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Globalization: An Analysis in Islamic and the Western Contexts
Author/Source: Muzaffar K Awan  (mkawanmd@yahoo.com) Posted by: admin
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Muzaffar K Awan, MD, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Peter Baillie, MBBch, FRCOG, Dean of Academic Affairs, Baqai University, Shaher Baqa, Sindh, Pakistan.


Globalization means different things to different people. The term globalization has become part of our vocabulary over the last three decades but the socio-cultural and economic changes it connotes have been taking place from the time immemorial and had begun when the hunters and gatherers placed their feet on the planet earth. How do we in today’s age define globalization? Globalization is generally defined and considered as the establishment of a corporate super state system above all governments. An alternative definition of globalization means the awakening of humanity to a mindful global (universal) unity and connectivity (tawhid).

Globalization has always been a universal (Global) system. The powerful has been the global while the weak has been the local. However, in today’s times, the global has become overly hegemonic center while the local has become the deprived periphery. Ancient China was the center of the world according to ancient cartography but Persia and Rome disputed Ancient China as the center of the world. Then Islam came and as a new power inherited both, Western and Eastern powers and became the center of the world for 800 years in Al-Andalusia and the then known world in spite of the invasions from the West, the Crusaders, and from the East, the Mongols. The West followed, after reaching the Western hemisphere and by crossing the Atlantic in 1492, even if the intentions were to reach India by the western route. From the start of modern era until early 1940s, Europe was the center of the world and Africa, Asia and Latin America were the periphery.

The foundation for the eventual rise of the bipolar world is clearly found in the years leading up to and during the Second World War, when the two superpowers arose from the power vacuum created in Europe and with imperial decline of Great Britain and France. Germany and Italy tried to fill this hole unsuccessfully while Britain and France were more concerned with their colonial empires. The United States and the Soviet Union ended the war with vast advantages in military strength. At the end of the war, the United States was in the singular position of having the world's largest and strongest economy. This allowed them to fill the power gap left in Europe by the declining imperial powers.

With the strong ideologies that they both possessed, and the ways in which they attempted to diffuse their respective ideologies throughout the world after the War, they indeed succeeded. The question of Europe having been settled for the most part, the two superpowers rushed to fill the power vacuum left by Japan in Asia also. It was the globalization and dimensions of their political, military and economic presence that made the United States and the USSR superpowers. It was the rapid expansion of the national and global structures of the Soviet Union and the United States during the war that allowed them to assume their bipolar roles.

Since the demise of Soviet empire in 1991, the US became a solo imperium challenging the rest of the world. Hegemony exercised by the superpower and the prevailing view of neoliberal globalization has produced identity countercurrents around the world. In the larger cultural areas of the world - China, India, Africa, Latin America and Islamic lands - ground swells surge in opposition to the hegemony, and in favor of the right to authenticity and difference. The pressures from the center to the periphery combined with the crisis of capitalism have culminated in the failings of present globalizing system.

In referring to globalization here as a failing system, we do not of course mean that capitalism as an economic system is in any way at an end totally. We do mean a global economic and social order failure that increasingly reflects a fatal contradiction between reality and reason—to the extent, in present times, where it threatens not only human common welfare system but also the continuation of most mind-full forms of quality of life on the planet.
There are 3 critical contradictions that make up the contemporary world crisis emanating from corrupt capitalism and its globalizing development: (1) the current and progressive Financial Global Crisis and stagnating depression; (2) the ever growing threat of planetary ecological collapse; and (3) the emergence of global imperial instability associated with shifting global hegemony, Muslim and Western tensions, global war on terror and the struggle for resources. Such structural weaknesses of the elitists system, as Joseph Schumpeter might have said, are the product of capitalism’s past successes, but they raise catastrophic problems and failures in the present nonetheless.[1] How we choose to act today in response to the failing system is therefore the most critical question that humanity has ever faced?

From the beginnings of the modern age, the West began challenging the entire world in a series of events commencing with the decline of Al-Andalusia, fall of Granada and the discovery of the Western half of the world, i.e. the Americas in 1492. The Europeans acted as though the East and the Muslim Civilization hadn’t existed before the Western race arrived in the western hemisphere. [2]

The Western fleets of ships embarked on journeys for the purposes of exploration from Genoa, and commerce expanded in the 17th century, Algeria was colonized in the 19th century, Britain wiped out the Mogul empire in India and besieged the entire old world. In merely two centuries Europe became master of the world by means of seafaring, after the crusades in the 11th and 12th century had failed.

Globalization has been to this day the most favorite form of Western hegemony [3], achieved through military action, capitalism and the free market. After the collapse of socialist system and the end of bipolar world in 1991, capitalism emerged as the winner. The global capitalism was legitimized and further justified on the premise of market unity and its hegemonic laws, profit, competition, etc. and proclaiming of a new world order . The group of eight industrialized nations became the hub of the world and transformed all of Africa, Asia and Latin America into markets. Globalization became Westernization and by now Americanization with the US being a solo super power which challenges the rest of the world as a concept of dissemination from the core to the periphery. The threat is actually greater because there has been only one path, one opinion and one ideal being followed. And anyone who dares to defy, for example, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan or Yemen must expect military aggression, either through the United Nations, or outside the United Nations and through NATO or international alliance.

Islamic Universality had existed before the present-day Western globalization concept , but Islam set out with the belief in the universalizing human unity (Tawhid) , meaning the whole world being equal before one God and one principle, and therefore, equal human values, irrespective of race or gender. Islam did not kill children, old or innocent people; it did not destroy homes. And when the Muslim Arabs went to Egypt, Persia, India, Central Asia and Far East; the inhabitants of these lands, welcomed them as liberators. Islam had not been tyrannical but was universally liberating force.
Comparing further Islamic universality with today’s globalization we stand at two opposite poles. Islamic universality is based on diversity, coexistence, mutual respect, and competition within the framework of tawhid (human unity) and of all that is to be shared by mankind. Western globalization on the other hand stands for conflict, division and a chaos that unfolds against the backdrop of Western hegemony seeking to cast the entire world into the Western mold alone. Universality is a humanistic trend, a step towards the interaction of civilizations, the cross fertilization of cultures, the interconnection of intellectual patterns, solidarity, complementarity and the mutual acquaintance of nations, peoples and states. In universality, the world is a platform of civilizations as they meet on vast expanses of common ground while each preserves its own cultural identity and serves its nationalistic, civilizational, economic and security interests within the context of a balance of interests, not of powers.

Islam preserved the cultures, languages and religions of all ethnic groups. Whoever sought the protection of Muslims maintained their religious practices, as the case had been with Jews, Christians, Sabians and Brahmans in the past. Even pagans were able to live under the pluralistic protection of Islam.
The system of the Islamic community stipulated that Islam was a singular federalist Uma. This means different ethnic groups were protected and not harassed. Different languages, cultures, customs and traditions were preserved and ensured. There was no Islamic hostility towards Jews and Christians in the Spanish cities of Granada, Seville, Cordoba and Toledo. Averroes and Moses Maimonides [4] even led religious and philosophical discourse in Cordoba. As a result, it was the Golden Age for Jews and Christians in Spain.

Naturally, frontiers had been crossed all over the world throughout human history. When Alexander the Great left Greek Macedonia to conquer Egypt with his troops, he built Alexandria and then moved on to India and Central Asia. This was a form of Greek globalization. But the goal was for Greek culture to gain prevalence even outside of Greece, and to replace “barbarian” cultures of the local ethnic communities.

Romans followed a similar trajectory. They wanted to do the same and made the Mediterranean a Roman sea. Then, Islam followed and spread after the Persian and Byzantine wars, just as the two major Eastern and Western powers were waning. But Islam did not want hegemony and brought harmonizing universality. The Early Islamic expansions during the first century were not attacks or invasions that can be compared to Alexander's campaigns, medieval crusades or recent European colonization.

There is a distinction between the West and the USA but The West is a worldview that includes the US desire for dominance in the non-European and non-American world. This is evident in Europe's viewpoint on the Palestinian, Iraqi, Iranian issues, and its viewpoint on all other issues concerning people it used to have ties with, like countries that were colonized before the US started to follow the footsteps of traditional imperial states such as Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.

Many nations from around the world are raising objections to Americanized globalization since it does not merely begin as economic hegemony through the market and its laws but also through the culture. The culture that goes along with globalization; consumption, competition, profit, and hence, American values that are spread through the globalization… meaning enculturation and double standards.

With multi-national corporations, economy is implemented on a world-wide scale. The group of eight, the GATT, the World Bank, the IMF and all international financial centers are run globally not locally. There are only two alternatives: to compete or retreat, to produce or to consume, to create or to imitate, to invent or to assimilate, to give or to take, to export or to import, to be in the center or to be in the periphery. A small and weak; is not able to assert, and therefore, globalization means double standards. The elitist made laws of the market and the freedom of competition belong to the powerful everywhere in the world. The weak powers, however, are excluded from the system and turned into a market for raw materials or for cheap labor.

Europe balances as a balance scale between Africa, Asia and Americanization in the world. There is a difference between Westernization and Americanization. Islam has now become the second religion in Europe, and therefore, European interests are in the Southern Mediterranean. Lives in the North and South are tied through emigration and common history. US hegemony in the name of globalization can be damaging to European interests as well as the Arab Islamic World at the same time.

During the cold war, there were two poles controlling the world, the socialist and the capitalist poles. The world was concerned as to which system would triumph over the other, not through wars, but through competition. At that time, the socialist system supported all movements of liberation, and it even helped build the Aswan dam in Egypt. African, Asian and Latin American nations felt that they had an ally other than Europe and the United States.

Capitalism, with its administrative and practical success at the time, did not require its legitimacy and after the demise of the socialist Soviet system, a new type of concocted capitalism has emerged, call it the end of history, globalization, global village, revolution of technology, clash of civilizations, global war on terror and the pre-occupation with matters such as Islam-Confucianism versus Judaism- Christianity for concealing the primary interests of industrialized nations.

Globalization is a form of ongoing colonialism, open to the same criticism that it relies on an instrumental racism and European cultural supremacy as ideological supports. These ideologies are the building blocks for a contemporary version of a colonial ‘commonsense’ that colonizer groups in modern societies draw upon for everyday decisions. Such ‘commonsense’ continues to see the people of developing nations as an enemy and assertions of their collective rights as primitive impediments to a world-wide capitalism.

It is an alternative agenda exported to the Muslim World as a periphery so that they are engrossed by the issue of democratic change, since the West thinks that the problems is not the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land, but instead the systems of rule. Thus, the issue of national liberation and the people's rights turned into a mere ideal of human rights.

The Islamic nations are increasing getting aware of the secularity that is compatible with religiosity, particularly the religiously neutral secularity by the State that accommodates the presence of religion in the public and political sphere.

Also, the experiences of religiously neutral but secular democracies in the West and several Muslim countries demonstrate that secularization does not in any way harm the religious belief.

Actually, religiosity and spirituality certainly can and have persisted within the negotiated processes of state secularity. Moreover, the experience of neutral secularity demonstrates that the iron curtain between religion and the state in France and Kemalist Turkey has been unnecessary, counterproductive and excessive in nation‐building projects .While the Indonesian experience has revealed that the neutral secularization in Muslim majority countries can be fortified by democratic institutions and processes, a highly functioning state, economic empowerment and vibrant civil society. Neutral secularism can also be energized by an enlightenment Islamic discourses that promote harmony between Islamic spirituality and secular democracy [5].

The enlightenment and renaissance Islamic discourse allows Muslims to support the inclusive secular state [6] and supports a post‐Modernist state secularization that incorporates the sacred within the framework of the state. This shift towards a post-modernist secularity is not unique to the Muslim World but reflective of a global religiosity that is strongly characterized by universality, multiplicity and not very different from North to South. Making sense of increasing global religiosity, prominent Western scholars of religion and society in the likes of Jose Casanova have observed that secularity and religiosity even if complex may be different but are intertwined more than commonly believed .Thus, to create an iron curtain between ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ is both unjustified and counterproductive for popular democracy , as curtailing the free exercise of the civil and political rights of religious citizens will infringe on the fabric of democratic civil society[ 7].

Interestingly, the Islamic state model has been discredited by the theological contradictions, governance failures, political repression and economic records of Islamic states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. The enlightened Islamic scholars and intellectuals have strongly rejected the Islamic state for politicizing Islam and upholding authoritarian political structures that serve the interests of ruling elites. Echoing the critics of authoritarian secular states, they call for a separation of religion from the control of state institutions. The Islamic state and authoritarian secular state models appear to have lost all of their appeals in contrast to the neutral secular democratic state model which has been gaining a great deal of political interest in the Muslim World.

This is revealed by the sustainability of Indonesia’s inclusive secular constitutional moorings despite ongoing challenges by the Islamic conservatives; electoral successes and governance credibility of the AKP government that have allowed it to cautiously restructuring of Turkey’s military dominated secular state; political moderation and alternating Islamic parties such as Malaysia’s PAS and ongoing protest movements fuelling the ‘Arab Spring’. Instead of the polarizing Islamic state agenda commonly touted in the 1980s and 1990s, many Islamic parties and movements have focused on good governance, democracy and economic development and appear willing to work within the framework of the secular democratic state – an inclusive and pluralistic framework acceptable to majorities in Muslim majority countries.

However, globalization moved the Islamic movements to a new phase because of the need to defend home countries and the corresponding land, and the need to defend what is sacred in the public sphere; especially after the West and the United States in particular, had taken on the appearance of a new imperialistic posture.

Islam is no different from the other monotheistic beliefs; it is being cast in a militant light without any reason, and at its core it is a religion of peace and enduring universal values for humanity. In those far off days in a harsh desert environment, Islam corrected many of the obvious deficiencies in Christianity and Judaism with a far greater emphasis on submission to the will of God. It is also the ultimate community orientated faith – the transnational Uma inclusive of all of humanity but viewed wrongly as threatening by the non-Islamic world. There is some difference in the structure of two societies. In Western society the structure is directed towards the individual rights of freedom and rule of law in contrast with the Islamic tradition where family is the core of the society and individual is an integral part of the family and the civic society.

The historical and universal norms were integral to traditional civilizations based on faith and spiritual principles rooted in anthropocosmic worldview [8]. It was post medieval Europe that deviated from these norms and substituted an anthropocentric worldview for an anthropocosmic one. Europe also preferred power over wisdom and “total freedom “of reason from revelation, intellectual intuition and insight. All this has led to so many “isms” in the 20th century and thanks to modern means of warfare, loss of meaning of life, the laicism (extremist secularism), and dehumanization of humanity, decaying global social fabric, radical free markets with corrupt capitalism, the unprecedented destruction of nature and numerous other extreme consequences of modernism’s uncivil civilization.

Scattered and weak as Muslims are, they have been relying on others for food and clothing, arms, education etc. Islamic universality remains a dream for the future, ----an alternative to globalization when the Muslims and the masses of the world have largely become consumers despite the tremendous natural resources everywhere on our planet. The ultimate question is how Universalist regional blocs will emerge and become powerful enough and how that will genuinely challenge and transform the failing Globalization?

The Latin America, with exceptions of Brazil, is still in a state of social unrest and in league with criminal drug cartels. Africa, on the other hand, is threatened by debt, desertification and diseases, like Aids. What remains is the Islamic world of Middle Eastern, North Africa and South Asian region, where intellectual dynamism, preservation of identity and major issues still exist more so than the rest of the world.

Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Iran, Nigeria formed a group of 14 nations which has expanded to 28 countries already. The group represents an African-Asian bloc which stands against the joint European market at this point. Hence, the achievement of equilibrium could be possible through regional co-operation and the gradual liberation of nations from elitist globalization. Who knows, perhaps Europe might eventually join them? Turkey remains pivotal nation keen to join the European Union. But the Islamic world, despite the OIC representing 56 Muslim nations over 40 years, becoming a credible union of its own and capable of competing with the West remains a remote dream even to this day.

The paradigm shift will strengthen the nation states and put their own houses in order, achieve the goals of the Palestinian solution, bring amicable end to global war on terror and engage in constructive dialogue with the West ,create individual national level social movements in all Muslim nations to hook up with Hizmet, and create a regional and global co-operation, and creation of a Muslim universal market.

Positive and constructive Globalization---Universality in the Islamic context has yet to be put into practice around the world including the Muslim world. Globalization has divided the world and has led to great oppression, global recession not only in terms of human rights but also the law of nations. What has globalization done for Palestine? What has globalization done for alleviating poverty still rampant around the globe and for eliminating conflicts and wars, and making our planet achieve peace, harmony and the rights of nations?

Why just human rights, which are based on a solely Western perception of humans, meaning that the individual possesses the exclusive rights of his own? What about an ethnic group's rights to self-determination? As a matter of fact, thus far, no one really thinks there is anything special about the prevailing globalization. Who is going to benefit from the world as a global village? Afghanistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia? For how long globalization is going to remain an American and European exclusive interest?

The world urgently needs a diversification of coherent regional blocs for the purpose of bridging the ever widening gap between the rich and poor. The world ought to consist of many blocs. The multiple regional blocs must support genuine universality to eliminate the anti-globalization demonstrations and recent global protests against the accesses of radical free market, insulated elitism and failing capitalism around the world.

After September 11, we are still looking for the answers to our predicaments. The renowned scholar and social scientist Akbar Ahmed, (of the American University in Washington, D.C) after his extensive research has suggested a better answer to the question that could not be addressed until the Muslim world and the West find ways to deliberately closing the gap past the hatred and trust deficit intensified by the war on terror and the forces of failing globalization. Seeking to establish dialogue and understanding between these cultures, Ahmed led a team of dedicated young Americans on a daring and unprecedented tour of the Muslim world. Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization [9] that is the riveting story of their research for common ground between the Muslim World and the West.

Rejecting stereotypes against Islam and its bitter encounter with de facto globalization, Akbar Ahmed offers a new framework for understanding the Muslim world. As Western leaders wage a war on terrorism, Ahmed offers insightful suggestions on how the United States can improve relations with Islamic nations and peoples. Written with equal compassion and urgency, Journey into Islam makes a powerful case for forming bonds across religion, race, and tradition to create lasting harmony between Islam and the West. It is essential for anyone concerned with the future survival of the United States as a world leader and beacon of hope, and for the individuals who face the painful challenges of failing globalization, and for the very future of our planet.

The Islamic worldview historically has always been dynamic universality, integrative and interactive as exemplified in the Uma of democracy model during the first Century of Islam, [10] and for over half a Millennium Muslim civilization’s contributions in Al-Andalusia. [11]
Muslims too have lagged behind for several recent centuries and this occurred due to disconnect between authentic teachings of Islam and its right-full practices. According to Gulen, [12] today’s serious challenges for Muslim’s are the absence of a true scientific mentality in Islamic nations and the absence of true dialogue between Islamic world and the West with Western hegemonic legacy and Muslim failure to rise up to the challenge of showing the world, the positive dimensions of authentic Islam . Islamic Renaissance in the making is a phenomenon that is local and universal in nature ---a universalizing process. Gulen’s educational, social and global movement emphasizes its own version of globalization (universality) in a world dominated by the Western and Japanese forms of failing globalization. Unless universalizing project is led by highly educated, responsible and accountable generation of human beings and global citizens, it will not be successful.

At this point, it is the duty of multilingual Golden generation of global citizens (inspired by Gulen) already in millions (estimated to be 5 to 10 millions) who have dedicated their lives for humanity as volunteers and are traveling widely around the world, studying the social sciences and humanities in different educational and scientific settings, and above all, are actively engaged in universal interfaith and intellectual dialogues and education. The collapse of communism had opened the door, since 1991, for a wider Pan-Turkic and universal Islamic renaissance in my opinion through Gulen social /educational movement (hizmet) and Turkish Republic’s current economic and political influences in Central Asia, MENA and the rest of the Islamic world.

Islamic universalizing and alternative paradigm will eventually prevail upon the failure of the de facto imperialistic globalization and Islamic renaissance will bring about a new bloc not necessarily confrontational to the West since socialist system has already ended and corrupt capitalism awaits its own demise.

[1] Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1947), 61
[2] Jacob Bender, a Documentary Film, Out of Cordoba: Averroes and Maimonides in Their Time and Ours (Press Kit, 2010)

[3] Hassan Hanafi, "Globalization Is Western Hegemony" (© Qantara.de 2003)
[4] Ibid, Jacob Bender, a Documentary Film, Out of Cordoba: Averroes and Maimonides in Their Time and Ours. (Press Kit, 2010)
[5] Abdullahi An Naim, ‘The Interdependence of Religion, Secularism and Human Rights’, Common
Knowledge, 11(1), 2005, p.63‐64.

[6] Abdullah An Naim, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Sharia, (Cambridge: Harvard Uni. Press, 2008), p.269

[7]Jose Casanova, 2006, p.20.

[8] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2002), p 310
[9] Akbar Ahmed, Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (Brookings Institution Press, 2010).
[10]. Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers, At the Origins of Islam. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, and London, England 2010.
[11] Prince Charles of Wales, a memorable lecture on “Islam and the West” presented October 27th 1993, Oxford University.
[12] Nevval Sevindi, ”Contemporary Islamic Conversations”: M. Fethullah Gulen on Turkey, Islam, and the West (State University of New York, 2008)

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