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"Why the West is Best:
A Muslim Apostate's Defense of Liberal Democracy"
by Ibn Warraq (2011, Encounter Books)
Reviewed by Richard Terrell
For anyone seeking to understand the challenge of Islam to contemporary life the books of Ibn Warraq are indispensible. For many who have read other books by Warraq, Why the West is Best will be lauded as his best and most valuable. Not only does Warraq continue to clarify how and why Islam is incompatible with western values of individual liberty and freedom of expression, here he clarifies in more detail precisely why we should value the animating principles of western civilization and stop apologizing for them. Westerners, according to Warraq, appear guilt-ridden about our civilization's flaws and failures to the point of intellectual paralysis, leading to such absurdities as bending over backward to avoid stressing the sensibilities of Muslims or even apologizing to the Islamic world for perceived disrespect. It's time for that to stop, and Ibn Warraq tells us why.
Worth the price of the book itself is Warraq's first chapter, where he reflects on the uniquely creative energies of New York City, as a kind of paradigm of civilizational achievements in the larger west. In his discussion he hits upon the significance of a wide range of phenomena, including Broadway musicals, ethnic foods, jokes and performance humor, to architecture. It is all something I wish every college student in America would read.
Western achievements in science, the arts, human rights, literature and government offer a singular contrast to the backwardness and intellectual myopia of the Islamic world. Western values regarding personal liberty and creative expression are rooted in the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Enlightenment traditions. Warraq writes: "The West does not need lectures on moral virtue from societies in which vulnerable people are routinely abused and exploited in so many ways." He exposes a number of myths that fashionable critics of western civilization entertain regarding the non-western world, including the alleged beauties of Islamic "family values," the idea of the "noble savage" where primitive peoples are supposed to have superior spiritual values, and the accusation that slavery was an exclusively white, western moral flaw. In regard to this last mentioned subject, Warraq gives an extensive account of the role of black Africans and Muslims in the support and supply of the Atlantic slave trade. He also notes that it was western civilization that brought into view the moral condemnation of slavery, something yet to be embraced throughout the Muslim world today.
Overall, Warraq's thesis is that the historic flaws of the west are universal to humanity-not at all unique-while its original and distinct qualities have contributed indispensible principles contributing to human material and moral progress. Not only does he show how Islam came to reject these values, persecuting its most valuable thinkers (e.g. Averroes, Avicenna) he shows why Islam is necessarily posed against them. In the process, he offers valuable understanding concerning what a number of scholars see as Islam's "civilizational suicide" during the later middle ages.
I have one caution concerning the subtitle of the book, wherein the author claims to be a "Muslim apostate." By his own personal account (given in an earlier book Virgins: What Virgins?), Warraq was born into a Muslim family in India but seems always to have been attracted to British culture. He does not seem to have ever been a devoutly practicing Muslim, so I'm unsure as to how he fits the definition of an "apostate." Be that as it may, he brings a thoroughly observed grasp of the issues to his discussion. He also is aware of the risks his writings pose to his own person. Ibn Warraq is an assumed name, not his actual identity.
I have read many books on the issues presented by Warraq here, and would recommend Why the West is Best to anyone looking for just one source that could speak wisely to a large spectrum of concerns.