on 31 January 2011
This is a heady distillation of intellectual Muslim thought, demonstrating the kind of man Izetbegovic was. I once gave this book to my father (an agnostic) who said, "He's so intelligent it's scary." Islam Between East and West is a modern treatise on cultures and civilization which attempts to show how so many philosophies have failed to give human beings what they need. Izetbegovic is no coward, and he makes strong assertions: "Every culture is theistic in its essence; every civilization is atheistic." By differentiating between culture and civilization, he shows the difference between critically analytical Islamic thought ( a throwback to the Golden Age of Muslim philosophers) and the Christian turning of "the human spirit in upon itself" (witness the convents and monasteries betokening the negation of worldly life). Izetbegovic argues that the Islamic ideal offers firm middle ground between Christianity, which focuses on the spirit, and Judaism, which "represents the 'this-world' tendency." In support of the latter assertion, he writes, "The Jews have never entirely accepted the idea of immortality. . . . The Kingdom of God which the Jews were predicting before Jesus' appearance was to materialize on earth, not in heaven as the Christians believed." This, then, apparently explains why the Jewish nation has tended to focus on external progress: "It seems as if they have been constantly migrating from a civilization on the wane to one on the rise."
Izetbegovic was the farthest thing from a fundamentalist, royalist, or nomad,which in some part explains the tepid interest of the Saudi government when he approached it during the Bosnian War, when Serbs began killing hordes of Caucasian Bosnian Muslims who looked (to the Arabs) more like Westerners than Muslims. He had a secular education and later got involved in activism and then politics. (Clinton made a campaign promise in the USA that if he were elected president, he would put a stop to the genocide. He was elected, but the reality of attacking Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina did not sit terribly well with the Serbian population in the USA. It took awhile for the US/Western allies to actually get involved.)
Izetbegovic does not ignore the East: he demonstrates the exclusive preoccupation with this world as evinced in socialism, communism, fascism, etc., noting that if religion, by itself, does not necessarily lead to progress, "science does not lead to humanism and in principle has nothing in common with culture."
Izetbegovic defines culture as "the art of being man," while civilization is "the art of functioning, ruling, making things perfect." Both are indispensable, he says: "Civilization educates; culture enlightens."
He explains education as something that makes human beings more capable but not freer, better, or more human. In many ways, he contends, the progress of education has made mankind less happy, if longer lived. He points out that man has the propensity to grow in nobility specifically when faced with adversity, yet science treats man as an animal, and that is why psychology is an accepted science in a material world. But in a scientific world, there can be no equality or brotherhood--that is only possible when we accept that man is created by God. The equality of human beings is spiritual and not a natural, physical or intellectual fact.
Izetbegovic uses art as proof of the existence of the soul--it matters not that the artist himself should be a believer in God. His argument? Art, he offers, is a spiritual rather than material act; the flip side to this argument is that "A human being is not the sum of his different biological functions, just like a painting cannot be reduced to the quantity of paint used." This book proves that in our modern time, there have been exceedingly erudite Muslim thinkers, far removed from the inflexible psychosis of fundamentalism.
Julia Simpson Urrutia, (Grassroots Writers Guild).