Myth of Racial Superiority

Development: Myths and Truths describe 12 myths about development. The first three myths (1,2,3) are covered in Materialism Versus Idealism. The second set of three myth (4,5,6) are covered in “Central Myths of Eurocentric History“.  This post is about the 7th myth of Racial Superiority of the White Race. The 8th Myth is Oriental Despotism – that West has good governance while the East has bad governance.

Before we discuss our topic of the myth of racial superiority of the White Races, and the corresponding racial inferiority of he Brown and Black races, we will discuss the general framework within which this discussion is placed. Because no one tells us how to think, we imagine that our thoughts are our free choices. The reality is that history shapes our thoughts far more heavily than we realize. To liberate ourselves from the conquest of our minds, created by centuries of defeat and colonization, we need to learn some new strategies. One of the keys is meta-thought: learning to think about the thought-process itself. Why do people believe what they believe? It is much easier to see how “other” peoples thoughts have been shaped by history, because we are outsiders, not emotionally involved. To apply the same insights to ourselves requires being able to detach ourselves from our immediate circumstance, acquire a higher level perspective (meta-thought) and view our own minds and thinking process from an external point of view. We have come to believe in an enormous number of falsehoods, planted in our minds through years-and-years of Western education. There is no quick route to freedom – these chains must be unwrapped slowly, one-by-one, in a gradual process.  The guiding light which serves as a central goal and target is to trust in the Quran as being complete and perfect guidance. Even this fundamental principle requires work, because we have been trained to view the Quran in light of logic, empirical evidence, and scientific reasoning. When we find a conflict between dominant views and the Quran, we re-interpret the Quran in the light of “reason”, and therefore, we become unable to understand the message of the Quran (see Quran: Faith and Reason). Below, we will list some of the key historical trends which have shaped our thoughts. Standing outside the streams of history, and watching how these streams shape the thought of those caught within the tides, is very helpful in terms of learning how we can liberate ourselves.

  1. Global Conquest and Colonization by Europe: This created a superiority complex in the West (see Orientalism), and an inferiority complex in the East.
  2. Global Spread of Capitalism: This creates market societies, where everything is for sale. Wealth becomes the most important marker of social status. This leads to a society where pursuit of wealth is the goal of life for everyone. See The Third Poison: Pursuit of Wealth.
  3. Loss of Faith in Europe: For reasons explained in European Transition to Secular Thought, Europeans lost faith in Christianity. This led to the adoption of a materialistic outlook on life. Rejection of the heart, soul, the invisible world, and deeper meanings of life, and focus on what we can touch and see. See: Materialism Versus Idealism. (myths 1,2,3)
  4. Eurocentric History: History is the conquest song of the victors. Because Europeans colonized the globe, they also wrote the history of this colonization in a way that glorifies the Europeans and makes non-Europeans appear inferior. See Central Myths of Eurocentric History. (myths 4,5,6)
  5. Causes of Muslim Decline: Edward Said’s influential book on Orientalism created the realization that history looks very different when told from the perspective of the defeated (see Subaltern Studies). In particular, we Muslims have swallowed stories told about our defeat told from a European perspective. We need to unlearn these myths and relearn the truth. Of the three widely believed myths about the causes of Muslim decline, we will deal with the only one: the myth that we are racially inferior, or that our civilization was inferior to the Western one.

My paper on “Development: Myths and Truths“, studies a dozen myths about development that we have absorbed as part of our Western education. Discussion of Myths 1 to 6 is provided in posts linked in points 3 and 4 above.  This post is about myths #7, .

Myth #7: Racial Superiority of Whites: We like to think that we have advanced beyond this folly, but the truth is that racial superiority myths are very much a part of the world we live in, and also a part of the way we think. As far as the external world is concerned, the politics of hate and bigotry is getting increasing votes all over the world. But more important, and more difficult to see, is the reflection of racism in our own mindsets – how it shapes our thoughts. Nobody likes to feel inferior, so we hide this from ourselves. So let us stand apart as an external observer, objective and detached, and go through the closets of our own minds to bring out the stored thoughts, sometimes even hidden from our own selves:  Nobody can deny that Europeans have made astonishing achievements, leaving the rest of humanity far behind. Their inventions have transformed human life, with amazing advances on every front, and continuing every day. No one else has done anything comparable. Our ancestors, yes, they contributed to poetry and literature, BUT … science and technology — ZERO! Yes, we can make tall claims to console ourselves. Al-Khwarizmi, Ibnul-Haytham, etc. etc. – a long list of forgotten names. Some of our ancestors did some primitive things resembling science a thousand years ago. YES, today, Japanese, Chinese, Asians, Africans, all are involved in the race, and many have outdone the White races. But only because the Europeans generously shared their knowledge with us. Maybe its not race, maybe it’s just historical accidents and geography, but massive superiority of European civilization over all others cannot be denied by anyone who has two eyes to look around and see the world. 

Truth  #7: Brotherhood of Man: The Quran informs us that we are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Adam and Hawwa (AS). No one is superior to anyone else except by virtue of Taqwa (God-consciousness). As explained in Quran: Faith and Reason, we must learn to put teachings of the Quran above the evidence of our senses, reason, and empirical evidence. How can we make sense of this apparent contradiction between the massive superiority of European knowledge, and the Quranic assertion that the knowledge given to the Muslims is far better than anything that they can gather? This is such a HUGE idol that we cannot take it down with one blow. The correct strategy is to chip at it one small piece at a time. So let us just take one small part of the claim of European superiority: European conquest and colonization of the globe. Does this entitle Europeans to feel superior, and should we feel inferior because they conquered us, and we did not conquer them? Throughout history, barbarians have overcome civilizations which became corrupted by luxury. Does this pattern prove the “superiority” of the barbarians, or just that they were better at fighting? When the Mongols destroyed Baghdad, was it because of their superior civilization, greater intelligence, or better fighting skills? When the USA carpet bombed Iraq and killed a millions plus civilians, and destroy the infrastructure of the country,  does this mean that we should all learn to follow their example?

Defeat in war does not mean inferiority. If someone points a gun at me, and loots all my wealth, it does follow that I should learn the ways of life from him. In fact, it is a long established tradition, that defeat does lead to a defeated mentality. The victors define the criteria by which development is judged, and they change these criteria to ensure that they are on top. What appears to us to be an objective fact – that Western civilization is developed, and we are under-developed and primitive — is actually a mirage. This is achieved by defining the development criteria in a certain way. If wealth and power are the criteria of development, then Qaroon and Fir’aun and Namrood would be the most advanced of people. INSTEAD, if we were to define civilization as meaning humanity, compassion, minimal killing of innocent civilians, minimum incidents of random violence and crime, minimal suicides, divorces, children growing up in happy families, and a whole host of other factors, we would find that the world leaders could easily be made to have very low rankings. A lecture on “Re-Defining Development” shows how the criterion for development continuously keeps changing as the victors re-define it to ensure that they come out on top. This would just be a beginning, a first step in undoing the illusion of Western superiority. Many other dimensions of superiority need to be addressed, each one separately. At the heart of it all is the Western conception of knowledge itself, as knowledge of the external world. The criterion for success suitable for conquerors of the globe is power and wealth. Success is defined by the power to loot the world, kill and enslave millions, capture global resources. When the only criterion for success is power, wealth, and luxury, western knowledge is the only way to go. Islamic knowledge is designed to develop the unique capabilities that all human beings are born with, so that we can become the best of the creation. The knowledge required to provide a nurturing environment, to create spiritual growth, is harmful according to Western criterion, because it will hinder us from oppressing and exploiting others, and enriching ourselves at the expense of others. For more details on the differences between Islamic and Western conceptions of knowledge, see “The Search for Knowledge“.

Lesson #7: The Courage to Make a Difference: The Quran asserts that man can only get what he strives for. The false idea of racial inferiority, and the false idea that our ancestors never accomplished anything worthwhile, limits the range of our ambitions. Once the lesson of brotherhood of all human beings is absorbed, it becomes possible to strive for the highest goals that humans have tried for. These highest goals are NOT the maximization of power, wealth, and pleasure derived from consumption. Rather, every man has been given the potential to become superior to the angels, and also the capability to be worse than the beasts. Depending on the environment and the efforts made, men can develop to a greater or lesser extent. Those who remain undeveloped spiritually can, like Machiavelli, prefer to rule by fear, because they have no compassion, and cannot sense the warmth in the hearts of fellow men. They can drop fire bombs on cities, frying human beings on hot pavements, without feeling any pity, or guilt. Spiritual development leads to an awareness of the linkages between all human beings (see Spirituality and Development for a deeper discussion). The most developed of all human beings was our prophet Mohammed S.A.W. who was sent as a mercy for all mankind. His heart was so full of compassion that Allah T’aala counsels him in the Holy Quran not to kill himself with sorrow on the behalf of those who would not believe and thereby condemn themselves to eternal suffering. Our goal in life is to try and emulate this excellence, to the extent possible for us. This is the only way to achieve our potential to become “the best of the creation”, the highest of goals open to men and women.
































This entry was posted in Colonialism, Imperialism, 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.

8 thoughts on “Myth of Racial Superiority

  1. Thanks for sharing these important thoughts, Asad. ” History is the conquest song of the victors.” — Truer words were never spoken!!!  And truth-seekers about money should keep that in mind.  

  2. Pingback: The Conquest of Knowledge | An Islamic WorldView

  3. Pingback: Development: Myths & Truths – Materialism Versus Idealism | An Islamic WorldView

  4. Pingback: Central Myths of Eurocentric History | An Islamic WorldView

  5. Pingback: Myth of Oriental Despotism | An Islamic WorldView

  6. Pingback: Blaming the victims | An Islamic WorldView


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