Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate's Defense of Liberal Democracy

Why the West is Best:  A Muslim Apostate's Defense of Liberal Democracy.  By Ibn Warraq.  New York:  Encounter Books, 2011.  286 pp.  $23.95.

The pseudonymous ex-Muslim Warraq has turned his broad intellect and articulate writing to a defense of the Western civilization so wholeheartedly embraced by this British-educated, South Asian-American immigrant.  Warraq begins his analysis with an admiring discussion of his adopted home New York City, a "concrete definition of Western civilization" with its millions of heterogeneous citizens flourishing in a mutually enriching, efficient cosmopolitan metropolis.  Warraq then examines the superiority of Gotham's underlying Western ideals and institutions with respect to other cultures, and particularly to Islam.

Warraq's ultimate conclusion is that the "West has succeeded because of an insatiable curiosity that has fueled countless experiments and innovations" in all fields of human endeavor, from art to politics.  Interrelated with this wide-ranging search for knowledge is the "salad of genes" in Western civilization, analogous to the "salad of racial genes" in all people.  The West derives in particular from the classical and Judeo-Christian legacies of Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome, cultures in turn influenced by various societies in the Mediterranean and beyond.  As a result of this Western cultural construct, "many Europeans today feel closer to Socrates, Cicero, Moses, and Jesus than to the Celts or Gauls."

In contrast to the West's free inquiry enabled by what Bertrand Russell has called "liberating doubt," in Islam, "life is a closed book" of faith-based answers in all matters like ethics, something "reduced to obeying orders."  Muslim thinkers such as Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) have historically "discouraged the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake" and made all intellectual inquiry "subordinated to religious learning, the highest and worthiest form of knowledge."  

In response to well-known reproaches against the West such as slavery and imperialism, Warraq sheds light on the greater yet often ignored sins in these areas perpetrated by Islamic and other civilizations.  Muslim enslavement of black Africans as well as Europeans, for example, exceeded the extent of the Atlantic slave trade, the latter of which was made possible only by African involvement and abolished by Western humanitarianism.  In India, Warraq favorably contrasts British imperialism's curiosity-driven preservation of indigenous landmarks with Islamic imperialism's devastating rage against anything deemed pagan, such as Hindu temples.

Dismissing the multicultural "sentimental belief that all cultures have the same values deep down" or that they "are all equally worthy of respect," Warraq rightfully notes a "moral responsibility to be grateful for" the West's "legacy and to defend it" -- particularly because it is "not the exclusive property of the West."