Western Identity — Ours and Theirs…Part I

5. IDENTITY CONSTRUCTION

While the modern Westernized world laughs at the “Johnny come lately” attempts by the “Rest” to formulate a coherent self-description (Indic, Confucian, etc) in “modern” or even “post-modern” terminology, it is no secret among scholars that the supposed “coherence” of Western identity is also one that can be held up & examined for its many inconsistencies & leaps of logic. See Ronald Inden’s “Imagining India” (Ref#2 ) which show how much energy was invested in the construction of Western Identity, while it was simultaneously denied that the “Rest” like India were capable of “agency”, i.e. of Rational behavior as dynamic cultures & societies. See also Ref #3 on the Gupta Age in India, to see convincing evidence of how, for example the celebrated French Renaissance finds a worthy “prequel” in the Gupta period of Indian History, which achieved a cultural Golden Age of at least equal scope, and fully one thousand years before it.

With the above in view, let us see what Tonybee has to say on behalf of the “West”.

Following excerpt gives a clear idea of his worldview, which consistently finds expression, and explanation, in the book.

[AJT QUOTE #2]

In fact, if, looking at the contemporary world as a whole, one were to try to make the broadest and simplest analysis of the main cultural divisions in it, one would find oneself grouping the Muslims, the ex-Eastern Orthodox Christians and the ex-Western Christians together as members of a single great society which one could distinguish from both the Indian world and the Far Eastern world by giving this society, like each of those, an overall label of its own.

Since the Spiritual possession that all we Christians and Muslims have in common with one another is a pair of common heritages-one from the Jews and another from the Greeks-we could label our Christian-Muslim society the Graeco-Judaic, to distinguish it both from a Hindu Society in India and from a Confucian-Buddhist Society in the Far East.

From this bird's-eye view that takes in the whole of mankind, the divers Muslim and Christian variations on a common Graeco-Judaic way of life fade almost out of view. They look quite insignificant by comparison witht he characteristics that are common to all of us Muslim and Christian members of our Graeco-Judaic cultural family.

When we contrast our Muslim-Christian way of life as a whole with the Hindu way or with the Far Eastern, the differences, inside our Muslim-Christian family, between Eastern Orthodox Christendom and Western Christendom and Islam, almost cease to be visible.

Comments on above are as follows. One can appreciate that Tonybee’s worldview is much more convincing & encompassing than the simplistic “Clash of Civilizations” view championed by Americans Bernard Lewis & Samuel Huntington, where by some convenient contortions, Islam is presumed as another distinct Civilization, instead of being acknowledged as the estranged “Abrahamic brother” it is. This probably is to suit the current political climate of “Islam vs West”. One could assert that past Islamic Imperialism & Western Imperialism, both past & present are very similar in their grand views of themselves.

Tonybee, much to his credit, does try to inform his Western reader, early on, to get some perspective on what his/her sense of “Western” is, and how it could affect their thinking. See the quote below, which is a sort of introductory preface.

[AJT QUOTE #3 from Chapter I]

…Isn't the West just another name for as much of the world as has any importance for practical purposes today?….This title( )was chosen deliberately( )to make two points( )first( )the West has never been all of the world that matters( )even a the peak of the West's power (and this peak has perhaps now already been passed)( )second( )in the encounter( )going on for( )five hundred years, the world, not the west, is the party that, upto now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit-and hit hard-by the West.

A Westerner who wants to grapple with this subject, must try ( ) to slip out of his native Western skin and look at the encounter( )through the eyes of the great non-Western majority of mankind. Different though the people may be from one another ( ) he will hear them all giving the same answer:( )The West, they will tell him, has been the arch aggressor of modern times, and each will have their own experience of Western aggression to bring up against him.

The Russians will remind him that their country has been invaded by Western armies overland in 1941,1915,1812,1709, and 1610; the peoples of Africa and Asia will remind him that, within the same period, the Westerners have occupied the lion's share of the world's vacant lands in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South and East Africa. The Africans will remind him that they were enslaved and deported across the Atlantic in order to serve the European colonizers of the Americas as living tools to minister to their Western masters' greed for wealth. The descendants of the aboriginal population of North America will remind him that their ancestors were swept aside to make room for West European intruders and for their African slaves.

….What, then, has been the world's experience of the West?

And with that introduction, we can jump right in.

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