A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of the West

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Ibn Warraq is the pseudonymous, Pakistani-born author of the modern classic Why I Am Not a Muslim and the writer or editor of several other estimable books about Muhammed, the Koran, Islamic culture, Muslim apostates, and Western civilization.  Surely few people know as much as he does about both the West and Islam.  Therefore I was more than eager to read his new book, Why the West Is Best: A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of Liberal Democracy.

Naturally, I expected something wise and incisive and steeped in learning – and I wasn’t disappointed.  But what I hadn’t counted on was how fresh, original, delightfully inspired, and emotionally stirring Warraq’s approach to his topic would be.  Take his first chapter, which is about New York, a city he views as “a testament to the robustness of Western culture and to its welcoming catholicity.” Warraq’s goal here is to help us to see a Western metropolis through the eyes of a person from, say, the Islamic world, and thus recognize the magnificence of things so familiar to us that we may take them for granted.

Let it be said at once that he is highly successful at this.  He tells a surprisingly touching story about an Iraqi colleague who, at age forty-five, left his country for the first time on a visit to New York and was so overwhelmed by “the number and variety of magazines available” at the Barnes & Noble in Warraq’s neighborhood that he started taking pictures of them.  Warraq quotes a paean to the New York Public Library by none other than Lenin, who, at some point between that institution’s founding in 1911 and the Russian Revolution, took time to marvel at the number of people who used the library, at the number of books they took out, at the then-expanding system of branch libraries, and at the resources the library made available to children.  “Such is the way things are done in New York,” Lenin wrote.  “And in Russia?”

Warraq devotes several pages to a celebration of Tin Pan Alley, noting perceptively that the Great American Songbook is not just a collection of pretty tunes and clever lyrics but a life-affirming cultural inheritance that “lend[s] dignity to the lives and struggles of ordinary people” and “cross[es] all the boundaries of race, class, and religion.” He pays tribute to American humor, noting that the abundance of comedy clubs in a city like New York “is a sure sign of a healthy society.” And he expresses admiration for “[t]he civilized pleasure of alcohol,” citing the philosopher Roger Scruton’s thumbs-up for American cocktail parties, which “immediately break the ice between strangers and set every large gathering in motion.”

In praising all these things about New York, of course, Warraq is not only extolling the core values of the West itself but, implicitly or explicitly, rebuking non-Western – and especially Muslim – culture.  Islam, after all, abhors a library or magazine rack which has not been cleansed of “offensive” items, and it frowns on music, humor, and the consumption of alcohol.  These, Warraq wants us to realize, are not minor issues – they are the kinds of things that make the difference between a happy life and a miserable one.  For him the Declaration of Independence’s foregrounding of the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is no mere rhetorical flourish – it sums up the rich possibilities and promise of life in the West as opposed to life in the less happy regions of the world.

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  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ JasonPappas

    Every now and then someone who chooses to be an American tells us natives how much we fail to appreciate and celebrate about our great nation. There are some immigrants who not only assimilate but seize the core greatness of our culture.

    Warraq helps us remember our humanist tradition going back to classical civilization. He did that in passing when he warned us about Islam in “Why I am not a Muslim” and he does that explicitly in his new book “The West is the Best”.

    He reminds me of another immigrant who did the same in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Ayn Rand warned us about communism in the 30s. In the 1950s she almost singlehandedly revived the concept of individual rights. Both left and right were hostile to the notion. Academia laughed at the notion of natural rights. But we forget that conservatives, such as the founder of American conservatism, Russell Kirk, view the notion of rights as a French bastardization and dangerous abstraction. Rand went back to Jefferson and revived the moral concept of individual rights–not privileges or permissions or utilitarian rules–but inalienable rights just as the founding fathers understood them.

    Sometimes we need people to sound a load bell warning us that we are slowly losing what make us great. Let’s continue to be a beacon and welcome those who don’t take our greatness for granted.

  • hammar

    The world is at war but the media will not acknowledge the facts
    because that wouldn't be politically correct news, it would be
    Jewish-Christian hear say.

    • ObamaYoMoma

      Not only the media, but also our federal government and both political parties as well. They are all lying to us, at the same time that they are absurdly claiming victory in Iraq, while also claiming that we are winning in Afghanistan.

      Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Muslims are allowed to immigrate to America on a weekly basis at the same time that thousands of violently oppressed Christian refugees trying to flee the Islamic world are flat out denied refugee status, and never mind the fact that mass Muslim immigration to the West with all of its excess baggage like clockwork has turned into an unmitigated disaster everywhere it has occurred

      There is something obviously awfully terribly wrong.

  • Ghostwriter

    Thanks for the book,Mr. Warraq.

  • tanstaafl

    "Why I am not a Muslim." is a classic.

  • Asher

    Strong hearts, Courage, and minds that will not be brainwashed will win against Evil and Tyranny! Truth is on our Side!