28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘West

Muslim communitarianism

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For some reason, The New York Times ran a decent article on the “Innocence of Muslims” fiasco and its black-swan backlash.

Here’s an interesting bit:

When the protests against an American-made online video mocking the Prophet Muhammad exploded in about 20 countries, the source of the rage was more than just religious sensitivity, political demagogy or resentment of Washington, protesters and their sympathizers here said. It was also a demand that many of them described with the word “freedom,” although in a context very different from the term’s use in the individualistic West: the right of a community, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, to be free from grave insult to its identity and values.

That demand, in turn, was swept up in the colliding crosscurrents of regional politics. From one side came the gale of anger at America’s decade-old war against terrorism, which in the eyes of many Muslims in the region often looks like a war against them. And from the other, the new winds blowing through the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which to many here means most of all a right to demand respect for the popular will.

“We want these countries to understand that they need to take into consideration the people, and not just the governments,” said Ismail Mohamed, 42, a religious scholar who once was an imam in Germany. “We don’t think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression. We think it is an offense against our rights,” he said, adding, “The West has to understand the ideology of the people.”

Even during the protests, some stone throwers stressed that the clash was not Muslim against Christian. Instead, they suggested that the traditionalism of people of both faiths in the region conflicted with Western individualism and secularism.

Read more.

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Written by M. James

September 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Culture, News, Politics, Religion

Tagged with , ,

Pamuk and Ataman on Turkish identity

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In Orhan Pamuk’s 2002 novel, Snow, there is an enigmatic Islamist character named “Blue.” At one point in the story, Blue is attempting to publish a statement in a German newspaper—a statement appealing to the “West” for aid in resisting a small coup in Anatolia.

Ka, the main character, records one of Blue’s pronouncements:

Will the West, which takes democracy, its great invention, more seriously than the word of God, come out against this coup that has brought an end to democracy in Kars? [He stopped here to make a grand gesture.] Or are we to conclude that democracy, freedom, and human rights don’t matter, that all the West wants is for the rest of the world to imitate them like monkeys? Can the West endure any democracy achieved by enemies who in no way resemble them? I have something to say to all the other nations that the West has left behind: Brothers, you are not alone.

Though Blue is primarily attempting to detract from “the West” by pointing out its inconsistencies, he unwittingly reveals his own inconsistencies by denigrating Western values with an appeal to Western values. His pride makes the situation even more ironic.

What Pamuk seems to be saying is that even when rebellious, Turks can find themselves working within Western parameters. Contemporary artist Kutluğ Ataman seems to agree (here):

Ataman said he always longed to return to Turkey, but he was skeptical of the art he sees in Istanbul: “A great majority of the work consists of imitations of Western gestures. Their reference is New York and London.”

Ataman doesn’t think Turkish artists have confronted the real source of their material, the thing they have to offer the world. He referred to an infamous recent incident, when a mob of Turkish men attacked gallery-hoppers who’d spilled onto the streets drinking alcohol in their fashionable clothes. The galleries were gentrifying the neighborhood, and the community, many Turks later told reporters, felt encroached upon and left out. To many other Turks, however, the attackers were religious types angered by the liberal lifestyle they’d been forced to witness: uncovered women, gay men, art, alcohol. In the center of Istanbul, Turkey’s two worlds came face to face, in a microcosmic dance of the confrontation happening all over the world: the West and the East, the rich and the poor, the comfortable and the angry.

Ataman regards such a confrontation as a brush with the “real Turkey.” “When I look at artists’ practice in Europe, I am not inspired,” he said. “If the artists here can engage with Turkey, they will be ahead of the rest of the world. Because the world is this. This desert.”

Written by M. James

May 25, 2012 at 7:43 am

Posted in Culture, Religion, Turkey

Tagged with , , , ,

In the West: a crippling failure to understand religion

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Some of us may be able to will God out of existence, but religion is not so accommodating.

The virtue of the following excerpt—from a March 2011 interview with Bruce S. Thornton—is not only in its ability to condense so much controversial subject matter into three paragraphs, but also in its prudent suggestion to “take religion seriously.”

We in the West assume our ideals and goods are universal. They are, but only potentially: there are many alternatives to our way of living and governing ourselves, most obviously Islam and its totalizing social-political-economic order, sharia law. Suffering from this myopia, we fail to see those alternatives or take them seriously, usually dismissing them as compensations for material or political goods such as prosperity or democracy.

Worse yet, our enemies are aware of this weakness, and are adept at telling us what we want to hear, and using our own ideals as masks for their own agendas. Just look at the misinterpretations of the protestors in Egypt and the Muslim Brothers, not just from liberals but from many conservatives, who have been duped by the use of vague terms like “freedom” or “democracy.”

An important factor in this bad habit is our own inability to take religion seriously. Since religion is mainly a private affair, a lifestyle choice and source of private therapeutic solace, we can’t imagine that there are people so passionate about spiritual aims that they will murder and die in the pursuit of those aims.

Written by M. James

April 4, 2012 at 1:12 am

Ian Morris: Why the West Rules…

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If you were to pick up Ian Morris’s Why the West Rules—For Now, you would probably be wondering the same thing that I was wondering when I picked it up: “Why does the West rule?”

Is it because Westerners are somehow superior? Is it because the West is more deductive in its thought process? Perhaps it’s because the West got an agricultural or intellectual head start. Or maybe it was just the right ingenuity at the right time. Was it guns, germs, or steel? Democracy? Luck? How about divine providence? Ian Morris has the answer.

It’s because the West is in the west.

To the disappointment of some readers—no doubt—Morris claims that people are people (lazy, greedy, frightened) wherever you go, and the success of the West in particular can be attributed to the simple fact that its geography has historically kept its development a step ahead of the East—with notable exceptions. It’s an essentially determinist view of history: While we may be able to mitigate the effects of geography, we cannot overcome them. This is not a new idea. Neither is it an unpopular idea. If you want to understand this view of history, Morris explains it well—and weaves the scope of human history together impressively. But if you’re not too keen on a 622-page world history, here are a few blog-relevant highlights:

I. “East” and “West”
II. Axial thought
III. Islam as Western

I. “East” and “West”
Morris complains that people generally equate “the West” with certain values (of their choice), and then look back through time to find the roots of those values, coming to all kinds of self-serving conclusions. Morris instead observes the “easternmost” and “westernmost” extents of civilization at any given time. He acknowledges that this is a limitation, but (rightly, I think) prefers it to the former method. As you can already see by page 41, his methodology lends itself to a geographical explanation. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M. James

April 1, 2012 at 1:58 am

Islamism drives Turkish foreign policy

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What Drives Turkish Foreign Policy?
Svante E. Cornell; Middle East Quarterly; Winter 2012

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) was reelected to a third term in June 2011. This remarkable achievement was mainly the result of the opposition’s weakness and the rapid economic growth that has made Turkey the world’s sixteenth largest economy. But Ankara’s growing international profile also played a role in the continued public support for the conservative, Islamist party. Indeed, in a highly unusual fashion, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began his victory speech by saluting “friendly and brotherly nations from Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Cairo, Sarajevo, Baku, and Nicosia.”[1] “The Middle East, the Caucasus, and the Balkans have won as much as Turkey,” he claimed, pledging to take on an even greater role in regional and international affairs. By 2023, the republic’s centennial, the AKP has promised that Turkey will be among the world’s ten leading powers.

At the same time, Turkey’s growing profile has been controversial. As Ankara developed increasingly warm ties with rogue states such as Iran, Syria, and Sudan while curtailing its once cordial relations with Israel and using stronger rhetoric against the United States and Europe, it generated often heated debates on whether it has distanced itself from the West. Turkey continues to function within the European security infrastructure—although more uneasily than before—but has a rupture with the West already taken place, and if so, is it irreversible?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M. James

December 20, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Islamic cultural system: inductive?

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Behold the danger of [attempts at] universal history. Here’s an article by Thorsten Pattberg shamelessly stolen from his own book, The East-West Dichotomy: Behold the Law of Difference (seriously, it’s almost verbatim). Note that none of his examples of inductive reasoning come from the Islamic cultural system—even though he classifies it as one of the “Oriental” cultural systems.

I guess minor oversights like that are expected in universal history. Read the article as a comparison between broad themes in Western and Eastern philosophy and it almost works. Take away from it how difficult it is to paint intellectual history with a broad brush.

The East-West dichotomy revisited
Thorsten Pattberg; Asia Times Online; Dec. 13, 2011

“The West is deductive, from the universal to the particular; the East is inductive, from the particular to the universal.” 
– Ji Xianlin, 1996

According to the universal historians Arnold J Toynbee, Samuel P Huntington and Ji Xianlin, the world’s states form 21, 23 or 25 spheres, nine civilizations, and fall into four cultural systems: Arabic/Islam, Confucian, Hindi/Brahmin and Western/Christian, with the former three forming the Oriental cultural system and the latter one the Occidental cultural system. The main difference between the Orient and the Occident, so what people say lies in their different mode of thinking: The East is more inductive, the West is more deductive.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M. James

December 13, 2011 at 4:32 am

The “Turkish model” and a cold shoulder

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And by now I owe an explanation for an unsupported claim in a previous post. My claim was that the prevailing Western attitude toward the Republic of Turkey, as embodied by an excerpt from Stephen Kinzer’s Crescent and Star, is one that pushes Turkey—a country predisposed to Western ideals—away from the West. I do not think that it is the intention of Kinzer or those who share his attitude (of whom there are many) to do this, but it is happening all the same.

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