Sep 20, 2006

What modernity are we talking about?

I often hear some thinkers/intellectuals – often American - talking about "bringing modernity" to Muslims, for example David Kaiser says in his blog that "The Muslim world needs to move towards modernity, but our attempts to force it to do so are having the opposite effect". The same point was made in a discussion titled In Support of Arab Democracy by Steven A. Cook, Douglas Dillon Fellow from CFR(the whole discussion merits a separate post).

Modernity is the act of being modern and using modern tools and technologies, so my question is what modernity doesn’t the Muslim world have? Are we actually talking about the same thing? I think they’re mixing between Modernization and Westernization, as Samuel Huntington points out in his book Clash of Civilizations that these two things are different, societies can be modern in using and developing all sorts of modern tools and technologies while completely or partially rejecting Westernization. And there're plenty of examples both from the Muslim world and elsewhere; Egypt, Malaysia, China and Japan are all modern but are decisively not Western. When Yitzhak Nakash, was asked about this issue, he proceeded to explain that it was naïve to think that Muslim countries were not modern and pointed out that even Al-Qaeda is remarkably modern in using modern tools and technologies such as the Internet and airplanes to further their aims.

I don't exactly know why apparently smart people still talk about modernizing Muslim, is it just a slip of the tongue? Do they actually think that in the Muslims people are still riding camels and don’t have electricity or running water? or is it unwillingness to admit that these societies are modern until they're fully westernized?

Technocrati Tags: Islam

6 comments:

Vinh Dao said...

Am I seeing things or is that the view of the mosque in Phnom Penh, Cambodia? I used to live there for about 3 years ago and used to take photos of the kids playing football in the mosque!
Anyways, I enjoy your blog and your news on Somalia.

Abdurahman Warsame said...

Thank vinh, yes this mosque is in Cambodia. I found two photos, one showing the whole mosque from the front which really nice but I wanted to use this to as hint.

Cyrus F. said...

Abdurahman,

Modernity or being modern is not "the act of using modern tools." If I want to use your concepts, I would formulate it as the sustainable ability of creating modern tools.

How can a society be modern in this sense? By being open to new ideas, by being tolerant of other ways of being, and by creating an open and free environment where those ideas can be expressed, debated, and chosen free of coersion. A little like how scinetific community works but without the need to being professional or too academic about it.

By your definition of modernity we should consider even Al-Qaede modern,as you say yourself. That should be a clue that it can't be right.

Best,
Cyrus Ferdowsi, Liberal Iranian.

Abdurahman Warsame said...

Thanks Cyrus,

Unfortunately that's simply what modernity means, no more or less. The ideals that you've mentioned of "being open to new ideas, by being tolerant of other ways of being, and by creating an open and free environment where those ideas can be expressed, debated, and chosen free of coersion. A little like how scinetific community works but without the need to being professional or too academic about it", had all existed in the Islamic empire more than 1000 years ago. It's hard to see these ideas in most Muslims countries today with all the dictatorships, corruption and discrimination but this is where the West got it from.

What I want to seperate is the Modernization and Westernization, these two are not the same and shouldn't be confused.

I finally got my hands on Edward Said's book "Orientalism" which traces many of these misunderstandings to the colonial era.

Cyrus F. said...

I'm not sure if what I outlined in the part you have quoted had existed in their uninterrupted form in Islamic societies a thousand years ago. Sure, some versions of it existed in some parts of the Islamic world. And certainly those places would be considered quite modern for their own times.

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