Saturday, October 31, 2009

Modernization and the Arab Identity...

I have been working on my research project that I have been thinking about for the past year. I have settled somewhere between modernization in the Arab world , the western influence, and the role that women play. I have been conducting a series of interviews and so far my results are mind blowing. There is this torn feeling between feeling pride for your country and accepting western ideals. The girls here dress just like Americans. They watch American movies thinking this is the way girls in America dress. I walk around with my basketball shorts and Air Jordan backpack hoping they realize we don't. This whole concept of so many influences coming here but very few of them leaving is something I struggle to comprehend. I am attempting to be unbiased throughout these preliminary stages of research...really I just hope to find out more.

In the book I am reading, Dynamics of Arab Cultures there is a chapter titled Arab Thought: Problems of Renewal, Modernity, and Transformation. This chapter really made me decide that I wanted to explore this idea of modernity and tradition in the Arab world. The chapter takes the argument that the largest conflict is the idea of modernity being a concept of borrowed ideas and a relationship with the west, all while aiming to maintain an Arab identity within and without of the Arab world.

In the article Albert Hourani is quoted as saying “contemporary Arab thought began when educated Arabs became aware of the ideas and institutions of modern Europe and felt its power in the nineteenth century.” This is a fundamental ideal surrounding many of the debates between Arab scholars. The argument before them is whether or not modernization is solely a Western concept and that the maintenance of an Arab identity is based purely off of traditionalism. Many arguments have been made for and against this and even more trends of thoughts have developed in seeking an “alternative” modernization. Scholars can argue that the Arab world should embrace and join this western modernization. They make the argument that European ideas have been “liberating” on Arab thought. For countries that are post-colonial this seems almost inevitable from the legacy left by occupation. These scholars argue a “need” for modernization.

However, on the other side there are those who argue that Arab intellectuality has and can have its own content. Anouar Abdel-Malek says that it has two main tendencies Islamic fundamentalism and liberal modernism. Islamic fundamentalism itself is a call for Muslims to restore to this past glory and to be at a standard that they once were. In contrast, liberal modernism aspires to generate modern society similar to those of the west. The question is where does one who identifies as an Arab find the medial position? Abdel-Malek makes a vital point in stating that a difference in embracing modernization that Islamic fundamentalism plays a large role. Above all other transformations that could be made within the Arab world religion is would be the most difficult. In Morocco 99% of the population is Muslim. In the Western world those numbers do not even begin to compare. The western world is seen as “challenge” that exploits and represses. Issa Boullata argued that Arab intellectuals of some twenty or thirty years ago had three main trends. Those who called for a cultural revolution, those who called for a need to interpret traditional Arab culture within the spectrum of modernization, and those who are committed to the religious aspect of Arab culture. These three ideals are very much contradictory to one another and balance one another with a search for an “alternative order”.

As the world continues to change the Middle East struggles to find its place within the "modern" world. A struggle to maintain an identity of their own while transforming to "fit" will be the task at hand...I think.

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