Islam in the eyes of the West

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Islam in the eyes of the West (essay) The representations prevailing in the West about the Muslim world stem from a complex elaboration process where historical and political factors are intertwined. Historical and geographical proximity always means complex and competitive relations between the geopolitical entities concerned. And this has certainly been the case between the European and the Muslim world since the Middle Ages and implied handing over an historical memory of conflicts. The rivalry between Islam and Chistianity, between Al-Andalus and the Christian kingdoms, between the Christian and Ottoman empires triggered conflicts of interests and ideologies tending to turn the other into the Devil. You just have to read Amin Maalouf's book "The Crusades seen by the

Arabs" or to sea Youssef Chahine's film "Saladin" to realize that their interpretation of such historic events is just the opposite of the one we have built in the West with a reverse symbolism. Nevertheless, the distorsions brought about by such a situation did not prevent the development of mutual influence. The Bizantine Empire had close links to the Omeyas and th Abbasis in the East (even closer than with the European Christian kingdoms), there will be constant economic and cultutral exchanges between Al-Andalus and the Christian kingdoms just as the westernization of medieval Islam is an undeniable historic process (Sicily, the Iberian peninsula, the Balkans). However, the modern and contemporary times witnessed the development by the West of an ideology based

on western cultural superiority, which will be the corner stone of its relations with others, and more intensively so with Islam, giving rise to what apparently looked like a cultural gap but that had, in effect, deep political roots. The time when Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain, as well as the discovery of America represent the starting point of a process whereby Europe sees itself as a close identity and proclaims it is the only one to possess the attributes of mankind, considering as a consequence other peoples as inferior. The ideological elaboration process that supports this European vision was completed during the Renaissance and is still at play nowadays. It has to do with a selective interpretation of History, which eradicates the East from European thinking

and gives birth to the myth of Greco-roman culture being its sole and only original source. In other words, the founding mith of European thinking expelled radically the oriental contribution, and within this contribution, the significant role played by Muslim thinking in the safeguard and revitalization of hellenistic philosophy as well as in the development of a rationalistic philosophy of its own. As a result, the concept of two different isolated worlds that do not have the least common heritage, flourished. Later on, with the development of colonialism, we came to consider European culture as superior to all others and to look upon the cultures of colonized peoples as inferior. Since then, Europe is infused with a deep cultural ethnocentricism through which it looks upon

other cultures in an essentialist manner (that is to say as if they were closed up, inmutable and monolithic, incapable of progress nor evolution, in a way that is determinant for their future). As a result we tend to consider that the notions of progress, dynamism and innovation belong to European civilization, that was then transformed in Western, and it should be universally imitated1. At a later stage, when the anti-colonial movement developed in Europe, it will question the legimacy of the methods used (political domination and economic exploitation), but not the vocation of the West to serve as the cultural model that would enable the world to modernize. Progress and development could not be but the identical reproduction of what had happened in the West. In the Arab and