Keynote for the Royal Society of Art and the British Broadcasting Corporation,
to be delivered in London, England, on June15, 2000. This lecture is indebted
to the author's earlier work on globalization and the politics of culture
A Yugoslav from
Montenegro once taught an African from Mombasa, Kenya, at Oxford University.
Among the lessons which the professor from Montenegro taught the young
African was a simple proposition:
"The sins of
the powerful acquire some of the prestige of power."
was John Plamenatz who was at the time a distinguished Fellow of Nuffield
College, Oxford, and who later became a professor of political theory
at Oxford. The student was Ali Mazrui.
In that simple
proposition John Plamenatz captured the importance of power in universalizing
the culture of the powerful. Even the very vices of Western culture are
acquiring worldwide prestige. Muslim societies which once refrained from
alcohol are now manifesting increasing alcoholism. Chinese elites are
capitulating to Kentucky Fried Chicken and MacDonald hamburgers. And Mahatma
Gandhi's country has decided to go nuclear.
is a pretender to the status of universal validity. Yet there are three
forces which contradict that claim. One force is within the West itself.
This is the force of historical relativism. What was valid in the West
at the beginning of the twentieth century is not necessarily valid in
the West at the beginning of the twenty-first century. If validity is
changeable in the West itself from generation to generation, how can the
claim to universalism be sustained?
to the West's claim to universalism is not historical but cross-cultural.
This latter challenge is the old nemesis of cultural relativism. We may
even reverse the order of the challenge to Western universalism - the
cross-cultural challenge first and the historical challenge second.
But in addition
to historical and cultural relativism, there is relativism in practice,
or comparative empirical performance.
Is Western practice at variance with Western doctrine? Indeed, are Western
standards better fulfilled by other societies than by the West? In some
respects, is either Africa or Islam ahead of the West by Western standards
But let us first
explore globalization before we return to the three areas of relativity
-- historical, cultural and empirical.
What is Globalization?
What is "globalization"?
It consists of processes which lead towards global interdependence and
increasing rapidity of exchange across vast distances. The word "globalization"
is itself quite new, but the actual processes towards global interdependence
and exchange started centuries ago.
Four forces have
been major engines behind globalization across time. These have been religion,
technology, economy and empire. These have not necessarily acted separately,
but have often reinforced each other. For example, the globalization of
Christianity started with the conversion of Emperor Constantine I of Rome
in 313 C.E. The religious conversion of the head of an empire started
the process under which Christianity became the dominant religion not
only of Europe but also of many other societies thousands of miles from
where the religion started.
of Islam began not with converting a ready-made empire, but with building
an empire almost from scratch. The Umayyads and Abbasides put together
bits of other people's empires (former Byzantine Egypt and former Zoroastrian
Persia, for example) and created a whole new civilization.
Voyages of exploration
were another major stage in the process of globalization. Vasco da Gama
and Christopher Columbus in the fifteenth century opened up a whole new
chapter in the history of globalization. Economy and empire were the major
motives. There followed the migration of people symbolized by the Mayflower.
The migration of the Pilgrim Fathers was in part a response to religious
and economic imperatives. Demographic globalization reached its height
in the Americas with the influx of millions of people from other hemispheres.
In time the population of the United States became a microcosm of the
population of the world - with immigrants from every society on earth.
revolution in Europe from the eighteenth century onwards was another major
chapter in the history of globalization. A marriage between technology
and economics resulted in levels of productivity previously unknown in
the annals of man. Europe's prosperity whetted its appetite for new worlds
to conquer. The Atlantic slave trade was accelerated, moving millions
of Africans from one part of the world to another. Europe's appetite also
went imperial on a global scale. The British built the largest and most
far-flung empire in human experience. Most of it lasted until the end
of World War II.
The two World
Wars were themselves manifestations of globalization. The twentieth century
is the only century which has witnessed globalized warfare - one from
1914 to 1918 and the other from 1939 to 1945. The Cold War was another
manifestation of globalization (1948-1989) - because it was power-rivalry
on a global scale between two alliances, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) and the Warsaw Pact. While the two World Wars were militarily the
most destructive empirically the Cold War was the most dangerous potentially.
The Cold War carried the seeds of planetary annihilation in the nuclear
The final historical
stage of globalization came when the industrial revolution was mated with
the new information revolution. Interdependence and exchange became dramatically
computerized. The most powerful single country by this time was the United
States. Pax Americana mobilized three of the four engines of globalization
- technology, economy and empire. Pax Americana in the second half of
the twentieth century did not directly seek to promote a particular religion
- but it did help to promote secularism and the ideology of separating
church from state. On balance, the impact of Americanization has probably
been harmful to religious values worldwide - whether intended or not.
Americanized Hindu youth, Americanized Buddhist teenagers or Americanized
Muslim youngsters are far less likely to be devout to their faiths than
This brings us
to the twin-concepts of homogenization and hegemonization, however ugly
the words may be!! One of the consequences of globalization is that we
are getting to be more and more alike across the world every decade. Homogenization
is increasing similarity.
The second accompanying
characteristic of globalization is hegemonization - the paradoxical concentration
of power in a particular country or in a particular civilization. While
"homogenization" is the process of expanding homogeneity, "hegemonization"
is the emergence and consolidation of the hegemonic centre.
there have been increasing similarities between and among the societies
of the world. But this trend has been accompanied by disproportionate
global power among a few countries.
By the twenty-first
century people dress more alike all over the world than they did at the
end of the nineteenth century. (Homogenization). But the dress code which
is getting globalized is overwhelmingly the Western dress code (Hegemonization).
Indeed, the man's suit (Western) has become almost universalized in all
parts of the world. And the jeans' revolution has captured the youth dress
culture of half the globe.
By the twenty-first
century the human race is closer to having world languages than it was
in the nineteenth century if by a world language we mean one which has
at least three-hundred million speakers, has been adopted by at least
ten countries as a national language, has spread to at least two continents
as a major language, and is widely used in four continents for special
we examine the languages which have been globalized, they are disproportionately
European - especially English and French, and to lesser extent, Spanish.
Arabic is putting
forward a strong claim as a world language, but partly because of the
globalization of Islam and the role of Arabic as a language of Islamic
By the twenty-first
century we are closer to a world economy than we have ever been before
in human history. A sneeze in Hong Kong, and certainly a cough in Tokyo
can send shock waves around the globe. (Homogenization)
And yet the powers
who control this world economy are disproportionately Western. They are
the G-7: The United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Canada and
Italy in that order of economic muscle. (Hegemonization)
By the twenty-first
century the Internet has given us instant access to both information and
mutual communication across large distances. (Homogenization) However,
the nerve center of the global Internet system is still located in the
United States and has residual links in the United States Federal Government.
systems in the twenty-first century are getting more and more similar
across the world - with comparable term-units and semesters, and increasing
professorial similarities, and similarity in course content. (Homogenization)
But the role-models
behind this dramatic academic convergence have been the educational models
of Europe and the United States, which have attracted both emulators and
systems of the world in the twenty-first century are also converging as
market economies seem to emerge triumphant. Liberalization is being widely
embraced, either spontaneously or under duress. Anwar Sadat in Egypt opened
the gates of infitah, and even the People's Republic of China has adopted
a kind of market Marxism. India is in danger of traversing the distance
from Mahatma Gandhi to Mahatma Keynes. (Homogenization)
people who are orchestrating and sometimes enforcing marketization, liberalization
and privatization are Western economic gurus - reinforced by the power
of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United States
and the European Union. Indeed, Europe is the mother of all modern ideologies,
good and evil - liberalism, capitalism, socialism, Marxism, fascism, Nazism
and others. The most triumphant by the end of the twentieth century has
been Euro-liberal capitalism. (Hegemonic Homogenization)
At the moment
the Muslim world is a net loser from both homogenization and hegemonization.
However, will Islam one day gain from homogenization? Only if Muslim values
penetrate the global pool. Can people share Muslim values without sharing
the Muslim religion?
For example many
U.S. Muslims find themselves sharing social values with Republicans in
the United States:
- in favour of
prayer at school
- against easy
- against too much
- in favour of
family values and stable marriages.
One can be in
agreement with Islamic values without being a Muslim. Indeed, the US after
World War I briefly agreed with the Muslim value against alcohol - and
passed the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment in 1919 outlawing alcohol.
But not enough
Americans were convinced. More than a decade later (after Al Capone's
adventures) the Twenty-first Constitutional Amendment was passed in 1933
allowing alcohol. Will Muslim values in the 21st century once again gain
favour in the United States?
There was a time
in history when the Muslim presence in the Western world once carried
great intellectual and scientific influence. These were the days when
Arabic words like algebra and cipher entered Western scientific lexicons.
One of the remarkable
things about the twentieth century is that it has combined the cultural
Westernization of the Muslim world, on the one hand, and the more recent
demographic Islamization of the Western world, on the other. The foundations
for the cultural Westernization of the Muslim world were laid mainly in
the first half of the twentieth century. The foundations of the demographic
Islamization of the Western world are being laid in the second half of
the twentieth century. Let us take each of these two phases of Euro-Islamic
interaction in turn.
In the first
half of the century, the West had colonized more than two thirds of the
Muslim world - from Kano to Karachi, from Cairo to Kuala Lumpur, from
Dakar to Jakarta. The first half of the twentieth century also witnessed
the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the more complete de-Islamization
of the European state-system. The aftermath included the abolition of
the Caliphate as the symbolic center of Islamic authority. The ummah became
more fragmented than ever and became even more receptive to Western cultural
which facilitated the cultural Westernization of the Muslim world included
the replacement of Islamic and Qur'anic schools with Western style schools;
the increasing use of European languages in major Muslim countries; the
impact of the Western media upon distribution of news, information and
entertainment, ranging from magazines, cinema, television and video, to
the new universe of computers.
Homogenization was responding to the forces of hegemonization. Finally,
there has been the omnipresent Western technology - which carries with
it not only new skills but also new values. The net result has indeed
been a form of globalization of aspects of culture. However, this has
been a Eurocentric and Americocentric brand of globalization. An aspect
of Western culture is eventually embraced by other cultures - and masquerades
as universal. An informal cultural empire is born, hegemony triumphant.
of two pieces of Eurocentric world culture may tell the story of things
to come: the Western Christian calendar, especially the Gregorian calendar,
and the worldwide dress code for men, which we mentioned earlier.
in Africa and Asia have adopted wholesale the Western Christian calendar
as their own. They celebrate their independence day according to the Christian
calendar, and write their own history according to Gregorian years, using
distinctions such as before or after Christ. Some Muslim countries even
recognize Sunday as the day of rest instead of Friday. In some cultures,
the entire Islamic historiography has been reperiodized according to the
Christian calendar instead of the Hijjra.
From the second
half of the twentieth century, both Muslim migration to the West and conversions
to Islam within the West have been consolidating a new human Islamic presence.
In Europe as a whole, there are now twenty million Muslims, ten million
of whom are in Western Europe. This figure excludes the Muslims of the
Republic of Turkey, who number some fifty million. There are new mosques
from Munich to Marseilles.
the cultural Westernization of the Muslim world is one of the causes behind
the demographic Islamization of the West. The cultural Westernization
of Muslims contributed to the "brain drain" that lured Muslim professionals
and experts from their homes in Muslim countries to jobs and educational
institutions in North America and the European Union.
The old formal empires of the West have unleashed demographic counter-penetration.
Some of the most qualified Muslims in the world have been attracted to
professional positions in Europe or North America. It is in that sense
that the cultural Westernization of the Muslim world in the first half
of the twentieth century was part of the preparation for the demographic
Islamization of the West in the second half of the twentieth century.
But not by any
means are all Muslim migrants to the West highly qualified. The legacy
of Western colonialism also facilitated the migration of less-qualified
Muslims from places like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Algeria into
Britain and France - again post-colonial demographic counterpenetration.
There have also been occasions when, in need of cheap labor, the West
has deliberately encouraged immigration of less-qualified Muslims - as
in the case of the importation of Turkish workers into the Federal Republic
of Germany in the 1960s and 1970s.
As another manifestation
of the demographic Islamization of the Western world, there are now over
one thousand mosques and Qur'anic centers in the United States alone,
as well as professional associations for Muslim engineers, Muslim social
scientists and Muslim educators. There are over six million American Muslims
- and the number is rising impressively. Muslims now outnumber Jews in
the United States since the end of the twentieth century. Islam is currently
the fastest growing religion in North America.
In France, Islam
has the second-highest number of adherents; Catholicism has the most followers.
In Britain, some Muslims are experimenting with their own Islamic parliament,
and others are demanding state subsidies for Muslim schools. The Federal
Republic of Germany is realizing that importing Turkish workers in the
1970s was also an invitation to the muezzin and the minaret to establish
themselves in German cities. Australia has discovered that it is a neighbor
to the country with the largest Muslim population in the world (Indonesia).
Australia has also discovered an Islamic presence in its own body-politic.
and Islam are the three Abrahamic creeds of world history. In the twentieth
century, the Western world is often described as a Judeo-Christian civilization,
thus linking the West to two of those Abrahamic faiths. But if Muslims
already outnumber Jews in countries like the United States, perhaps Islam
is replacing Judaism as the second most important Abrahamic religion after
Christianity. Numerically, Islam in time may overshadow Judaism in much
of the West, regardless of future immigration policies.
has thus arisen about how Islam is to be treated in Western classrooms,
textbooks and media as Islam becomes a more integral part of Western society.
In the Muslim world, education has got substantially Westernized. Is it
now the turn of education in the West to become partially Islamized?
story of interpenetration continues to unfold. Is this a new threshold
for globalization? Or is it just another manifestation of the postcolonial
condition in world history? In fact, it may be both.
of Islam and Muslims into Western civilization will not in itself end
Western hegemonization. But an Islamic presence in the Western World on
a significant scale may begin to reverse at long last the wheels of cultural
homogenization. Values will begin to mix, tastes compete, perspectives
intermingle, as a new moral calculus evolves on the world scene.
Relativism and Moral Performance
Let us now return
to the three forms of relativity with which we began -- historical, cultural
and empirical. Hegemonic and homogenizing as Western culture has been,
it has not been without its contradictions and serious shortfalls. Its
claim to universalism has been up against the relativity of history (temporal),
of culture (cross-cultural) and of implementation (the logic of consistency).
Let us begin with this third area of relativity -- the tests of empiricism
has two aspects. One aspect concerns whether in practice Western civilization
lives up to its own standards. The other aspect concerns situations in
which Western ethical standards are better implemented by other civilizations
than by the West itself.
When a famous
Jeffersonian Declaration of Independence pronounces that "all men are
created equal" and then the founders build an economy in America based
on slavery, that is a case of Western culture failing by its own standards.
On the other
hand, if during the same historical period we study economies without
either slavery or caste among the Kikuyu in East Africa or the Tiv in
West Africa, we are observing societies which were more egalitarian than
the liberal West.
The Western Christian
ethic of the minimization of violence has repeatedly been honoured by
Westerners more in the breach than the observance. In the last hundred
years Christians have killed vastly more people than have followers of
any other religion in any single century. Many of the millions of victims
of Christian violence in the two world wars were themselves fellow Christians
-- though the Holocaust against the Jews and the Gypsies stand out as
special cases of genocide perpetrated by Westerners in otherwise Christian
of violence is part of Christian ethics, it is a standard which has not
only been violated by the West. It has also been better implemented by
other cultures in history. In the first half of the twentieth century
India produced Mohandas Gandhi who led one of the most remarkable nonviolent
anticolonial movements ever witnessed. Westerners themselves saw Gandhi's
message as the nearest approximation of the Christian ethic of the first
half of the twentieth century.
India gave birth to new principles of passive resistance and satygraha.
Yet Gandhi himself said that it may be through the Black people that the
unadulterated message of soul force and passive resistance might be realized.
If Gandhi was right, this would be one more illustration when the culture
which gives birth to an ethic is not necessarily the culture which fulfills
The Nobel Committee
for Peace in Oslo seems to have shared some of Gandhi's optimism about
the soul force of the Black people. Africans and people of African descent
who have won the Nobel prize for Peace since the middle of the twentieth
century have been Ralph Bunche (1950), Albert Luthuli (1960), Martin Luther
King Jr. (1964), Anwar Sadat (1978) Desmond Tutu (1984) and Nelson Mandela
(1993). Neither Mahatma Gandhi himself nor any of his compatriots in India
ever won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Was Mahatma Gandhi vindicated that
the so-called "Negro" was going to be the best exemplar of soul force?
Was this a case of African culture being empirically more Gandhian than
In reality Black
people have been at least as violent as anything ever perpetrated by Indians.
What is distinctive about Africans is their short memory of hate.
was unjustly imprisoned by the British colonial authorities over charges
of founding the Mau Mau movement. A British Governor also denounced him
as "a leader into darkness and unto death." And yet when Jomo Kenyatta
was released he not only forgave the white settlers, but turned the whole
country towards a basic pro-Western orientation to which it has remained
committed ever since. Kenyatta even published a book entitled Suffering
Ian Smith, the
white settler leader of Rhodesia, unilaterally declared independence in
1965 and unleashed a civil war on Rhodesia. Thousands of people, mainly
Black, died in the country as a result of policies pursued by Ian Smith.
Yet when the war ended in 1980 Ian Smith and his cohorts were not subjected
to a Nuremberg-style trial. On the contrary, Ian Smith was himself a member
of parliament in a Black-ruled Zimbabwe, busy criticizing the post-Smith
Black leaders of Zimbabwe as incompetent and dishonest. Where else but
in Africa could such tolerance occur?
civil war (1967-1970) was the most highly publicized civil conflict in
postcolonial African history. When the war was coming to an end, many
people feared that there would be a bloodbath in the defeated eastern
region. The Vatican was worried that cities like Enugu and Onitcha, strongholds
of Catholicism, would be monuments of devastation and blood-letting.
None of these
expectations occurred. Nigerians -- seldom among the most disciplined
of Africans -- discovered in 1970 some remarkable resources of self-restraint.
There were no triumphant reprisals against the vanquished Biafrans; there
were no vengeful trials of "traitors".
We have also
witnessed the phenomenon of Nelson Mandela. He lost twenty-seven of the
best years of his life in prison under the laws of the apartheid regime.
Yet when he was released he not only emphasized the policy of reconciliation
-- he often went beyond the call of duty. On one occasion before he became
President white men were fasting unto death after being convicted of terrorist
offences by their own white government. Nelson Mandela went out of his
way to beg them to eat and thus spare their own lives.
became President in 1994 it was surely enough that his government would
leave the architects of apartheid unmolested. Yet Nelson Mandela went
out of his way to pay a social call and have tea with the unrepentant
widow of Hendrik F. Verwoed, the supreme architect of the worst forms
of apartheid, who shaped the whole racist order from 1958 to 1966. Mandela
was having tea with the family of Verwoed.
Was Mahatma Gandhi
correct, after all, that his torch of soul force (satyagraha) might find
its brightest manifestations among Black people? Empirical relativism
was at work again.
In the history
of civilizations there are occasions when the image in the mirror is more
real that the object it reflects. Black Gandhians like Martin Luther King
Jr., Desmond Tutu and, in a unique sense, Nelson Mandela have sometimes
reflected Gandhaian soul force more brightly than Gandhians in India.
Part of the explanation lies in the soul of African culture itself --
with all its capacity for rapid forgiveness.
It is a positive
modification of "the Picture of Dorian Gray.' In Oscar Wilde's novel,
the picture of Dorian Gray is a truer reflection of the man's decrepid
body and lost soul than the man himself. The decomposition of Dorian's
body and soul is transferred from Dorian himself to his picture. The picture
is more real than the man.
In the case of
Gandhism, it is not the decomposition of the soul but its elevation which
is transferred from India to the Black experience. In the last one hundred
years both Indian culture and African culture have, in any case, been
guilty of far less bloodletting than the West. Christian minimization
of violence has been observed more by non-Christians than by ostensible
followers of the Cross. Empirical relativism continues its contradictions.
But Western claims
to universalism are challenged not just by the forces of empirical contradictions.
They are, as we indicated, also challenged by the relativism of history
and the relativism of culture. Let us now elaborate on these two areas
of history and culture.
and Historical Relativism
If under cultural
relativism, cultures differ across space (from society to society), under
historical relativism cultures differ across time - from epoch to epoch
or age to age. In Western society premarital sex was strongly disapproved
of until after World War II. In the 19th century it was even punishable.
Today sex before marriage is widely practiced with parental consent. This
is historical relativism.
Are laws against
gays and lesbians a violation of human rights? Today half the Western
world says "yes". Yet homosexuality between males was a crime in Great
Britain until the 1960s - though lesbianism was not outlawed. Now both
male and female homosexuality between consenting adults is permitted in
most of the Western World. This is historical relativism. On the other
hand, in most of the rest of the world homosexuality is still illegal
in varying degrees.
We are confronting a clash between historical relativism in the West and
geo-cultural relativism in the Third World. In Africa the two extremes
on homosexuality are the neighboring countries of Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Zimbabwe's President Mugabe is a personal crusader against homosexuality.
South Africa, on the other hand, has legalized it.
in the Western World except the US capital punishment has been abolished.
The United States is increasing the number of capital offenses for the
time being. But it is almost certain that capital punishment even in the
US will one day be regarded as a violation of human rights. This would
be historical relativism within the Western civilization. In Africa South
Africa has tried to lead the way against the death penalty. Has it outlived
its rational utility?
relativism and historical relativism converge. This is especially true
when Muslim and African countries want to revive legal systems which go
back many centuries. Such countries attempt to re-enact the past in modern
conditions. Sudan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are among the examples where
cultural and historical relativism converge.
Can you have
polygyny or polygamy by consent? In the US the term "pro-choice" is reserved
for the issue of whether a woman wants a baby or not. In the Muslim world
and in Africa a woman's right to choose may include her choice to marry
a man who already has another wife. "I would rather share this man than
not have him at all". At least one of Moshood Abiola's multiple wives
in Nigeria had a Western Ph.D., a measure of polygamy by consent.
In the West a
woman may choose to become a mistress of a married man but she is not
allowed to marry the same man and have equal rights as a second wife.
That is cultural relativism in sexual mores.
Are human rights
sometimes trapped between the sacredness of art versus the sacredness
of religion? As the West has got more and more secular, it has looked
for new abodes of sacredness.
By the late twentieth
century the freedom of the artist was more sacred to Westerners than respect
for religion. Hence the clash which occurred from 1988 onwards between
the Western world and the Muslim world in relation to Salman Rushdie's
book The Satanic Verses.
The book makes
fun of the Holy Scripture of Muslims, the Qur'an - suggesting that perhaps
the verses were a fake or inspired by the Devil. The novel strongly suggests
that the prophet Muhammad was a fraud and not a very intelligent one at
that. The book puts women bearing the names of the Prophet Muhammad's
wives in a whorehouse - prostitutes called Hafsa, Aisha, Khadija, the
historic names of the Prophet's wives. The names of the prophet's wives
were supposed to be aphrodisiac for sexual excitement. Iran issued a fatwa
or legal judgment accusing Rushdie of a capital religious offense and
sentenced him to death in absentia.
Iran was the
only one of some fifty Muslim countries to pass the death penalty on Rushdie.
But there were popular Muslim demonstrations against Rushdie from Kaduna
Rushdie has had
to spend most of his life since then in cautious hiding. The bad news
is that a number of airlines refused at times to have him as a passenger
because he is a security risk. The good news, on the other hand, is that
he is a millionaire several times over from the book and related products.
He is more wealthy but less secure.
argued that as a novelist Rushdie had a right to write anything he wanted.
Muslims from Lamu to Lahore have argued that he had no right to hold up
for obscenity and ridicule some of the most sacred things in Islam. The
sacredness of the artist has been in collision with the sacredness of
religion over Salman Rushdie's novel. The West's claim to universalism
sometimes extends from Western values to Western custodial claim to the
defense of those values. Even if Western values are universal, is Western
practice an implementation of those values?
One of the most
remarkable coincidences of the year 2000 concerns how democracy collided
with two people called Haider -- one a Syrian and the other Austrian,
one liberal and the other extreme right-wing, one a writer and the other
an activist and politician.
In Austria Dr.
Jorg Haider was Deputy Governor of Carinthia and Chair of the neo-Nazi
FPO party which joined the government coalition in the year 2000. The
coalition was the outcome of electoral democratic forces in Austria. And
yet pro-Democracy fellow members of the European Union have turned against
the government of Austria and have tried to squeeze Haider's party out
of the democratically elected governing coalition. Was democracy fighting
against democracy in the European Union over the Austrian question? Certainly
most members of the European Union have decided that there is a limit
to freedom of political participation.
The other Haider
is Haider Haider, the Syrian, who published in Cyprus in 1983 a novel
entitled BANQUET OF SEAWEED. Lebanon republished the novel in 1992 without
any earth tremor. In November 1999 Egypt's Ministry of Culture followed
suit. It published the volume among the major works of modern Arabic literature.
There was delayed reaction -- until EL-SHAAB, a pro-Islamist newspaper,
published extracts ostensibly insulting to the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.
Was the Syrian
Haider as much of a threat to the fundamentals of his own Arab civilization
as the Austrian Haider had been to his own European civilization? When
individuals threaten the fabric of civilization, should democracy give
way? If Arab and Islamic civilizations are threatened by a Syrian Haider,
should democracy be subordinated to higher values? If Western civilization
is threatened by the Austrian Haider, should Austrian democracy be subordinated
to European civilization?
In reality both
Islam and the West have put limits to freedom of expression and indeed
to democratic outcomes. Over Austria the European Union has decided that
the values of Western civilization are more important than the outcomes
of Austrian democracy. Should the novel BANQUET OF SEAWEED be judged by
the standards of Islamic civilization or by the criteria of democracy?
The dilemma is crucial and unresolved.
Relativism and Comparative Censorship
The third area
of relativism is once again empirical. How do cultures behave in practice?
Our discussion has already entered the arena of Western civil liberties.
In what sense is the cultural distance between the West, Africa and Islam
narrower than often assumed? One compelling illustration concerns the
issue of censorship and the implementation of values. Here we are again
dealing with empirical relativism.
A book may be
censored because of the moral repugnance of its contents. Most Muslim
countries and some African ones have banned Salman Rushdie's novel, The
Satanic Verses, because they viewed it as blasphemous and morally repugnant.
a book may be censored or banned because of the moral "repugnance" of
its author. St. Martin's Press was going to publish in 1996 a book entitled
Goebbels, Mastermind of the Third Reich. Enormous international pressure
was put on St. Martin's Press to withdraw the book. Most of the pressure
came from people who could not possibly have read the manuscript of that
particular book. The moral objection was to the author of the book, David
Irving, who was viewed as an anti-Semitic revisionist historian of the
Holocaust. In the case of the particular book on Goebbels, it was probably
the singer (David Irving) rather than the song (Mastermind of the Third
Reich) which finally made St. Martin's Press change its mind and withdraw
the book. David Irving has since been legally condemned in Britain as
anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denier.
But a book may
also be censored or banned out of fear of its consequences - the equivalent
of "clear and present danger". When India gave this kind of explanation
for banning Rushdie's Satanic Verses - that the book would inflame religious
passions - the West was less than sympathetic. Certainly Rushdie's publishers
paid no attention to prior warnings from India before publication that
he book was inflammatory. The publication of the book even in faraway
London did result in loss of life in civil disturbances in Bombay and
Karachi in 1989.
distinguished Western publishers have been known to care enough about
the safety of their own staff to make that the reason for rejecting a
manuscript. One prominent case is Cambridge University Press's rejection
of the book, Fields of Wheat, Rivers of Blood by Anastasia Karakasidou.
The book was about ethnicity in the Greek province of Macedonia. Cambridge
rejection was directly and frankly linked to its fear for the safety of
its staff members in Greece.
If Viking Penguin
Inc., the publishers of The Satanic Verses, had cared as much about South
Asian lives as Cambridge University Press cared about its own staff in
Greece, the cost in blood of The Satanic Verses would have been reduced.
The issue here is still empirical relativism. Does Western practice meet
Let us now turn
more closely to comparative methods of censorship as an aspect of empirical
relativism. Censorship in Muslim countries is often crude, and is done
by governments, by Mullahs and imams, and more recently by militant Islamic
movements. Censorship in the West, on the other hand, is more polished
and more decentralized. It is done by advertisers for commercial television,
by subscribers to the Public Broadcasting System, by ethnic pressure groups
and interest groups, by editors, by publishers and by other controllers
of means of communication. In Europe it is sometimes also done by governments.
The law in the
United States protects opinion better than almost anywhere else in the
world. In 1986 my television series The Africans: A Triple Heritage was
threatened with legal action by Kaiser Aluminum because I had described
the company's terms for the construction of the Akosombo Dam in Ghana
as exploitative. Both my own personal lawyer and the lawyers for Public
Broadcasting System (PBS) were unanimous in their opinion that Kaiser
Aluminum did not stand a chance under American law. We called Kaiser's
bluff, showed the offending sequence, and Kaiser Aluminum did nothing.
The threat to
free speech in the United States does not come from the law and the Constitution
but from non-governmental forces. The same PBS which was invulnerable
before the law on the issue of free speech capitulated to other forces
when I metaphorically described Karl Marx as "the last of the Great Jewish
prophets." The earlier British version of my television series had included
that phrase. The American version unilaterally deleted it out of fear
of offending Jewish Americans. I was never asked for permission to delete.
Ironically many viewers in Israel saw the British version complete with
the controversial metaphor.
What PBS had
done was a case of decentralized censorship. The laws of the United States
granted me freedom of speech and freedom of opinion - but censorship in
the country is perpetrated by editors, financial benefactors and influential
pressure groups. It is a special kind of empirical relativism.
On one issue
of censorship the relevant PBS producing station did consult me. WETA,
the PBS station in Washington D.C. was unhappy that I had not injected
enough negativism in my portrayal of Libya's Muammar Gaddafy in a sequence
of about three minutes. I was first asked if I would agree to change my
commentary and talk more about "terrorism". When I refused to change my
commentary, WETA suggested that we changed the pictures instead - deleting
one sequence which appeared to humanize Qaddafy (the Libyan leader visiting
a hospital) and substituting a picture of Rome airport after a terrorist
attack (which would re-demonize the Libyan Leader).
After much debate
I managed to save the positive humanizing hospital scene, but surrendered
to the addition of a negative scene of Rome airport after a terrorist
attack. My agreement was on condition that neither I nor the written caption
implied that Libya was responsible for the bomb. But ideally WETA would
have preferred to delete the sequence about Libya altogether.
Two years later
I was invited to Libya after the Arabic version of my television series
was shown there. It turned out that WETA had more in common with the censors
in Libya than either realized. Although the Libyans seemed pleased with
my television series as a whole, the three-minute sequence about Muammar
Qaddafy had been deleted from the version shown in Tripoli. If WETA had
regarded the sequences as too sympathetic to Qaddafy, perhaps the Libyans
decided they were not sympathetic enough. And since the Libyans were not
in a position to negotiate with me about whether to change the commentary
or add to the pictures, they decided to delete the sequence altogether.
In the United
States the sequence about Qaddafy had also offended Lynn Cheney, who was
at the time chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The sequence
was a major reason why she demanded the removal of the name of the Endowment
from the television credits at the end of the series. Much later, after
she stepped down as Chair, she demanded the abolition of the National
Endowment for the Humanities itself altogether. She cited as one of her
reasons precisely my own television series, The Africans: A Triple Heritage,
using it as an example of the type of objectionable liberal projects which
the Endowment had tended to friend.
of decentralized censorship and empirical relativism which has affected
my own work involved my book Cultural Forces in World Politics. Originally
it was to be published by Westview Press in Colorado. They were about
to go to press when they declared that they wanted to delete three chapters.
One chapter discussed The Satanic Verses as a case of cultural treason;
another chapter compared the Palestinian intifadah with the Chinese students'
rebellion in Tienemann Square in Beijing, China, in 1989; and the third
objectionable chapter compared the apartheid doctrine of separate homelands
for Blacks and Whites in South Africa with the Zionist doctrine of separate
States for Jews and Arabs.
Clearly the Westview
Press wanted to censor those three chapters because they were the most
politically sensitive in the American context. I suspected that I would
have similar problems with most other major US publishers with regard
to those three chapters. I therefore relied more exclusively on my British
publishers in London, James Currey, and on the American offshoot of another
British publisher, Heinemann Educational Books. My book was published
by those two in 1990.
This is the positive
side of decentralized censorship in the West. At least with regard to
books, what is under the threat of censorship by one publisher may be
acceptable by another. Or what is almost unpublishable in the United States
may be easily publishable in Britain or the Netherlands.
television the choices are more restricted even in the West. Many points
of view are condemned to national silence on the television screen. The
West does not meet its own democratic standards.
do we draw from all this? The essential point being made is that strictly
on the issue of free speech, the cultural difference between Western culture
and Islamic culture may not be as wide as often assumed. In both civilizations
only a few points of view have national access to the media and the publishing
world. In both civilizations only a few points of view have national access
to the media and the publishing world. In both civilizations there is
marginalization by exclusion from the center. But there is one big difference.
Censorship in Muslim societies tends to be more centralized, often done
by the state, though there are also restrictions on free speech imposed
by Mullahs and Imams and militant religious movements.
In the United
States, on the other hand, there is no centralized political censorship
by governmental or judicial institutions. Censorship is far more decentralized
and is exercised by non-governmental social forces and institutions.
Let us now return
to the issue of historical relativism between the West and the world of
Islam. Popular images of Islamic values in the West tend to regard those
values as "medieval" and hopelessly anachronistic. In reality most Muslim
societies are at worst decades rather than centuries behind the West -
and in some respects Islamic culture is more humane than Western culture.
The gender question
in Muslim countries is still rather troubling. But again the historical
distance between the West and Islam may be in terms of decades rather
than centuries. In almost all Western countries apart from New Zealand
women did not get the vote until the twentieth century. Great Britain
extended the vote to women in two stages - 1918 and 1928. The United States
enfranchised women with a constitutional amendment in 1920. Switzerland
did not give women the vote at the national level until 1971 - long after
Muslim women had been voting in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Indonesia.
earned the right to own independent property in 1870. Muslim wives had
always done so. Indeed, Islam is probably the only major religion which
was founded by a businessman who was in commercial partnership with his
wife, Khadija. What we are dealing with here is the practical implementation
of values. Even if Western values were universal, is Western practice
compatible with the values? Is the West the best embodiment of its own
values? Empirical relativism reveals glaring Western contradictions.
The United States,
the largest and most influential Western nation, has never had a female
President or Head of Government. France has never had a woman President
either, or Germany a woman Chancellor. On the other hand, both the second
and third Muslim societies in population (Pakistan and Bangladesh) have
had women Prime Ministers more than once each. Pakistan has had Benazir
Bhutto twice as Prime Minister and Bangladesh has had Khaleda Zia and
Sheikh Hasina Rahman Wajed consecutively in power. Indonesia has a female
vice President - Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Muslim country, has also had a woman Prime Minister - Tansu Ciller. Turkey
is a Muslim society which inaugurated a secular state as recently as the
1920s, but has already produced a woman Chief Executive. The United States
has been a secular state for two hundred years - and has still not produced
a woman president.
In this lecture
we started from the premise that "the sins of the powerful acquire
some of the prestige of power". The West has become powerful over
the last five to six centuries. Western culture and civilization became
influential, and attracted widespread imitation and emulation. Western
hegemony precipitated widespread homogenization of values, styles and
institutions. Much of the world became Westernized.
of the world has been part and parcel of the phenomenon which we have
come to refer to as "globalization". The economic meaning of "globalization"
refers to the expansion of world economic interdependence under Western
control. The informational meaning of "globalization" refers to the triumph
of the computer, the Internet and Information Superhighway. The comprehensive
meaning of "globalization" refers to all the forces which have been leading
the world towards a global village. Globalization in this third sense
has meant the villagization of the world.
In the economic
and informational meaning of globalization, the West has been the primary
engine of global change. However, in the comprehensive meaning of globalization
(leading towards the global village) some other civilizations have been
equally crucial at other stages of history.
The West's triumph
in the last two or three centuries has led to the claim that Western civilization
has universal validity. Such a claim faces three challenges -- the challenge
of historical relativism (what was valid in the West a hundred years ago
is not necessarily valid today), the challenge of cultural relativism
(what is valid in the West may not be valid in other cultures and civilizations)
and the challenge of empirical relativism (not only does the West fail
to meet its own ethical standards, but those standards are sometimes better
fulfilled by other cultures than by the West).
with the West this lecture has used mainly illustrations from Islam and
Africa (two overlapping civilizations), with some important lessons from
India's Mahatma Gandhi.
We can conclude
that, in distribution, Western civilization is the most globalized in
history. No other civilization in the annals of the human race has touched
so many individual members of that race, or so many societies in the world.
But global distribution is not the same thing as universal validity. After
all, Marxism was once globally distributed to almost a third of the population
of the world. That did not give Marxism "a third of universal validity".
Indeed, we now know that Marxism and communism have shrunk in distribution
If there is a
universal ethical standard in the world, we have not yet discovered it.
It is certainly not the Western ethical standard -- otherwise the United
States would not be wondering whether the death penalty is moral or not.
Nor would racism still be prevalent in the Western world.
continues to assume that human history is a search for the Universal.
The Western world has not found it -- but it has certainly taken us a
step or two towards it. The West has also helped to create the conditions
not only for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but also conditions
for the pursuit of the Universal for generations to come.