17 June 2004

Naipaul on the Imperialism of Universal Religions

The overthrow of the old religions--religions linked to the earth and animals and the deities of a particular place or tribe--by the revealed religions is one of the haunting themes of history. Even when there are texts, as with the ancient Roman-Christian world, the changeover is hard to follow. There are only indications. It can be seen that the earth religions are limited, offering everything to the gods and very little to men. If these religions can be attractive now, it is principally for modem aesthetic reasons; and even so, it is impossible to imagine a life completely within them. The ideas of the revealed religions--Buddhism (if it can be included), Christianity, Islam--are larger, more human, more related to what men see as their pain, and more related to a moral view of the world. It might also be that the great conversions, of nations or cultures, as in Indonesia, occur when people have no idea of themselves, and have no means of understanding or retrieving their past.

The cruelty of Islamic fundamentalism is that it allows only to one people--the Arabs, the original people of the Prophet--a past, and sacred places, pilgrimages, and earth reverences. These sacred Arab places have to be the sacred places of all the converted peoples. Converted peoples have to strip themselves of their past; of converted peoples nothing is required but the purest faith (if such a thing can be arrived at), Islam, submission. It is the most uncompromising kind of imperialism.
SOURCE: Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (Vintage, 1998), pp. 63-64

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