Culture of Conservatism?

What the Muslim World Did Not Learn
By Anisa Abd el Fattah
Freelance Writer- USA

Crowded Street in Egypt
Most of the Muslim countries are changing culturally toward a more liberal culture. And that sets two serious question marks: why and how.
Crowded street in Cairo, Egypt

Talk to almost any Muslim living in the Muslim world and they will tell you that things in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia are changing culturally, and depending upon whom you ask, the changes are not necessarily for the better.

Divorce is on the increase along with the number of women working outside of the home. The media has become much more liberal, and movies from the West portraying male and female association outside of the traditional limits are getting commoner. This is creating a new social morality challenging the more familiar traditions that have always guided male-female interaction and that originated in Islam.

Young people in these societies are pushing for greater liberalism, while the governments are pushing religion out of the public arena, in pursuit of more political options and greater government power. The resulting change is a more secular liberal culture in the Muslim world that some would say mimics very closely the culture that became popular in the US following the advent of what was deemed sexual liberation, women's rights, and the transformation of religion from a powerful moral force to a mostly symbolic type of social experience, having less influence not only politically but also socially and economically.

A more liberal culture and the diminishing influence of religion over the public lives of citizens do not have to mean that Muslim moral standards will erode. Yet, when we look at the impact that secular liberal culture had on the US and the subsequent cultural wars that have been the pre-occupation of liberals and conservatives in the US ever since, we must ask ourselves what it is that the West learned from its experience with secular liberalism but the Muslim world did not.

Underdeveloped countries, not only the Muslim world, have had to accept Western cultural hegemony as part of the modernization package.

What Pattern Do We Apply?

The timing of the Muslim world's transition from a religious to a relatively secular culture is perhaps more telling than the phenomenon itself. It seems that economic globalism and the more powerful global secular order gave Muslim governments the incentive they needed to move more aggressively toward the Western model for modernization and economic development.

In exchange for Western technology and inclusion in the Western economic markets, underdeveloped countries throughout the world, not only the Muslim World, have had to accept Western cultural hegemony as part of the modernization package.

It became clear after the UN's 4th World Conference on Women that surrendering to Western hegemony would be the trade-off for economic development. The Draft Platform for Action, the working document for the conference, was saturated with extremely secular and liberal requirements for economic inclusion in the global scheme. Originally, the Muslim world, along with a large and powerful segment of American society, opposed and even resisted the UN's ultimatum. Ironically, it was not until after the tragic event that took place in the US on September 11, 2001, that most of the Muslim world, and also conservatives in the US and the West, began to soften to some of the less extreme social and cultural changes prescribed by the UN.

Perhaps the greatest irony to be observed in all of this is found in the fact that even though the US and other Western countries have been forced to accept some of the cultural demands of the new secular world order — such as greater acceptance of homosexuals, including greater acceptance of the idea that homosexuals have a right to marry and to inherit wealth from their partners — there is a strong push in the US toward a greater voice and power for religion in the public square, which is resulting in an increasingly conservative social culture.

The Western societies are moving toward isolation and less integration, getting closer and closer to the cultural and political right wing.

Years Under Conservative Rule

Eight years of conservative rule by the Bush administration, an administration that allied itself very closely with the religious right wing in the US, began something of a reverse social revolution. Jewish and Christian religions have found such acceptance in the public and even political arenas in the US that public officials routinely cite the Bible and especially the Old Testament as the basis of their political philosophies and ideals.

Another example of the growing influence of religion in the West is German Chancellor Merkel's recent statement that multiculturalism has failed and those who did not accept Germany's Christian values are no longer welcomed in Germany.

The only thing more powerful in the West than the psychological impact of the attacks on the US on 9/11 has been the crash of the global markets and economies that left the West in economic ruin. Now, as a result, it seems that the West is no longer fascinated with economic globalization and the secular world order.

The Western societies are moving toward isolation and less integration, getting closer and closer to the cultural and political right wing. Some might argue that part of the seeming Western recalcitrance is also a result of the inability of the West to win its 21st-century crusade against Islam, fought under the guise of an international war on terrorism.

Not only did the new secular world order fail to deliver the free egalitarian social order that it promised, it also failed to deliver the economic prosperity and Western dominance that it promised through the sought-after control of the world's natural and human resources.

On the Other Hand, the Muslim World…

So why is the Muslim world, which is clearly not going to enjoy the type of economic development it had envisioned in its Faustian deal to provide cheap labor and control of natural resources to the transnational corporations of the West in exchange for greater US support for Muslim-world government corruption and dictatorship, still eager to transform its societies to more liberal and secular societies?

What is it that the West learned from its courtship with the new secular world order and globalism that the Muslim world did not?

The answer is simple. It is not a matter of what the Muslim governments did not learn — it is what they learned.

They learned that if they remove from religion the power to impress morality as a virtue to be upheld by society, they will be free to do as they please with respect to corruption and passage of immoral and unjust laws.

They also learned that if the government does not bother people with morality, the people will not bother them to be moral either.

What they did not learn is that no corrupt and immoral society has ever prospered or survived for very long.

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