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18 September 2014
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Crusades and Jihads in Postcolonial Times

By Dr S Sayyid

Black and white photograph of Mustafa Kemal
Mustafa Kemal ©
To continue to tell this version of the story of the west (let's call it 'Westernese'), means to continue to narrate the 'rest' as being authoritarian, and backward. The dominance of Westernese means that when those in the 'rest' look at the problems that their societies face, the only solution seems to be to make the difficult transition to the west, by westernising themselves.

'The story of the west and the story of Islam have been mutually exclusive of each other from the time of their formation.'

The Islamicate world has, on the whole, found it difficult to speak Westernese. The story of the west and the story of Islam have been mutually exclusive of each other from the time of their formation.

Thus the word 'Europa' first appears to refer to regions outside the control of the Islamicate empire and (East) Roman emperors. This meant that when Muslim leaders like Mustafa Kemal wanted to westernise their societies, they could only do so by de-Islamising it.

It also meant that the western powers who came to rule Muslim societies tended also to favour de-Islamisation. For example Lord Cromer, the proconsul of Egypt, saw no contradiction in opposing women's enfranchisement in England while trying to ban the hijab in Egypt in the name of women's empowerment. Thus, Westernese meant for many Muslims the violence and inequities of colonialism.

The Islamicate world, for a set of historic reasons, is beginning to realise the limitations of Westernese, and tentative attempts are being made to begin speaking through Islam.

Muslims often find themselves in a situation in which the dominant descriptions of the world conducted in Westernese are no longer regarded as adequate, even if the project of speaking through Islam is, as yet, not fully developed.

Thus, the 'Islamic threat' is not measured in terms of economic or military rivalry, but is linked to the undermining of Westernese in many parts of the Islamicate world, where it is perceived as a narcissistic narrative rather than a true story of our planet.

Published: 2002-09-01

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