Friday, July 22, 2005


William Pfaff writes in the IHT what I have been trying to find a way to articulate for a while now.

He argues that terrorism is the snarl of the traditional, bristling at the onslaught of godless, soulless, materialistic Western modernity.

But the West is trying to impose not only foreign ideas on everyone else, but ideas that contradict and would destroy the fundamental values and assumptions of non-Western societies.
It says: This is progress. Our progress is your destabilization, the destruction of your cultures, the creation of millions of culturally alienated, deracinated, displaced persons, ripped from their own past to become integrated into a radically materialistic ethic.
It should hardly be surprising that the reaction to this is nihilistic violence.

It is worth fully grasping the import of this. While our arrogance makes us look at the world beyond as different, as strange, as uncivilised and barbaric, it is in fact we who are alien. The vast majority of people on this planet live as they have done for countless generations: over the course of history, great civilisations would be built up around specific technologies of economic production, divisions labour, military organisation and advanced tools. These civilisations would sometimes fall under the weight of their own internal contradictions; other times they would come into contact with civilisations with stronger - or at least, more appropriate - technologies, and they would be conquered. Few lasted.

Our Western civilisation may yet succumb to its internal contradictions, but that has been prophesied for generations and shows little sign of coming to pass in the next. But the fact of the matter is that it is still an anomaly.


Blogger Hasenauer said...

Don't forget, though, that this contradiction is mirrored by one in 'traditional' societies; they want to have their progress cake, and eat their tradition, too.

The question is whether they can achieve this in the context of their own value system. Europeans developed this particular idea of progress, but that does not mean that it is anchored irrevocably to European culture, simply that adaptations will be required. Amr Khaled has much to say on this with regard to the Arab world.

Resolving the contradiction between 'progress' and 'tradition' is neither possible nor desirable. The tension between them is what defines and motivates our societies. True progress lies in finding ways to accomodate the contradiction.

3/8/05 16:05  
Blogger waterboy said...

I'd agree that it is very much a question of whether they can do this within their given sociopolitical context - but I'd point out that no matter which way you put it, it's going to be painful. In Europe, the advent of modernity resulted in revolution after revolution, to insurgencies and assassinations, to the polarisation of societies and near -constant war, culminating in two cataclysmic confrontations that sucked the rest of the world into our very Euoprean mess. I rather think that the Arab world is going through its own version of that at the moment.

4/8/05 16:00  

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