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Political implications of Muslim allegiance to western science and technology

Ghada Ramahi

Dr Ghada M. Ramahi is a geneticist from New York, USA, with a particular interest in the philosophy of science. This is the paper she presented at the Crescent International/ICIT Kalim Siddiqui Memorial Seminar on The Global Islamic Movement 20 Years after the Islamic Revolution in London on April 11, 1999.

There is a persistent perception nowadays that a country’s national and international strength is largely determined by its ability to create and utilize science and technology. In an extremely materialistic world, this has become the criterion by which a nation is placed in the family of modern nations.

Simultaneously, there is a persistent perception among Muslims that they need to copy this science and technology to redeem their fallen ills and to catch up with the speeding wheel of modern civilization. Customarily, Muslims will self-deprecate their contemporary shortfalls and inferiorities in these areas. Often, they lament their regression and argue that if they could only learn this magic formula, they would be able to restore their past glory. The vision seems to be that the combination of Islam and western science and technology would enable the Muslims to get the upper hand in leading the world. But this has been the Muslims’ common view since the turn of the century, around the time of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, with not much accomplishment to speak of. A hundred years later, it is all the more important for Muslims to step back and unpack the mantras of modernity.

The Muslim attachment to science and technology is a very complex issue. The fascination revolves around a series of unexamined assumptions and myths (see Crescent International, October 1-15, 1998). One of these myths is that Eurocentric western science and technology are value-free commodities. Muslims continue to believe that they can extract only these two items from the west and use them within Muslim values and settings. The best of Muslim brains have been working at their fullest potential on learning how to import this science and technology. But so far they continue to be on the receiving end and all they have succeeded in doing is serving the west by either remaining in the west to use their specialized training or going back home with a new form of hegemonic colonization. The failure is not because of a shortage in manpower or in implementation. Rather, it is due to the incompatibility of this enterprise with the Islamic worldview. This, in turn, is because Muslims fell short of verifying the cultural and historical foundations, let alone the visions, of the western enterprise.

It is the inherent nature of this western science and technology which does not permit importing them to work in any other environment except their own native one. This nature does not allow separating them from their Christianity, ideology, and the culture of which they are a product. To be a producer of this enterprise, to reap its full benefits, one has to adopt the worldview that made it in the first place.

Historically, western science is embedded in the Eurocentric Christian philosophy. And since its inception, it geared its production to serve the Church in its political and economic gains. The culmination of Europe’s scientific enterprise was its militaristic machinery. In fact, much of the enterprise was developed in opposition to Islamic civilization. At the time, a great deal of the Church’s effort was arranged towards stopping the expansion of Islam and conquering the Muslims. In this context the life and mission of Raymond Lully of Catalan is of particular interest to the Muslims. A 13th century Franciscan friar-physician and astrologer, famous for his knowledge of chemistry and metallurgy, Lully envisioned using his science in the service of the Church to conquer Arabs and convert Muslims to Christianity. This vision fuelled the age of discovery in which the Church called upon science and the ‘mechanical arts’ to have Columbus find an alternative route to Central Asia, outflanking the Muslims, for evangelical, more so than economic, purposes.

Although several things have changed since Lully’s time - the Church no longer has its apparent past clout, nor do the Muslims have a comparable political entity like the Ottoman Empire to keep Europe in its place - the role of western science as a colonizing mechanism continues unabated, as strong as ever. It is taken for granted that western science and technology are objective and universal in their truths. Their nature appears to be international in scope and practice, and they have a superficial humanitarian appeal. The integration of science into society has increased over the years, infiltrating all social aspects. Internationally, countries are finding themselves expanding their dependence on western science and technology for both domestic and foreign purposes. The expansion of this dependency has political implications, in the growing collaborations of scientists across international fault lines.

The use of science to help advance foreign policy objectives began after WWII. Since then it has become an instrumental tool in western foreign policy affairs. western visionary politicians and science policy-makers consider science as a form of second-track diplomacy. Since 1949, the US Department of State has established very close relations with scientists. A committee was appointed by the Secretary of State, consisting of distinguished scientists and engineers, to discuss how the potentialities of scientific progress can be integrated into the formulation of foreign policy and the administration of foreign relations. Henry Kissinger is one of the most important figures advocating science and technology for foreign policy achievements. More recently, the Carnegie Corporation of New York has been sponsoring a research-program called ‘Science Policy’ to study the role of scientists in mitigating international discord and in aiding western-brokered peace efforts between states.

For the purpose of ‘Science Policy’, the international club of scientist extends its membership beyond natural scientists like physicists, chemists, biologists, and mathematicians to include medical and social scientists like physicians, economists, psychologists and political scientists. In the world of ‘Science Policy’, scientists constitute a ‘thought collective’, a sociological group with a particular style of thinking. Their communities are united by a constellation of beliefs, values, and techniques shared by their members. They share a ‘common language,’ literally and metaphorically. In addition, they believe their own myths, one of which is that they can be ‘objective’ and ‘value free’ in their deliberations, made possible by a belief in the separation of the personal from the technical. Scientists also presume that their supposed high degree of intelligence, curiosity, intellectual flexibility and sophistication can be extended to just about any aspect of humanity. This feeling of detached supremacy is facilitated by society and its official institutes, which consider scientists as the intellectual elite and grant them a high social standing.

The Carnegie Corporation sees that all these factors put together prove to be of great value when dealing with conflict situations in the western interest. The specialized nature of this science and technology allows a minority elite group within the scientific community, the science policy makers, to direct and mobilize large portions of the scientific community and its resources as needed. As top advisors, scientists provide analysis, criticism and assessments that are based on their rationalistic technical training.

It is precisely this rationality, also known as the scientific method, which the Carnegie study believes to be the instrument most desirable in the scientific culture. Scientists’ loyalty to this method is an abstraction not easily described or understood outside its own closed world. Rationality originated in the 17th century where the fathers of the modern Eurocentric western science devised a very unique methodology for their science. This methodology radically differs from those of the non-western civilizations. By design, it is exclusively based on the mechanization of nature, on the mathematical reconstruction of natural phenomena, and on purging the natural world of its unseen sympathies and spiritualities. It is based strictly on dualism and reason, on abstracting the mind from the body and the object from the subject. It displaced the feminine principle in society, and based scientific institutions on the Church’s misogynist monasteries. This Eurocentric mechanistic methodology became identified with reason itself and with the absolute truth. It also became the only valid lens through which nature could be seen and studied, with all other modes of thinking disqualified as irrational.

According to the Carnegie Study on science policy, scientists from Cambridge, Massachusetts and from the RAND Corporation were among the first to suggest the use of rational techniques and strategies in power politics, including such constructs as game theory. Game theory is the mathematical analysis of abstract models of strategic competition with the determination of best strategy as a goal, having applications in linear programming, statistical decision making, operations research, and military and economic planning. In addition, politicians urge scientists to use this scientific method to help solve social problems. For example, scientists apply systems analyses and other advanced management techniques to large programs and enterprises such as cities, factories, subway systems, and air traffic. Systems analysis is the study of an activity by mathematical means to determine its desired outcome and the most efficient methods of obtaining this. Such techniques, as with much else in the war-like west, originate in the strategies of warfare.

In light of this discussion, the dilemma that Muslims should ponder is this: How can the Euro-centric west be a friend and an enemy at the same time? What benefit is it for the Eurocentric west that it gives science and technology to the other peoples and civilizations that it has worked feverishly to destroy for a millennium? And in exchange for what? How can Kissinger and the RAND Corporation be open enemies of the Muslims and still want to provide them with the latest in science and technology?

It is precisely for the exchange of allegiance that the west is willing to tantalise the ‘other’ with its contemporary advancement. Furthermore, the prize is to institutionalize the scientific culture with its mentality among the intellectual elite of the Muslims. This scientific mentality lays the foundation for a specific conceptual infrastructure that serves only western civilization and makes perpetual colonization the definite outcome.

But what is about this culture of rationality that appeals unquestionably to the Muslim subconscious? And what makes them psychologically predisposed to it? How are they prepared to accept it? Answering these questions gets a bit complicated and cannot be done without recourse to more rigorous Islamic concepts, the topic of another study beyond the present scope. But for now, if I may appropriate a term from Malik Bennabi in his work Islam in History and Society, it is probably what he called the ‘colonizability’ level of the Muslim intellectuals that makes them susceptible to western rationality and simultaneously oblivious to its effects.

For our present purposes, it is this supposed rationality that subliminally alters the Muslims and gradually chips away at their sense of loyalty to political struggles and other issues faced by the Islamic movement. The communications and networks of scientists make it possible for Muslim scientists training and working in the West to work and or collaborate with zionists and Israelis. This, in turn, brings about amelioration and tolerance of each other that can be used effectively in initiating political dialogues between scientists of conflicting countries, to the west’s benefit. This is precisely how the Oslo agreement was achieved between the Israelis and the PLO.

Eurocentric rationality constitutes an exclusive belief-system that is not compatible with Islam. It takes control of one’s thinking and somehow almost irreversibly reprograms it, altering one’s allegiance and replacing any indigenous belief system. Muslims trained in this method have to compromise their Islamic view of the world. Their Islam becomes only ritual. Subliminally, they reach a point of doubt, confusion, and dual loyalty that they might never be able to reconcile. This rationality dissipates and ties up the best of the Muslims’ potential. In light of this discussion, western education serves two purposes: intellectual and political. Intellectual training in the western system shores up allegiances to Western belief-systems, and Muslim graduate students who question the basis of western rationality are driven out of the system at an early stage. For those who survive, another fate awaits.

To illustrate, let us take the following scenario. A Palestinian Muslim graduate student is working on a Ph.D involving research on a particular virus. His advisor collaborates with an Israeli research group at the Weizman Institute. Representatives of this group come often to the American laboratory where the student works, to discuss and exchange data and results. Torn between scientific rationality, and political and religious conflict, the student unwillingly participates in these events to share supposedly objective research. Further into the research project, the student realizes that he needs to learn a particular technique that is taught only in the Weizman Institute.

The considerations are many: if the student refuses on religious and political grounds, he will automatically be dismissed as irrational and unable to handle objective research, sacrificing the degree and the prospect of any professional future. The other possibility is to think ‘rationally’, or be detached from the political and religious implications, and go to the Weizman Institute that was built on the land stolen from his people, maybe even from his own family. Once there, the student faces additional dilemmas, when considering the prospect of visiting his family in a refugee camp. One can extrapolate this scenario further - Bosnian and Kosovar scientists working with Serbian scientists, or Kashmiris working with Indians - to grasp the full political significance of the Muslim dependency on western science. It is in these interpersonal and ideological cracks that wedges are inserted in the name of rationality to separate the Muslim allegiance to their beliefs and causes for the ultimate gains of the West.

Lately, this rationality has been seeping through the Muslim world with greater momentum than ever. There are external and internal waves that are forcefully sweeping the Muslims with respect to western science and technology. Externally, the Eurocentric powers currently aim to accelerate the ongoing internationalization of the scientific enterprise for their own not only political but economic gains. While not all countries can participate in the military race, most can aspire to partake in science and technology. The national scientific and technological capability has largely replaced the international arms power-structure and created a market system.

Internally, there is a strong urgency from Muslim governments to expand dependency and integration of Eurocentric western science and technology in all aspects of state, public and private. This has been also validated and endorsed by the ulama and religious scholars who mistakenly have been advocating it. The pressure is mounted by the Muslim technocrats who were trained in the west and became loyal to its system. While this is done with little anticipation of the hidden ideology, philosophy and visions behind these technologies, there are also specific, sometimes covert, but always present political implications of the Muslims’ dependency on western science.

Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1999

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