As a YouTube addict, I happened across an interview titled "A Wise and Honest Arab man Tells Muslims the Truth about Themselves", from Al-Arabiya TV, filmed in February, 2010. A beatup on Muslims is not following, Susan Devoy. A lot of these videos are put up by haters. But this one reveals some truths, in my opinion, and none of it from my mouth. After all, many of us want to know what makes Muslims tick.

"When we want to study a religious issue we go back to our heritage. When we study an earthly matter, such as why we are backwards," Ibrahim Al-Buleihi starts with a bang, "... we must search for the answer elsewhere, not in our heritage."

This man is a former member of the Saudi Shura Council, an advisory body to the Saudi king with, alas, few teeth in a non-democratic system.

"The individualism of the Arab has been erased in this society. He is incapable of independent thinking. It is the spirit of the herd that cannot free itself from the captivity of the prevailing culture. He is incapable of benefiting from the culture of others. He is incapable of stepping out of the mould imposed on him since childhood."


His interviewer asks, "Should the Arab child be rebellious then?"

"Not rebellious," answers Al-Buleihi. "But he should seek the truth. He must not efface himself and dissolve into the herd."

He speaks of Israel, implying its prosperity and political freedoms are due to it being an offshoot of Western culture, mentions Australia and New Zealand and, confusingly, South Africa, as similar Western offshoots to be admired.

"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."

"Prosperity is what?" the interviewer asks.

I believe Al-Buleihi's reply is the key to the kingdom of secular heaven: "In everything. In values, liberties and dignity of human beings. As well the development of science, technology, and of life."

Not economic wealth, though that surely follows. It is about rights and human dignity and seeking knowledge, the right to challenge, to vote our leaders in and vote them out. Equality of women, at least a striving towards that ideal, and religion not ruling our lives.

"Do you think the world is the same as it was 10 centuries ago?" he asks. "This tremendous change was produced by the West. Tyranny is an obstacle which makes any progress impossible."


I think he means dictatorships and venal kingdoms of the Middle East. Remember, the West has had its own unelected leaders throughout history who were just as bad. But we had laws and institutions to protect our rights, as well as an intellectual direction headed always for advancement.

"In my view 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 world stage of history in order to conquer. Not to learn, to teach, not to study. As guiders, not people seeking the guidance of others."

This is powerful stuff, if you don't mind my little intrusions.

"This delusion of the Arabs persists to this day, even though the entire world has changed. But they still believe 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, yet they continue this horrible delusion, this belief in one's own perfection."

I'm jumping in here. Say that again, sir.

"This belief in one's own perfection."

And there you have the moral justification for terrorist deeds and even the outlook of some "ordinary" Muslims: a people who can't be told because they won't be told. This is at its extreme in the form of jihadist evil-doers.

"Fanatics," said French philosopher Ernst Renan, "fear liberty more than they fear persecution." (From a column by David Brooks of the New York Times.)

Don't send me death threats yet, you of Muslim faith. This columnist is not out to get you. He wants to understand if you can be negotiated with. We know the majority of Muslims are NOT terrorists. But what this Muslim is saying should be heeded. None of us is perfect and those who think they are are dangerous to everyone, including themselves.

"This belief that others must learn from them makes it impossible for them to learn from modern cultures."

I end Al-Buleihi's wise thoughts, and jump to a former Dean of Islamic Law at Qatar University, who points to the "lack of critical thinking in the Muslim outlook. A world in which religious scholars have prominence over scientists, economists, doctors, philosophers, over everyone".

This is but a few hundred words from people I consider to be enlightened on a subject that will one day embroil the world in a war, of one intransigent religion against all others, as well as secularism. It is in my opinion a completely unnecessary clash of cultures of which, let it be said, the more enlightened, open-minded, technologically and economically advanced side will certainly win.

But wouldn't it be nicer if all people went on a more peaceful journey to sharing, ultimately, the same state of tolerant enlightenment?

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