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Prof Ali Mazrui2. Prof Ali Mazrui
Pretender to Universalism: Western Culture in the Globalising Age
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Prof Ali Mazrui, Director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghamton University, New York.

Professor Mazrui argues that western culture is the dominant global culture. The validity of this culture needs to be challenged and is being challenged. But as Confucian or Islamic cultures assert themselves, their validity also needs to be challenged. And challenge itself is a process that enriches and expands the global culture.

The United States, Germany and Japan are the preeminent economic powers, while the US, Britain and France are the preeminent political powers. Accordingly, they have determined the global culture. But this culture needs to be challenged from within, as well as from without.

Western culture is undermined by violence and erosion of the family, causing a reappraisal from within. But western culture is also liberal, and Professor Mazrui is optimistic that western liberalism can absorb other cultural values, such as the traditional sobriety of Islam.

Islam itself needs to expand and enrich itself, he argues. Some Islamic cultures have become dominated by narrow, legalistic interpretations. But in much of the Islamic world, including parts of the Arab world, Islam is tolerant and varied -- Islamic Pakistan, for example has had a woman leader, something that in the main western powers only Britain has achieved.

But a global culture with global validity cannot be achieved by preaching. It requires an underlying shift in the structure of power -- as when new technology made slavery uneconomic.

The global information revolution may be the basis for this shift -- although there is a danger that it could also create a new global underclass of digital deprivation. But Professor Mazrui argues that the signs are that the powers of the world are ready for a more inclusive global culture: 'some optimism is defensible'.