I strongly suspect it was one of the New Atheists who introduced me to the writings of Ibn Warraq. A former Muslim turned staunch critic of his former religion, I found his weighty 1995 book Why I Am Not a Not a Muslim an uncompromisingly bold and partisan critique of the Islamic religion. Respecting his work and eager to read more of his writings, I put his 2003 book Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out on my to read list and figured someday down the road I’d read more from Warraq. Then, during one of my strolls along the shelves at my public library what did I find but copy of this 2011 book Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of Liberal Democracy. Like a greedy kid in a candy store I snatched up Warraq’s book and made my way to the check-out machines. Good thing I did. While no less polemical and passionate than his Why I Am Not a Muslim, thanks to Warraq’s more succinct writing style when compared to the previously mentioned book, I found Why the West is the Best a highly opinionated but intelligent (and considering the expansive subject matter discussed), surprisingly readable book.
As the title hints, Warraq in his book strives to make the case that Western civilization has been a positive force in the world. Countering the claims to the contrary made by some moral relativists, post-modernists and Islamists, Warraq passionately urges citizens of the West to take pride in our accomplishments and institutions that have brought us democracy, rule of law, secularism, intellectual freedom and prosperity. Warraq points to New York City as a shining example of the best of the West: wealthy, ethnically diverse yet convivial, well-governed, home to a world-class public library, meritocratic and a long-time mecca for arts and entertainment. According Warraq, our universal concepts of human rights and decency all originated in the West and as a result the rest of the world is a better place because of it.
Of course this book is not without its faults. One wonders if Warraq, in making his claims, is a bit selective when it comes to presenting his evidence. For example, while he rails against such Eastern atrocities as the Arab slave trade and Japan’s conduct during WWII, he fails to mention the genocide perpetrated by a Western Nazi Germany or the crimes of Stalinist Russia. Pointing to India as an Eastern nation that has benefited from Western colonialism due to its adoption of British-style democracy, civil service and legal system, anyone who has read Catherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers can tell you he neglects to mention that India’s courts are notoriously backlogged, its political system incredibly corrupt and its civil service hopelessly threadbare and inefficient.
But I did enjoy Warraq’s book and after reading Why the West is the Best I think I’ll be exploring more of his stuff. I’d like to try his essay collection Virgins? What Virgins? in addition to his Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. (With Paul Berman calling Warraq’s Defending the West “a glorious work of scholarship”, how can I go wrong?)
Regardless of what one might think of Warraq’s arguments or any flaws this book might possess, I think its greatest attribute is its ability to stimulate vigorous and intelligent debate. Therefore, if for that reason alone, I recommend this book.