By Doğu Ergil
June 17, 2014
As globalization puts more pressure on distinct cultures and local communities to comply with the demands of the modern world, both individual and communal reactions to globalization begin to be more salient.
The new world order, or simply Western Civilization, promised justice, prosperity, human rights and constitutional democracy. However, these targets mainly remained as ideals rather than reality. Combined with the agony of the colonial past, most non-Western countries no longer felt that these were illusions created by the old masters that were just picked up by new, native masters.
Christian (or better, Christianized) colonies at least had a cultural affinity with their colonizers. But Muslim peoples had no cultural ties that attached them to their Western rulers. They neither had the military power nor the economic-technological instruments to resist Western intrusion and dominance. They felt defeated and humiliated. The continuing gap between the West and the former colonies or dependent nations created the feeling of being under constant siege. Muslim peoples felt indignant and marginalized at the fringe of a world getting richer, advancing in arts and sciences and benefitting from the gains of civilization while they trailed from far behind.
The wrath of the masses first turned toward the “near enemy,” namely their governments and rulers who ruled along Western principles with the promise of a better life that was never delivered. The second target was the West (the “distant enemy”), formerly accused of colonization and now accused of the global exploitation of resources, labor and people's hopes of wanting to be “themselves,” free of what contemporary civilization can offer.
Because of the failure of nationalism (mainly due to the failure of the nation state in development and nation-building) and leftist ideologies, neither industrialization nor equality were realized, and so Muslim nations found a uniting factor in their faith. This was their most genuine characteristic, and the only non-Western one that they could rally behind, despite their differences. Thus, Islam became both a factor of quasi-nationalism and a protest movement against anything that was Western.
As Islamic movements and political organizations created under their influence proved to be ineffective in delivering basic assurances like dignity, prosperity, justice and political stability, these movements and organizations became more radical. It was believed that moving closer to the putative original principles and way of life of the times of the Prophet Mohammed, would make Islamic society become purer, more inclusive and powerful. Justice and good government would emanate from the fact that people were obeying the principles of religion. But there's the rub: Who would decide what was “ideal” and “right”?
A fierce battle started among Islamic movements and organizations to set the standard for proper and righteous conduct. The battle waged on, getting more radical each passing day until it produced ruthless men in arms that decide who should live or die on the spot.
In the pull-and-push of globalization on the one side and attenuating nation-states on the other, local communities and cultures are waning, creating a vacuum filled with faith that is increasingly distancing itself from organized or institutionalized religion. This faith is more political than cultural because it proposes to organize the world and design worldly life along religious principles only inspired, but often contrary to, holy texts and principles.
This political religion (Islam) believes in its cultural superiority over other religions as well as other interpretations and practices of Islam. It tries to carve out a political and cultural domain for itself against other beliefs and political systems. That is why it is violent and bellicose. However, it has no economic doctrine or any proven success in this regard except kleptocracy.
Political religion is against the confluence of peoples and cultures. It is monopolistic and isolationist. Its belligerence and intolerance toward other faiths and cultures lead to fear. Such fear can prompt short-lived obedience and deference, but not solidarity.
What feed this radical trend in politics worldwide are nationalistic/discriminatory practices that are instrumental in the exploitation of human rights and that are intolerant to cultural diversity. A democratic deficit is always compensated by less tolerant and more authoritarian reflexes and currents.