She writes as follows: “During the prime time of Islam there were 135 different schools of thought. In Cordoba, Spain, there were 75 libraries alone. In Andalusia during the Middle Ages teachers let their pupils interpret the Koran on their own, and encouraged them to find more readable versions. The practice of ‘Ijtihad’ turned the Islamic world into the leader in knowledge, curiosity and creativity. During the periods of unrest and radical political change in the 11th century, the caliph of Baghdad reduced the 135 schools of thought to four, all of which preferred a very strict interpretation of Islam. Fatwas were introduced: scholars were not allowed to contradict any of the conservative interpretations. Very little has changed since. All of this happened not for theological or spiritual reasons, but for political ones. This is why today we have the opportunity to revive critical thought.”
THE ONLY CERTAINTY IN LIFE IS CHANGE
Revolutionary discoveries, population growth and more recently global climate change make it hard to find the model for a "just" society
"If I have seen further than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants." These words were spoken by Isaac Newton (1642-1727) who had discovered the force that became known as gravity. He was referring to scientific giants such as Galileo and Kepler on whose work he was able to build his theories. Newton's discoveries were valid for more than 200 years, when it was Einstein's turn in the 20th century to discover something new and prove that time and space are relative. Ptolemy (87-150) had been luckier as a scientist. Even though his theory was wrong, it was accepted for over 1300 years. From his observations he had concluded that the earth was at the centre of the universe and all other planets revolved around it. It was left to Nikolaus Kopernikus (1473-1543) to later firmly place the sun at the centre of our planetary system.
How much harder is it to predict human reactions, to understand their thoughts and emotions! Christians are called upon to love their enemy. The Islamic faith preaches to search for a "just" society. The experience which citizens have made with rulers who acted in the name of their religion has been very varied. The Christian Habsburg rulers in Austria persecuted non-Catholic Christians, - the Protestants - for decades after the devastating religious wars between 1618 and 1648, called the “30-years' war”. In an ill-fated combination of religion and power politics, the Christian rulers branded these unorthodox believers as "heretics". So it was no surprise that, when the Ottoman Turks besieged Vienna around 1683, they were able to fight alongside Hungarian Aristocrats. These numerous Hungarian Protestants had preferred to be ruled by the Ottoman sultans rather than by the Habsburgs, because under the Islamic crescent they enjoyed more political independence and more freedom to practise their 'book' religion.
Present-day societies in Europe as well as on other continents have become very mixed in their set-up of nationalities. Historians and political scientists try to analyze these conditions and diverging developments of countries around the world. For many centuries, Islamic countries were far more advanced than others at the time, yet more recently they have had to experience a relative backwardness.
Irshad Manji is a young Muslim lady who was born in Uganda and now lives in Canada. She is a well-known book author and TV presenter.
Rudolph Chimelli, another analyst who writes for important German national dailies, has given this account: “Historical disruptions did not stimulate the Islamic world towards change. The
destruction of Baghdad by the Mongolians brought about an impoverishment of Islamic culture from which the Islamic world never fully recovered. To Arabs, Andalusia is their lost paradise for which
they feel bereaved. The discovery of America and the sea route to India moved the Middle East from the centre of the trade routes of the time and from the centre of antique culture to the periphery.
Islamic societies were able to survive all of this with self-confident steadfastness. It was not until the defeat of Arabs in the wars against Israel and America’s massive penetration into the region
that a reaction took place. But it was not primarily with the aim to introduce reforms. No concepts were developed. Nationalism, liberalism, socialism and all other “isms” had shown to be a failure.
This was the hour of Islamism.”
The message of Islam was enthusiastically taken up by the peoples of a large number of countries in the Orient and in Africa from the 7th century onwards. The Koran conveys the message to Muslims: “You are the best nation that was ever created for mankind. You promote everything that is good, and you fight against everything that is evil, and you believe in God.” It is pleasing to hear such words. People will instinctively resist change that might affect the reliability of the extended family and the village community. Innovation – bida – is a word that rouses suspicion in Islamic theology. The pursuit of traditions, decision-taking on the basis of past experience, as well as on tapping the experience and wisdom of ancestors, were the order of the day. Innovation was not appreciated and was not looked for.
Meanwhile, far-sighted Muslims in the 19th century were already aware of the fact that their own world had fallen behind the Occident and needed reforms. These were reformers such as the Egyptian Rifaa al Tahtau and Mohammed Abdu, the Persian national Dschamal-ad-Din al-Afghani, or, at a later date, the Indian national Mohammed Iqbal. It was the military setbacks as initially experienced with the conquest of Egypt by Napoleon, which began to open the eyes of the reformers. Soon they began to realise that Western superiority was not alone based on technology, but also on freedom of thought, the rule of law, national solidarity, and the limitation of arbitrary rule. These ideas were taken up by the leading intellectuals of the time.
The European Union is home to around 25 million Muslims, accounting for roughly 5.5 per cent of the overall population. Since most of these Muslims have emigrated from their countries of origin to escape oppression or poverty and are here to stay, the question of their integration is gaining in importance. But so far, progress on this front has been sluggish. Muslims do not have the opportunity to take an active part in shaping these societies. Seclusion is the result, which in turn is believed to be an ideal breeding ground for radical ideas and terrorism.
Cem Özdemir, 39, a leading member of the German Greens party and member of the European Parliament with a Turkish background has made this statement: “The problem is expectations, not only in Germany, but in other countries in Europe as well. There is the attitude that the more secular you become, the more you are a “good citizen”. It’s very complicated. If society expects a Muslim not to be a Muslim, but a good citizen, we have a problem.”
Islam is still a religion of a community and not an individual belief. Being a member of a community of believers is essential to the practising Muslim. From the community he receives support and security. It can be a great source of self-respect. This is particularly attractive for all those who have their doubts about the modern way of life or who even despair of it.
The rift between cultural life and religion is most obvious in Europe. Migration has cut the direct link between religion and society that prevails in Muslim societies. In Pakistan, Afghanistan or Egypt it is easy even for non-practising Muslims to adhere to the rules of fasting during Ramadan, as almost everybody does so. But how is a Muslim, as a member of a minority group in Europe, to live under Christians and Jews, under apostates and unbelievers? Can he live at all in a liberal and secular society?
A Muslim in Europe must take a decision. He must determine himself whether the religious rules are to take centre stage in his life, which of these rules he can abandon, and how he is to translate into action those that he wishes to practise. In Europe, he my even damage his career if he does so. Alternatively, he can choose to ignore religious rules, or consider them as being symbolic. The Ulema in Europe, the Islamic theologians, cannot help the believer in this respect, as he too is isolated from a Muslim culture. Therefore the believer must decide for himself what his religion will look like. Whatever decision he takes, he must build his religion by himself.
Very dissimilar events have shaped the histories of Europe and those of the Orient. A Muslim living in England who recently took part in an internet debate on Islam made the following remark: “I can understand why Europeans abhor religion to be involved in politics. When churches ruled the land, Europe regressed to the Dark Ages, and people shiver at what used to go on. For a Muslim, however, when Islam was the political force, we had our enlightenment age. Even the Jews enjoyed their golden age under the rule of Islam. We see religion as the centre of all aspects of life, and we see the failings of countries in the Middle East as a direct consequence of their abandoning Islam as the guide. Countries are run as a family business by the ruling despot, looking after their own interests first. Over there, religion is controlled by the politicians.”
Olivier Roy, research director at the “Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique” in France, has made the following analysis: “From Egypt to Bangladesh, writers and poets can rarely work creatively. Frequently the supposedly laic, but rather authoritarian, regimes from Egypt to Algeria participate in this onslaught against culture. Fundamentalism is therefore not a protest against threatened traditional cultures: it is an expression of its non-existence. The modern forms of fundamentalism must therefore not be confused with a clash of civilizations. Young people do not become fundamentalist because western civilization ignores the culture of their parents – which they themselves usually do not think very highly of – but because this culture no longer exists for them. It is a culture that has gone lost. This phenomenon can above all be seen in the second generation of young Muslims in Europe. One form of radicalism, which can be called “Jihadism”, is an unhealthy consequence of the westernization of Islam. Although it is aggravated by the Middle East conflict, it is not a pure export from this region to Europe. Not a single Palestinian, Afghan citizen or Iraqi is found among those terrorists who work at an international level. This violence is produced by a general transformation of Islam through a number of factors: immigration into western societies, the existence in these societies as a minority, as well as the import of a western lifestyle into Muslim societies – in the economy, the arts, or in religion. The religious sentiment of fundamentalists is individual and linked to a certain generation. It is a rebellion against the religion of their parents.”
A negative course of events as pursued by the West, such as the war against Iraq for instance, must of course also count as a source for rebellious feelings. The recent violent street fights in France, during which hundreds of cars were burnt down, have clearly shown the prevailing aggressive feelings and the lack of real integration of Muslim citizens. The attacks in London on July 7th, 2005 also show that more constructive dialogue is necessary in order to balance the contradictory worlds. More than 500 British Muslim leaders and scholars condemned these killings, and said suicide bombings were “vehemently prohibited” by the Islamic faith. The British Muslim Forum, represented by more than 50 Muslim leaders, issued the fatwa outside the Houses of Parliament. This came a day after a leading UK think tank, the “Royal Institute for International Affairs”, published a study suggesting that the Iraq war had made Britain more vulnerable.
Military conflicts, a mixture of cultures in present-day societies and the effects of globalisation are making themselves felt rather negatively nowadays. The essence of cultural globalisation is basically the imposition of values that are linked to the market. “Get better, or get beaten”, is the message of today’s competitive world, where we must all keep in line with dynamic nations around the world. Efficiency, material rationality, thinking in terms of costs and benefits, mobility requirements and economic growth all diminish traditional values and undermine the stability of social relationships. Cultural dominance is of course linked to symbols like “McDonalds”, Coca Cola, CNN, the internet, Hollywood, and English as being the world language. These symbols are understood around the world as an “Americanization” of world culture. The USA was indeed a leading proponent of creating liberal terms of trade. They also helped to enforce a policy of the deregulation of markets. People easily associate the political dominance of the USA on account of its economic as well as military superiority with the symbols of cultural dominance, and therefore many suspect globalisation to be a product of US hegemony. But the essence of cultural globalisation is not just an Americanization of the world, but the imposition of values that are linked to the market. The value of globalisation is the value of capitalism.
Democracy may be a viable solution to the confusion because it allows both the majority and the minority groups to have an adequate say according to their proportional number in the overall society. Hamideh Mohagheghi, born in Iran in 1954, has been living in Germany since 1977. She has this opinion: “I accept democracy. Not because it is ideal or perfect, but because it is a product of human reason, and in a modern state it is the only state system in which the basic human rights are being granted and defended. For this reason, it is also the political system which agrees with basic Islamic principles”.
Islamic theologians who support this view justify it with statements in the Koran and with the way of life of Prophet Mohammed and the first caliphs. Prophet Mohammed distinguished between revelation and worldly decisions. He conveyed his revelations from God to his fellow countrymen as he received them, and it was left to the people whether they would accept these revelations or not. Whenever he took worldly or political decisions he would always emphasize that he was a human being like everyone else: the resolutions on state affairs were taken after consultation and majority decision-taking.
Professor Mehmet Pacaci of the theological faculty of the University of Ankara trains Islamic theologians. His answer to the question whether Islam is compatible with modern times probably corresponds with the thoughts of many Muslims: “The West is very dominant. It thinks that all others must subordinate to its standards. The West thinks that its approach of scientific thinking is the only thing that provides salvation. Success in science and technology seem to confirm this. The West should get itself involved with other cultures and not vice versa. A modern religion is always based on tradition. Every Islamic country, Turkey or others, looks back on its own development and peculiarities with regard to religion as well. And every country will need to find its own answers to its problems.
Modern Europe is founded on a secular image of the world. God and practised religion are irrelevant in this image. But this view is against the nature of Christianity as much as it is against Islam to the same extent. Actually it is against every religious tradition on earth. But Europe has also brought forward new values and principles such as the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience as well as the human rights. Once it has cast aside this anti-religious image of the world, the Islamic theology can develop itself on the basis of these values.”
Tariq Ramadan, born in 1962, is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the Egyptian founder of the “Muslim Brotherhood” in 1928, an Islamic revival movement that spread from Egypt throughout the Arab world, criticizing Western decadence and advocating a return to Muslim values. Ramadan has a large Muslim following in Europe and can be considered to be the leading Islamic thinker among Europe’s second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants. The Geneva-based university lecturer says: „I’m a European who has grown up here. I don’t deny my Muslim roots, but I don’t vilify Europe either.” His chosen task is to invent an independent European Islam: “We need to separate Islamic principles from their cultures of origin and anchor them in the cultural reality of Western Europe.” With 25 million Muslims in the EU, Ramadan believes it’s time to abandon the dichotomy in Muslim thought that has defined Islam in opposition to the West. While the first generation jealously guarded their cultural links with their homeland, their children and grandchildren have often felt torn between two cultures. “What I’m saying is, be proud of who you are”, says Ramadan. “We’ve got to get away from the idea that scholars in the Islamic world can do our thinking for us. We need to start thinking for ourselves. I can incorporate everything that’s not opposed to my religion into my identity,” he says, “and that’s a revolution.” That also means making European mosques independent of foreign funding and influence. “The real question is about spirituality,” he says. “If the presence of Muslims leads Europeans to think about who they are and what they believe in, that has to be positive.”
Putting stars in their right perspective does not have such a great effect on our everyday lives, yet other discoveries certainly do. Referring to his famous formula for the definition of energy, E=mc2, which provided the tools for building the nuclear bomb and with it the possibility to destroy civilization, Albert Einstein once said that if he had known the consequences of his theoretical work beforehand, he would have become a watchmaker! The inventions of the steam engine, wireless communication, the automobile, and more recently the computer that enables information to travel easily around the world inside a few seconds, have also altered our lives forever. In the year 1800 there were a billion people on earth. By 1900 the number had increased to 1.6 billion. In 1999, the 6th billion mark had been passed. The UN estimates that in 2026 there will be eight billion human beings. This development is bound to have repercussions. Climate change, natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes warn us to pay more attention to our natural resources. Terrorist attacks, violent clashes, conflicts that are not sorted out constructively but militarily, are on the increase. Not the history of the western world or the Middle East has brought this forward, but globalisation and the merging together of all of history. Its home is a world that has gone out of joint (Olivier Roy).
Standing on the shoulders of giants and looking far into the future, what can we see?
There are not many certainties in life that we can hold on to permanently. Whether history will take a more peaceful and constructive turn, and thereby perhaps secure our survival, depends on future decisions taken. ‘Jihad of the sword’ as guidance occupies the lowest rank. ‘Jihad of the heart’ enjoys the highest rank. It is up to us which way to go and what actions to take. That applies to individuals as much as to superpowers.
published in DEFENCE JOURNAL in January 2006
Aversion as well As Attraction
Societies are changing everywhere - but the Islamic world must find its own way to modernity
"How to win friends and influence people" is a book that was written by the American author Dale Carnegie and became a bestseller in the 1950s. ‘How to make enemies and lose the hearts and minds of people’ is a drama currently being enacted in many regions of the world. The successful book about making friends has in the past given invaluable advice to millions of readers, who used it to be more successful or popular in life, and to have an influence on other people. It could do with another book like this today to tilt the opinion of political leaders into a more constructive and positive line of thinking and acting! It is the Americans, above all, who should try to understand the mentality of the nations that make up the Islamic world, if they are sincere about wanting to make friends among them and spread freedom and democracy. After all, in an authentic Hadith, Prophet Muhammad has said about choosing friends: And we should stay away from that who is not well mannered and gives no attention to what Islam is about or what pleases or displeases Allah, for he’ll surely affect us negatively.
In his book, Dale Carnegie refers to historical figures to prove his points. For instance, Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), the famous American author, publisher, scientist, politician and philosopher was tactless and full of blunder in his youth, but he worked so hard at himself, that he became extremely adept at handling people and was made American Ambassador to France. Here he was able to negotiate the US-French Treaty of Alliance in 1778, his country’s first foreign alliance. The secret of his success?
"I will speak ill of no man," he said”... and speak all the good I know of everybody. Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” – The author Dale Carnegie argues that, in order to be taken seriously, respect for the other man's opinions must be shown, and one should try honestly to see things from the other person's ideas and desires: “Let the other man save his face. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.”
Such understanding and insight into the psyche of human beings has helped millions of people run their lives in a more constructive and successful way.
Societies everywhere are currently undergoing deep changes, as we are turning into a global village with different nationalities becoming our neighbours, whether we fully appreciate their customs and traditions or not. There is attraction as well as aversion between the groups. Understanding these new neighbours, finding out about their needs, and learning about the background of their sometimes so very different reactions, has become vital if societies around the world are to run smoothly and without too much upheaval. Capital, goods, services, information and people travel freely from one country to another and turn us all into global competitors for money and resources. With the easy flow of data via the computer, large sections of society need not limit their loyalty to the country and the people in their surroundings. They can remain loyal to the culture, the relatives and friends far away, with whom they may be in constant and immediate touch. The impact of this new phenomenon can be extreme. Western societies with their growing number of Muslim immigrants must try to convince them of following a different set of laws which places more emphasis on individual rights and choices, rather than on collective or family pressure. However, western societies themselves are also forced to search their conscience and redefine their approach to daily life.
Immigrants therefore have no easy task in finding a balance between their two worlds and dual loyalties. Being forced to - or perhaps voluntarily - living in one place physically, yet feeling culturally loyal to another, forces all the sides in society to find a compromise – based on the values they have in common.
Islam has been present in Europe for a long time – it is here to stay and is at present also becoming more popular. With the world changing at a faster pace than anybody has been able to predict, with values becoming so diverging and uncertain, turning to religion gives the familiar comfort needed and provides support as well as identity. The term “European Muslims” was coined back in the 19th century for those followers of Sunni Islam who follow the legal school of Abu Hanifa. They were to be differentiated from Arab Muslims. The term was therefore applied to those Muslims who live in Turkey - three per cent of its territory lies on the European continent – as well as in Russia and the Balkans.
Statistics say that on the entire European continent – including Poland, the Baltic States and Russia, there are as many as 53 million Muslims. In the European Union the figure hovers around 14 million.
Interest in Islam has become manifest in Germany many decades ago. Back in 1927, a student from Syria, Mohammed Nafi Tschelebi, founded the institute ‘Islam-Archive’ and began to collect valuable documents. He not only wanted to build bridges between the Islamic world and Germany, but also to create a cultural and spiritual centre. The Second World War interrupted this important work, but in 1956 reconstruction began, and in 1982 the headquarters were moved to Soest in Westphalia, and the institute was then directed by Salim Abdullah. Mr Abdullah is the son of a Bosnian Muslim who works as a journalist, specializing on his expert knowledge of Islam. Momentarily the Islam-Archive owns the biggest collection of Islamic texts known to exist in Germany. 600.000 documents and more than 300.000 data on the history of Islam can be found in this archive. 150 daily newspapers, magazines, press releases and material from news agencies are evaluated regularly for this purpose. The institute also owns a valuable collection of Koran editions in the German language. Salim Abdullah has in the past been chosen to head the German section of the Islamic Congress at the United Nations and has been a member of the governing board of the World Islamic Congress.
Besides collecting documents, the Islamic Archive Institute (Zentralinstitut Islam-Archiv e.V.) carries out an annual survey among the approximately three million Muslims in Germany. The survey is sponsored by the Ministry for Home Affairs. For this purpose, the institute has interviewed 1.000 Muslims and 13 Muslim organisations. For 2005 it has ascertained a number of facts: There have been 1.152 conversions to Islam, an increase of 46 % compared to the previous year. There are around 14.352 Muslims of German origin. There have also been more conversions from Islam to Christianity, most of whom are Iranian Shiites. On average, there are around 60 conversions from Islam to Christianity per year. Of the approximately three million Muslims in Germany, twelve per cent are organised in one of the many Islamic communities. It is estimated that around 30 % of all Muslims living in Germany visit a mosque regularly. Others seek representation through other groups, such as political parties or civil initiatives. There is the organisation called “Shura” for instance, which was first established in Hamburg and Lower Saxony, and which is currently enjoying much popularity. These associations are not affiliated to any concrete Muslim organisation and were set up in order to discuss problems together and find solutions. There are around 47 of such Islamic communities and the number is growing.
Landscapes are visibly changing, too. As many as 143 classical mosques have so far been inaugurated in Germany. Another 128 are to be built. Out of the existing mosques, 100 belong to “DITIB”, behind which the Turkish ministry for religion in Ankara is the responsible body. Three are sponsored by the Islamic World League in Mecca. Ten belong to the Turkish group Islamic Community Milli Görüs, IGMG, which, however, seems to prefer to establish a parallel world for its members and is therefore being observed by German authorities; three mosques belong to the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Islamic community; one to the Jama’at-i-Islami; one to the Shia Muslim community; and 24 to the Ahmadiyya-Muslim-Jama’at group. Besides these mosques built in a classical style, there are another 2.600 Muslim prayer rooms.
The German state first of all must understand the needs and wishes of its Muslim communities. The creation of an umbrella organisation representing all Muslim communities at state level is the goal that is being aimed for at present. The plans are for a federal structure, starting from the local level and moving up to state level, with elections taking place in every participating mosque. The principle of a secular state requires that all religious communities be treated as equals - Christians, Muslims, Jews as well as other religious communities. At special ceremonies, representatives from the Christian church as well as the Jewish community are regularly invited. What is missing of course is such a representative from the Muslim communities. This means that the many different Muslim communities in Germany must find out what they have in common and which measures are best suited for the needs of its members. They can then decide on a representative official authority and choose a spokesperson. This organisation will also need to be professional, permanent, unified as well as transparent in its decision-making process, if Muslims want to be treated equally with the Christian and Jewish communities.
The head of the Islamic Council, Ali Kizilkaya, who migrated from Turkey to Germany in 1972, has recently stated: “We Muslims must ask ourselves whether we want to become part of this society, or whether we wish to permanently stay an appendage of the Islamic institutions of our home countries. For the sake of our children, we need to focus more on German society and adapt ourselves. We must find our very own standpoint. We therefore cannot hold on to definitions which have an altogether different meaning over here. We must find a common language.”
In schools around Germany, the percentage of foreigners in classes in some regions has become exceedingly high. There are even a few schools that only have children with a migratory background and no Germans at all! The result is that it is extremely hard to convey knowledge of the German language to these youngsters coming from abroad, as Turkish or Arabic is being spoken in the breaks and after school. This in turn will give the children a big handicap when later trying to find employment. In order to find a remedy for this, a new concept has been worked out, called the “Koala” concept (Koordinierte zweisprachige Alphabetisierung im Anfangsunterricht). It is already being practised in more than a dozen schools in North-Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin and the state of Hesse, three out of the 16 German states, each of which is alone responsible for political decisions taken in matters of education. Every week, several of the lessons are given in two languages – German and Turkish, or German and Arabic. Two teachers are in the class simultaneously conveying their lessons. Those children who did not get a chance to learn German beforehand, hereby no longer feel isolated or excluded. They are being encouraged to participate and learn, instead of mentally just “switching off” because they do not understand the language. The German children realize that they must not discriminate or judge the other children because of their lack of knowledge in the German language. They will also become more interested in other cultures, as they are gradually becoming more familiar with the background of their class mates. Intercultural friendships will arise more easily. Germans have to get used to the fact that it has a number of citizens with perhaps darkish complexions and different cultural backgrounds who are entitled to the same rights and privileges and duties as they are, because they have become “German citizens.”
But Germany is currently undergoing severe economic changes. Unemployment lies at around ten per cent and is higher among migrants and higher in the formerly communist eastern states of Germany. From next year, the Value Added Tax (VAT) is to be increased by an unprecedented three per cent, the largest increase ever since the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time, unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed are being cut down. But what about those youths whose parents, grand-parents and all known ancestors have been living in Germany? Should those youngsters, many of whom are with little or no perspective of holding a permanent job, not get preferential treatment over foreigners? The six new federal states of the formerly communist German Democratic Republic, GDR, do not have such a tradition of openness towards other cultures. Their citizens were only allowed to travel abroad if they remained within the communist bloc. Incidents of violence against foreigners have recently occurred in some of these new states. They have been condemned by the government and prominent politicians and citizens alike. The “Neonazi” scene is to be watched closely, and tough measures are being proposed against this development. Germany certainly does not want a repeat of its past when the National Scoialists invented racist theories that ultimately culminated in a world war.
Islamic cultures are probably affected to an even greater extent when it comes to social changes. A Lebanese intellectual and chief editor of a cultural magazine in his country, Abbas Beydoun, speaks of the Arab culture as having collapsed. The article was published in a German magazine called “Kulturaustausch” (Cultural Exchange): "The McDonald's brand is not alone in offering a source of provocation to our Arab farmers and intellectuals. It is, in fact, not the first of the many foreign brands to have effected profound changes, within a few decades, to our eating habits, clothing, furniture, architecture, life-style and leisure time. The trouser revolution is just one example of a western product, whose influence was certainly more far-reaching than that of McDonald's. The change in the way of life was not very hard, but it was accompanied by an increased hatred against the "conquering West", and probably too with a degree of self-loathing for having accepted and nurtured the Western virus and allowed it to spread within us. A whole culture has collapsed within a few decades. The change has also influenced our literature, arts, music and thought. But we have become neither Westerners nor part of the West. It is as if we had been asleep during the process of change, as if it were not our own history, something that does not reflect our own identity.”
Because of this, Abbas Beydoun maintains, the idea and principle of tradition remain alive in the shape of ideology, even though the old conventions have collapsed. To come to terms with reality, ideology is upheld, free, independent and beyond any test of applicability - controlled by its own inclinations and urges. Globalisation to intellectuals in Lebanon, for instance, means an increasing feeling of lagging behind and being unable to keep up. The matter should, in fact, be dealt with on the same symbolic level. Abbas Beydoun is of the opinion that it requires a real alternative answer by the Islamic world through an ideological and political approach.
THE PREFERENCE GIVEN TO ISRAEL MEANS A CONTINUOUS REINFORCEMENT OF THE SUPREMACY WEST AND ITS DENIAL OF ARAB RIGHTS
A solution to the Middle East conflict is also essential for an improvement of relations, Abbas Beydoun argues: “It could be said that aid will remain meaningless as long as the international preference for Israel continues to present an image of continuing colonial aggression and increasing contempt for the Islamic peoples. Strictly speaking, for the peoples of the Orient, Israel is not an oriental country but an instrument of the West. The preference given to Israel means a continuous reinforcement of the supremacy of the West and its denial of Arab rights. The discourse on the equality among different cultures and civilisations makes no sense for those who believe that the preference given to Israel is a daily, tangible declaration of inequality and that this preference is, in a way, a sort of self-preference and a confirmation of supremacy, too."
The popular German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” has recently argued that the fall of the Berlin Wall also has something to do with America's obvious preference for Israel. During the cold war, America paid much attention to Jordan. Egypt had even been broken out of the Soviet alliance. At the time, America pursued the aim of containing communism. It was high time now a public debate was being held in the USA on this issue, the journal concludes. -
Having partly overcome one hostile ideology, America should avoid building up a new kind of hostility towards its nation and its ideals, and should instead show more considerateness towards Arab and other Islamic countries. The USA should try once more, as in the past, to be a more honest and impartial peace broker in the Middle East conflict. If not, the trend towards a new bipolar world, with all its harsh conflicts and visible or invisible walls, will be unstoppable.
Understanding people’s anger and frustrations, taking a genuine interest in them and showing respect are the basic principles of conducting better relationships in social life. There is good and evil in everyone. A secure income, education, culture and a friendly environment usually brings out the best in us. Poverty, ignorance and a hostile environment may bring out the worst. In other words: If you want to make friends instead of creating new enemies among people it is a good policy to help them and appeal to their good qualities. Then we can find a common language and seek the compromises that are necessary to adapt to the changing societies of our forever changing world.
published in DEFENCE JOURNAL in June 2006