We should not be reluctant to assert the superiority of Western values


We should not be reluctant to assert the superiority of Western values
by Princess

The panel examine the controversial topic of the perceived culture divide between the West and 'the rest', debating whether or not the West is justified in asserting the superiority of its own values [watch video].

Proposing the motion are Ibn Warraq, David Aaronovitch, and Douglas Murray. Ibn Warraq proposes the motion by pointing out some of the bases of western civilisation - rational thinking, self-criticism, the search for truth, the ability to separate cultural and secular values and so on - and how these values have improved the societies that have imported them, such as in China and Japan. His main argument is that Western civilisation respects the rights of women, homosexuals and members of non-western religions, whereas other cultures, and particularly those influenced by Islam, do not. The Qur’an is not, he says, a document that promotes equality. David Aaronovitch argues that Western values may not always be applied very well by all Western societies, but that the conduct of, for example, the British and American governments in allowing imprisonment and torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, is not advocated by the majority of the population. Douglas Murray draws a distinction between asserting values peacefully, as in this debate and asserting them violently. He suggests that there are no Islamic governments that Westerners would choose to live under. The West endorses a dialogue, he argues, that is not reciprocated by the non-Western world - if we do not assert our Western values then there is no help for those people suffering civil and human rights abuses in other parts of the world. 

Opposing the motion are Charles Glass, Tariq Ramadan, and William Dalrymple. Charles Glass suggests that the West does not so much assert or export its values as 'shove them down people's throats' and that a culture which gave the world two world wars and colonial rule all over the world has no right to assert its superiority. Tariq Ramadan argues that the West asserts its own values because it is scared of losing its 'European' identity, and that, anyway, perceiving 'The West' and 'The Rest' as separate worlds is an historical and scientific mistake. He notes that Western values are often misused in the West, and points to the way immigrants are often treated badly even in Europe. William Dalrymple points out that the concept of 'Western' values is in some way flawed, as they are based on Judeo-Christian ideals, which are not Western at all. The first law codes, he notes, were laid down in Iraq, and the concept of reason originated with Arabic philosophers. The West also perpetrated such historical events as the Spanish Inquisition, and western ideals such as Marxism, Fascism, and Nazism, have caused millions of deaths. By asserting 'western' values, he argues, we are cherry-picking our favourite values and claiming them as our own.

First Vote: 313 For, 221 Against, 207 Don’t Know

Final Vote: 465 For, 264 Against, 18 Don’t Know

Here is the link to the debate. I hope it works for viewers outside the UK.


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Niloufar Parsi

princess jan

by Niloufar Parsi on

you are too kind. keep up the great work with your blogs. i always learn something from them. love your style!

and the picture you chose for this one says more than a thousand analytical words, literally.


Very well put!

by Princess on

Niloufar jaan, you said it all. I feel no need to add anything more.

Thank you for being as you are. Iran needs more people like you and in fact most people who have left comments here. 


Niloufar Parsi

then again

by Niloufar Parsi on

there is the other side of the story: those who are so blinded by rage that they can't bring themselves to agree with any value that has the term 'western' associated with it, regardless of how sound the value may be in itself (freedom, democracy etc) and regardless that most such values are in fact not western in origin at all.

there is little difference between extremists on any side, no fear. you are guilty of buying into their propaganda by presenting freedom and democracy as 'western'. you are the one who is 'brainwashed'.

and the two sides of this false conflict need each other. they are mirror images of each other, like bush and bin laden. hypocrites, they are. and you are their follower. it does not matter which side you belong to.

the rest of us would like to use our own brains to pick and choose the best of values that we come across, and we ignore those like you who are obssessed with a never-ending war.

بنی آدم اعضای یک پیکرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند


No Fear

You are westernized if you accept their values ...

by No Fear on

Don't kid yourself. The proof is in the writing and i don't blame you.

Afterall, you have been bombarded by a powerful western media that has been invading all other countries ( boundaries ) with its super heros. You have to first accept whats being fed to you culturally before you become a full fledged member. So lets feed you heros like Spider man and Mrs America who fight the bad guys and get you interested first. While superman stops a madman from blowing up the world or a "alien" invasion, you start to understand how far you must go to defend those values.

If you want to really understand how brains are washed , start watching some startrek episodes and see how western values interact with " alien" cultures. The older Captain kerk versions are very entertaining and very political as well.

As i said, This is just the start for many of you who have been living here for a while. Its like a pimp taking you on ride in his 1978 cobra and getting you excited. But you are in this for some long rides.

Listen kiddo, I don't care if you decide to become westernized and accepting your host country values. Maybe you should if you don't want to be singled out in school or among your friends. But trying to argue these values should be universal and for everyone is a LOAD OF CRAP. Even the westerners don't believe in their own crap and never play it by their own rules. You have became more catholic than the pope. Its freaking sad if you ask me , but whatever makes you happy.

Go ahead and defend your newly acquired values with all its shortcomings. Tell me more about freedom of this and that. Tell me more about democracy. Tell me more about justice.

Then tell me why you are NOT a HYPOCRITE.


Niloufar Parsi

very interesting debate

by Niloufar Parsi on

i agree with those who would avoid giving nationality to ideas. it's always irritating to see westerners refer to good ideas and values as western. this includes scientific ones. luckily we are in a new phase of development where access to knowledge and ideas is becoming global.


Good point Mehrban

by Princess on

I wonder how he would answer that question.


By the way, another very relevant debate to watch is on the motion: Democracy isn't for everyone, especially Matthew Parris' and Bernard-Henri Levy's





Thanks Princess

by Mehrban on

This is very relevant to us (Iranians) at this time.  I truly wonder if Charles Glass would have the stomach to share values with Ali Khamenei.    


Dear Friends

by Princess on

Thanks for your interesting comments.

Marjan, I too liked the way Ibn Warraq finished off. :)  And I agree with you our world is becoming increasingly about nuanced approaches to issues and less and less about absolutes.

Mannya, It is extremely sad that people like Ibn Warraq and Ali Sina should fear for their lives merely for expressing their thoughts and opinions to begin with.

Red Wine jaan, thank you for your interest as always.

MM, You are right, but how about forcing 'liberal democratic values' down people's throats. Would that be OK? Fanaticism does not come only in the form of religion, you know. :)

DK jaan, Wow, is all I have to say to your comment. Joking aside, I agree with most of the points your are making.I didn't know Tariq Ramadan. And sometimes that's a good thing because that way I listen to  what people say and judge them based on what he say, rather than on their history. And in this particular debate, there were some points on which I thought Prof Ramdan was completely spot on (like the arrogance of the "West" when dealing with the rest of the world, or them sometime being motivated out of fear of losing their identity, or their double standards when dealing with Authoritarian regimes), and others where I thought he was missing the point by a mile (his lack of convincing arguments for the status of women in Islam's and failing to differentiate between his personal vs. Islam's stance on issues.) Thanks again for your very thoughtful comment.

Ari, acute observation as ever. I agree with you that the wording of the motion was extra provocative and unfortunate. Their were so many problems with the phrasing of the motion: assert, superiority, western, values... As the panel and the audience correctly argued those values are not and never have been exclusively Western, but the systems that have embraced them (at least for their own citizens) and made them practicable are Western liberal democratic systems. So maybe the motion should've been about the systems rather than values.

Benross, Interesting point, and thanks for the links. 


Ibn Warraq and Ali Sina

by benross on

The comment of mannya2001 was intriguing. I noticed that those who are exploring the idea of secularism and 'moderate Islam' are mostly from Pakistani decent. While their life is being threatened by other muslims, mostly decendents of Arab and North African countries.

This is a Canadian case.




Ari Siletz

Thanks Princess

by Ari Siletz on

Interesting topic. All were persuasive debaters, but in terms of style Charles Glass argued his points whereas Douglas Murray peddled his position. The rest fell somewhere in between.          Given the quasi-Hitlerian wording of the motion of the debate--clarifications notwithstanding--The almost 2:1 in favor vote is cause for concern.


Darius Kadivar

Les Lettres Persanes, Zadig, Candide ...

by Darius Kadivar on

Thanks for this interesting blog Princess Jaan,

The French Enlighted Lumieres Philosophers who inspired the thoughts and ideas that resulted in the French Revolution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights often looked towards the East for Inspiration ...

Montesquieu the author of "L'Esprit Des Lois" is probably best known by us Iranians for his philisophical Tale: "Les Lettres Persanes".

One of my favorite Lumieres was Voltaire who was a Constitutional Monarchist by the way who insisted on seeing the King Reign like in Great Britian and Not Rule. This opinion actually led him in and out of Prison several times but being extremely popular he was never hurt and was even respected by the Mme de Pompadour the King Louis XV's mistress. Voltaire wrote Zadig Set in Safavid Persia and Candide another political manifesto and social criticism cloaked under the form of a philisophical tale.

Both Les Lettres Persanes and Zadig used an exotic setting and characters in order to make political statements on the injustices not in Persia but in France.

The Characters innocent and naive comments on French society and customs are a pretext to criticize the clergy, the power hungry aristocrats or the rigid political establishment and the King's authoritarian rule.

So it is also interesting to see that in shaping some of the Western values that prevail today as Universal, the French Enlighted Philosophers were quite fascinated by the East and particularly Persia and it's civilization.

As to this interesting debate, I think that if by the would be "Superiority" of Western values, one can argue on the validity of such a claim in that these values are not unique to Western Civilization.

Interestingly Historian Abbas Milani has been researching on the democratic roots in Persian Litterature and philosophy over the centuries and has concluded that these so called "Western Values' were also shared in Iran not as purely Western or Persian for that matter but as Universal values that bond humanity.

But I do share some of the arguments that defending Western Values should not be dismissed or reduced to nationalistic arrogance on grounds that they are a product of colonial imperialism.

I think that the so called "Superiority" of Western Values has less to do with the fact that Democratic ideals and critical thought was born in the West or generated in Ancient Greek civilization but the fact that the political establishments that took shape in Western Europe and ultimately America have endured the test of time but more importantly have led to the triumph of the rule of the people ( that is the Majority) over the unelected ruling establishment that is the Government ( Minority) .

As Such Parlimentary Democracy like in Great Britain under a Constitutional Monarchy or in France with a Secular Republic have lasted the test of time and appear as stable examples of enduring democratic systems of government.

That is why I personally believe that humanity or what is provocatively identified as the "rest" could benefit by adopting if not copying one of the two above models ( French or British) of democracy based on their country's own political and social evolutions rather than wasting their energy in trying to "Re Invent" the "Wheel" so to speak which often has led to an ideological recuperation by ambitious power hungry politicians who under the argument of nationalism or anti colonial struggle end up by establishing an ideologically run dictatorship as has often been the case throughout the 20th Century be it in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy or Stalinist Soviet Union, Castrist Cuba or African, South American or Middle East  dictatorships of the 1970's.

In otherwords most nations who seek genuine democracy would benefit not to oppose "isms" to those Western Values that are actually Universal simply in an aim to Re Invent the Wheel.

From that point of view I feel that Tariq Ramadan ( well known in France as an Islamic Apologist) is nothing more than another demagogue who is simply playing around with academic semantics in order to undermine or shed doubt on the democratic nature of these so called Western values as being racially oriented or a result of colonial arrogance.

The point of the fact is that the "Open Minded" debate which Ramadan would like to see emerge in the West is hardly even possible in most Muslim countries and particularly in religious theocracies.

I feel that Ramadan in trying to sell his interpretation of Islam as being democratic is simply another way of distracting us with another "ism" and avoid the real debate on whether democracy and religion ( whatever that may be, Christian, Bhuddist, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Judaism etc ...) are compatible ?

Secularism whether it was born or not in the West is proven to be the pre-requisite ingredient if a nation wishes to establish an enduring democratic state.

As such all muslim countries have failed to clearly draw a line between politics and religion despite the Revolutions or the nature of their regimes ( Republic or Monarchy). Presidential dynasties have often not to say always replaced Monarchies in nearly all Middle Eastern Republics. Same could be said of other Third World nations be them in Asia or Africa.

More than half a Century after Colonial Wars that ended Europe's colonial powers, it seems to me that blaming the West on grounds of latent colonial ambitions or racism is simply a pretext for most dictatorships to stay in power as had been the case for Iran's theocracy today.

I watched Tariq Ramadan on French TV expressing his outrage for the "Holocaust" Perpetrated in Gaza last year but hardly saw him express the same level of indignation when Iran's theocracy clamped down on peaceful protestors.

Maybe Ramadan (whose wife wears the veil in everyday life) did not want to be contadicted in his convictions ...

As far as I am concerned Ramadan is nothing else but a Charletan but I feel that it is important not to marginalize such individuals by refusing to debate with them or their ideas. It's good that they are given this opportunity to express themselves.

I would have only wished to see the same opportunity of freedom of expression in those muslim countries that claim to have the Moral Superiority over Western Values or interpretation of democracy. Instead most seem to endorse assassination attempts on cartoonists who mock islam in the same way they mock Christianity ...

Which proves that beyond being a Western Value, the Separation of State and Church ( only definitively achieved in France as late as 1906 through a vote in Parliment) is a pre-condition to any democratic system of government.

My humble Opinion,




It is not about us vs. them

by MM on

It is about respecting others' right to practice what they believe in as long as it does not violate my rights.  For example no one in the US is forcing the hejab to come off women, unless they are forced to do so. 

It is the fanaticism in any religion with visions of grandeur that tries to force-feed beliefs unto others, and that should be the basis of the debate. 

Red Wine


by Red Wine on

Great blog like always. God bless you Princess jan :=) .


Ibn Warraq, finally musters some courage- Ali Sina still hiding!

by mannya2001 on

Ibn Warraq has decided that he will no longer live in fear and the shadow.  Finally, he mustered the courage needed to go public.

Ali Sina though continues to live in fear.  He wants to debate this and that person, while hiding behind a computer.  Or perhaps, he fears that people will come to see he is neither an ex Muslim nor an Iranian, rather an Organization like so many others fighting Islam & Muslim beliefs

Marjan Zahed Kindersley

so in a nutshell

by Marjan Zahed Kindersley on

most ideologies/sets of values carry at the core the concept of human flourishing ...


Fortunately these are subject to subjective interpretation - not written in stone -  and above all improvement , which the religious and other 'absolutists' don't seem to understand, as is evident with fascism, theocracies etc.....

Unfortunately, this also means that in a fairly, of what is known as, liberal democracy, the basic and fundamental Civil Right of Habeas Corpus, can and has suddenly disappeared overnight in the USA and US-on-Sea (UK).


From the debate, Ibn Warraq:

"... I do not wish to live in a society where you are stoned for adultery. 

I prefer to live in a society where I get stoned first and then commit adultery."


Thank you, local royalty, for the website.


Re: SamSam

by SamSamIIII on

"You are dividing the world into 'us' and 'them' ..."

Respectfully, I gather you are putting words in my mouth. On the contrare I said ; "True Iran was never "Eastern" in mentality but had a  grand universal outlook at life beyond borders & small timer ideologies of small timer shaikhdoms of the so called "East". Yes they lived in the "East" but had the tolerant global vision of Kiaan...... So they were neither easterners or westerners , but centralists.."

"..Just out of curiosity, is/was there anything wrong with your so called 'true Iranic' culture?"

Guess it all depends on the definition of "wrong" since Omar, Kianouri, Shaikh khazaal, Rajavii , Khomeini, Khamenei, Mottahari, khalkhali, Al Ahmad, Shariaati & many other shaikhs & comrades found many things "wrong" with it too. Mind you, you are talking about an era when there was no prior collective memory or symbols of modern human rights, liberal activism but primitive cruelty & ignorance in which Cyrus or even Darius talked about the ills of injustice, rights of humanity & evils of corruption of minds and deeds. Judging those pioneer icons with one,s post modern standards is more like "monday morning QBing" after the fact, dont you think?.but if you insist then its your opinion & entitled to it . 

Cheers !!!

Path of Kiaan Resurrection of True Iran Hoisting Drafshe Kaviaan //iranianidentity.blogspot.com //www.youtube.com/user/samsamsia



by Princess on

 Just out of curiosity, is/was there anything wrong with your so called 'true Iranic' culture? Self-reflection and self-analysis and the ability to self-criticize are invaluable virtues worth cultivating. The latter takes a lot of courage.

Has it ever occurred to you that this pure culture, you seem to know so much about, might be incredible to most of us exactly because of this untarnished image you keep insisting on.

You are doing the same thing as some people on the panel are criticised for. You are dividing the world into 'us' and 'them'. Everything great comes/came form us, everything 'nasty and rotten' from them.

Just an observation. 




by Princess on

Very well said! I agree with you. I, too, found a common ground with each and every speaker. 

I got quite annoyed at two points. One was where Tariq Ramadan seemed to insist that Islam as a religion provides room for equal rights between men and women, when in fact anybody who has read the An-Nisa surah of the Qur'an would know that is an outright lie! If at any point muslims accept to grant equal rights to both sexes it is because they have also begun to embrace secular values in their religion, which is long overdue. 

The other point that frustrated me a bit was when William Dalrympla kept claiming that the Emperor Akbar was a Muslim. I was delighted when he was set straight both by Ibn Warraq and by a member of the audience.  

But in general, I agree with you. They all had some excellent points and nothing can justify the denial of universal human rights. 



by Princess on

 You are most welcome!


Khaleh Mosheh,

by Princess on

As towards the end of the debate the panel and some of the member of the audience discuss the phrasing of the motion, it becomes clear that the motion should have used 'universal human values' rather than 'Western values' per se. It is, however, true that so far mostly Western liberal democracies  have managed to embrace those values systematically and integrate them in their cultures. 

As you could see, someone in audience also objected to the fact that the non-western values seemed to automatically be equalled with Islamic values, Buddhist values of non-violence were given as another example.



True Iran was never "Eastern" in mentality but

by SamSamIIII on


had a  grand universal outlook at life beyond borders & small timer ideologies of small timer shaikhdoms of the so called "East". Yes they lived in the "East" but had the tolerant global vision of Kiaan carried with em from their ancestoral Aryeh vejeh. So they were neither easterners or westerners , but centralistss as we should be if it wasn,t for the crowd of Ommah who did their best to tribalize us as a one-domensional, id-less eastern herd . KM is right in pointing it out but that cylander is not an eastern per say legacy but of minority Aryeh vejeh migrant pioneers of hope in a patriarchal,ancient,closed minded & rotten east . Yet the reality today is what we see of ourselves as evident in the picture above. Just another ommatie satelite of the east. Cheers!!!


Path of Kiaan Resurrection of True Iran Hoisting Drafshe Kaviaan //iranianidentity.blogspot.com //www.youtube.com/user/samsamsia

Jahanshah Javid

Human values

by Jahanshah Javid on

Thank you so much for sharing this debate. I watched it with great interest. I found common ground with all the speakers, without exception.

I do agree that fundamental values that have been institutionalized and practiced primarily in Western countries are what every society needs. Specifically, all people should be free to think, believe and speak freely. All people are equal regardless of faith, gender, status, nationality, race...

I do not agree that these values are "Western". I think it is a mistake to draw a geographic line and divide people into "Us" and "Them". The values and freedoms we all need and seek are universal -- historically and geographically.

What we must defend and assert are human values, values that have shining examples in many cultures, in all continents, in various chapters in history. Values that have been enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is a document gathered and endorsed not by the United States or the United Kingdom, but the United NATIONS.

I would not spend too much time arguing about whether fundamental freedoms are Western or universal. Call them any name you like. What it comes down to is that every person on this planet deserves them . Wherever freedom has flourished, humanity has flourished.

Even democracies that have committed genocide (and continue to commit atrocities across their borders) have reversed course or moderated their behavior through debate, challenge and criticism guaranteed in their free societies.

Finally, and most importantly for Iranians and Muslims in general, inhuman and undemocratic policies and practices must be condemned, exposed, challenged and criticized in our countries at every opportunity. We all have the right to enjoy fundamental, universal human rights and freedoms regardless of what religion the majority believe in.

Any government, any group, any person who tries to curb or crush these rights in the name of Islam or any other religious or secular ideology should be resisted.

Nothing can justify the denial of our rights -- not cultural relativism, not velayate faghih or any other type of religious rule, not saltanate shahanshahi under an unelected hereditary monarch, not Aryan supremacism (whatever the hell that is), not secular dictatorship of any form or shape...



by yolanda on

Hi! Princess,

     Your blog makes me think, I am learning here.



khaleh mosheh

Dear Princess- Great blog,

by khaleh mosheh on

I just wonder Is it the superiority of the western values or the inferiority of Islamic values?- bearing in mind the 'east' had the cyrus cylinder a while back.