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Civilizational Narcissism

Everything you wanted to know about why what is wrong with Islam — that abysmal present soaked in blood, dependence, hate, ignorance, and failed or failing or drifted states from Asia to Africa to the Middle East — may be covered in Mobarak Haider’s 2008 (Urdu version; English version, 2010) Taliban: The Tip of a Holy Iceberg.

“Narcissism is a psychic state of extreme subjectivity.  The civilizational narcissists have mostly two alternating mental states: either they are perfectly unaware of the role of the world around them or if they are aware, they are sure that it admires or envies them.  This infatuation with their own charm renders them totally impervious to the beauty and merit of others.  Civilizational narcissism is therefore collective to the extent that all the admirers of their own civilization admire only abstract concepts; no living human or the existing pattern of civilization impresses them.”

With Pakistani street cred and cosmopolitan ivory tower brights and insight, Haider walks the reader through each dimension of cultural, geopolitical, linguistic, psychological, and social history and thought in laying out the case for an unbridled narcissism as the core component promoting the misery the Muslim Ummah continues to deal to itself and to others in the name of Allah.

In addition to the psychology, which I regard as rich and spot-on, Haider’s honesty and integrity in scholarship in and of itself stands signal to the kind of change the whole world wants as regards Islam’s ability to accept criticism, to develop by first developing itself (through other than alms and arms) and to enjoy — now these are my words — the world’s present and most assuredly future “cultural polyphony”.

I have found an implacability in conservative Muslim and American circles in which one party or the other is not only being victimized by the other, but reverting, or stuck, in the mechanics of the most woeful prejudice, which may be reduced to the statement, “they are all like that.” For some, every Muslim is a Jihadi-head (and it may be tragic for Muslims that whatever potential lay in the term “Jihad”, it really has become synonymous with “bombs on two legs” and the like); and for some opposite, every “right-winger” is Pamela Geller  or Robert Spencer (I like them both): my way out of that debacle has been through the window of a term I refer to as “shimmer” — i.e., for what’s coming over the berm, uncertainty as to who, in impassioned numbers, really wants what.

Not to be the “useful idiot” in this crowd, I have at this point engaged many Muslim friends (around the world too), most of whom I genuinely enjoy in an atmosphere as generous in mutual regard as I have ever experienced in conversation.

Nonetheless, in the hands of clerics, the Taliban, and the Arabs who profit mightily on religion — the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, may be valued at $30 billion annually according to a Gulf News report — the culture produced within the vaunted “religion of peace” has serious social issues with the rest of the world.

And it can’t stand to hear about them.

After so much delving into contributing cultures and history, Haider makes this general observation, which I feel should be taken to heart:

“In all these forms of contact — individual, tribal, and civilizational — supremacy of one over the other, i.e., ascendancy of one sex over the other, of one tribe over the other, or of one civilization over the other, is a bad arrangement.  It is less productive and cannot hold forever.  It has been observed that if clash is less frequent than kindness, in these forms of relationships, the resulting posterity is healthier and happier.  The concept of dominance seems to be the less developed form of behavior in human history.  That is perhaps why all doctrines and philosophies of wisdom preached against it.” (p. 174).

I would suggest our species more gregarious than not and altogether more inclined toward real goodness and good relationships than not.

However, be that as it may, a little farther on in a chapter titled, “Hate the Jew: And Do Not Ask”, Haider notes, “The tragedy does not lie in the inability of Muslims to learn or think” — here I interrupt to note my friends do learn and do think, wonderfully, but they may be neither representative of all nor few, a subject to be taken up at another time . . . but back to Haider’s telling sentence — “it lies in the absolute dominance of Islamic dogma that has been carefully defended, so that no critical approach could ever raise a finger . . . .  In Saudi Arabia, even now geocentric astronomy is taught as syllabus; Abdul Rahman bin Baaz, the head of Medina University received award of merit for his thesis that the Earth is static while the Sun and the Moon move.”

I believe the veracity of Haider’s anecdotal evidence.

Those who believe Abdul Rahman bin Baaz’s theory would seem capable of believing anything, not that anyone dare tell them that.


American Psychiatric Association. Personality disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc; 2000:717-731.

Ali, Jasim.  “Sweeping economic impact of the Haj.”  Gulf News, November 7, 2011.

Altaf, Waseem.  “We need multiple measures to start a return: Mobarak Haider.”  Viewpoint, n.d.

Ambardar, Sheenie and David Bienenfeld.   “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”  Medscape Reference, updated May 24, 2011.  (References 2000 DSM-IV-TR).

Kreger, Randi.  “Don’t Diss the Narcissists!”  Psychology Today, May 24, 2010.