Emerging Challenges in the Muslim World

Non-Western world, especially the Muslim world, has yet to come to grips with the notion of globalization. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Muslim world faces many challenges, but none more formidable than the issue of how to strike a balance between maintaining cultural integrity and religious identity on the one hand, and absorbing changes associated with a globalizing world on the other.

Broadly speaking, three reactions to globalization can be discerned in the Muslim world. Some Muslims view globalization as a power game from which great powers draw immense gains and to which the rest of the world is subjugated. To them, Muslims have two choices : either resist or be marginalized and integrated. The new era of transformation, so runs the argument, is an old wine in a new bottle. They argue that social movements, Islamic or otherwise, represent a collective form of resistance to globalization and that they are invariably intertwined with the rise of counter-hegemonic consciousness.

Others see globalization as an evolutionary and irreversible process to which all human societies must adjust. Today’s technological changes have become the so-called “a tail that wags the dog.” That is, individual members of the society have no choice but to adjust to modern times and its accompanying changes. The key to protecting one’s security and balance vis-à-vis the onslaught of globalization is accommodation-not resistance.

Still others regard globalization as a paradigm shift from which there is no escape. This shift requires changes in life style, value system, and cultural and mental attitudes toward local, national, and the universe. The proponents of this view argue that Islam is growing as a religious identity, but it is also in need of a paradigm shift. There are two points to be made here. First, globalization has deterritorialized culture and politics for the Muslim diaspora in the West, but at the same time it has intensified cultural politics in the homeland. Second, identities are constructed in a dynamic process and assume multiple forms that permit individuals and societies to uphold both cultural diversity and global norms, such as human rights and democratization.

I argue that a sense of legitimacy is essential to upholding self and collective identities. The discourse about the intersection of cultural dynamics and identity construction can no longer overlook human rights issues. Today, both Islamic reformists and militants turn to international law and human rights to advance their ideological and strategic goals. This discourse has become integral to any systematic way of thinking about evolving Muslim politics and communities. For Muslims, the issue of identity must be more a matter of recognition rather than self assertion. It is also important to bear in mind that the dialectic of local and global experiences is bound to produce divergent yet understandably paradoxical effects.

A third of the world’s Muslims now live as members of a national Minority. Algerians or Moroccans in France, Turks in Germany, or Pakistanis in England are aware of the fact that seeking a formal recognition as a minority would entail a cost, which is less adherence to their local traditions, especially if such traditions clash with those countries’ legal systems. Consider, for example, the practice of honor killing. Muslim minorities in the West cannot observe such tradition and yet seek recognition as law abiding citizens of such countries. Handling competing and conflicting ways of life is among the greatest challenges facing German Turks and French Algerians or English Pakis, who too often find themselves caught between pull and push of local and global forces. It is clear that asserting homeland traditions and customs and trying to attempt to win recognition from countries in which they reside is no mean task. Ultimately, it is up to Muslim diaspora in the West to decide which aspect of their indigenous culture to retain and which part to give up.

It should be noted, however, that a reassertion of a global Muslim identity may be simply a reaction to the extant social discrimination, racism, and high unemployment rates among Muslim communities in their adopted countries. It is equally important to remember that some Western countries have straddled multiculturalism and assimilation policies, but that they have failed to effectively pursue either. The Turkish minority in the Netherlands has expressed deep resentment toward the policy of cultural assimilation without rightful/proper integration.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Muslim immigrants living in the United States have become the targets of indiscriminate media attack. Ironically, however, such Media bias has strengthened Muslims’ religious identity. Consequently, many Muslims have turned to their own local networks and local identity as an effective way to safeguard themselves vis-à-vis social stigmatization and discrimination. In a paradoxical way, the upshot has been huddling through one’s enclave-ethnic, religious, or otherwise-to feel secure and safe. Similarly, occupation of Iraq has bolstered highly nationalist identities in some areas of the Arab Muslim world-not to mention that it has provoked a new generation of Islamic young radicals with a safe harbor.

Globalization has created a world of multiple and shifting identities. The cultural conflicts in which Muslims find themselves are clashes over who controls modernity and who has claim to authenticity and legitimacy. The language of legitimacy today is human rights and democratization. It is no coincidence that the key to Muslims’ success in both political and social processes in Turkey, Yemen, and Jordan is their attempt to incorporate modern norms and standards into their policy approaches without losing the integrity of their culture. The corrective to militant Islamism, which is a tiny minority of the world’s 1.2 billion, is to integrate mainstream, moderate Islamists into the political process. Without inclusionary politics, the Islamic radicals would often prevail in winning the game of who gets to define globalization and who gets to control modernity.

About the Author : Mahmood Monshipouri, PhD, is Professor of Political Science at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

Source : Zaman Daily-May 2, 2005by