Globalizing Arab identity-between ethnicity and cultural relativity

"Globalizing Arab identity-between ethnicity and cultural relativity"

Paper presented by: Dr. Gawad Fatayer
AUC- Cairo


The ongoing dialogue on the concept of globalisation gives the impression to common people in general and certain thinkers in the world that it is the most up- to- date invention attained as a theory, and as a social, economic and political system. However, I believe that this international and local dialogue on globalisation has spawned three schools of thought that vary in their orientation and predictions. Also they converge by giving the concept a lustre or fears for being a new invention while being resigned to the fact that it is the greatest achievement of economic and political development for building a modern society..
These schools can be summarized as follows:
-One welcomes globalisation as an inevitable reality. Its benefits exceed its shortcomings and in fact joining it could be the outlet for the economic and social conditions we are experiencing.
-The second doubts the intentions and negative dimension of globalisation such as domination, exploitation and the loss of identity as well as specificity.
-The third deems that there should be no prejudgment and the need to be ready for whatever evolves. For globalisation could be better than expected so we should be ready and vigilant.
It seems in general that globalisation is similar to a spaceship on its way to land on earth and the White House and World Bank are the lucky ones to know its arrival time!
Nonetheless, I believe whatever is taking place in the world today is above all the result of political, economic and social changes prevailing worldwide. Speaking of globalisation today is but a depiction of cultural changes as well as the balance of political power caused by the disappearance of a specific culture to be replaced by another. Therefore if we do follow the annals of history we will find that " every era is marked by a nation and by certain men" In fact, nation here implies culture with its holistic meaning that indicates all issues upon which the life of mankind is based. This can be summarized according to two dimensions. These are: the material aspect in terms of nature, technology, science and relationship with the universe and the second is moral or mental that includes language, history, beliefs, values which embody the cornerstones of social structure such as the state, economic development and other institutions. Each aspect in life has its position vis-ˆ-vis culture, either tangible materialism or moral pragmatism as manifested in mankind's behavior, orientation, reaction and ideology in general.
Globalisation is but the supremacy of a culture over other cultures during a certain period in history. That is, this culture has become general or global instead of specific or national. For the prevailing culture does not rule out existing cultures but interacts with them when one type of culture dominates another. History abounds with cultures that prevailed in the world, cultures that attracted mankind then by their capabilities and outlook on life. In fact ancient empires and numerous eastern cultures are but an embodiment of this truth.
I realize that we are not dealing with the history of the evolution of societies but with a major issue to understand the present and look at the future. Therefore I will address the latest developments of globalisation in the 20th century and present an analysis of the two types of globalisation in the said century. I hope this will facilitate an understanding of the discussions on this subject in addition to giving a perspective on the changes in the 21st century.
The world is divided into two general cultures: eastern and western culture. Of course the Arab and Islamic world represent a large part of eastern culture and Europe, America and Canada represent the larger part of western culture. I also believe that the 19th century was the arena which witnessed the clash of these two cultures:. the eastern where Islamic and religious beliefs, values and criteria in particular prevailed. In fact, Islam was considered as a universal cultural system for centuries and spread out comprehensively and profoundly similar to that of the Internet in the world of modern information. This occurred since the dawn of Islam in the 7th century and ended in the Ottoman Empire that had carried the banner of a universal culture, which covered the world eastwards and westwards until the beginning of the 20th century. The basis of this culture with its material and moral dimensions was and continues to be spiritual more than materialistic. That is, it is a culture established on divine faith based on belief in God and deems that life is a means to a greater end. Moreover, it deems that knowledge; materialism and nature are means of worship and regards knowledge as a highlight on faith and piety. It was not possible for this culture to endure in history without technology, political science, a feasible economic system and a comprehensive and stable social system.
The other culture that clashed with eastern Islamic culture is western culture starting with the French revolution until the British campaign raised its banner and could for many reasons and due to the decline of eastern and Islamic culture, dominate the world for long. The prevalence of this culture erased beliefs, values and criteria and instead was replaced by existentialist values such as profit, private ownership, science, research, technology, market economy, consumer power, increased production, monopoly, domination and exploitation.
Moral values such as justice, freedom, democracy and other slogans made everything in life questionable even religion and the existence of the Creator. These philosophies resulted in the separation of religion and state. Scientific and conventional values replaced religious beliefs and life was governed by political and economic ratios set by man as guidelines for human relations in society. In fact, the capitalist and communist systems are but a representation of one idea with two forms: One is based on free economy, competitiveness and private ownership and the other is based on controlled economy and public ownership and what combines them, namely is economy as the core for human existence. Max Fibre's book " Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism" and Karl Marx's "Das Kapital" are two fundamental references for capitalism and communism which revolted against religion.
The two world wars were a natural internal conflict within western culture and its relationship with other parts in the world. Moreover, wars and revolutions for independence during 19th and 20th centuries indicate the failure of western culture and its incompatibility with the peoples and cultures it touched. It is also a reflection of the values of profit, racism, and exploitation which provoked the peoples worldwide against it in their attempt to strive for liberation from colonialism and oppression.
The Islamic presence did not embody a globalisation model in many parts of the world. For the Muslims conquered Egypt many centuries ago and Islam reached Spain, Europe, China and India. The Ottoman Empire fell carrying the last banner of Islam. The peoples in these areas held on to Islam because it incorporated a universal culture even during the absence of the Islamic nation.
The Egyptians did not abandon Islam even after the departure of the Ottomans. Neither did the Europeans in Bosnia, Russia, India or China abandon their Islamic culture whose backbone is Islam.
Discussions, dialogue and clashes continue between cultures. The 20th century has ended and the United States of America plays a leading role with respects western culture that has captured the world with its components based on profit, consumption and free economy. Hence the role of the state shrinks and is substituted by economic institutions that control the capabilities of society as well as foreign policy decision making. Consequently unemployment and degrading social ills are rampant such as poverty, terrorism, drugs and crime while economy, science and modernism evolve rapidly. The market causes the collapse of certain countries and raises others under the slogans of democracy, free market and legitimate profit. Social justice and peace are undermined in many parts of the world. The dominant system alleges that stability, security and prosperity are imminent whereas statistics and facts indicate that the world is divided into powerful producers and miserable consumers. Disparity widens between the poor and the rich in the world which believes that the current culture will surely realize all expectations However the world forgets that there are limits to injustice, to famine, to pain and to oppression. For market ethics cannot establish a culture or compose a way of life. Neither will loud slogans such as freedom, democracy and development alleviate the pain of wars, famine, terrorism, fanaticism, tyranny, and oppression that exude fears and doubts of the future. I believe that Arab Islamic culture lost the opportunity when it abandoned its lofty values and ethics such as freedom, justice, piety, work, knowledge, integrity, moderation and others and was substituted by injustice, tyranny, dependence, ignorance and fanaticism. All this created a wide-ranging gap between the spirit of religions and how their advocates practiced them. Therefore, it is not strange that such globalisation has lost its lustre and was replaced by current globalisation that promised the same lofty Christian values. Nevertheless conventional laws and economy as a political programme was regarded as better means. Yet it has marginalised the role of religion in life and owing to the absence of piety and belief as a peaceful deterrence it resorted to law and the authority. What is witnessed in the world today in terms of deterioration in society such as economic, social, moral and health crises as but the result of the failure of the current globalisation system. This is similar to the two above mentioned systems when people in the Islamic system exaggerated in their passivity forgetting that work and knowledge are considered worship and those in the western system focused on work and knowledge and forgot that trust in God and piety is an absolute necessity. In fact both cultures are losers. For the true spirit of divine faiths presents a moderate picture of existence with its material and moral dimensions. Indeed conservative movements in the world indicate the aspiration for the existence of a more effective system than what is presently offered.
I wish to point out that the 21st century will spark the clashes between existentialist cultures that aim at achieving material objectives among cultures that seek justice and peace. Therefore there is need for the birth of a new concept, although I believe that the 21st century is the time and place for this integrated globalisation that will be capable of confronting the challenges of the forthcoming era....a system that will establish justice, peace and prosperity and wipe out injustice, fanaticism and discrimination... a system that regards the quest for knowledge and work as a sacred " jihad" that will promote profit, private ownership and supremacy of the state with piety.
Undoubtedly Western culture has evolved to its present status by having the power, resources and knowledge it has imparted to the world. However it is unfair not to mention what this culture has drawn in from the world and what other cultures have given to the world.
I believe that the 21st century is the arena where cultures will clash especially those based on faith and piety. Therefore there is no room for Arab identity in the world if it extricates itself from its eastern Islamic culture that considers itself an extension of the three divine faiths. This is the third path aspired by the people today. The Arabs may have a share if justice, peace, freedom, knowledge and work are established instead of fanaticism, oppression, dependence and tribalism. I think that Arab fanaticism was one of the factors that caused the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when they raised the slogan "Arabism above religion".
Globalisation in the 21st century is one with an integrated culture that will elevate mankind and the universe. It is a culture where faith in God and piety are the criteria that determine its dominance and continuation of its movement and universality and characterized by peace and justice. Suffice it that the 20th century witnessed the failure of the democracy of injustice, justice of the market, freedom of power and the unipolar system that led to the deterioration of mankind, his security, safety and happiness because it had not advocated tolerance nor respecting the other, refuting racism, extremism, injustice and oppression.