Before I begin, I must confess that this review is not as professional as it could have been if it was written by a formally trained academic.
But nonetheless I feel the need to write this because the CRT-gate has gone on for too long.
It is impossible to review this book without discussing the recent (and frankly needless) controversy regarding CRT and specifically Yassir Morsi.
To begin with, most of the criticisms I have seen of this book are just caricatures of what so-called traditionalists think they are refuting.
The gripe with using authors like Fanon, David Cook, etc or the whole issue with autoethnography is needless.
The silliest accusation however is Yassir being too subjective and his apparent denial of “objectivity”.
How does one discuss their experiences with racism without explaining their own perspectives and emotions? Acknowledgment of subjectivity is not denial of objectivity.
The dichotomous understanding of what is subjective and what is objective showcases how bad we still are at reading and understanding texts that want us to be more than just proficient tools in the Capitalist system.
Plenty of Islamic books related to spirituality and even tahrikh(history) have a level of subjectivity to them where you can clearly see the author’s own emotions and thoughts expressed. For example, much of the biographies of Ulema have a hagiographic angle to them often glossing over their flaws and criticisms by their contemporaries. Nobody has any real issue with the subjective nature of these chronicles. So why this fuss over a book that doesn’t claim to teach Muslims Islam to begin with?
In any case, let’s take a look at one of these attempts at “denying objectivity”.
“Westernised academy is still the scientificist discourse of ‘objectivity’ and ‘neutrality’ that hides the ‘locus of enunciation’ of the speaker, that is, who speaks and from what epistemic body politics of knowledge and geopolitics of knowledge they speak.” p.19
Here Yassir is neither questioning the existence of objectivity nor is he questioning the existence of the Ultimate Truth. Rather he tries to explain why Europe’s constructs of objectivity are not really rooted in the belief of God or any actual objectivity. Rather they are based on an extreme form of subjectivity that is given a metaphysical dressing to make it seem transcendental. Throughout the book Yassir takes his time to explain how concepts like the Cartesian Philosophy shapes modern European ideas and he exposes the overt and covert racism of these ideas and their manner of lionizing European epistemic knowledge over non-European knowledge. And he showcases how European Intellectuals use these ideas to recast non-European Civilizations and their Traditions as backwards or simply the barbaric “Other”.
Yassir is well aware of the limitations of the authors he cites in this book and the methodology he uses. He does not give blanket endorsements to philosophers like Nietzsche whose framework he only implements for categorizing the concepts he is trying to explain. He also lays out his own critique of Nietzsche and Nietzsche’s romantic ideals of what Europe ought to be.
And if we are talking about using frameworks of non-Muslim authors, books of mantiq i.e. logic, pays homage to Aristotle, a kafir philosopher. Most of Kalam is based on Mantiq. So the idea that frameworks from the kuffar are ipso facto “unIslamic” goes against the established Islamic tradition itself.
Finally, Yassir does not present himself as a traditional scholar. He does not promote his book as a replacement of fiqh and aqeedah texts nor does he promote unconditional alliances with the left, whom he has criticized quite emphatically in this book. He frequently laments at how Muslims allow “leftists” to appropriate our grievances for their own politics.
How does one conclude all of that as a promotion of the “far left LGBT” praxis is well beyond me.
There are brothers who gawk at the idea of discussing Racism in depth. They go on about how we should “move on” and not whine or complain. It’s one thing for us to hear this kind of dismissive tone from Western Politicians. But it’s another thing to hear our Muslim brothers say things such as this,
“White people built the world. The colored people are responsible for their suffering. It’s a dog eat dog world.”
It is unfortunate that in this day and age where information is virtually available on tap we have to hear this from apparently well informed brothers who claim themselves to be grounded in tradition. But not entirely unexpected given the pervasive nature of the Orientalist narrative.
But I digress.
With all that out of the way, let’s get on with the actual review.
Yassir begins his book with a familiar introduction for any millennial Muslim.
Almost everyone who was an adult at the time involuntarily asked himself this question, either in his mind or out loud, “What have we done?”
It was (and in many cases it still is) par for the course for the post-colonial Muslim to shudder and cringe at yet another instance of a terrorist attack on the “civilized” west.
The decade that followed had a familiar routine repeated again and again. A terrorist incident happens and time and again Muslims are dragged into the spotlight and made to condemn the extremists and reaffirm their loyalties to their respective states.
All the while the war crimes of west continued to escape any serious inquiry and their unmitigated violence continued unabated.
Recent shifts in the narratives notwithstanding even as late as 2012, Muslims who were thousands of kilometers away from the Middle East were called on live television to condemn ISIS.
No such thing was done for the British, Australian or American volunteers who actively worked with the various non-Islamist militias involved in the Civil War. (1)
Muslims are forcefully scrutinized everyday and made to issue statements reassuring their neighboring communities that they are not a threat, they stand for democracy, tolerance and pluralism. They are always, no matter what their background asked to take responsibility to condemn crimes they have never had any link to.
Why? Everyone asked what we ought to say in response to these crimes. But no one really asked why do we have to say anything at all.
Up until recently no one really questioned this narrative.
And explaining why this phenomenon exists is what Yassir’s book is all about.
This book tries to explain the dual face of Western Colonialism which Yassir terms as Apollonian and Dionysian borrowing heavily from Nietzsche.
In summary, the Dionysian represents the militant chaos of Western Imperialism which have subjugated communities without mercy. The Apollonian spearheads the Propagation of Western Ideas which justifies their Imperialism and reaffirms the apparent inferiority of the subjugated communities in thought and in our way of living.
Yassir without delay unmasks the grandiose claims of Western Enlightenment. He points out how today’s voices of rationality, tolerance and progress ignore the fact that they find themselves in a position of privilege because their military brutalized our communities and destroyed our own intellectual traditions and institutions.
Yassir highlights the works of western authors like Sven Lindqvist, Joseph Conrad and Aimé Césaire. These academics have tried to showcase the violently racist nature of Europe’s ventures into the Orient. Aime in particular illustrates how Nazis were the logical conclusion of Europe’s Enlightenment Ideals. Hitler recreated the violence that Europeans perpetrated in Africa and India on his fellow Europeans. The tragedy of the Holocaust was a reality for European colonies for centuries. And it is telling that discourses surrounding racism took well beyond two decades after the World Wars to gain serious traction within the Western Community.
If our brothers don’t see the need to discuss the racist history of the West, they are only harming the Ummah by letting it suffer from total lack of awareness which leaves us vulnerable to the Apollonian Propaganda.
The point is that Western ideas of Enlightenment did not gain their uncontested superiority simply because of the merit of their ideas.
“The victories of democracy and liberalism have not become universal and humanist truths and speech from thin air. They have come not only from a logic, a clarity of reason, or from noble self-reflection alone, but also from blood and slavery. “ p.6
Now these rationalist and humanist ideas are presented as “gifts” to us “uncivilized folks” so that we can rebuild the world that they tore down in the image that satisfies their requirements and standards of what a “civilized nation ought to be”. The aesthetic ideal of democracy.
This pursuit of an aesthetic ideal of democracy is what justifies all kinds of brutality. The world today supports Assad—despite clear proofs of barbarity only paralleled by ISIS—simply because he upholds the facade of the Western aesthetics of a democratic nation state.
Assad’s existence is the perfect example of the two-faced nature of the Western World. It accepts Dionysian violence as long as the Apollonian image can be propagated and sustained.
To put it simply, “The Apollonian is a cultural force that works to erase the world of pain (and words) of color. Its purpose is to blind us from the violence that racism built and binds us to. The language of equality, rights and liberty comes as a gift. Some even say that it will free us Muslims from our darker selves, from Islamism and from even Islamophobia.”
The Apollonian is a gift to us as much as the Wooden Horse was to the Trojans.
And that’s where the idea of the “Moderate Mask” comes from. Muslims are expected or in some cases coerced to shed their “heathen ways” and adopt modern appearances and mannerisms and parrot the oft quoted slogans of tolerance, love and peace in order to maintain their commitments to the aesthetic ideal of democracy. Even in our resistance or the push back against the Western Ideological Concepts our counter-critique is subconsciously tuned to match or mirror the “white” or western aesthetic Ideals of democracy. Eg. Muslims were scientific or progressive. Islam is a feminist religion, etc.
Yassir relays to us his experience of certain Muslims seeking to recast Muslim history in a way that describes our glorious triumphs and achievements, our great scholars and personalities in order to create an image of Islam that fulfills the Apollonian aesthetics of civilization. An image that breaks Orientalist tropes of Muslims being barbaric and backwards. The image of an Islam that contributes to the Universal abstract concept called Civilization.
In many cases however Muslims wear “Moderate Masks” to accommodate themselves in the West and prove their Apollonian qualifications.
Yassir uses three case studies to describe the three kinds of Moderate Masks.
The Fabulous- Waleed Aly
The Militant- Hamza Yusuf
The Triumphant- Majid Nawaz
Waleed Aly is the template Muslim who seeks to reassure the concerned westerners that Muslims are just people like them. We go to mosques, yes but we also love joking around, eating sandwiches and playing football. We love democracy and we appreciate the liberalism and pluralism of the western world.
Here is where the problem lies. Waleed’s rhetoric does nothing to counter the racist otherizing discourse of WOT narrative. He and other moderates like himself are carving out spaces for themselves in the Western World and seeking to distance themselves from the bad Muslims who are not well integrated with the Western community. Who speak with a funny accent and still wear decidedly non-Western clothes.
Waleed is also the representative of the continued fetishization of Muslims in popular culture. That we are repressed people waiting to embrace the beautiful Western Experience. Modern TV shows that are showing Hijabi women “breaking stereotypes” is a continuation of Waleed Aly’s attempt to assuage the Westerners that us Muslims are just “people like you”.
Unlike me (I freely admit my bias against Hamza Yusuf), Yassir Morsi is very charitable and generous with Hamza Yusuf. Yassir gives Yusuf due credit for the eloquence and philosophical rhetoric which gave the Muslims under siege of the Apollonian Colonialism something to latch on to. An image of a rich and vibrant Islam.
An Islam connected to a transcendental tradition. An Islam with deep insights and metaphysical wisdoms. However after 9/11, Hamza Yusuf implicitly (or explicitly given my overt hatred for him the moment I saw his first lecture) lent his eloquence philosophical rhetoric to the War on Terror.
According to Hamza Yusuf modern day terrorism (and extremism) was not entirely borne out of continued military brutality in our lands. Rather the Arabs have become uncivilized people who are out of touch with the transcendental tradition and the wisdom of Islam. Arabs have no knowledge of the That we have become influenced by Marxisms and Narratives of hate. That our Aqeedah has become distorted to the point where we don’t accept the divine will of Allah who gives dominion to whom He wills and that it is Allah who subjugates one People to another. We no longer introspect when afflictions befall us and invest ourselves in blaming and hating others. We continue letting our Deen being hijacked by the foretold Khawarij.
So, Hamza Yusuf ultimately validates the Western rhetoric of terrorism being rooted in the uncivilized nature of the “Other” rather than the continued brutalization of Muslim lands by the very militaries and proxies of the West. This is a consistent tone in his all his lectures. He consistently appeals to Muslims to recognize that we do not have “civil society”. Unfortunately given the already low self-esteem of the collective Muslim psyche and given that Hamza Yusuf is such a credible voice to many, many Muslims have actually come to believe in this narrative. Which leads us to the next section.
Majid Nawaz represents the final stage of the Muslim assimliation program. It is not enough to crave integration. It is not enough to concede that “bad Muslims exist”. A Muslim must proactively aid Western Policy Makers in identifying trends that lead to Radicalization and help counter them.
Nawaz is unremarkable for the most part. The one trick that he uses, which Yassir outlines, is that he acknowledges Colonialism and its bloody past but he retools and tries to explain to his audience that the realities of “Colonialism” and “Foreign Policy” are exploited Islamists use to increase their own political expediency. And as is with these kind of people, he grieves at the fact that Muslims are not confronting this “Islamist problem” and are just deflecting blame.
Nawaz presents himself as a reformed extremist but as usual the narrative he presents is the predictable boring routine of how he came to mistakenly embrace some bad ideas which lead to bad experiences and how eventually upon deeper introspection he came to appreciate enlightenment values and how Islam needs to be reclaimed from the violent extremists.
What makes Nawaz stand out is his active advocacy for Deradicalization.
While Waleed tries to present normal Muslims to the West, and while Hamza Yusuf tries to assuage the anxiety of so-called traditional Muslims and reassure them that the our collective suffering is part of the Divine Plan, Nawaz is an active advocate of identifying extremist patterns and an ardent proponent of having Muslims embrace Western Ideas of Democracy and Secularism, a true ambassador of the Apollonian Ideals.
Regardless, the fact of the matter is that all three individuals, their ideologies and their methods are centered around one thing and one thing alone. Reassuring the anxious Westerner (read:White) that Muslims present no existential threat.
That we won’t don’t seek to destroy the Western World and the Western Way of Life. We seek harmony and co-existence.
There is a lot more to be said about Yassir’s book. Any Muslim who is looking to understand and critique the Western Narratives regarding the Islamic World this book will serve them well because it is an excellent deconstruction of the Muslim desire to conform to the Westernese ideas and standards of what it means to be civilized.
I will be posting selected excerpts on my Twitter Account over the next few days discussing some important points for those who are still not sure about this book or Yassir’s positions.
Hopefully this review and my follow up commentary on Twitter will dispel the paranoia and myth surrounding this book.
Thank you for reading.
You can purchase Yassir’s book through here: