Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why Can’t Muslim Societies Be More Like a Globalised West?

Commentary by Alastair Crooke

New Global Studies Vol. 3 : Issue 2, Article 4.

Published by The Berkeley Electronic Press

"BEIRUT – Many commentators on Islam make the same mistake: They instinctively assume that Muslim resistance to western globalisation reflects the inability of Muslims to accept the social and structural change that ‘modernity’ requires. Muslims, in this view, fail to rise above the ‘closed’ world of cultural traditions, and to embrace change. They shy away from, or react against the ‘choice’ offered by modernity.

The Philosopher, Henri Bergson, writing in 1932, suggested that one reason that some intellectual societies – for which he coined the term ‘closed’ societies – were unable to evolve into ‘open’ societies was that religion arises as a kind of mental habit that binds human intelligence to the instinctive drive for solidarity and continuity. Some societies were simply incapable of lifting themselves above these ‘cultural constraints’ to embrace dynamic society. Karl Popper in his ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’ further refined Bergson to imply that ‘closed’ societies were profoundly inimical to the idea of human freedom......

Perversely, for the past fifty years, it is to the literalists, often called ‘Salafi’ that the West has looked to circumscribe perceived ‘threats to its interests’ arising from the upsurge of revolutionary spirit among Islamists - in a mirroring of Cold War containment thinking.

America and Europe turned to a more docile and apolitical variant of political Islam, which they believed would be more compliant. But in so using the literalist ‘puritan’ orientation, the West has misunderstood the mechanism by which some Salafist movements have migrated through schism and dissidence to become the dogmatic, hate-filled and often violent movements that really do threaten westerners, as well as their fellow Muslims too.

The Western backing of narrow literalism and dogma in an effort to contain the intellectual revolution within Islam, paradoxically has left the Middle East a less stable, more dangerous and violent place. Western policy has empowered a current of literal thinking in Islam that is indeed narrow, intolerant and anti-heterodoxical. These are the movements that are narrowly opposed to all western intrusions into their society.

But possibly of far greater significance than the inflation of the current ‘bubble’ of literalism to the global future, is the recovery within that other ‘grand narrative’, Islam, of an alternative consciousness – another process of thinking that carries the intimation of a possible escape from Cartesian hegemony. In the long run – as the prevalent western paradigm erodes in the wider world - this may assume huge importance."

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