars on both sides win.

    (Thinking it over, a strikingly similar template was followed at partition.)

    1. No evidence Muslims did anything in Gujarat or Mumbai.

      I know this is hard to accept, as per the narrative that Indians are gentle Dharmics who can only be roused to violence after provocation by barbarous Muslims.

      But the evidence just isn’t there. This view is shared by most international observers who examine the issue. Its only Indians (mostly right-wingers at that), who live in these bubbles of the Muslim-hand of conspiracy being behind everything.

      1. Buddy, forget the Godhra Train Burning or the Dawood Ibrahim Bomb blasts? Amnesia regarding Islamic terrorism will get you nowhere, pal.

  6. I would say that Islam is Western under its skin. Islam arose in the ruins of the Roman Empire (prototypically Western). Jesus is one of its prophets (if Christianity isn’t Western nothing is). Some of its Eastern variants (e.g. in Indonesia) had significant independent evolution, but cheaper communications and travel have been homogenizing it (not always for the better).

    In re: much of the above, there’s a huge difference between post-WWII and post-Vietnam Western (or at least American) thinking. In WWII, other cultures broke down horribly but America was able to step in, forcefully take control, and more-or-less fix things. After Vietnam, American experience has been that other cultures sometimes break down horribly (looking at you, Cambodia) but we can’t fix them. (To what extent we ourselves are breaking down is a matter of considerable debate.)

    1. I would say that Islam is Western under its skin. Islam arose in the ruins of the Roman Empire (prototypically Western). Jesus is one of its prophets (if Christianity isn’t Western nothing is). Some of its Eastern variants (e.g. in Indonesia) had significant independent evolution, but cheaper communications and travel have been homogenizing it (not always for the better).

      don’t think it means much to say ‘west’ outside of latin western christianity which arose after 1000 AD.

      1. It depends on your reference point, I suppose. A fair number of my references are from the Far East, and as such I tend to view Islam as rather Western (Manchus notwithstanding).

  7. For the American Lefties it’s also a matter of negative polarization. Their Islamophilia accelerated alongside the rise of a more working class Islamophobia (that reached an apotheosis with Trump.)

    1. For the American Lefties it’s also a matter of negative polarization. Their Islamophilia accelerated alongside the rise of a more working class Islamophobia (that reached an apotheosis with Trump.)

      this seems right

  8. Politically though coalitions on the left involving Muslim-Americans aren’t quite the same as those involving left-wingers and Muslim Britons or Europeans right?

    Aren’t Muslim Americans much more economically well-off, less segregated and more integrated into other Americans’ neighborhoods, and also more “post-material values” and closer to non-Muslim liberals than the Muslim minorities in places like India, Europe, or the UK?

    In the US, it seems like Muslim Americans are much more likely to interact with Jewish Americans, non-Muslim white liberal Americans etc. (in the US, segregation is more about race than religion, there aren’t Christian, Jewish and Muslim neighborhoods the way there are white or black ones).

    It seems like especially young Muslim-Americans seem quite represented in left-politics (e.g the Squad, Linda Sarsour, many people on Bernie Sanders campaign) this generation, but American politics seems to lack the rifts between Jews, Muslims, and Hindus on the left (at least not to a large extent… for now), compared to say Britain or Europe, let alone non-western places like India itself.

    I think Muslim Americans, African American Christians, American Jews and Hindus, and white (or non-white for that matter) atheists while allied on the “left” in not quite harmonious ways, still don’t have the troubled dynamic that we see elsewhere in the world where the left can’t even hold itself together as a “coalition of minorities” because the minorities are too much at each others’ throats.

    1. It’s still nowhere near the level of segregation by race, or shared ethnicity which is stronger.

      Hindu and Muslim Americans still tend to live in similar neighborhoods if they are both South Asian. There’s no sharp divide between the “Hindu” part of town and “Muslim” part of town stateside the way there is often for “race” (e.g. white vs. black and Hispanic, and in some cases Asians, east or south).
      You don’t often see Pakistani immigrants choose to live with say, African American (or Somali) Muslims, over those of Hindu Indian immigrants.

      In LA, Jewish Persians and non-Jewish Persians live together in Persian neighborhoods.

      It may be different in Jewish neighborhoods since Jews are both a religion and ethnicity, but I would say overall in the US (maybe it’s different elsewhere), while people choose co-religionists sometimes, the broader pattern is by co-ethnics.

      If you’re looking for south Asian neighbourhoods, you’re going to find have an easier time finding south Asian neighbourhoods with Gujarati Hindus, Bangladeshi Muslims and Mallu Christians, then say if you’re looking for “Hindu only” or “Muslim only” or “Christian only” neighborhoods, ignoring race (such as expecting to find a Muslim neighborhood with Pakistanis, Arabs, African Americans, and white Anglo-American converts, alike).

  9. I have seen the theory offered before that Islam is part of the West.

    I usually take these things as a series of concentric circles, valuable depending on the subject. The West excludes Christian Orthodoxy for certain values, includes it for others. It excludes Islam and, more broadly, MENA, for certain values and includes it for others. Not for nothing did the historians doing Big History books start the West with Egypt and Mesopotamia, if only as big civilizational brothers and subsequent rivals.

    In this scheme, there is a harder and faster line between the greater mediterranean world that ended up with the Abrahamic religions and the eastern world of the ‘dharmic’ ones. I don’t recall who came up with this.

    Naturally, it too needs its caveats. I assume the presence of Islam in India needs no explication from this outsider… and it was an invasion. But the example that leaps to my mind is actually Persian civilization, so much an element of both east and west and so closely bound to both Islam and, once, to the ancestral ‘Hindu’ traditions.

    Again, FWIW. I’ve gotten used to looking at it in such terms. It’s handy when needing to switch back and forth between hostility to something and a more “nothing human is alien to me” mindset. Good times.

  10. I’m a white Anglo Canadian who grew up sympathetic to the monarchy and a fairly traditional idea of my country’s history, and although never a believing or practising Christian I’m sympathetic to it in the sense of not thinking of it as worse than other religions. Maybe a bit tribal-cultural sympathy too, which is not that common for post Christians I find. It was the religion of my ancestors and that matters a bit.
    All of those beliefs have been open to mild disparagement most of my life and I’m OK with that as long as I’m allowed to do the same to other things, or not, as the case may be. And I can’t say my personal feelings have been much implicated.
    There are matters of degree- I understand when Christians get upset that their saviour is immersed in a vat of urine and it’s called art. I observed that their response was limited to boycotts and protest. On the whole, I applaud that response. Overt insults and histrionics should be permitted but not culturally favoured. If it’s just oral and written comment, of whatever tone, claiming Christianity to be false, I expect them to tolerate that all the more. And everybody gets to react in the same range of ways when their own beliefs are targeted.
    That’s how I understood free speech.
    Ultimately, the more diverse a society the fewer common bases of values there are and thus the wider and deeper the range of things that, not being held in common, can come in for the full range of attack from mild disagreement to abusive insult. Only the things held in common are protected with ever increasing vehemence.
    One solution is to ensure society has enough in common to provide the boundaries. Another is to fetishize diversity itself as the new religion, the only thing in common. Try to criticize it.
    And as much as I obviously put that sarcastically, and might as well admit I think it was and is a mistake to take that road where not obligated by circumstance, I can see few alternatives.

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