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Islam, modernity and democracy
April 14, 2009 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Is the west thwarting Arab plans for reform? Few Muslims now invest much hope in the democratic western powers (essentially the US, Britain and France) that back the rulers who oppress them, even if, against the odds, they still admire “western” values, science and culture. There is no endemic or intrinsic conflict between Christians and Muslims. Rather, the root of the problem is that a majority of Muslims is convinced that the west – interested only in a stability based on regional strongmen, the security of Israel and cheap oil – is engaged in a war against Islam and is bent on denying them the freedoms it claims for itself. That is why it is so self-defeating to collude in tyranny as ostensibly a lesser evil than political Islam.

BONUS
Is a high IQ a burden as much as a blessing?
posted by kliuless (32 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
As we've seen these last eight years, The People can be distracted from the need for reform, can be blinded even to their own government's attack on their interests and welfare, if an external enemy can be conjured, and held up as a bogeyman the threat of which justifies and excuses the government's every action.

That this applies as much to The People in various Arab countries as to The People of the United States should be no great surprise.
posted by orthogonality at 7:02 PM on April 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


There was a really good article in Harpers a few years back about this very topic. (And it was apparently so good I made a FPP about it back then.)
posted by chunking express at 7:06 PM on April 14, 2009


Bonus: read this (not written by me): "Fear of failing at any intellectual task, fear of falling in the esteem of colleagues and friends from the role as "the smart one," has plagued so many of us in ways that leave us paralyzed and in dead-end jobs with little motivation to leave."
posted by orthogonality at 7:08 PM on April 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


That this applies as much to The People in various Arab countries as to The People of the United States should be no great surprise.

Yes, but the fact that their boogeyman actually exists complicates things a bit.
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:15 PM on April 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, I had to flag this because that BONUS doesn't appear to have anything to do with the article and therefore this thread will be crippled from the start with 2 conversations.

It's like the FPP is its own derail.
posted by chimaera at 7:37 PM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think imposing the Western schema of "reform" on the situation here might be our main problem.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:55 PM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is the point of the bonus link to suggest that the genius should be working on this problem?
posted by bastionofsanity at 8:10 PM on April 14, 2009


I have to laugh.

The article headline: "Is the west thwarting Arab plans for reform?"

The article's captioned picture: "The many faces of Islamic leadership (clockwise from top left) 1. Osama bin Laden; 2. Saddam Hussein; 3. Rashid Rida, influential Islamist scholar; 4. Mohammad Khatami, former Iranian president; 5. Muhammed Abduh, Egyptian religious scholar regarded as the founder of Islamic modernism; 6. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani; 7. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, who emphasised Islam as a civilisation more than a religion; 8. King Hussein of Jordan; 9. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey; 10. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia."

If those are the 10 most significant leaders of Islam, all the "west" needs to do to "thwart" anything is to, like, merely stand back and let the thwarting just kinda happen all by itself.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:11 PM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


What if some very non-democratic forces use democracy along with strong emotional arguments to get into power? What should we think or do about it, if anything?

(It's not like that has never happened before).
posted by eye of newt at 8:23 PM on April 14, 2009


@Chimaera: This bit from the Triple-9, Mensa Member was Precious:

"A couple people still live with their parents, even as our class approaches 30 years old (I'm 25, but only because I skipped grades)."

Re: The Middle East.

I've maintained for years that the ONLY way to defeat militant Islamic forces is to convert the youth and the population as a whole through cultural dominance. FREE CULTURE bombing, free CDs, Free Games, Free Movies. A whole series of movie networks on analog and Satellite for the Middle east that broadcast first-run movies and play nothing but English, German & French language movies of a spectacular and salacious nature.

The Cultural Imams and the literal ones will do everything to quash this cultural tide; which will of course inflame the desire for it in the youth and much of the rest of the population. Slowly fill the cultural gaps with mid-stream offerings and then eventually subvert Middle-eastern cultures with Western Cultural Melanges. THEN start work on building functional democracies.
posted by NiteMayr at 8:34 PM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


[Please cut the invoking-users-in-absentia shit out, thank you.]
posted by cortex at 8:43 PM on April 14, 2009


NiteMayr: "subvert Middle-eastern cultures with Western Cultural Melanges. THEN start work on building functional democracies."

Like it or not, Britney Spears has already done more to undermine Islamic fundamentalism than Hillary Clinton ever will.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:46 PM on April 14, 2009


If those are the 10 most significant leaders of Islam...

I believe that's more an example of how the media is part of the West in question.
posted by rokusan at 8:46 PM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


A majority of Muslims is convinced that the west [is] interested only in a stability based on regional strongmen, the security of Israel and cheap oil...

Gosh, whatever gave them THAT cockamamie idea?
posted by rokusan at 8:47 PM on April 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


@Joe Beese, I wholeheartedly agree. I only wish that the "Western powers" would do more than sell their cultural wares to the middle east, I wish they would carpet the Islamic world with them.
posted by NiteMayr at 9:09 PM on April 14, 2009


I've maintained for years that the ONLY way to defeat militant Islamic forces is to convert the youth and the population as a whole through cultural dominance. FREE CULTURE bombing, free CDs, Free Games, Free Movies. A whole series of movie networks on analog and Satellite for the Middle east that broadcast first-run movies and play nothing but English, German & French language movies of a spectacular and salacious nature.

So, like, cultural genocide, sorta? Nifty.

I mean, I guess your plan to for pop-culture carpet bombing has some merit, since colonial nations already have a long tradition of dumping their trash in underdeveloped countries.

But here's another idea, for starters: we in the "West" insist that leaders and corporate elites stop reflexively overthrowing any progressive* politicians in other countries just because they present a threat to narrowly-defined** Western interests; that they cease the continual destabilization which allows Internet Geniuses to spout off on how the West has a monopoly on culture and that people in Arabic countries have no right to develop their own societies on the foundation of their own histories.

*"Progressive" here being a relative term
**Usually defined as economic relations which better facilitate the cheap extraction or transportation of materials used in the manufacture and sale of, I don't know, "CDs... Games... Movies."

posted by regicide is good for you at 9:52 PM on April 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


Hello from Kuwait. Trust me, they got scads of Britney. And Corvettes. If you think there are a lot of American SUV's on the American streets... . A Camaro club meets down the street--local guys hanging out at the Shawerma stand--and it might as well be the Dairy Queen in Temple, Texas, at least in terms of macho young guys who like the go-fast. Nike, Apple, Gap, et al are very popular.

Gobs of American music on the radio. Hip-hop culture has a decent-sized following. Weird to see an Arab guy walking down the street with an NFL jersey from my hometown team.

With that, there is a not-uncommon mindset of really like the stuff, really dislike the government, and it's common throughout the region.

Too, much as there is plenty of openness in the newspapers--Kuwaitis hammering things political here, social trends here, the amount of trash everywhere, etc.--the I/P issue remains huge, all the more when there's news.

It is difficult to overstate the amount of coverage of the recent mess in Gaza and the nature of it. Day after day of big front-page pictures of dead children. To say that the coverage and columns supported the Palestinian/Arab view and took sharp issue with Israel is a late contender for understatement of the decade.
posted by ambient2 at 10:29 PM on April 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


There is a not-uncommon mindset of really like the stuff, really dislike the [US] government.

I've heard it conjectured that this is a strong motivation for US entertainers to position themselves as opposed to the US government. It might not do much domestically, but it's a boon to international sales/appeal.
posted by rokusan at 12:26 AM on April 15, 2009


So that's what Mos Def had in mind! [YouTube]
posted by BinGregory at 1:11 AM on April 15, 2009


re: Middle East - duh.
posted by saysthis at 1:38 AM on April 15, 2009


If those are the 10 most significant leaders of Islam, all the "west" needs to do to "thwart" anything is to, like, merely stand back and let the thwarting just kinda happen all by itself.

On that subject, does Islam and/or the Arab world have any visible MLK / Gandhi types promoting passive resistance against the entrenched powers?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:28 AM on April 15, 2009


On that subject, does Islam and/or the Arab world have any visible MLK / Gandhi types promoting passive resistance against the entrenched powers?

I've wondered that for years and years and years.

I recall one of the Tom Clancy books having a sequence where a passive resistance movement gains traction in Israeli-held Palestinian territories, and there's a moment similar to racial demonstrations in the U.S. -- dogs and fire hoses turned on a purely passive crowd. One of the characters sits up and goes, "Oh shit. The Palestinians just won."

I've grown to hate Clancy and his strident tone, but the books had some good moments.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:54 AM on April 15, 2009


I think people may be overestimating the appeal of Briney and pizza hut, and also misunderstanding those things in a strange direction.

There is sort of a bizarre chauvinism involved as well, as if the fact that we export so much culture means that our culture is so awesome. But really, the stuff that's held up as examples is just awful. I mean Britney Spears, really? How would it even be a good thing if other groups around the world decided to drop their own cultural heritage for that? I don't really think that there is much of a feminist message there, by the way.

When you look at the fall of communism, people say, oh importing our culture made them decide not to be communist, but I think that simply had to do with the fact that communism was making them poor. But these people in the middle east are not poor at all, any consumer or pop culture they want, they can have. So what's the motivation to drop their culture anyway?
posted by delmoi at 9:02 AM on April 15, 2009


I've maintained for years that the ONLY way to defeat militant Islamic forces is to convert the youth and the population as a whole through cultural dominance. FREE CULTURE bombing, free CDs, Free Games, Free Movies. A whole series of movie networks on analog and Satellite for the Middle east that broadcast first-run movies and play nothing but English, German & French language movies of a spectacular and salacious nature.

Sorry, but your comment betrays your abhorrent lack of understanding of over a billion people, and really how the world works in general. You don't think they have outlets for this kind of thing already? You think Hollywood is "free" culture? This really is a problematic viewpoint you have, and even more so since some people in positions of relative authority also share in this delusional mindset.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:12 AM on April 15, 2009


...that people in Arabic countries have no right to develop their own societies on the foundation of their own histories.

Several centuries ago, it was practical to sit back and wait while different regions "developed their own societies." Today, it is far more difficult for the rest of the world to sit and wait while an increasingly populous and nuclear-capable Islamic world "grows out" of aggressive religious fundamentalism -- assuming it doesn't drag the Western world down with it (note rise of Christian fundamentalism in the US, resurgence of fascist parties in Europe on a new "anti-jihad" platform).

I recall one of the Tom Clancy books having a sequence where a passive resistance movement gains traction in Israeli-held Palestinian territories...

If only that were to really happen, there would be a peaceful two-state solution within a decade.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2009


Again, abhorrent lack of understanding.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:23 AM on April 15, 2009


Burhanistan, that's an understatement. Krrrlson, you say the same shit in every thread. Islamonazis aren't coming to get you.
posted by chunking express at 10:47 AM on April 15, 2009


Again, abhorrent lack of understanding.

I don't get it. Are you saying passive resistance wouldn't be a good thing that would work? Because if so, you guys have truly lost the plot.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:07 AM on April 15, 2009


Because if so, you guys have truly lost the plot.

I'm neither here nor there on that bit, which is pretty much an afterthought in this thread. Though I would challenge you to sit there and resist passively if your home was destroyed. It was the other nonsense about culture wars and nuclear states that was just plain ignorant.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:25 AM on April 15, 2009


MLK and Ghandi both arose after a few hundred of years of oppression, with plenty of armed and violent attempts to break free over those periods, Ghandi within living memory of a massive, bloody and nearly successful armed insurrection (Sepoy Mutiny). By contrast, the Palestinians have only had about 60 years to throw their occupiers into the sea. Maybe after two hundred years of trying, they'll get a Ghandi too.
posted by BinGregory at 4:47 PM on April 15, 2009


Not an Arab, but a Pashtun Muslim who was one of the leaders of the Indian independence movement, Abdul Ghaffar Khan founded the Khudai Khidmatgar, an army of nonviolent resistance (complete with ranks and uniforms) in what is now Pakistan. Sadly, because they were anti-Partition, and therefore perceived as anti-Pakistan, they were ruthlessly suppressed by successive Pakistani governments soon after 1947, and are now almost unknown even in Pakistan itself.

Also, it's not like nonviolent resistance isn't already happening in Palestine: anyone remember Rachel Corrie? She was a nonviolent resister who literally put her life on the line to stop demolitions of Palestinian homes. And of course, she was universally lauded as a hero for it, and totally changed a bunch of hearts and minds, right? At least it's possible for us to remember Rachel Corrie, because she was American and therefore important. The Palestinians who have been killed by home demolitions, on the other hand, don't even get to have names.* This kind of dismissal or total neglect of even the ultimate sacrifice by people who've already made up their mind (and it seems like most people already have pretty entrenched opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) makes effective nonviolent resistance even more difficult than usual.

I feel like the people who glibly comment that, if only the Palestinians turned to nonviolent resistance, they'd have a two-state solution within a decade, are not keeping in mind the history of actual successful nonviolent resistance campaigns such as the Indian independence movement and the American civil rights movements, which took place over several decades, at least 40-50 years, before they gained enough momentum to overcome the obstacles they faced. And that was without the already-built up fear, loathing and suspicion from the other side (in this case, the Israelis) gained from decades of armed conflict and terrorism.

For me, the main arguments for nonviolent resistance are not that it works super-fast or is some kind of miraculous panacea, but simply that it is wrong to kill people, two wrongs don't make a right, and that it's harder to be friends with someone after you've killed their family.

*Well, some of them have names, thanks to this lawsuit [PDF].
posted by skoosh at 4:40 AM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm always surprised by the assumption that to defeat tyranny, one has to emulate Western governance, and even more surprised that the way to accomplish this is to somehow saturate the Islamic world in Western (pop?) culture. Forget the fact that these assumptions completely discount the importance of the indigenous cultures of the Islamic world, but I fail to see how we can be so certain that American-style democracy is an appropriate answer to tyranny in these countries, much less how Brittney Spears etc. are supposed to accomplish this.

Many Islamic countries that had to overcome colonial models only to re-face despotic ones (Algeria, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, even Iran, in a way) often serve to highlight the shortcomings of pushing a modern-day convention like the nation-state on these places. After all, we can hopelessly shake our heads at the endless clan warfare that has characterized the collapse of Somalia's dictatorship, for example, or we can accept the fact that a system of clans and elders may be a more appropriate way of parsing out that society. How can we even begin to suggest democracy is the answer, or even our pop culture exports? These states are fracturing under the very weight of the lines we drew to create them.

Much of the Gulf may have been able to paper over their tribal roots with oil money, development, and largely cutting people out of politics, but they are hardly a beacon of progression in the region. It looks like democracy *is* the answer for much of the world, especially the West, but I shudder at the arrogance that assumes yet another cultural conquest to browbeat people into the fold is the panacea for the world's political problems.
posted by BJE at 6:04 PM on May 5, 2009


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