Chinese Culture and the Uniqueness of Islamic Jihad
By Fjordman
Danish translation: Kinesisk kultur og det unikke ved islamisk jihad
Source: Gates of Vienna, May 6, 2013
Published on : September 23, 2013

In March 2013, the writer Harold Rhode at the website of Gatestone Institute commented on a recent Chinese report that tried to explain what holds the Muslim world back compared to other countries and cultures. Some Chinese observers, in behind-the-scenes discussions, kept saying they were perplexed about the Muslim world’s — and particularly the Arab world’s — inability to deal with the challenges of modern society.

The Chinese and the Muslims, they thought, had both suffered humiliation by foreigners over the past two centuries, but their reactions to these experiences are very different. “We also suffered,” the Chinese said, “but now we control our destiny, and are doing everything we can to learn from these foreigners so that we can benefit from the modern world and ensure that we do not suffer this humiliation again. We Chinese ‘look to the future.’”

The Muslims, on the other hand, seem to have a different approach: Instead of looking to the future they “are mired in the past,” more concerned about taking revenge against foreigners who they believe humiliated them long ago than about dealing rationally with contemporary problems to improve their societies and futures.

These educated and insightful Chinese observers, many of whom had spent considerable time in the Islamic world and had gone to the trouble of becoming fluent in languages such as Arabic, Persian, or Turkish, were puzzled as to why so many Muslims are “obsessed” (their word) with portraying themselves as eternal victims.

If you constantly portray yourself as a blameless “victim” of outside forces, cultivating such a toxic culture of victimhood could for an entire society represent a very serious obstacle to bettering your own situation. If you always blame others for your failures or shortcomings, you will not be the master of your own destiny, but will refuse to do what is necessary to change your mentality or negative pattern of behavior in order to improve your situation. As long as Muslims indulge in self-pity, they will never be able to improve their lot in this world.

The Chinese have their flaws, as does every other culture. They are a proud people, but in addition to this pride there is also a widespread pragmatism and practical outlook to their culture, which is one of the reasons why they are currently making better progress in the modern world than most Muslim countries are doing. To quote the former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew, himself an ethnic Chinese man, despite “everything we do for our Muslims, they continue to remain at the bottom of society” — poor, backward and uneducated.

I showed this article to an ethnic Chinese friend of mine who is also a Christian and a well-informed critic of Islamic culture and teachings. His reaction was that these observers got it partially right. They do not blame the backwardness of Muslim countries on the Jews or the West. They rightly blame it on the Muslims themselves.

On the other hand, my friend commented that Muslims do in fact focus on the future, yet the future they want is different from that of the Chinese. The Chinese simply want to get rich and are prepared to learn from the West to achieve wealth. The Muslim faith is a warrior religion designed to assist global Islamic imperialism. The future that they struggle for is not a prosperous co-existence with non-Muslims through trade and commerce.

Moreover, the Chinese can repudiate some of Confucius’ teachings and still remain Chinese. After all, while his teachings have had an immense influence over Chinese civilization and thought for well over two thousand years, Confucius was in the end just a philosopher like Socrates or Aristotle in Europe, not an infallible human being. The status of Mohammed in Islam as an example for mankind is radically different. He was believed to be a Prophet of God, the single most important one of all of Allah’s messengers and the “seal of the Prophets.”

The bottom line is this: You can remain a proud Chinese person and repudiate some things that Confucius said, did or taught. You cannot remain a proud Muslim and repudiate some things that Mohammed said, did or taught. You may at best try to reinterpret it in a new way, but you cannot challenge it or ignore it outright.

I share my Asian friend’s opinion on these matters. There are many good and truthful observations in the Chinese assessment quoted above. Nevertheless, it misses the mark when it comes to pinpointing exactly what makes Islamic culture in general and Arabic culture in particular so special.

It is actually a fairly common flaw for many cultures to be excessively backward-looking. However, this often tends to be mainly a problem for them. For instance, the ancient Egyptians after the New Kingdom period became less and less innovative and ultimately lost cultural leadership to the Greeks, partly because they had become too fixated upon copying the perceived glorious past of their ancestors. Yet this did not make ancient Egypt an external threat. On the contrary, it made their nation weak and ripe for being conquered, as they eventually were by the Persians, the Greeks, the Italians (Romans) and other peoples who were by now more dynamic.

It is also possible to venture too far in the opposite direction and think that “history is bunk,” that everything which is old is automatically useless and should be discarded. I sometimes wonder whether modern Western culture has now gone too far in this direction in its relentless quest for “progress,” youth and novelty.

As a conservative and traditionalist, I believe that some traditions may be worth preserving and that some cultural patterns might be of value, since they have withstood the test of time. This does not mean that we should mindlessly copy our ancestors, but we shouldn’t casually dismiss everything they did as stupid or useless, either.

A nation that places no value on the past or traditions will eventually be left adrift and cut off from its roots. A nation that places too much emphasis on the past or traditions will eventually stagnate. A successful, long-lived nation is one that manages to retain some sense of attachment to its roots and is proud of its achievements, yet remains flexible enough to embrace and cultivate positive innovation. Striking this balance is tricky, but necessary.

An additional quality is that a successful nation should also be open-minded enough to recognize and accept good ideas even when they come from the outside. Both Islamic and Chinese culture at times suffered from a superiority complex that made it hard to borrow from the Europeans even when Europeans had, objectively speaking, made some great scientific and technological breakthroughs which no other culture had achieved. Muslims are particularly handicapped in this regard due to the ingrained notion of their superiority over “infidels.”

Being Scandinavian myself, I like reading about the Viking Age. I respect many of the things my ancestors did at that time, but I acknowledge that they also had some practices that I am happy we left behind. For instance, Scandinavians back then practiced blood feuds, or vendettas, between different groups and clans, in order to punish criminals. We no longer do this, and we are better off for it. I watch with great concern as we are now in the process of mass-importing this archaic way of behavior, an unwelcome relic from the past, with mass immigration from clannish Middle Eastern cultures, where such blood feuds are quite common even today.

The crucial difference is that while Scandinavians in pre-state societies practiced blood feuds 1200-1400 years ago, they later managed to evolve and leave such practices behind. Muslims preserved and partly sanctioned such behavior through the development of Islamic sharia law at the same time, which was then fossilized by elevating it to the status of divine law, in principle valid for all times and all places. The concept of blood money for killing people is mentioned in the Koran and is practiced by Arabs in some cases to this day.

The status of Islamic law is one of the most clear-cut cases where Islamic culture is strongly backward-looking in a very negative sense of the word, and sometimes suffers from this today. One Arabic word that could be translated as “innovation” is bidaa, which tends to carry highly negative connotations. Originally, this was probably meant mainly for innovations or novelties in the religious and social sense, but such a mindset can easily spill into the realms of science and technology as well, and stifle progress in these vital fields. The historian Bernard Lewis has written about this in his books, and his analysis constitutes one of the strongest parts of his work.

The Chinese have retained a strong organic sense of connection with the past, which is one of the main reasons why their civilization has endured for several thousand years in recognizable form. This sense of cultural continuity, with a blend of Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist impulses, has been weakened (but not completely destroyed) by generations of Communist rule. The Communists under Mao represented an extreme case of the “history is bunk” attitude, where the past is not merely a mixed bag but constitutes an unqualified evil that must be literally smashed in order to make way for “Progress.” Such a total rejection of everything your ancestors did or thought is clearly excessive and patently harmful. The Cultural Revolution did great damage to China.

At the other extreme, Chinese culture also has a very long and strong tradition of ancestor worship. Although such practices may conflict with Christian doctrines, even many Chinese Christians adhere to these traditions in the modern world, a fact which caused major headaches for the first European Christian missionaries to China.

I am neither Chinese nor Christian. However, I can see the potential that such practices, especially when combined with blind adherence to authority figures, may sometimes constitute an obstacle to freethinking. For instance, I have read of cases in earlier times where a Chinese imperial physician had to literally worship his predecessor. You don’t have to be a bigot to understand that such a mindset could potentially stifle innovation.

Islamic culture looks back to an allegedly glorious past which it wants to replicate today. The dangerous aspect of this line of thinking is that this past was an age of violent conquest and aggressive military expansionism. Indeed, their religious doctrines stipulate that Muslims are preordained by the Creator of the universe to put all nations under their rule. Those who resist them are forces of evil that deserve to be crushed without mercy. There is thus “progress” in Islam, but “progress” is synonymous with Islamic law and Islamic rule.

Even if you are a Chinese person who strongly adheres to the teachings of Confucius, you do not believe that all nations in the world should be permanently converted to the teachings of Confucius, by brute force if necessary. A devout Confucian does not believe that he should systematically copy every mundane thing Confucius did millennia ago, even down to the way he had sex or visited the bathroom. You certainly do not believe that every single person on planet Earth who mocks Confucius with a poem or a cartoon deserves to have his throat cut.

The concept of Jihad, which is unique to Islam among all major world religions, stipulates that Muslims should relentlessly strive to convert the entire world to the teachings of Mohammed, by force if necessary. A pious Muslim believes that his Prophet is worthy of emulation in all things and for all times, even down to the way he had sex or visited the bathroom. A devout follower of Mohammed is willing to risk his life to silence anybody on planet Earth who mocks Mohammed with a poem or a cartoon, if necessary by cutting their throats. It is above all this specific component of its teachings that makes Islam unique and, frankly, uniquely dangerous.

Yes, there are aspects of Islamic culture that are backward-looking and can stifle positive progress. However, Muslims also look back to a past of war and violent conquest which they want to replicate in the future. In this sense, Islamic culture is strongly forward-looking as well. The problem is what it’s looking forward to: A future of global Jihad to establish Islamic rule and supremacy over every nation, culture and creed, by brute force if necessary; a future where all cultures are superseded and supplanted by Arabic-Islamic culture; and a future where the freedom of speech has been abolished worldwide concerning all aspects of Islamic teachings plus the words and deeds of Mohammed. While the backward-looking aspects of Islamic culture are mainly a problem for Muslims themselves by holding them back, the forward-looking desire for global supremacy makes Islamic Jihad a problem for everybody else and a permanent threat to the freedom and security of all of mankind.

In the West, the religion of Islam was in the past sometimes referred to as “Mohammedanism” and its followers called “Mohammedans.” This is now considered bigotry. The fact that the faith of Mohammed is called “Islam” while the belief-system of Confucianism is named after its founder Confucius can leave the impression that Islam is less focused on the personality of Mohammed than Confucianism is on the personality of Confucius.

Yet the simple truth is that a devout Muslim is vastly more preoccupied with the minute details of Mohammed’s supposed life than even the most devout Confucian has ever been with the life of Confucius. Seen from that perspective, labeling this faith “Mohammedanism” or its followers “Mohammedans” is not entirely wrong.

The religion of Christianity is named after Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ to Christian believers. Muslims claim that although Mohammed received a world-changing divine mission he was not actually divine himself or “the son of God,” as Christians believe that Jesus Christ was. Yet ironically, Islam is far more centered on exalting and emulating the minute details of the supposed life of Mohammed 1400 years ago than Christianity is on emulating every single thing Jesus did 2000 years ago. You might even claim that Islam is far more obsessed with eternally emulating every single aspect of the supposed life and behavior of a particular, allegedly “perfect” person than virtually any other major creed throughout all of human history.

I say “supposed life” because some recent Western scholars have raised serious questions about whether or not Mohammed as he is presented in Islamic texts ever existed. He could be a partially or entirely invented character. If this is correct, this would ironically imply that more than one in every five human beings on Earth spends his life emulating the supposed behavior of a person who may never have existed at all the way he is presented today.

All nations want their people to be strong and at the forefront of human achievement. The Japanese want a strong Japan, the Indians want a strong India, and so on. The Chinese have traditionally viewed their nation as “the Middle Kingdom,” the natural center of the world. Many Chinese nationalists now probably want to restore what they see as China’s economic and political strength as well as cultural glory. This is only natural. What they do not seek, though, is to invade, conquer and colonize all other countries on the planet, to wipe out their cultures and replace them with their own. Devout Muslims do want these things, since their religion commands it.

As a Scandinavian and European, I want my nation to prosper and my continent to be strong. However, if I reluctantly had to live in a world where my civilization was no longer the strongest, I would choose a world in which Chinese civilization was the leader rather than a world dominated by Islam. The Chinese and other non-Muslim Asians such as the Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese who visit Europe as tourists are often genuinely interested in our artistic artifacts and relics of Europe’s dynamic past. They do not have cultural beliefs banning the existence of our paintings or statues and no desire to destroy these.

European culture and human civilization as a whole could survive a period of Chinese dominion. However, it may not survive Islamic global dominion, which would not only destroy artistic creativity but probably also globally retard science and technology.

Fjordman is the pen name of a Norwegian writer who publishes essays at various websites.