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Views from without

Books | An Indian and a Pakistani show appreciation for the West

Issue: "The battle," March 24, 2012

Vishal Mangalwadi's The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Thomas Nelson, 2011) is a loosely framed but highly readable story with a vast cast of characters, including the author himself. Mangalwadi writes that he was impressed by the contrast between glorious folk heroes in Indian history and biblical characters who were often unheroic and sometimes villainous: The "prophetic tradition of self-criticism made the Jews a blessing to the world. Revelation was the source by which humanity could know God's love and judgment simultaneously."

Mangalwadi also notes that the 400-year-gap between Joseph and Moses is evidence not of ahistorical embellishing of patriarchal stories but of veracity. Brilliant editors could have used those centuries to turn ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph into heroes like Achilles or Odysseus. They did not, because the goal was truth, not ancestral glory.

Another thoughtful Mangalwadi touch: He explains why Buddhist monks begged for their food but Christians worked for theirs: "To work was to be like God, because the Bible's God was a worker. He worked for six days to create the world and rested on the seventh. ...  The Bible distinguished 'work' from 'toil.' To work was to be like God, but toil was a curse on human sin. Toil was mindless, repetitive, dehumanizing labor. This distinction enabled Christian monks to realize that human beings should not have to do what wind, water, or horses can do. People must do what other species and natural forces cannot do-use creative reason to liberate human beings from the curse of toil."

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Mangalwadi explains both theologically and politically why India did not develop as did the West. One reason was taxes, which often took 80 percent of what peasants produced: "This was a huge incentive against being creative and productive."

Ibn Warraq grew up in Pakistan and, like Mangalwadi, came to admire a Western society based in the Bible; unlike Mangalwadi, he never came to profess Christ, so his Why the West Is Best (Encounter, 2011) underestimates the role of Christian thought in establishing the liberties we enjoy. It's still a valuable work, though, for its demolishing of those who fall for the myth that medieval Islam had a golden age, and that modern Islam is more family-friendly than a decadent West.

Warraq particularly criticizes the "morally dubious" thesis of Dinesh D'Souza in The Enemy at Home, which "betrays a romantic, idealized vision of Muslim domestic life" by seeing Muslim conservatives as allies of Christian conservatives. Warraq cites the frequency of wife-beating, divorce, and brutal fathering in the Middle East and notes the incidence of drug addiction, child prostitution, and adult sex slavery in many Muslim countries. He also notes that "Arabs were engaged in the slave trade for thirteen centuries and shipped far more black slaves across the Sahara and the Red Sea than were sent across the Atlantic."

Western guilt compared with Muslim myopia is one reason why the West "has lavished more than $400 billion in aid on sub-Saharan Africa over the past few decades. The Arabs have done nothing similar. The Saudis have instead spent millions on spreading anti-Western propaganda and an intolerant form of Islam around the world." Warraq argues that the United States should fight back by translating books critical of Islam into Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Bengali, Bahasa Malaysia, and Indonesian: "The Arab world and the larger realm of Islam need an initiative similar to the Central and East European Publishing Project" that helped foster the overthrow of Communism.

Warraq concludes that "an enlightenment in the Islamic world will never be achieved without introducing critical thinking about the Islamic religion and culture." He writes that Americans have held back from such an attack because of a general respect for religion as well as fear-but "we need to provide the Islamic world with accessible works that discuss the Koran and hadith, Sharia, Islamic theology and history in an open and scholarly way, without a stultifying concern about Islamic 'sensitivities.'"

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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