Ibrahim Al-Buleihi, Former Saudi Shura Council Member, Defends Learning From The West

Ibrahim Al-Buleihi on Al-Aabiya TV on February 26, 2010:

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And here he argues that terrorism is the product of a flaw in Arab and Muslim culture:

This is the product of our culture.  They are the product of a culture that believes the other does not deserve to live, and is an absolute enemy with whom no understanding is possible.  There is a fundamental flaw in our culture that leads to this behavior.

This is a one-dimensional culture, a culture of tyranny—tyranny in culture, in politics, in society, in the family, and in everything.

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In a profile, Al-Buleihi describes himself as “a Muslim first, and a liberal second”, but this does not stop him from admiring the West:

He has long been concerned and troubled at the decline of the condition of the Arabs, a concern that has led him to go beyond what is allowed by the dominant culture in Saudi society.  About this he says, “… the situation in the Arab world is sad and shameful, so it is clearly necessary not only to be concerned but to be deeply anxious.  I learned early in my life that a dreadful flaw afflicts the lives of Arabs and Muslims, but at first I did not understand the reasons.  My deep anxiety impelled me to study our history and culture in depth in search of the source of the flaw, and also led me to devote attention to the triumphant Western civilization, beginning with Greek philosophical thought, continuing through the political, social, scientific, anthropological and other brilliant achievements of the West.  I became convinced that Western civilization is exceptional and pioneering, and is not an extension of the previous civilizations:  it is civilization par excellence.  The excellence of the West lies not in its accomplishments in the sciences, arts and technology, but rather, these accomplishments are the outgrowth of the West’s respect for the human being, the recognition of his individuality, the liberty it has granted him, and the establishment of government in the service of the people — the government belongs to the people, and they do not belong to it.  This is a qualitative change, unprecedented in human history, and the source of everything that the human being experiences of the amazing changes in all aspects of life.”

Al-Buleihi contends that individualism is the main foundation on which modern civilization is based.  In contrast, Arab culture promotes the ”dissolution” of the individual in the totality.  “Humans are originally individuals, but cultures (including Arab culture) have dissolved the individual in the tribe, sect or state, so that the individual was unable to know his own identity and recover it, except with the diffusion of philosophical ideas from Greece, where, in the fifth century BC, philosophy produced elevated human values for the first time in human history, and the human being became an individual of value for himself and the ultimate goal, and not merely a means for others.”

Regarding the current situation of Arabs and Muslims, Al-Buleihi says:  “I believe that the situation of the Arabs and Muslims is very bad.  The reason is the closed culture and its inability to absorb modern civilization, to be aware of its shortcomings, and to be aware of the merits of other cultures.”

To those who contend that his prescriptions are too harsh and would frustration to those receiving them he answers that his “… views are not frustrating … but the real frustration is that we praise ourselves while we are in an terrible situation, and the Arabs and Muslims have become a joke to the rest of the world.  That is, we are a joke, and no one is concerned with us.  But now we announce that we innovate in cutting off heads, in killing, in bombings — that is the extent to which we can innovate.  This is a major problem, I mean, that we are a burden not only to ourselves but to the whole world.  I believe that the whole world is regressing because of our actions.  For example, the countries of the West — democratic countries like America, Europe, Britain and others — have changed their laws in ways that restrict liberties.  Transportation has become slow because … people have to stand in long queues to fly on an airplane, due to searches, something that was previously unknown.  We have become a burden to ourselves, and to the world.”

Al-Buleihi holds that Arab societies will not advance unless Arabs engage in critical thought.  “History has proven in the past, and the experiences of people in the present show, that enlightened critical thought has a major role in progress and prosperity, and that without it, no society can progress or prosper.  To begin with, societies are hostage to ruling ideologies, roles and practices, and do not exit from this circular trap without critical thought.  They are only motivated to renewal by thinkers who have absorbed cultural components of their culture and the qualitative changes that have occurred in human civilization.  I have made use of the means at hand, mainly writing, lecturing, and taking part in television discussions when I have the opportunity.  We Arabs are still an oral culture.”

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • sokol

    Incredible to hear this from an arab.
    This guy has real brains. To arrive to this in a muslim context must have needed a lot a study and be very difficult.

  • http://FarbrortheGuru Cyrus Howell

    Since 9-11 I have made a study of Muslim culture in order to write a book. I read the Quran in college, and studied in four – 3 semester hour classes there. 12 semester hours of religion in total. Just the basics. Ibrahim Al-Buleihi has filled in the gaps for me.
    In talking with Palestinians we agreed that the Arabs of the Middle East missed the Industrial Revolution. We agree on that much. In my opinion it was not the Arab’s own fault that he fell back, but the fault of the Ottoman occupiers. Occupiers are bad, unless they are Islamic occupiers – then that is OK. Arabs were willing and eager to kiss the behinds of Muslim overlords (although Mohamed ibn Al-Wahab recognized the Turks were not Muslims).
    There could not have been an industrial revolution in the Middle East anyway because coal, iron ore and hydroelectric power were needed (along with scientific journals). While Turkey used the inventions of the West, and entered into European wars, the Middle East stood still at Ottoman request.
    In my mind, Arabs and Muslims missed (what I will term) The Age of Reason (1700s) The Late Industrial Revolution (1800s) and the Age of Applied Science (1900s). The most important 300 years of learning have been absent for Muslims.
    Calculus was thought out just prior 1700. With it’s help the mechanical drill was invented in England in 1701. The blast furnace was invented in England in 1725, allowing iron bridges to be built. With the invention of the drill we could now get oil out of the ground with more that picks and shovels. When the Bessemer steel process came into use locomotives and steamships were constructed out of steel, and steel rails manufactured which increased the speed of trains crossing continents. Steel posts and beams allowed buildings to bear greater weight and become higher.
    The Ottoman sultans took advantage of two inventions which came about because of the American Civil War. These were the Winchester repeating rifle and the Maxim machine gun (with a modern rate of fire – 6 rounds per second). These were used by the Ottomans to try to keep the lid on their Arab colonies and hold onto their territories in Greece, Cypress, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and Bulgaria. Turkey was able to profit as a part of Europe, not the Muslim World.
    During the Age of Applied Science modern medicine, “wonder drugs,” automobile manufacturing, air transport, modern electronics, polymer chemistry, housing materials, and modern materials science came into being. Most of it was “on the drafting boards”, but World War II gave these the impetus needed to become physical reality. In World War I fighter aircraft flew at 95 kilometers per hour. In World war II fighter aircraft flew at 650 kilometers per hour. The war built the factories which would produce consumer products for the entire world in the years to come.
    When Rudyard Kipling wrote the words “East is East and West is West, and never the two shall meet”, he was talking about Muslims not East Asians. I can no longer tell the difference between China and America. What Muslims need to understand is that Europe and America put their nations first – not God. When the “founding fathers” of the American Republic wrote the United Sates Constitution they believed in God The Creator of the Worlds. They believed that God created Earth and left Mankind on his own – that God is in effect an absentee landlord. They reasoned that without God’s presence Mankind had to create a system to govern himself without an emperor or a king. In the Islamic world Allah is #1 and in the West the nation is #1 before God. “Never the twain shall meet.”

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    There are lots of intelligent people in the middle east. When a tyranny forces compliance and people have access to other worldviews (on the net) then it is inevitable that people will secretly pretend to be compliant when actually disagreeing with the mainstream.

    It is hyperbole that the Arabs have nothing teach or offer, but a thirst for knowledge is essential for any culture or person to thrive.

  • Manny Kant

    Ibrahim Al-Buleihi is exceptionally smart and astute.

    To arrive at the conclusions he has living where he lives is downright amazing.

    As is coming out and saying these things in the open.

    I’m surprised he wasn’t killed as he walked out of the studio right after this.

    The Arab world will remain a totalitarian backwards society as long as they do not break out of the mental prison that is Islam. The West needed to go thru the Age of Enlightenment in order to progress. The Islam world will, too.

    I’m not holding my breath as to when that might happen.