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View Full Version : Civilization And Modernization : Dr.ali Shariati



babagrr
05-19-2006, 08:04 AM
(This is a shortened copy of a lecture delivered by Ali Shariati,which is
published in a book by him called “Reflections of Humanity”)

Debate on the question of who is civilized and who is modernised are best
discussed in light of Islamic doctrine, particularly as a matter
concerning individuals of the educated classes of Islamic societies upon
whom lie the burden of responsibility and leadership og the Umma. A more
important issue is the relationship between an imposed modernization and
genuine civilization. Unfortunately modernity has been imposed on us, the
non-European nations , in the guise of civilisation.

Before any further discussion I should like to define certain terms:

1.Intellectual.An intellectual is one who is conscious of his own
“humanistic status” in a specific social and historical time and
place.His self awareness lays upon him the burden of responsibility. He
responsibly,self-consciously leads his people in scientific,social and
revolutionary action.(See also “From where shall we begin” and “The
intellectual and his social responsibilities” by Dr. Shariati for further
discussion on this).

2.Assimilation.Applies to the conduct of an individual who,
intentionally or unintentionally starts imitating the mannerisms of
someone else.A person exhibiting this weakness forgets his own
background,national character and culture or,if he remembers them at
all,recalls them with contempt. Obsessively, and with no reservation, he
denies himself in order to transform his identity.Hoping to attain the
distinctions,and the grandeur, which he sees in another, the assimilator
attempts to rid himself of percieved shameful associations with his
original society and culture.

3.Alienation.The process of forgetting or becoming unfamiliar with
or indifferent to one’s self. That is one loses the self and directs
perceptions from within another person or thing.

What does “cultural alienation” mean? We know alienation, indicates
a condition in which one does not percieve himself as he is,but rather
percieves something else in his place.What is culture? However defined,
culture includes a collection of intellectual,non-material
artistic,historical,literary,religious and emotional expressions (e.g.
signs,traditions,customs) of a nation which have accumulated in the
course of it’s history and acquired unique form.

When I feel my own religion,literature,emotion,needs and pains
through my own culture, I feel my own self, the very social and
historical self, the source from which this culture has originated. But
certain artificial factors, probably of a dubious nature, creep into a
society which have an alien spirit and are a product of a different past,
a diffefent society (different both socially and economically). These
artificial factors wipe out any real culture and substitute a false
culture suitable for different conditions and an altogether different
historical stage, a different economy, and a different political and
social setup. Then when I wish to feel my own real self, I find myself
concieving another society’s culture instead of my own and bemoaning
troubles not mine at all. I then
find myself harboring aspirations, ideals and anguishes legitimately
belonging to social,economic and political conditions of societies other
than mine.

My conception of myself are not as I actually am in reality, but as
“they” are; that is I am alienated. Is it not ridiculous to have, in a
society with so much starvation and general feelings, desires and
behaviour resembling those of present day Americans,English or French.
In this way non-European societies become alienated by European
societies: their intellectuals no longer feel Eastern, groan like an
Easteern person or aspire to be Eastern people. The intellectual does not
suffer because of his own social problems, rather he concieves of the
pain,sufferings, feelings and needs of an European in the final stage of
capitalistic and materialistic success and enjoyment. Thus, today the
most painful disorder possible sweeps non-European countries, the
psychological disorder of non-Europeans who posses a unique character and
yet deny it. They hold in mind something alien.They concieve of someone
else and imitate him blindly.

These non-European countries, say 200 years ago, would have lacked
today’s Western Civilization, but each and every one of them had it’s own
authentic and solid civilization. For instance, if I had gone to a
country like India or an African country, I would know that they had
their own unique tastes and buildings.They composed their own unique
poetry, pertinant to their culture, and relevant to their lives.They had
their own unique social manner, own religion.All they had was their own.
They were not sick, poor they were,but poverty is something different
from sickness.

But today, western societies have been able to impose their
philosophy, their way of thinking, their desires,their ideas,their tastes
and their manners upon non-Europeans countries to the same extent that
they have been able to force their symbols of civilization (technological
innovations) into these countries which consume new products and gadgets;
countries which can never adjust themselves to European
manners,longing,tastes and ways of thinking.

We started putting together different parts and elements to build a
modern but formless society with no aim or goal. In the distorted result
we find parts from everywhere,some native,some European, some
old-fashioned and some modern-creating a shapeless,aimless confusion,and
in the result creating a shapeless ,aimless society as well.Such
societies are non-European societies which, during the last century, have
been able to get their construction materials from the West, in the name
of civilization.

What is the origin of the emergence of this “mosaic” civilisation in
non-European countries which have no special shape and no fixed goal? The
machine emerged and developed during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in
Europe in the hands of the capitalists and the rich.The machine has the
characteristic of the need for constant increase in production when it
is working.This is the machines coercion. Therefore,to avoid
stock-piling, it must also progressively create the necessity of
continuous consumption.However people’s consumption does not increase at
the same rate as does production. So what is to be done about excess
production or surplus? New fields of consumption must be provided.
European countries populations do nor exceed 40 to 60 million.The frantic
production rate,rising constantly, exceeds the desires of people to
consume. Thus since the machine has compulsively produced excess goods,
it must step over it’s national boundary,consequently the surplus goods
had to go to Asia and Africa.

Can these products actually be taken to the East, whose pattern of
life does not require them, and force their consumption? Impossible! When
you enter an Asian society you notice that the Asian’s clothing is made
by his wife or in a native workshop.They wear traditional garments.There
is no demand here for the products of factories which make machines, or
“high fashion” clothes, or the “modern” fabrics of Europe.

An African or Asian woman had no need for European cosmetics and no
need for trinkets to beautify herself and dress up.She already had her
own cosmetics,her own materials and make-up.She would use them and all
would admire her.Nor would she feel any need for change.

As a result of her attitude, the capitalist’s merchandise remained
unsold.People with this way of thinking, with unique necessities and
tastes,who have their own lifestyle and produce their own necessities,
were not the type of people who would consume the products of 18th
century capitalists. So what to do? The problem was to make people in
Asia and Africa consumers of European products. Their societies must be
structured so they would buy European products.That meant changing a
nation literally.They had to change the nation, and they had to transform
a man in order to change his clothing, his consumption pattern, his
adornment, his abode and his city.What part of him to change first? His
morale and his thinking. It was the business of the enlightened European
intellectuals to plan a special method of perverting the mind,the taste
and lifestyle of the non-European.This was the project: all the people of
the world must become uniform.They must live alike.They must think alike.

What structural elements go into the personality and spirit of a man
and nation? Religion,history, culture, past civilization, education and
tradition.All of these mentioned are the structural elements of a man’s
personality and spirit and,in it’s general term, a nation. These elements
differ from one society to another.They result in one form in Europe,
another in Asia and in Africa.They all have to become the same.The
differences in thinking and spirits of the nations must be destroyed in
order for men to become uniform.They must conform, wherever they are, to
a single pattern.What is this pattern? The pattern is provided by Europe:
it shows all Easterners,Asians,Africans, how to think, how to dress, how
to desire, how to grieve, how to build their houses,how to establish
their social relations,how to consume , how to express their view, and
finally how to like and what to like. Soon it is realized that a new
culture called “modernization” was presented to the whole world.

The Europeans realized that by tempting the inhabitant of the East
with a compulsive desire for “modernization”, he would cooperate with
them to deny his own past and desecrate and destroy with his own hands
the constituents of his own unique culture, religion and personality. So
the temptation and longing for “modernization” prevailed all across the
Far East,Middle East,Near East and in Islamic and Black countries - and
to become modernized was regarded as becoming like the Europeans.

Strictly speaking,”modernized” means modernized in consumption.One
who becomes modernized is one whose tastes now desire “modern” items to
satisfy his wants. In other words, he imports from Europe new forms of
living and modern products, and he does not use new types of products
and a lifestyle developed from his own original and national past.
Non-Europeans are modernized for the sake of consumption.Westerners,
however, could not just tell others they were going to reshape their
intellect, mind and personality for fear of awakening resistance.
Therefore, the Europeans had to make non-Europeans equate “modernization”
with “civilization” to impose the new consumption pattern upon them,
since everyone has a desire for civilization. “Modernization” was defined
as “civilization” and thus people cooperated with the European plans to
modernize. Since the non-Europeans could not produce the new products,
they became automatically dependant upon the technology which produces
for them and expects them to buy whatever it produces.

Modernization is changing traditions, mode of consumption and
material life from old to new. To make all the non-Eurpeans modernized,
they first had to overcome the influence of religion, since religion
causes any society to feel a distinctive individuality. Religion
postulates an exalted intellectuality to which everyone relates
intellectually. If this intellect is crushed and humiliated, the one who
identifies himself with it feels also crushed and humiliated. So native
intellectuals began a movement against “fanaticism”. As Franz Fanon says:
“Europe intended to captivate the non-European by the machine. Can a
human or society be enslaved by a machine or certain European product
without taking away or depriving him of his personality?”No, it can not.
The personality must be wiped out first.

They would deprive him of his personality.He must be dispossessed of
all the “I’s” he feels within. He must be forced to believe himself
related to a humbler civilisation,a humbler social order, and accept that
European civilization,Western civilization and the Western race are
superior. Africa must believe that an African is a savage, so that he is
tempted to become “civilized” and put himself readily into the hands of
the Europeans who will determine his fate. The poor man does not realise
that he is being modernized instead of civilized. That is why we see that
all of a sudden in the 18th and 19th centuries the Africans were
described as savages and cannibals. Those Africans who dealt with the
Islamic civilisation for centuries were never known as cannibals.
Suddenly the Black African becomes a cannibal, has a special smell, has a
special race.The grey part of his brain does not work,and the forepart of
his brain,like the Asian’s,is shorter compared to the Westerner’s!

Then we see that a new culture was built on a basis of “Western
superiority” and “the superiority of it’s civilization and it’s people”.
They made us and the world believe that the European was exceptionally
talented mentally and technically, whereas the Easterner had strange
emotional and gnostic talents and the negro was only good for dancing,
singing,painting and sculpture.

Then this very way of thinking, which was introduced to the world to
justify the need for modernizing the non-European nations, became the
basis of thought for the non-European elites as well! Modernization in
what? In consumption, not in mind. In the name of civilization,the
campaign for modernization was carried on, and then for more than 100
years, the non-European societies themselves strove to become modernized
under the leadership of their sophisticated intellectuals.

Let us consider the genesis and composition of this class of
intellectuals.Jean Paul Sartre in the preface to “The Wretched of the
Earth” points out: “We would bring a group og African or Asian youth
toAmsterdam,Paris,London......for a few months,take them around, change
their clothes and adornments, teach them etiquette and social manners as
well as some fragment of language. In short, we would empty them of their
own cultural values and then send them back to their own countries.They
would no longer be the kind of person to speak their own mind; rather
they would be our mouthpieces. We would cry the slogans of humanity and
equality and then they would echo our voice in Africa and Asia,
“-manity,” “-quality.”

These were the persons who convinced people to lay aside their
orthodoxy, discard their religion,get rid of native culture (as these had
kept them behind the modern European societies) and become Westernized
from the tip of the toe to the top of their head!

How is it possible to become Europeanized through export and
exchange?Is civilization a product that one can export and import from
one place to another? Ofcourse not ;but modernity is the collection of
modern products which can be imported by a society within a period of 1,2
or 5 years. A certain society can be completely modernized within a few
years. Likewise an individual could also become throughly modernized,even
modernized than the European himself.You can change his mode of
consumption and he becomes modernized.That is exactly what the Europeans
were expecting.

But it is not so simple to civilise a nation or society.Civilization
and culture are not European-made products whose ownership makes anyone
civilized.But they made us believe that all-modernization nonsense was a
manifestation of civilization! And we eagerly threw away everything we
had, even our social prestige,morality and intellect, to become thirsty
suckers of what Europe was eager to trickle into our mouths. This is what
modernity really means.

Thus a being was created devoid of any background, alienated from his
history and religion, and a stranger to whatever his race, his history
and his forefathers had built in this world; alienated from his own human
characteristics, a second-hand personality whose mode of consumption had
been changed, whose mind has been changed, who had lost his old precious
thoughts, his glorious past and intellectual qualities and has now become
empty within. As Jean Paul Sartre puts it: “In these societies an
“assimilate”- meaning a quasi-thinker and quasi-educated person - was
created,not a real thinker or intellectual.”

A real intellectual is one who knows his society, is aware of it’s
problems, can determine it’s fate, is knowledgeable about it’s past and
who can decide for himself. These quasi-intellectuals, however, succeeded
in influencing the people.

In Europe and America, when people go to a place where jazz is being
played and they don’t like it, they just say so bluntly, and loudly. But
in Eastern countries no one can be brave enough to say “Jazz is bad and I
do not like it.” Why? Because they have not left him enough personality
and human value to let him choose the color of his dress and the flovor
of his food. As Fanon says: “In order for Eastern countries to be the
followers of Europe and imitate her like a monkey, they should have
proven to the non-Europeans that they do not posses the same quality of
human values as the Europeans do. They should have belittled their
history,literature,religion and art to make them alienated from all of
it. We can see that the Europeans did just that.”

They have created a people who do not know their own culture, but
still are ready to despise it.They know nothing about Islam but say bad
things about it.They do not understand their history but are ready to
condemn it.On the other hand, without reservation they admire all that is
imported from Europe. Consequently a being was created who,first became
alienated from his religion,culture,history and background, and then came
to despise them.He was convinced he was inferior to the European. And
when such a belief took root in him, he tried and wished to refute
himself, to sever his connections with all the objects attached to him
and somehow make himself like a European,who was not despised and looked
down upon, and atleast be able to say, “Thank God I am not an Easterner
since I modernized myself sufficiently to reach the level of a European.”

And while the non-European is happy with the idea that he has been
modernized,the European capitalist and bourgeois laugh at their success
in converting him into a consumer of their surplus production!
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