The Conquest of Knowledge

[shortlink:] At beginning of 20th Century, Europe conquered and controlled 85% of entire Globe. What is not understood by most is that power is both physical and psychological. It is a combination of hard power (weapons and armies) and soft power (ideas and philosophies) which is required to conquer the globe. The Western philosopher Michel Foucault has expressed this in the concept of Power/Knowledge – he says that “Knowledge” is really a manifestation of power, and also that the essence of power is the ability to shape Knowledge. For a related article on this theme, see “History: Conquest Song of the Victors.

After the two worlds wars sapped the physical power of Europe, the colonized world, and especially the Islamic world, gained physical freedom. Unfortunately, the colonization of the minds continues to this day. The soft power which the West has over the East is more than enough to compensate for the loss of direct physical control after World War II. As Jason Hickel has shown in his article on “Aid in the Reverse”  trillions of dollars flows from the poorest countries of the world to the richest countries, in the form of interest payments on loans, and repatriation of corporate profits. An item not mentioned this is the looting of the third world by the use of patents which protect essential items, so that items like drugs, software, and technologies worth one dollar can be exported for thousands of dollars to the poorest countries. This form of ‘protection’ of the rich countries exports is defended as being necessary to reward research required to create technological advances, but the reality is that it fattens the corporate coffers, and leads to dramatic increases in inequality. The flows of dollars from the colonized to the rich shows that colonization never ended — it continues today, but using financial methods rather than physical methods. The rich countrie give loans to the ruling elite and support their entrenchment in power by providing with weapons necessary to control the population, and ensuring that no genuine democracy (which supports popular public interest against the wealthy and powerful ruling elites) can emerge. In return for these loans, which are the salaries of the governing class, the governing class undertakes to sell resources and tax the people to provide revenues and profits to the multinationals currently running the world. This system of neo-colonial control operates at least partly because it is invisible. The real functions of loans, taxation, FDI, and other economic concepts is radically different from what is taught about them, and widely believed — see (ET1%: The Blindfolds Created by Economic Theories).

The first step towards escaping mental enslavement is to become aware of the invisible chains which bind and control our thoughts. As Edward Said showed in his masterpiece Orientalism – the necessity to justify, glorify, and celebrate this (savage and brutal) conquest has been at the center of all knowledge produced about the East in the West. Even more insidious is the impact of Orientalism on the Eastern mind. Just as conquest and colonization of the globe produced a superiority complex in the West, it produced a deep-seated inferiority complex in the East.  The preface to CK Raju: Is Science Western in Origin (excellent, worth reading – get from LINK) states that:

It is imperative to recognize that everywhere the colonizers sought to impose upon the colonized their worldview. Nothing should thus be allowed to obscure the fundamental fact of colonialism and the post-colonial era: every conquest is, in the first instance, a conquest of knowledge.

Just as the European global conquest gave them a superiority complex which is expressed everywhere in their literature, so it gave Muslims an inferiority complex, expressed by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in some words to the effect that we are so inferior to the white man that we are like animals in front of human beings. Anything they do to us is justified. If they kill us, we have no right to complain. When leading Muslim intellectuals, our heroes, have thoughts like this, what about the public? Again, quoting from CK Raju

the principal determinant of modern history has been the regimes of colonialism under which most people lived for a few hundred years. The world as we know it today is understood almost entirely through categories that are largely the product of Western knowledge systems and the academic disciplines that have been charged with codifying, disciplining, organizing, institutionalizing and transmitting knowledge not only about the physical and material world, but about the various social, political, cultural, religious, and legal institutions and practices found among diverse human communities.

The colonized mind is not allowed to think certain thoughts. We cannot see such constraints on our own selves, just like we cannot see our own face, except with the aid of a mirror. However we can see and recognized these constraints on others, who live under brutal colonizing regimes. For instance, Pakistani’s can easily see the very rigid controls placed on thought processes of Muslims living in India. In the same way, Muslims living in USA are not permitted to think certain types of thoughts – this is not so much externally policed as internally produced constraint, although there are external enforcers as well. The same processes operate throughout the formerly colonized world. One of the forbidden thoughts is that the West is responsible for the current state of the world. Our misery is entirely our own fault. The bombing of Iraq is due to the evil dictator Saddam, that of Libya due to Qaddafi, and that of Syria due to Hafez Assad. Here is an article by Andre Vltchek which show how the same process operates throughout the colonized world. One is systematically told to not think about the real causes, so that the path to liberation remains invisible.

In Almost All Western Colonies, Victims Blame Themselves (alternative thoughts not allowed)  Shortlink for this article:

Today the greatest problem facing the Muslim Ummah is that it has been mesmerized by the spell of Western knowledge. As Iqbal expressed it:

My eyes were not dazzled by the brilliance of Western Knowledge, They were protected by the Kohl made from the dust of Madina and Najaf.

Today the Ummah as a whole believes that the path to development lies in the pursuit of Western knowledge, technology, ideas, philosophy etc.  It believes that the powerful message of the Quran, which changed the path of world history, and transformed ignorant and backwards Arabs into the leaders of the world, and created a civilization which led the world for a thousand years, no longer has the same power. The message of the Quran, stated to be complete and perfect, and the greatest gift of God to mankind, is not adequate for our needs today, and must be supplemented by Western knowledge in order to provide guidance for us today. It is this illusion, created by the conquest of knowledge, that forms the greatest obstacle to Muslim progress today. The message of the Quran has the same power today as it did 1400 years ago, to change the tides of history, and to lift Muslims out of their current backwards and ignorant state, but instead of studying it, the Muslims are intent into following the Christians and Jews into their lizard holes. For further elaboration, see The  Modern Mu’tazila.

POSTSCRIPT: For related posts, see: Three Mega-Events Which Have Shaped Our Lives and Thoughts,   Myths of Racial Superiority,   The Myth of the “White Man’s Burden”, and Subaltern Studies.

This entry was posted in Eurocentric History, Islamic Knowledge by Asad Zaman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Asad Zaman

BS Math MIT (1974), Ph.D. Econ Stanford (1978)] has taught at leading universities like Columbia, U. Penn., Johns Hopkins and Cal. Tech. Currently he is Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. His textbook Statistical Foundations of Econometric Techniques (Academic Press, NY, 1996) is widely used in advanced graduate courses. His research on Islamic economics is widely cited, and has been highly influential in shaping the field. His publications in top ranked journals like Annals of Statistics, Journal of Econometrics, Econometric Theory, Journal of Labor Economics, etc. have more than a thousand citations as per Google Scholar.

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