I am talking of millions of men who have been skillfully injected with fear,
inferiority complexes, trepidation, servility, despair, abasement.
—Aimé Césaire, Discours sur le Colonialisme
The independence movements in colonies and protectorates came into being, not through a return to indigenous values on the part of those concerned, but through the absorption of occidental ideas and ideologies, liberal or revolutionary … the process of modernization – a euphemism for Westernization – far from being halted by the withdrawal, was in fact accelerated. The enthusiasm of the new rulers for everything ‘modern’ was not restrained, as had been the enthusiasm of their former masters, by any element of self-doubt.
—Gai Eaton, Islam and the Destiny of Man
The celebrated Algerian psychologist freedom fighter of blacks, Franz Fanon, saw only two parties in the battle between the colonialists and colonized: white and black. We, the brown, had pretty benign colonizers, who did not like to butcher millions or harass indiscriminately 24/7. We have no idea about the mass murdering of Central Asian Muslims and Africans by imperial powers of 19th/20th century. Our colonization was far less brutal and far more subtle, which left us unsettled, undiscovered, and even unwelcomed in both clubs, of whites and blacks. Our body was not tortured as much as we’re brainwashed and deluded through education and social-engineering by the “generous” colonizers.
J Sartre, a philosopher, writes in preface to Fanon’s famous work Wretched of the Earth (hope it reminds you of our “elite” elders):
“In the colonies the truth stood naked, but the citizens of the mother country [of colonists]preferred it with clothes on: the native [colonized subject] had to love them, something in the way mothers are loved. The European élite undertook to manufacture a native élite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture, they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed.” (Brackets ours)
We post-colonial, brown Muslims (like our colonial parents) lack self-confidence at many levels. This loss of confidence – in our culture, essence and the way of Islam – haunts us in intellectual and practical matters. Many of us pay lip-service to Islam and carry on with it; many choose to ‘reform’ Islam to be ‘compatible’ with an aggressive West, which declared its independence from Heavens few centuries back (although we mistakenly hail that to be ‘enlightenment’ from heavens). Some of us are just indifferent to the unavoidable contradictions between Islamic teachings and modern thought and its practice. We might not like these realities. Truth, however, is not concerned with likeness or dis-likeness of this or that person or society, or even a generation. Truth is above sentimentality and fashions of minds that keep changing with every cycle of moon.
Despite the loss of confidence (and a Center), we’ve not stopped calling ourselves Muslims, so far. But, thanks to our modern education we certainly are not that homo Islamicus of the glorious past (a) who’d not be dazzled by materialism of any kind, (b) who’d serve knowledge (not for money’s sake), and, (c) integrate influences from diverse sources from his own civilization’s viewpoint. His world-view was based on Qur’an and sunnah(as amply clear from the writings of great theological and philosophical scholars of past). He would ‘think enough, think clearly’ and think rightly. More importantly, he’d think Islamically. They were the people of izzat, or respect, and were imitated (who’re Indians imitating when they wore turbans?).
The shocking encounter of colonialism in 19th/20th century seemingly paralyzed the body and mind of ummah. Dr Muzaffar Iqbal argues that our defense mechanisms failed because we’re too little prepared, and responded too late to the sea changes that were going to change our world, perhaps forever. Europeans were notorious for being barbaric, always engaged in sectarian (or else) warfare – nothing compared to what we can do today with all the weapons of mass destruction. Being over-confident, Ottomans didn’t pay much attention to the reports on rising power of the Nordics, i.e., Westerners. What now? According to a medical-religious scholar, we’re in a post-traumatic stress from the psychological trauma of the invasion of the ‘unclean West’. Perhaps it was a medicine of our arrogance. Recovery process has not been what Qur’an envisages for us. (‘We do not change the condition of people…’) A young Muslim is perplexed, dazzled and confused by the power and wealth of West, and the condition of his own civilization, when confronting statistics on poverty, injustice, corruption, treachery and all sorts of such evils in Muslim lands. Likewise, we have more questions than answers to trouble you with (which is exactly what we hope to achieve here).
Ibn-e-Khuldun distinguishes between are two classes of people or nations: the free people/leaders and the followers. Those in chains of slavery (or followership) imitate all easy acts of the leaders. In a bid to feel superior, they’d imitate leader’s dress, learn his language, adopt his manners, and take a dog for an evening walk with them in the park (just like the boss). However, the difficult acts are truly difficult to follow for them; the actions that make a leader what he is are not for followers to focus their attention on. Followers are just too busy being ‘at the receiving end of waves’ to be proactive enough to fight back. Consequently, two remain where they are. Imitators lack seriousness and content, but remain up-to-date with changing fashions of leading nations. (‘Oh, did you watch that movie, XYZ?’)
This is not to suggest at all that we should thoughtlessly start photo-copying westerners. It is precisely this mentality of blind-following we are arguing against, besides pointing out that we only follow what’s on easy-to-do-list. On the contrary, what’s really hard for us is to respond forcefully to western modernity’s challenges – intellectual, political, cultural, military, etc.
Our laziness and contentment with the works our forefathers pushed us into deep slumber of ignorance. West happily took advantage from this situation and injected us further with its own disease of materialism. It was the last straw and we went down tumbling in the abyss of inferiority complex. What’s superficial and relative seemed to us important and absolute. West made us believe that without machine man was destined to stay in primitive age. In the race of machines, spirit was left far behind and thus world saw the decline of humanity. We in our naivety followed blindly the ‘matter’, when indeed we were needed to have mind over matter. This complimentary work of mind over matter has always been going on till 16th century. Before that, world was in much better and proper shape (with the exception of some areas). Truth like intelligence is complex.
In a quest to control us – afraid of our religious rationality or perhaps completely oblivious of it – they started alienating us from our own language, modes of education, culture, science, philosophy, etc. We became timid, fearful to act on our own teachings, sent down to us from Divine. This is what we’ll try to explore and elaborate in next article.
In next part we will also try explaining historical process that gave birth to inferiority complex (although not exhaustively); will describe various illnesses and harmful effects of this disease in various fields of knowledge and action; also, we’ll show that this is as much a Pakistani’s problems as it is of an Iranian, Egyptian, Indian, and others who’re ‘brainwashed with modernism’. In the final part of this series we’ll talk about possible remedies (which would require more input from you, actually).
This article was co-written with M. Umer Toor.
It was originally posted at My bit For Change.