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Islamic disenchantment with the West - in 1924

I am currently reading the novel Shackled by Achmed Abdullah, which was the nom de plume of Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff, who was quite a character himself. The novel was published in 1924. I was struck by the contemporary echoes in one passage. When I read it to my wife over breakfast, she said, "You should post that on the Daily Paul." So here it is (appropriately in the off-topic forum). Italics are in the original.

Abubekr Sabri was a tall, lean, middle-aged man, with a thin, clean shaven, ascetic face. He was dressed in the ceremonial costume of the Molawee dervishes. On his head was a huge, conical cap of brown felt, with a dark blue cloth twisted about its base, and he wore a long, black cloak that half hid a tightly fitting, white jacket and a voluminous, pleated, balloon-like skirt of the same color, very full over the hips. When he moved this skirt bloated and twisted, like that of an old-fashioned ballerina.

He was a Turk of pure Osmanli stock who, though belonging to a military family, had been sent by his father to England and the Continent for school and university education. There, at first, the machine-made, machine-making civilization of the Occident had overwhelmed him, and so he had plucked with both fists at the tree of western wisdom; had steeped himself in European literature, philosophy, history, political principles, and cultural ideals; had deposed the God and Prophet and code of his ancestors and set up in their niches a number of brand-new, neat little idols labeled John Stuart Mill, Topinard, French Revolution, Lombroso, Ancient Greece, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Aryans, Nietzsche, Anti-Semitism, Herbert Spencer, Kropotkine, Karl Marx et alias . . . really an amazing mental hash . . . but then most young Orientals are inclined to be rather catholic in their tastes on their initial appearance in the European halls of learning.

Then, suddenly, almost overnight — and here again he was like most young Orientals abroad — revulsion had come to him; atavistic racial and religious recoil; complete and deliberate reversion to cultural type; systematic repercussion of soul and brain.

Reflux. Rebound.


A moot point.

He himself had forgotten the reason. Perhaps a slight argument about Orient and Occident that had grown heated and acrimonious. Perhaps a friend's patronizing remark. A woman's laugh. A slurring word overheard.

Or a mere jest?

Reason, trifling or grave. Whatever reason. No matter. There had been the result.


And at the precise moment of revulsion he had crystallized in his heart all the hatred and contempt and disgust which Orient and Occident have felt for each other since, with Protestantism and Reformation, came intolerance and shoddy hypocrisy. Suddenly, deep in his sodden soul, had throbbed the old racial and cultural mistrust, with dull muffled pulsings, with the shadows of creeping, unspeakable thoughts bursting up from the abyss of dead things.

He had remained in Europe a year or two longer.

For two reasons: to learn how to hate what formerly in the west he had admired and loved; and to master certain purely mechanical devices and systems of spreading knowledge which he might take back to his own people.

During the second period of his stay, he had discovered one of two things.

He had discovered that it is a titanic, heart-breaking task to prove the untruth or absurdity of anything which the Christians have made up their minds to accept as true or wise. He had found — the moment he declared himself an Oriental and an equal — an iron phalanx of preconceived opinions and misread lessons of history. He had learned that the two main characteristics of the Aryans are a Pharisee intolerance and an unconscious generalization of those ideas which have been adopted for the sake of convenience, profit, or self-flattery.

"The whole fabric of Christian civilization I found tainted with that low, rather ritualistic form of hypocrisy which makes a man pretend for his own spiritual or material purposes that a thing is good which in his inmost heart he knows to be bad. Nations as well as individuals are judged by two factors: by their virtues and by their vices. As to virtues, what have the Christians done for the general uplift of the world which cannot be matched by a random look into the pages of Oriental history? And as to vices, is there any degeneracy rampant amongst us which is not equalled by the degeneracy of the western lands?"

These last lines are a quotation from his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Berlin.

Needless to say, he had not passed the examination, but had gone to Cairo where he had studied Islamic theology at al-Azar university, and had become first an itinerant Moslem priest, and finally a Molawee dervish.