East and West: Behind the Veil of Ignorance

15:00 08.09.2011 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs



A WEEK BEFORE TRIPOLI FELL to the insurgents, a glamour model and ex-girlfriend of Mutassim, one of Colonel Gaddafi's sons, had come to the Libyan capital. Talitha van Zon, the former Playboy centerfold, who claimed that she had parted with Mutassim Gaddafi several years ago, could not explain why she came to the country torn apart by a civil war.

In any case very soon the toasts to a victory over the rebels were drowned out by the sounds of shooting and shouts by the same rebels at doors of her hotel. "The Dutch model was then paraded in front of rebel fighters who chanted 'petrol.' She feared they would 'burn her alive' and then made a desperate escape by leaping from the hotel's balcony" breaking her hand. Rescued by a Dutch journalist who helped her, together with other refugees to leave the country on a humanitarian ship, she reached Malta. The media all over the world informed their readers and viewers that "glamour model ex-girlfriend of Gaddafi's son escapes rebels after they threatened to 'burn her alive'" the reports supplied with a lavish selection of her photos.

Another, much more tragic event took place elsewhere. The Daily Mail informed the readers: "A teenage Muslim girl was stoned to death under 'Sharia law' after taking part in a beauty contest in Ukraine." And further: "According to Amnesty International's annual report on death sentences worldwide, issued in April, there were no reports of judicial executions carried out by stoning in 2010." Crimean officials described it as "absolutely standard crime." The newspaper quoted her killer as saying that "Katya violated the laws of Sharia" and that he had no regrets about her death.

Not everything what the newspaper wrote was absolutely correct: Katya Koren, like Miss van Zon, was not a Muslim yet very much like Miss van Zon she was a striking beauty who claimed the Miss Ukraine title. The British journalist stressed the fact that the girl had been murdered after the contest. Her mother described her as "a quiet, calm and polite child. She did not drink and smoke - she was correct and differed from many others. Since the boys were friends only, she never allowed anything else: she was 'waiting for the big and pure love'."

One of those who figure prominently on the Crimean political scene said in so many words that it was on Moscow's instigation that the media were fanning the scandal: "This is another wave of provocations raised by the Kremlin. Russia is pursuing its own aims in the informational field because it will never drop its claims on the Crimea." Should this be taken to mean that conservative Daily Mail took orders from Moscow?

The local authorities, likewise, hastened to state: "It's an absolutely standard crime. There is no motive - either religious or any other related to interethnic conflicts." Well, let it be so. What is important is the fact that British journalists and Katya's neighbors (living in two different worlds) never doubted that the "girl was stoned to death" that is, punished according to Sharia and the Old Testament. Were they biased in their conviction? Were they prejudiced? Were they too much impressed by the clash of civilizations theory?

They might be biased and prejudiced, yet the figures recently quoted by The Economist, a highly respectable British journal, reveals a different picture. In Egypt, over 80% of the polled Muslims agreed that adultery should be punished by death by stoning; in Pakistan, the share was more or less the same; in Jordan, 70%; in Nigeria, over 60%; in Indonesia, over 40%. In Pakistan, over 80% support whipping and cutting off hands for theft - the largest share in the Muslim world; Egypt with slightly less than 80% is not far behind; nearly 60% in Jordan; over 60% in Nigeria and about 40% in Indonesia are of the same opinion.

Here are even more amazing figures: over 80% of the population of Jordan, one of favorite holyday haunts of Europeans who describe the locals as highly tolerant, believe that death is the right penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion (the figure for Egypt is 80%; for Pakistan, over 70%; Nigeria, 50% and Indonesia, nearly 30%).

"The conflict between God's law and man's continues to puzzle the Islamic world," writes The Economist, and not only it. Unless the conflict is resolved in a most radical way the West will never succeed in bringing order and democracy into the Arab world. The journal offers John Rawls, the big name in the liberal democracy theory, and his "veil of ignorance" as an answer.

In a democratic society all individual features and distinctions, talents, social status, wealth and, most importantly, religious and philosophical ideas and the hierarchy of values should be left behind the "veil of ignorance"; everyone should abide by the law of universal justice based on the principles of democracy and human rights.

Arabian alumni of American, Canadian and British universities are probably not alien to these ideas and may even try to apply them in their homelands. The Muslim world, however, prefers the traditional, no matter how specific, values based on the Koran and other instructive Islamic texts.

It should be said in all justice that the Islamic world has mastered the trick of pleasing the West by obeying, when absolutely necessary, the most primitive ideas of democracy. Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo have already demonstrated their skills in luring the West into the "convertible democracy" trap. Indeed, all sides involved are well aware of the truth: the chameleon has merely changed color while you pretend that you see a green sprout of democracy rather than a common lizard.

No democratic edifice Western style can stand on the shifting sands of the Middle East and Africa; nothing will come out of "democratization Western style" as long as the West persists in its "Karzai-zation" and "Rawls-ation" efforts. The West should accept the fact that Islam is the most politicized of the world religions in which politics and faith are inseparable.

Those who say that the Muslim world rejects the visible attributes of Westernization - mass culture, corrupting commercials, beauty contests, etc. -just scratch the surface. They are by-products of what Islam interprets as the West's congenital disease, viz. the secular nature of Western civilization in which faith is separated from politics; convictions, fromindividual acts and in which the Gospel has been left on the other side of the "Rawlsian veil."

Today, the Muslims have much less respect for the Christian world (which is indifferent to its own faith and is content with the void which replaced it) than their ancestors had for those who came to fight them with the cross and the sword.

The most perspicacious and the most respected members of the Islamic community, who despise the Europeans because of their indifference to faith, still treat the idea of a secular society as an illness against which the Muslims should be protected. They claim that they will never surrender the Muslim souls to the West; they should forever remain devoted to the laws of Sharia; they let the West enjoy the political toys it likes so much and the lies in which it is indulging as long as it remains stronger than the Islamic world.

I know that not all Muslims are radical Islamists and that there are different opinions and different trends yet the figures The Economist quoted are fairly convincing: the moderates carry little weight in the Muslim world.

Where is the line beyond which the clash of civilizations becomes explosive? As long as Sharia is regarded as an ideal law of Islam limited to the Islamic world and not always applicable in the modern conditions the volcano remains dormant. As soon as Sharia tries to spread outside the Islamic world and claim universalism (very much like the West, which is trying to impose its ideological standards on the Islamic world), we will get closer and closer to the hot lava...

The West could have used Russia's unique experience... at an unacceptable cost of abandoning the idea of its uniqueness... Well, why bother about the West? Why indeed? We have enough problems of our own.


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