The Arabs, Islam and Globalization June 29, 2006 Middle East Policy Council http://www. policyinnovations. org/ideas/policy_library/data/01324 By Dr Fauzi Najjar. Professor emeritus at the Center for Integrative Studies, College of Social Science, Michigan State University. Abstract Fauzi Najjar discusses the cultural implications of globalization for Islam as viewed by Muslims, in particular the Islamists, who express the greater suspicion of this development and, instead, seek to promote an Islamic universalism that, in their view, is superior to any cultural paradigm imposed by the Christian West.
In addition to focusing on globalization from an Islamist point of view, he also presents the views of moderate Arabs and Muslims, who entertain a more open, yet critical and cautious attitude toward globalization. The twenty-first century presents the Arab-Muslim world with a challenge that may determine its future for generations. The Arabs are quite concerned about maintaining their cultural identity and their independence in the face of the West’s superiority and its pervading globalization.
Evidence of this is the huge volume–verging on a deluge–of Arabic literature on globalization and its “dangers,” in addition to hundreds of seminars, workshops, and conferences focusing on “Islam and globalization,” the Arab-Islamic heritage and national and cultural identity. I) Globalization and Arab Intelligentsia However, the Arab intelligentsia is divided into three different attitudes toward globalization.
There are those who reject it as the “highest stage of imperialism” and a “cultural invasion,” threatening to dominate people, undermine their distinctive “cultural personality” and destroy their “heritage,” “authenticity,” “beliefs” and “national identity. ” The second group of Arab thinkers, secularist by inclination, welcomes globalization as the age of modern science, advanced technology, global communications and knowledge-based information. It calls for interacting with globalization and for benefiting from its positive opportunities” in knowledge, science and technology, without necessarily losing their Arab-Islamic cultural individuality. A third group calls for finding an appropriate form of globalization that is compatible with the national and cultural interests of the people. Globalization cannot be wholly accepted or rejected, it argues. The attitude of this group has been described as “positive neutrality,” a self-interested pragmatic outlook, seeking a middle ground since globalization is an inevitable historical phenomenon with which the Arabs will have to interact.
In between, there are other variations in attitudes toward globalization. This paper will focus primarily on the cultural implications of globalization for Islam as viewed by Muslims, in particular the Islamists, who express the greater suspicion of this development and, instead, seek to promote an Islamic “universalism” that, in their view, is superior to any cultural paradigm imposed by the Christian West. 1) In addition to focusing on globalization from an Islamist point of view, this paper will also present the views of moderate Arabs and Muslims, who entertain a more open, yet critical and cautious attitude toward globalization. How Arab intellectuals assess the relationship between globalization and their cultural heritage will also receive special attention. All of the sources on which this paper is based are the original Arabic works and references. Translation of full quotations and paraphrases into English are by the author, except where indicated otherwise.
Since globalization is identified with American military, political and economic superiority, the attitude of the Arabs toward American power and hegemony, style of life and cultural values will be noted. It will become obvious that political considerations, such as th e unqualified American support of Israel, have conditioned Arab attitudes toward American culture as well as toward globalization. II) GLOBALIZATION EQUALS AMERICANIZATION There is a general consensus among Arabs–both those who oppose globalization and those who favor it–that it is identical with Americanization.
They view globalization as an American design to disseminate American culture as a model for the whole world. A North African writer, Abd al-Ilah Balqaziz, equates globalized culture with American culture, because “the means, powers, interests and aims that steer globalization are all American. ” He accuses the West, in general, and the United States, in particular, of using the pretext of fighting terrorism, fanaticism and intolerance to undermine Islam, because the Arabs and Islam are the only obstacle in the face of today’s empire under American hegemony. 2) America’s military and economic power and its virtual monopoly of cyberspace and the information revolution, as well as its seductive culture, corroborate the impression of its global hegemony, leading a British author to write: “At times, indeed, it is difficult to distinguish between globalization, in its many forms, and Americanization. ” (3) Globalization is the foundation of the world order in the twenty-first century, writes Husayn Malum.
The strategy of world powers, with the United States in the forefront, is to promote economic globalization, or the supremacy of the market over the whole world, and to destroy the political power of states, nationalities and peoples, he adds. Globalization is tied to the “New American Political Project,” which seeks to unify the world by means of “market capitalism,” Malum asserts. (4) However, “globalization is not just a mechanism of capitalist development,” says another North African writer. “It is also and primarily an ideology reflecting a hegemonic will over the whole world and Americanizing it. (5) Radical Islamists view globalization as a new dawa (call) for the elimination of the boundaries between Dar al-Islam (domain of Islam) and Dar al-Kufr (domain of infidelity). Globalization, they warn, seeks to join the infidels (Western Christians) and Muslims under the banner of secularism and worldliness, leading to unrestricted freedom in the name of human rights, as understood in the West, and to libertinism, the distinguishing characteristics of the decadence of Western civilization.
Radical Islamists claim that Islam would resist such calls by “Crusaders and Jews,” in defense of the sharia. It is impossible, they assert, to merge the Muslims and the infidels in the same category in the name of globalization, ‘unity of religions,’ ‘world peace,’ ‘democracy’ or ‘secularism,’ because Muslims are one nation, distinguished from all others by a true Islamic doctrine, a perfect law, a culture and a system of morals. (6) Similar views have been expressed by other than Islamists.
Said al-Lawindi, a well-known Egyptian journalist-writer, describes globalization as a “form of American hegemony,” calling it a nightmare (kabus). The kind of globalization he favors is one of struggle against and resistance to “this barbaric capitalist hegemony and to confront the danger of Davos (the international economic forum). Globalization has produced nothing but chaos and violence. ” (7) III) GLOBALIZATION AND ARAB-ISLAMIC CULTURAL HERITAGE
Arab and Muslim intellectuals have been deeply concerned about the impact of globalization on their cultural heritage. At a conference on “Our Heritage: Present and Future in Light of Globalization,” held at the UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Rafik Atweh, the event coordinator, declared dramatically: “In the age of torment and uncertainty toward one’s destiny, the Arab individual is crossing over the bridge of agony, with a fearful protective eye over his cherished values, history and heritage. Highlighting his deep concern, Atweh added that the Arabs have plunged into a “canyon of darkness, looking for help to enable them to climb a mountain of overwhelming fast-moving events, at a time when they are not showing readiness to change the status quo. ” (8) Globalization, intellectuals insist, will “smother” the peculiarities (khususiyyat) of Arab national culture, undermine Islamic morality and lead to cultural homogenization. Dr.
Jafar Abd al-Salam, general secretary of the League of Islamic Universities, warns against the cultural danger of globalization and calls for a revivalist cultural project “to deepen the relationship between Muslims and their heritage, which is replete with elements of strength to face all challenges. ” (9) Conclusion The overwhelming majority of written articles online are critical of globalization and its intentions towards cultural identity. Those who are Muslims believe that globalization presents a serious detriment to moral and ethical lives, as well as a major threat to sovereignty through neo-colonial attitudes.