One of the least welcome features of recent debates on Asian values has been the revival of nineteenth-century stereotypes of ‘Asia’ and the ‘West’. As in Prime Minister Mahathir’s comments on the primacy of community and social harmony over individual rights in Asian culture, or Samuel Huntington’s (1996: 207-237) remarks on the uniqueness of Western rationalism, the models of civilization invoked in these discussions tend to be ahistorical and bipolar. The ironies of the contrast are many. Until recently, for example, Asian leaders did not typically think of themselves as sharing unitary values (Pertierra 1999). Many ordinary Asians today still do not. More generally, as Inoue Tatsuo has observed, ‘the concept of Asian values does not convey Asian voices in their fully complexity and diversity . . . [but rather] depends on, or even abuses, the West-centric frameworks that it claims to overcome’ (1999: 29). The same generalization applies in spades to conservative Islamist and Occidentalist characterizations of Islam. Although disagreeing in the substance of their characterizations, the
two camps agree in posing a caricature of Islam in opposition to an equally stereotyped West.