Is the West Best?
Author Ibn Warraa and Guests Debate His New Book
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Arguing that liberal democracy offers “the best and perhaps the only means for all people, no matter what race or creed, to reach their full potential and live in freedom,” Ibn Warraq laid out his claims from his new book, Why the West Is Best, at a forum held at St. Francis College’s Maroney Forum for Arts, Culture and Education on Wednesday, March 28.
The event, hosted by St. Francis College with Telos Press, Encounter Books and the New York Chapter of the National Association of Scholars, was moderated by St. Francis Scholar in Residence Fred Siegel and featured Warraq as well as NYU professor and author Paul Berman (The Flight of the Intellectuals, Terror and Liberalism) and Sohrab Ahmari of the Henry Jackson Society, a co-editor of the forthcoming Arab Spring Dreams.
After listing various freedoms that liberal democracies offer and pointing to several western countries as successful examples of free societies, Warraq pointed to Islamic governments that he says violate basic human rights. He points to societies based on Koranic law where women are stoned for adultery and are not free to marry whom they wish. Further pointing out that in some areas homosexuality is punished by death and religious freedom is not tolerated.
Berman said he agrees with Warraq’s argument but disagrees with the vocabulary. Berman said that rather than talking about the “West,” the argument should center around the superiority of a liberal democracy and the values upheld under those democracies.
Berman points out that World War II was a civil war among western societies, showing that genocide and repression happen in the west, but it was also a battle between those for and against liberal democracies. He also said Warraq should draw a sharper distinction between a literal reading of the Koran and how it is interpreted by Islamist political and religious movements.
Ahmari, who grew up in Iran and left at the age of 13, talked about what he called “the banality of freedom,” referring in a positive way to the exuberant descriptions by Warraq of things like Broadway musicals and the spectrum of opinions available on a simple newsstand magazine rack.
Ahmari talked about his own experience of the banality of freedom when he left Iran with his mother and grandmother on a KLM airplane. He said once the announcement was made that they had left Iranian airspace, people started clapping and women took off their headscarves. “They knew the regimes morality police wouldn’t be there to beat them up and say, ‘Mind your veil, sister,’ he recalled.
However, Ahmari disagreed with what he saw as Warraq’s implication that liberal democracies are the natural form of government, saying that it was a traumatic process that brought us where we are today and similar types of traumas are now taking place in the Islamic world.
Siegel, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life, organized the event and has been instrumental in bringing a number of timely and provocative events to the college. Past forums hosted by St. Francis College include “The Tension Between Catholic Schools and Charter Schools,” “What Happened to All the Good Men?,” “Is the New York Times Good for Democracy” and “Young Voters and the 2012 Election.”
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