Saturday, April 03, 2010

Ibrahim Al-Buleihi: "Arabs emerged from the deserts in order to conquer"?

Ibrahim Al-Buleihi
(Image from Memri)

A former member of the Saudi Shura Council, Ibrahim Al-Buleihi was interviewed by Al-Arabiya TV on February 26, 2010 and -- in response to the interviewer's skeptical query about Arab indebtedness to the West -- had some interesting if controversial things to say:
Interviewer: So we should be offshoots of the West as well?

Ibrahim Al-Buleihi: No, but we should benefit from this rich experience. It is the West that produced all this prosperity. To this day, we are a burden on the West. Even Japan admits that without benefiting from the West, it would not have developed.

Interviewer: Prosperity in what?

Ibrahim Al-Buleihi: In everything. In the value, liberties, and dignity of human beings, as well as in the development of science, of technology, and of life. Do you believe that life today is the same as it was ten centuries ago? This tremendous change was produced by the West. Who else produced it?
Al-Buleihi's statement contrasts with much that we read nowadays about the West's debt to the Arab world in science and philosophy. In fact, however, there is a debt, as I know from the study of history, but so far as I understand, Muslims don't charge interest (riba), so only the principal is still owed, and I suppose that it can't be so much. As for Al-Buleihi, he thinks that the Arabs today have nothing to offer the world but delusions:
Interviewer: You have said that during their conquests at the advent of Islam, the Arabs emerged from the deserts in order to conquer, not to learn. What did you mean by that?

Ibrahim Al-Buleihi: In my view, over the centuries, the Arabs believed -- and continue to believe -- that they have sufficient knowledge and wisdom, and that they do not need to learn anything from others, because they appeared, on the stage of history, in order to conquer, not to learn, to teach, not to study . . .

Interviewer: As guiders, not people seeking the guidance of others.

Ibrahim Al-Buleihi: That's right. This delusion of the Arabs persists to this day, even though the entire world has changed. The world has changed, but they still believe that it is their duty to teach others, and it is the duty of others to heed them. The truth is that the Arabs have nothing to offer others, yet they continue . . . This horrible delusion, this belief in one's own perfection, the belief that others must learn from them, makes it impossible for them to benefit from modern culture.
Al-Buleihi's claim that Arabs believe "that they have sufficient knowledge and wisdom" and "do not need to learn anything from others" reminds me of Rémi Brague's remark that the Islamic world saw no need to preserve the original texts of works once they had been translated into Arabic because the mere process of translating such works into Islam's sacred language had perfected them, such that there was nothing remaining to be learned from the original writings and thus no reason to revisit them for re-translation.

But I don't know for certain that Al-Buleihi is making a similar point, especially since I have only these excerpts, and I don't doubt that his polemical statements about Arabs would be hotly debated among Arabs themselves.

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At 10:44 AM, Blogger Theway2k said...

I am guessing if this Al-Buleihi guy is for real, an ugly fatwa may be coming his way.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Memri didn't mention one, and over a month has passed since the interview, but I am rather surprised that Al-Buleihi hasn't been more harshly criticized.

Maybe I've just not heard about the criticism yet . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While it seems that the predominant modern Arab ethos is one of smug fulfillment and lack of appreciation of Western post-Enlightenment achievements, doesn't it seem that his criticism of the history of Islamic civilization is misguided? Although modern Muslims perhaps overemphasize the modern West's indebtedness to it, it seems that the Islamic intellectual history has, even right up to the 18th century, produced a fairly fine corpus of thought.

At 6:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, the 18th century looks a bit late to me, but the Medieval period showed the Arab world's achievements in science. I suspect that this was due more to Islam's multicultural empire than to Islam itself, for the Islamists of the day seem to have stymied that intellectual development.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Raiyan said...

Right, when I said that I basically had up through the Mughal empire's end(1707ish?) and late Ottoman empire in mind, although there was likely very little new going on then so my time period was off. Perhaps when I spoke of the Islamic intellectual history I meant the developments within the various parts of the multicultural empire which had distinct Islamic impetus behind them (or at least sanction). In this respect, al-Buleihi's notion that the Islamic civilization that developed was based on conquest and not learning doesn't seem quite right to me, and I would think that Islam itself allowed for integration into pre-existing culture which allowed for the cultivation of knowledge. Then the West became technologically superior while the Islamists took advantage and started ruining everything they could and here we are.

Also, I really enjoy your blog.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Raiyan, thanks for the kind words.

You may be right about the Ottomans. They came as late conquerors and could draw upon Byzantine knowledge -- much as did the Renaissance West.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:48 PM, Blogger Sifar Anel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sifar Anel, that sounds reasonable to me. Thanks for the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Arab World got only as far as the quadratic equation.

Then Calculus was left to be postulated by Newton in England and Liebnitz in Germany just prior to 1700. 1,000 years after Mohammed.

At 6:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Arabs in only 78 years,from 622 to 700 A.D,destroyed 16000 libraries,extinguished 27 great civilizations around the Arab Peninsula,grazed 700 cities and towns,and killed 270 millions of people.
The civilization of the Arabs is destroying the civilizations.

At 4:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Do you have a citation for those figures?

Jeffery Hodges

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