Globalization and the Muslim Society

With the advances of rapid transportation, instant information and communication, the world, from Atlantic to Afghanistan, is converting into a global village; the distance and difference are changing substantively and speedily and becoming irrelevant. The line of demarcation between diverse cultures and civilizations, in the ever-shrinking world, is said to be becoming blurred. The assimilation process is giving rise to the phenomenon of the so-called globalization; a universally integrated social and cultural environment where science and technology will be shared and free trade will prevail among nations. With the premise that all cultures are equal, the presumed global culture, we are told, would be equally participated and shared by entire human race; thus enlarging the scope of international solidarity and fellowship.

However, when we cut through the elitist’s rhetoric of globalization, we find ourselves twinkling around at the glimmering light of the western world. The culture and liberal capitalism that is being pushed, under the cover of globalization, in the Muslim countries is not global; it is but a western culture based on the core values and core achievements of the western civilization. It’s simply an attempt at imposing of the cultural-forming institutions of the dominant west on the feeble and frail nations – nations who suffered cultural degeneration during the long colonial rule and incapable of mounting any formidable resistance against the onslaught of western social, cultural, and political ideology.

Why western culture is finding place in the Muslim land? Today, Muslims, from the effects of internal decline and decay, are down on the slippery road into the cesspool of political and cultural annihilation. The state of privation in every area – economic, political, educational, militarily – has afflicted them with collective sense of national and cultural inferiority complex. The acquired low self-esteem, in turn, creates timid personality and subservient mind, useful only in inferior capacity. Taking advantage of flux and chaos, the more dynamic and virile western nations saturate the Muslim society with cultural products, possessing certain intrinsic qualities, in a subtle and seditious way, to alter, if not eliminate, its basic dynamics in favor of western culture and ideals.

Though, it is true that lack of economic development create fertile environment for "soft invasion” by the more developed countries; nevertheless, the real villain in the national tragic drama is the meaningless educational system, a remnant of the colonial times. The inherited colonial schooling system in the Muslim countries is incapable of producing assertive citizenry confident in its ability to be counted as a distinct people with a well-defined culture. How could we expect the educational system devised by the colonial powers to serve their imperialistic needs to create intellectuals to beliefs in the superiority of their own religion and culture? The system is intentionally adept to produce inert, deferential and passive coolies who bow down and say "yes saheb".

The culture pattern of Muslim nationalities, thus, capitulates to the mores and ethos of the dominant ones. The phenomenon is not new. When Islam was the dominant force on the earth, the tide was reverse. W. Montgomery Watt in his book, The Influence of the Islam on Medieval Europe, has acknowledged that the general feelings of the Europeans against Muslims, during the height of their power and prosperity, was one of the inferiority complex. He writes "The feeling of inferiority with which Western Europe confronted Islamic civilization had various facts. Islamic technology was superior to European at many points and more luxuries were available to wealthy Muslims…"

At another place he says, "The Christians under Muslim rules were so closely identified with the culture of the rules in EVERYTHING (emphasis is mine) except religion that they came to be known as Mozarabs (i.e. Arabicised) or Arabizers…" He further says, “The Jews, whose position had been improved by the Arab invaders, also accepted the dominant culture in every thing except religion.”

Today, the dominance belongs to the secularized West. From the matters of intellect in the science and technology to manners, language, dress, and even food are regarded as superior to all other civilizations. Anything western is welcomed and patronized in the East, particularly, in the Muslim countries. With the feeling of shame and inferiority for their non-western origin, the upper crust of the Muslim societies proudly apes the western mode of life. The opening of American franchise restaurants such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and KFC in Pakistan with official fanfare is another link in the long chain of cultural, among other aspects of life, enslavement. Some have dubbed it "neo-colonialism". The media gives prominent coverage to the opening ceremonies of the American franchise. The Pakistani government once demolished WAPDA’s, a national agency, building in Lahore to provide parking for McDonalds’ customers. Mind you, McDonalds’ clientele in Pakistan do not come from the masses, but from the rich and the very rich, a very tiny fraction of the society. The buyers of Big Mac, a product of American capitalist cultural, in Pakistan are not mere customers; they are tools to carry and propagate the American political and cultural ideology.

Needless to say, that the wind of change that is shaping the so-called globalization is blowing one way, from West to East. The West, with the sense of cultural superiority, wants its system of liberal and capitalistic democracy to be universally implemented, but unwilling to "contaminate" its culture with the intellectual and aesthetic values of the East.

More than 35 years ago when things were not nearly as bad, writer Maish-uz-Zaman made these poignant observations: "In many a drawing room, one learns that the world is growing small and an international culture is forming. In my travels abroad, I looked in vain to find the graceful saree or efficient shalwar being adopted by even a small dissident, rebellious group. I looked in vain for a copy of Daily Jang or even Pakistan Times on a news stand in New York. While Coca-Cola is available anywhere in Pakistan, you could not hope to buy a bottle of Rooh-Afza sherbet anywhere abroad (except perhaps in some Arabian countries)." (I may add here that Rooh-Afza is now available, but only in the Indo-Pak ethnic market).

Further, he deplores the slave culture in these words: "No tailor or designer of Karachi can start a fashion of dress even in Pakistan, not to speak of London or Paris. No carpenter of Lahore can alter the furniture design of the drawing rooms of Gulberg. It is the other side of the coin that wealthy Pakistanis should feel socially comfortable only when they wear their coat and tie in the sweltering heat of Karachi summers or place a bathtub in their house when they know they will never use it except for washing clothes. When a Western wears suit, he is never aware of it. He does so out of necessity. The western man lives as he wears western dress, he is not doing so to upgrade his social standing." (Muslimnews, International, Karachi, January 1974)

Isolated civilizations and confined cultures are, no doubt, things of distant past. In today’s borderless world with a free flow of information, it is indeed quite inevitable not to be affected by the thoughts, attitudes, and culture of the people inhabiting the world. Despite the fundamental differences, the various cultures and civilizations, throughout the history, have exchanged and borrowed ideas, skills, crafts, technology, etc. from one another. The Muslim community, from the time of the Holy Prophet, Sallahu alayhe wasallam, down to the great age of Ottoman Empire, was no different; it has influenced the world with its cultural and social heritage and at the same time benefited from the experiences of others. However, an intelligent and informed observer would note that Muslims of bygone days never allowed any foreign ideas to undermine the basic message of Islam and the ability to create a truly Islamic community. They never accepted norms and values that cut through the objective standards of Islam.

Let me close this piece with a final quote from W. Montgomery Watt: "True nomadic Arabs believed that as man they were superior to all others; and something of this pride came to be attached to Islam, which Muslims regarded as the highest and purest form of the worship of God. This superiority was not vociferously insisted on out of any feeling of uncertainty, but was quietly and constantly assumed with serene confidence."

Muslims need this confidence back to assert their place in the world.