There are times when you read a book that completely change your understanding of the world, answering questions you have had for most of your life, and even better, answering questions you did not know you had. This is such a book. Duchesne unites economic analysis, anthropology, history and philosophy in order to make a compelling argument for why Western civilization is truly unique and unlike any other civilization.
Since writing this book, Duchesne has been influenced by white nationalist writers into seeking genetic answers for the uniqueness of the West. But the current book is free from genetic explanations. Duchesne also has a very negative view of Muslims, considering them unassimilable and inherently opposed to Western civilization. But that shouldn’t stop us from benefiting from his work. One of the most hateful fashions in the media and academia today is discarding a person’s valuable work because of their beliefs and motives.
Duchesne’s greatest contribution is his theory that the uniqueness of the West comes from the fact that the ancient Indo-Europeans who took over Europe had a very special feature: their elite was made up of individually sovereign aristocrats. While all societies throughout the world have had aristocratic elites, what was unique about the West was the fact that its aristocrats were individualized and free. This is extremely unusual and as far as I know it was something that never existed anywhere else.
The ancient Middle East never enjoyed the existence of individually sovereign aristocrats. The elite under the pharaohs had no right to compete with each other for renown and prestige because all renown and prestige belonged solely to the pharaoh. The same was true in ancient Mesopotamia and Persia. The king was the only person who had the right to claim personal worth and glory.
But among the Europeans, the Greeks, Romans and the Indo-European barbarians around them, the entire arrangement of society revolved around the competition of its sovereign aristocrats for personal prestige and glory. They had no toleration for kings who reduced the aristocracy to mere minions and slaves as happened throughout the world. They demanded equality and free competition.
Thus in the Greek epic the Iliad, the warrior aristocracy is made up of free individuals who recognized no master above them. Achilles, Ajax and Odysseus were all sovereign individuals. The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, on the other hand, is an illustration of the situation outside the European realm. There is only one hero, who is, naturally, a despotic king. There is no room in this epic for other heroes since these societies were organized around the recognition of a single individual in the entire state who could claim personal prestige and glory.
The theory of the presence of a sovereign aristocracy in the West and its absence elsewhere also explains why the Indo-Europeans of Persia and India failed to create civilizations equal to those of Europe. The Indo-Europeans who took over Persia and India quickly embraced the Oriental despotic form of rule that has always existed in these areas. The sovereign aristocracy disappeared to be replaced by all-powerful rulers. The reason for this change appears to be different natural environments. The European climate could support individual farmers who could sustain themselves without any need for complex irrigation systems that required centralization. In the East, however, civilizations were extremely dependent on irrigation systems that made farmers desperately dependent on their chiefs and kings. The king could easily cause the farmers to starve by refusing to provide them with the irrigation systems they were so desperately dependent on.
The Westernization of the World
If we take the ideas in Uniqueness seriously and ignore Duchesne’s recent writings about the genetic uniqueness of Europeans, the conclusion is that the great accomplishments of the West are a matter of culture. The door is open for any culture in the world to embrace the Western system, leading to a similar flowering of creativity and accomplishment. The key is individualism. The culture must recognize the equal dignity, mastery and right to prestige of all citizens, rather than recognizing only one despotic ruler who monopolizes mastery and prestige.
Thus any culture that embraces the Western ideal of the equality of citizens before the law will create a system that will lead to a similar restless drive among citizens for accomplishment. According to the social scientists Santos, Varnum and Grossmann, there has been a significant increase in individualism throughout the world. The world is increasingly adopting the Western ideal of sovereign individuality.
I was surprised to discover that one of the most popular Arabic songs on YouTube (with 154 million views) is a song that preaches strict individualism, titled “Be You”.
The Israeli social scientists Licht, Goldschmid and Schwartz have discovered that there is a very strong correlation between individualism and the rule of law, non-corruption and democratic accountability. As individualism increases throughout the world, we can expect more and more functional democracies to come into existence.
The “Wickedness” of the West
According to the currently fashionable ideology at the sociology departments of Western universities, the West is uniquely evil. It doesn’t matter that the Chinese colonized the lands of ethnic minorities and sometimes massacred them; it is the Western colonization of other lands that is unforgivable. It doesn’t matter that the native Americans slaughtered and enslaved each other, or that the Aztecs practiced mass human sacrifice; it is the intrusion of the West into this utterly evil and inhuman social system that is unforgivable. It doesn’t matter that Africans used to enslave each other by the millions; it is the fact of Westerners buying these slaves that is unforgivable. It doesn’t matter that India has an utterly racist and dehumanizing cast system or that Israel is an apartheid state; it is the racial inequalities in the West that is unforgivable.
The action of the Europeans on the world scene over the past few centuries were clearly motivated by much greed for wealth and power. But a person who does not have an ax to grind against Westerners will see them and their actions as no worse than those of the rest of the peoples of the world. And not just that, but such a person will also appreciate the uniquely positive and humane contributions that the West has made to make the lot of non-Westerners better. It was the British who spent vast amounts of wealth, and large numbers of the lives of their own, to police the seas in the 19th century to put an end to the slave trade. Yes, the British engaged in it before, like almost all other peoples. But it was they, and not the Chinese, Indians, Muslims or Africans who developed an anti-slavery ideology that ensured that slavery would be abolished throughout the world. But to those who are moved by hate against the West, this is irrelevant. The West is evil, and the facts do not matter.
China as the West’s Equal
There is a concerted academic effort aimed at showing that China was equal to the West until the 1800’s when the West discovered the use of coal and gained access to the colonized Americas. The point is to show that Western civilization has nothing to be proud of in being responsible for the intellectual and industrial revolutions that made it the supreme world power by the 19th century. The West simply enjoyed “windfalls” in its easy access to coal and in its access to colonial markets.
We are supposed to believe that the West was stuck in the same position as China in the 19th century, with the population quickly approaching its ecological limits. This truly was the case in China, where a lack of innovation coupled with maximized land use meant that the population could no longer expand beyond its 350 million citizens. It was already producing food at the maximum rate it could, and the only solution for keeping their population under control was widespread female infanticide (something that is supposed to be morally neutral since it wasn’t Westerners doing it).
Britain is supposed to have enjoyed a “windfall” in its acquisition of the Americas, but the historian Kenneth Pomerantz shows no interest in China’s bloody colonization of vast swathes of non-Chinese lands to the west over the centuries. In his distorted worldview “colonization” is something that only Europeans do. Pomerantz also shows no interest in the “windfall” that China enjoyed in possessing lands capable of growing rice; a crop that produces two harvests per year. He also shows no interest in the fact that China greatly benefited from the use of potatoes–a “windfall” crop acquired from the Americas.
The first part of Duchesne’s book is dedicated to refuting the current academic narrative of a China that was a counterpart to the West until the 19th century. He shows that the West was improving its technology and capacity to support its population at a rate that enabled it to continue to support growing populations. This was something China was incapable of due to its lack of innovation.
“Eurocentrics” like Duchesne have been characterized as believing that the West achieved its supremacy without any debts to other cultures. But Duchesne clearly opposes such a view:
By 1200, Europe had recovered much of the scientific and philosophical accomplishment produced within the rest of the world. Persian, Byzantine, Chinese, Indian, African, and Islamic cultures were essential ingredients in Europe’s ascendancy. Affirming the uniqueness of Western civilization in no way implies the idea that Europe can be viewed as a self-contained civilization. A major secret of European creativeness was precisely its multicultural inheritance and its wider geographical linkages with the peoples of the world.
Humans as Passive Animals
One of Duchesne’s major efforts is to refute the popular academic conception of humans as passive actors in world history, controlled by circumstances and environments that made them what they are. Duchesne argues that Westerners were active agents who sought wealth and prestige, not passive agents who couldn’t help doing what they did due to economic circumstances.
The view of humans as passive animals stuck in their circumstances is often associated with Marx, although I believe that we can detect the same strains of thought in many other highly influential 19th and 20th century intellectual movements, almost all of them led by Jewish thinkers.
- Marx: Humans are passive animals controlled by economic class conflict.
- Freud: Humans are passive animals controlled by sexuality-based conflict within families.
- The Frankfurt School (Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse): Humans are passive animals controlled by social pathologies peculiar to the Western-Christian mentality.
- Betty Friedan aka Bettye Naomi Goldstein: Humans are passive animals controlled by sex-based class conflict (Marxism translated into feminism).
- Louis Brandeis and Ronald Dworkin: Humans are passive animals who do not know what is good for them; the elite must gain control of the legal system to force upon them what is good for them.
- Leo Strauss and his neo-conservative students: Humans (meaning ordinary Christians) are passive animals to be controlled by an atheistic philosophical elite behind the scenes.
- Jacques Derrida: Humans are passive animals controlled by dominant discourses that maintain power structures.
- Immanuel Wallerstein and Andre Gunder Frank: Humans are passive animals controlled by dominant “world systems”.
- Jared Diamond: Humans are passive animals controlled by environmental forces.
The only major non-Jewish intellectual who espoused similar ideas is Michel Foucault. It appears that there is something about Jewish culture that makes these intellectuals prefer removing human agency from their explanations of human behavior.
It should go without saying that this view of humans as passive animals controlled by circumstances is wholly foreign to Western civilization, which has always celebrated human agency. The thinking of these intellectuals can therefore be characterized as an importation of a foreign, Jewish view of humans into Western discourse, and the results are as anyone would expect.
All of the above radical movements (the most important today being the mix of cultural Marxism and postmodernism that rules in academia) are pests on intellectual development and scholarship and will ultimately be squashed by the constant, restless, innocent search for truth that continues to characterize many Westerners, and today, non-Westerners. I have high hopes in the increase of Muslim participation in intellectual fields. Muslims who follow Islamic morality will reject the relativization of truth and the reduction of humans to mere animals and will continue the Western tradition of respecting the inviolable dignity of humans.
The Islamic Doctorate
One minor criticism I have is Duchesne’s lack of knowledge of George Makdisi’s work. Thus Duchesne thinks that the crucial development of doctorates and the “the license to teach” (professorship) were uniquely Western, when Makdisi’s work strongly suggests that these were borrowed from Islam (as I discuss here). Islam did have a doctorate (the taʿliqa) that granted the person professorship. Islam also invented the idea of academic freedom. What Islam failed to do was extend this concept to other fields of inquiry. The doctorate and professorship were strictly limited to Islamic law. This was borrowed by the West, but crucially, the West extended it to all fields of inquiry.
The West learned a great deal from Islam. But its culture of aristocratic egalitarianism meant that Westerners were far more motivated to take these ideas further in competition with each other.
History and Philosophy
Duchesne dedicates a great deal of writing to discussing Hegel’s views on the development of human consciousness out of the conflict between individuals. Duchesne believes that Hegel’s views on history actually only apply to Europeans rather than all humans. Hegel believed that human self-consciousness developed out of a “struggle to the death” with other humans. Hegel believed that a struggle to the death between two humans would end up in one of them enslaving the other. This is an unsatisfactory end because the master cannot accomplish true self-consciousness unless another master recognizes him. Therefore the true development of history requires the presence of multiple masters recognizing each other.
Duchesne rejects common interpretations of Hegel to suggest that this struggle is not just an abstract concept, but a description of the reality of the struggle to the death between barbarian European aristocrats, who accomplished self-consciousness through struggling with each other for prestige. Europeans accomplished self-consciousness before all other peoples because only they had a culture of sovereign aristocrats rather than omnipotent, despotic lords.
Duchesne says that there is an “unbroken link” between the earliest European Indo-Europeans who came out of the Pontic steppe north of the Black Sea, the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the various Germanic and Scandinavian barbarians, and the culture of medieval Europe to the present day. The process of the struggle to the death between aristocrats led to the development of the concept of equal citizens before the law. Only Europeans could have developed such a concept because only they had a social system defined by the existence of multiple, equal masters, rather than a system defined by the existence of a single master (a Pharaoh, a Persian “king of kings” or a Chinese emperor).
The End of Western Uniqueness
As I mentioned earlier, if we accept the theory that the West’s uniqueness comes from its recognition of the dignity and rights of the individual, then the spread of these ideas throughout the world means that the entire world is now part of the same Western system. Gone are the days when only Westerners competed with each other for individual prestige through innovation.
The Westernization of Islamic Studies
A very interesting aspect of the spread of Western aristocratic egalitarianism is the way Muslim intellectuals and scholars today have started to challenge the scholarly tradition of Oriental despotism that characterized Islamic studies in the past. What we have today are thousands of intellectuals and scholars throughout the world who are bravely challenging long-held beliefs in their individualist search for truth. They have, for example, defended women’s right to divorce and the right of Muslims to leave Islam without being molested, not by discarding Islamic teachings out of a desire to live up to Western standards, but by recognizing that Islam actually supports these views.
In the case of Christianity, the individualist search for truth meant that it suffered persistent attacks on its foundations as philologists in the 19th and 20th centuries subjected its texts and beliefs to rigorous scholarly study and debate. The view of many Westerners unfamiliar with Islam is that Islam too will have its foundations weakened as its study becomes more scientific. But the reality as I see it is quite the opposite. If Islam is really “true”, then it will survive the process intact.
And that is what I see all around me. Having benefited from the latest Western studies of Islam, my view of Islam’s validity has only strengthened. Those who look forward to the secularization of the world may take comfort in the history of the weakening of Christianity, believing that Islam will go through a similar process. But my view is that those hopes will never materialize. Western students of Islamic studies such as Jonathan Brown and Umar Wymann-Landgraf, who have subjected the Islamic scriptures (in their case the Hadith literature) to rigorous Western-style analysis have actually ended up converting to Islam.
We are also seeing a possible trend of anti-Islam activists converting. Joram van Klaveren, a close ally of the anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, in the middle of writing an anti-Islam book, ended up converting. What other religion in the world has such a power? Another far-right convert is Arthur Wagner. Yet another is Arnoud van Doorn.
Why are these lovers and defenders of Western civilization converting to Islam if Islam is inherently opposed to Western values?
It is my view that these activists, feeling embattled by the constant attacks on Western values, and recognizing that Christianity offers no hope, realized the Islam is actually the best hope for the survival of their civilization.
This book is a withering criticism of the class of society that Thomas Sowell calls the “intellectuals” (journalists and columnists, public intellectuals, writers, sociologists).
Sowell’s thesis is that intellectuals try to persuade the public to support policies that may do greater harm than good while enjoying complete immunity from the bad consequences of their recommendations. For example in the 1920’s and 1930’s intellectuals widely called for disarmament, making it very difficult for British politicians to order the military to arm itself in response to Nazi Germany’s growing military power. The intellectuals in charge of Britain’s media had created an atmosphere where politicians would have risked their jobs if they had done what they know to be right, since the public had been indoctrinated by the intellectuals to fight rearmament. In this way the intellectuals were responsible for making Britain almost lose World War II to Germany, and yet no intellectual faced any consequences for recommending such a self-defeating policy.
Thomas Sowell is an economist and in this role considers the intellectuals pests in issues of economic policy. They recommend vast changes in economic policy without having the competence to understand the consequences, and without suffering any repercussions when their policy recommendations do great harm to major sections of society.
Intellectuals throughout the 20th century have called for gun control laws, thinking that this would make society safer. They ignore the fact that Switzerland, where gun ownership is extremely high, suffers far less crime than the United States. And when intellectuals in Britain managed to pass strong control laws, this actually lead to a vast increase in crime. Intellectuals also strongly supported weaker punishments of criminals in Britain, which according to Sowell is partly responsible for Britain’s crime crisis. And when conservatives in the United States managed to create strong anti-crime policies in the 1990’s, which lead to a sharp decline in crime, the intellectuals only expressed bewilderment at this “unexplainable” phenomenon when to Sowell the explanation is extremely obvious: keeping more criminals in prison means fewer criminals out there committing crime.
This book should be required reading for all Muslim intellectuals living in the West. It is a great help in creating a critical attitude toward nice-sounding popular doctrines promoted by Western intellectuals.
Sowell belongs to the neoconservative Hoover Institution. He shares the anti-Muslim bias of neoconservatives; almost all mentions of Muslims in his books are negative (while having worked extremely hard to defend the image and rights of Jews while always ignoring the possibility that Jewish behavior may have had something to do with anti-Semitism). In this book he does not disappoint:
The intelligentsia in some European nations have gone further—being apologetic to Muslims at home and abroad, and having acquiesced in the setting up of de facto Muslim enclaves with their own rules and standards within Europe, as well as overlooking their violations of the national laws in the European countries in which Muslim immigrants have settled.
The Hoover Institution is active in promoting the image of Muslims as the West’s new Jews as the Jews were seen in the past: separate, alien, unpatriotic, living in enclaves, and having large numbers of anti-Western radicals among them.
However, Sowell’s anti-Muslim bias should be no obstacle to Muslims to benefit from his expertise and his very important work in promoting a more rational intellectual atmosphere and in defending Western civilization from, ironically, largely Jewish attempts to undermine its pride and patriotism. Jews are heavily over-represented among the intellectuals he criticizes in this book; he comes back again and again to the Jewish Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis, who spent his career working to weaken the US Constitution in order to make room for his own elitist agenda. Brandeis was followed in prominence by the Jewish legal scholar Ronald Dworkin, who continued the project of justifying twisting the Constitution and the law in order to make judges and legal scholars the elite who decide what the law should be for the masses. Sowell also reserves much criticism for heavily-Jewish (and extremely elitist) media outlets like The New York Times. He also often criticizes fields of academia heavily influenced by Jewish activists, such as sociology, which was permanently biased against the West in the aftermath of the works of Freud, Franz Boas and the key members of the Frankfurt School, all of whom were Jewish with strong Jewish identities and obvious anti-Western agendas.
Arabic Grammar in Context (2016) by professor Mohammad T. Alhawary is an enjoyable and beneficial resource for learners of Arabic. It features excerpts from actual Arabic books and articles and uses them to illustrate grammatical points.
The book is not for complete beginners and should be used either after studying a basic grammar book or alongside one.
As is typical for books published by academic publishers, it is somewhat overpriced at over $40 on Amazon.
On most days of Ramadan, fasting makes it impossible for me to do my usual programming and writing work. For this reason I spent most of the daytime hours of this Ramadan reading books, finishing over 20 books (mainly audiobooks).
For years I have been aware of Thomas Sowell as perhaps the greatest living African American intellectual, and this Ramadan I finally got around to reading many of his books.
Thomas Sowell is a very unique intellectual, a type that is very rare both among whites and blacks, and among blacks others like him are almost non-existent. He rejects the popular liberal ideology that presently rules in Western academia and media, and his status as a black person has enabled him to say things about racial and ethnic issues that most whites would likely not be able to get away with without being charged with racism. Sowell is, or at least tries to be, an empiricist, making him a man after my own heart. He rejects nice-sounding, feel-good political ideas for ideas that actually have merit and have been tested in the real world for their efficacy. Thus, for example, he rejects affirmative action (the practice among universities to allow blacks with lower qualifications to enter in preference to better-qualified whites), considering it harmful to blacks by making them think they should live up to lower standards than whites (among various other reasons). He also rejects the common narrative that many common problems of blacks today (such as father absenteeism and low economic status) are directly traceable to slavery, mentioning the fact that blacks in the early 20th century had much better social characteristics (such as male dedication to their families) than blacks in the second half of the 20th century.
Thomas Sowell is not, however, entirely free from bias. He sometimes strongly reflects the neoconservative bias of the Hoover Institution that he works for, for example considering free trade a highly positive thing and ignoring the technological servitude that results from it. He is also strongly invested in the Frankfurt School ideology that there are no interesting genetic-behavioral differences between different populations despite the existence of the vast literature of behavioral genetics. He also has a very strong pro-Israel stance (neoconservatism’s foreign policy views mirror Israel’s interests so exactly that they might as well have been written directly in Tel Aviv), naively thinking that the Muslim hostility toward Israel is merely anti-Semitism. He also entirely ignores the possibility that historical anti-Semitism may have had anything to do with Jewish behavior, again perfectly reflecting the Frankfurt School / neoconservative ideology.
However, Sowell has worked tirelessly to fight the pathologization of Western civilization that has been a major focus of the works of the members of the Frankfurt School and the New York Intellectuals who later emerged as the neoconservatives. Sowell has always maintained a certain independence and empiricism in spite of the influence of his milieu and his powerful intellect has enabled him to break out of important aspects of his intellectual conditioning.
I started by reading his autobiography A Personal Odyssey, one of the most enjoyable and enlightening autobiographies I have read. I went on to read his economics books Basic Economics, Applied Economics and Economic Facts and Fallacies. I then read his 1981 book Ethnic America: A History, a historical and economic analysis of the various ethnicities that make up America (the British, the Germans, the Italians, Jews, etc.). Next I read his trilogy on race and culture: Race and Culture: A World View (1995), Migrations and Cultures: A World View (1996), and Conquests and Cultures: An International History (1998).
I recently finished Black Rednecks and White Liberals (2005), a collection of essays on various issues. The most interesting aspect of this work is his study of “redneck” culture. According to Sowell, redneck culture originated in Britain and was characterized by high criminality and violence, a lack of interest in education, pride, grandiosity and sexual promiscuity. Redneck migrants from England brought their culture with them and established themselves in the American South, repeating the same behaviors that they were famous for in Britain.
Since nine tenth of black slaves lived in the South, they had the unfortunate fate of being acculturated to this redneck culture. Therefore according to Sowell, things that we consider to be “black” culture today (such as gangster rap and a low opinion of education) are actually the redneck culture of Britain that blacks took in. Blacks that were freed in the 19th century and lived in the North abandoned this redneck culture and took in New England’s extremely different (and far more productive) culture, so that these blacks were far more prosperous and educated and suffered far less from the problems that plagued both the whites and blacks of the South. He mentions that once “redneck” Southern blacks started to migrate en masse to the North, the New England blacks looked down on them and would do their best to move out of neighborhoods that these newly arrived blacks lived in, just as the whites did.
Another interesting topic that he covers in his highly unique way is slavery. Rejecting the common Western narrative that the West was somehow uniquely evil in its practice of slavery, Sowell says that slavery was a global phenomenon, and that Western civilization was actually the one that was almost entirely responsible for abolishing it. In the 18th and 19th century the British developed the idea that slavery was morally wrong and unacceptable, and they started to spend vast resources fighting it. The British started to patrol the seas with their ships, fighting slave traders around the world. This British crusade against slavery has been largely forgotten.
Islam and slavery
It was the British who forced the Ottoman Empire to ban slavery. Despite Islam’s humane attitude toward slaves and its strong encouragement for freeing them, it is a fact of history that slavery in the Islamic world represents one of the greatest moral failings of our civilization. We now realize, thanks mainly to Western civilization, that the most Islamic attitude toward slavery is tolerating it with the explicit goal of working to eradicate it. But throughout the centuries, Muslims failed to put this program into practice, instead representing one of the greatest forces supporting slavery throughout the world by creating a strong demand for it. Muslims happily purchased slaves without worrying about how these slaves were created in the first place: the extremely inhuman process by which African, Arab and European slave-raiders acquired slaves to be sold in the Islamic world.
It is not much to be proud of that Islam had very important protections for slave rights when it had nothing to say about how these slaves were acquired in the first place. By creating a vast market for slaves, the Muslims encouraged mass slaughter of Africans and Europeans by cruel slave-raiders. It is amazing to think that all of these Muslims, despite the high morality that the Quran and hadith taught them, did almost nothing about this incredibly unjust and oppressive system until the British came along to civilize them.
Islam and interest
As an economist, Thomas Sowell considers the charging of interest an essential part of the functioning of any well-developed economic system. To him, therefore, the fact that Islam forbids interest is just an ignorant and foolish prejudice that misunderstands the function of interest. Interest makes it possible to mobilize the wealth of society by encouraging the wealthy to use their money to fund economic growth. If people place their savings in the bank, and the bank lends this money to corporations that can invest the money in various economic projects, this makes it possible to mobilize a vast amount of society’s wealth in the service of economic projects.
What Sowell does not realize is that it is perfectly possible to do this without interest. It is, however, true that the ban on interest was a great limiting factor on economic growth in the Islamic world until Muslims learned in the 20th century that it is possible to create the Western pattern of wealth mobilization without interest by creating Islamic banks.
But now that the system is in place, the ban of interest is no longer a limiting factor on economic growth. Islamic finance makes it possible to mobilize society’s wealth without the use of interest through the ṣukūk system, enabling the creation of a financial world that is far more humane and borrower-friendly than the current, usurious Western financial system. For example, in an Islamic home mortgage, no loan is involved, and in the case of default, the home buyer always gets money back. Compare this to the Western system where default means not only losing the home, but sometimes owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the bank. This incredibly unjust usurious system of the West makes it practically certain that the wealth of the bankers will continuously grow at a faster rate than the wealth of society, making the bankers the richest and most powerful people in the country, as has happened in the West. See my essay: Why the Banks are So Powerful and Why the Bible and the Quran Forbid Usury: Charting How Interest Creates Obscene Wealth Inequality.
A big focus of Thomas Sowell’s work is on so-called “middleman minorities”. These are ethnicities such as the Jews in the West, the Chinese in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, and the Lebanese and Indians in Africa. Middleman minorities all share certain attributes:
- They are generally wealthier than the native population.
- They are clannish and keep to themselves, maintaining a separate culture from the native population.
- They keep ties with their home countries and build international trade and financial networks with their co-ethnics.
- They are often involved in money-lending.
- They often monopolize entire sectors of the economy.
Middleman minorities have invariably been resented by the native population, who envy the wealth, success and power of the middleman minorities and dislike their separate, clannish existence.
According to Sowell, it is only prejudice and envy that makes native populations dislike middleman minorities since these minorities serve essential functions in their economies. For example, the Chinese in Malaysia are responsible for developing various sectors of the Malaysian economy, sectors that would have been far less developed, and perhaps even non-existent, if the Chinese had not been there. According to Sowell the middleman minorities create the wealth they enjoy. They do not exploit the native population and do not steal their wealth.
So why do natives dislike middlemen? Why were Jews so universally hated in Europe when they served such “essential” economic functions? Why did the Ugandans expel the Indian and Pakistanis who had helped build up so much of their economies? Why do Malaysians and Indonesians so dislike the Chinese among them?
Thomas Sowell’s unsatisfactory answers to the above questions are a very good illustration of the way specialization limits the intellectual horizons of specialists. Being an economist, he thinks of middleman minorities largely in economic terms and sees their positive contributions as more than justifying whatever else the presence of these middleman minorities may entail.
But an evolutionist is going to have a very different view of the clash between natives and middlemen. From an evolutionary perspective, ideally everyone you do business with will be your father. Genetic relatedness makes people more kind toward their own kin than towards strangers. And this behavior comes out on a daily basis in the interactions between the natives and the genetically separate middlemen.
When you need a loan from a bank, rather than going to someone from a strange land and culture who probably dislikes you and has no love for you, you would much rather go to the bank that is run by your father. You know you will be treated with much more sympathy, love and respect.
When you are desperate for employment, you know that your father will be much more likely to employ you than a random stranger who only thinks of you in economic terms.
Middleman minorities are a jarring element in the social fabric of the natives’ society. The natives want to be treated as kin, as humans, by their fellow humans. But middleman minorities only think of the natives in economic terms, dehumanizing them into mere tools of economics. This is an incredibly disorienting, degrading and alienating experience for a native. By being an impermeable, non-kin group, we know that middlemen deal with us only according to the harsh, cold laws of economics, rather than dealing with us as family.
The clannishness of middleman minorities only exacerbates the problem. By creating an impermeable group that deals with its own members charitably while dealing with natives as excluded aliens, they make the population feel as aliens in their own hometowns and countries. This is highly disconcerting. To go from the loving atmosphere of your own kin and ethnicity to the cold atmosphere of the alien middleman is never a pleasant experience.
The solution, the only solution, is for the middleman minority to go native by making their group permeable. Middleman populations such as historical Jews that are stringent about preventing intermarriage and cultural exchange are guaranteed to provoke extreme hostility by making the native population feel like aliens in their own lands. On the other hand, middleman groups that intermarry and become part of the native population both genetically and culturally will end all possible hostilities within a few generations, as happened with the Arab settlers in Southeast Asia (compare with the hostility that the Chinese provoke there nowadays). The Arabs intermarried and became part of the population. Despite their great economic success and their maintenance of familial and economic ties with the Yemeni coastal areas that they came from, they provoked no hostility that I can discover.
While middleman minorities may make the economy more efficient by their activities, they also make it less human by remaining alien, impermeable and clannish and having an us vs. them mentality toward the native population. The various expulsions of middleman minorities throughout history show that people would much rather enjoy a less efficient but more humane economy run by natives than a more efficient but less humane economy run by middleman minorities.
An economist like Thomas Sowell thinks that the natives should simply swallow their pride and their desire to be treated with the dignity that kin treat them for the sake of having clannish middleman minorities make their economies more efficient. This may make sense economically, but it makes no sense from a wider, human perspective.
The indignity of separatism
Middleman minorities, by the very fact of refusing to intermarry and assimilate with the natives, tell the natives on a daily basis that they consider themselves superior: the natives are simply not worth marrying. This is incredibly degrading to the natives. By considering themselves a superior genetic-cultural stock, the middleman minorities constantly stress the inferiority of the natives upon their psyches. It is highly naive to expect the natives to be content with this state of things. To the natives this is an itch that cannot be scratched. And the increasing success and prominence of the middlemen only serve to remind the natives of their own inferiority.
The main problem with middleman minorities is not that they are genetically different from the natives, but that they work to maintain this genetic difference. A native does not need to be an intellectual to realize that this maintenance of genetic separatism is a judgment on his or her ethnicity. They know that they are treated as not being good enough. And that, in turn, leads to their developing a group identity of superiority over the middlemen: if you treat me as inferior, I will treat you as inferior. This leads to the stressing and exaggeration of the negative qualities of the middlemen among the natives. They are avaricious, uncharitable, selfish, lacking common decency, inhuman. The natives develop an ideology of ethnic pride that justifies to themselves their right to fight back against being treated as inferior, and this in turn leads to the natives calling for laws discriminating against the middlemen, boycotts, and even violence.
So the question is this: do middleman minorities have a moral right to practice business in an alien nation while maintaining genetic and cultural separatism? I believe this is a question that only the natives can decide for themselves. If the value that the middlemen offer is so great as to be worth the indignity of tolerating them, then the natives can choose to do so. And if the value they offer is not that great, they can choose to expel them. While economically the second choice may not make “sense”, from a psychological and evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense.
While we can feel sorry for the many innocent people who have been harmed in riots and expulsions, we cannot ignore the reality that their separatism is directly responsible for this treatment.
To put it another way, the natives have a moral right to demand to be treated as equally worthy by the middleman minority, and that, above all, means that the middleman minority must cease its clannishness and separatism and must start to intermarry with the natives. Middleman minorities that have gone this route, such as the Japanese in the United States, have completely ceased to be an issue, while middleman minorities such as the Jews in the United States, who have continued to work hard to fight intermarriage, continue to provoke some hostility. The Koreans working in black ghettos in the United States also provoke hostility due to their maintenance of genetic separatism from the blacks they serve.
Sowell may say that the middleman minority has a good reason to remain separate: the natives have an inferior culture. The Chinese, for example, say that the Malays are lazy and less reliable. But the Chinese could marry the Malays and attempt to fuse their supposedly superior culture with that of the Malays. Even if this involves sacrificing aspects of their superior culture, it may be the only reasonable way forward to end the conflict
The solution for the ethnic conflicts that have plagued Southeast Asia is for the governments of these countries to strongly promote intermarriage. In Thailand, due to the fact that the Chinese and the Thais share the same religion, intermarriage has been more common and with it the hostility toward the Chinese has been less pronounced. But in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the Buddhist-Muslim difference is a significant barrier to intermarriage, hostility has been much more pronounced. These countries can greatly reduce the conflict by passing laws that treat the Chinese as natives if they are married to a native.
A significant new middleman minority population are the Chinese in Africa. It is essential for African countries to instate policies requiring intermarriage in order to prevent the same sordid story of riots, pogroms and expulsions that have plagued the history of middleman minorities throughout the world. Unfortunately African nationalist ideas in some countries make the officials of these governments (such as in Uganda) hostile to the idea of intermarriage, a very unconstructive attitude that will only set up the stage for ethnic conflict.
Our society trains us to think in a certain way (“If you disagree with me, then you’re hateful!”) and imposes limiters on our minds as we quote back popular talking points (“Love is love!”) without always examining them first or showing a willingness to consider different arguments. So I’m writing today, not as some moral authority, because I’m likely guilty of the same biases, but simply in an effort to share another argument, one that examines the queer identity on an interpersonal rather than societal level, in hopes that the following ideas might help people entrenched in Western culture think about the Islamic stance on homosexuality.
Throughout human history up until rather recently, homosexuality was considered an act, not an identity. Its recent reframing is a social construct based in Western society. That doesn’t make the identity “not real,” but it does make it not as rigidly inherent as people often talk about it being, which has certain philosophical implications (but that’s for another essay). There are even proponents of queer theory who argue that since sexuality is a spectrum on which people can fluidly shift, sexuality as an identity label therefore might not be the most useful way to conceptualize the subject.
Turning specifically to the Islamic conceptualization, it’s no surprise that homosexuality is inharmonious with Islam; Islam is a way of life in which one strives to achieve a balance between the spiritual and the physical. To define one’s very identity by one’s sexual attractions tips that balance sharply to the physical. Though such identities have become normalized in Western culture, think about the implications of believing that the most crucial, defining bit of information you have to share about yourself is what you’re into, what “gets you off.” Why does anyone other than one’s partner (let alone all of society) need to know such an intimate detail about a person anyway? Defining oneself based on one’s most animal-like moments is reductive to one’s capacity as a human. For this reason, even “straight” as an identity label is not Islamically sanctioned; we are all just humans.
A life so heavily focused on worldly pleasures is a life that seeks to hold value only in this super temporary world. One might argue back, “It’s not about pleasures, but love.” But the homosexual identity starts from a place of ruling out the possibility of all physical relationships other than same-sex ones, before ties are even established with a specific person. Setting the parameters for love based on lust invalidates such counterarguments.
One final thought, having said all this: it is the act that is not allowed in Islam, not the people who are seen as inherently different and therefore rejected. In fact, they are not inherently different at all, and that’s the point. But so long as they continue to identify as such, it’s also important to note that Islam teaches Muslims to always treat others with respect, even if their way of life differs greatly from the Islamic one. In one Quranic passage describing the tale of Prophet Lot, whose people were engaging in homosexual acts, he notably said to them not “I hate you,” but “I hate what you do.” Though this subject is complex and understandably touchy, I hope folks have found these ideas not offensive, but helpful. We are all trying our best to come to the truth and live in the best way. Jazakum Allah khair.