Debates on the definitions of culture versus barbarism, or on the question of who is civilized and who is modern are best discussed in the light of Islamic doctrine. Quite significantly, this point must be kept in mind, particularly as a matter of concern to individuals of the educated classes of Islamic societies upon whom lies the burden of responsibility and leadership of the Umma.
Modernity is one of the most delicate and vital issues confronting us, the people of non-European countries and Islamic societies. A more important issue is the relationship between an imposed modernization and genuine civilization. We must discover if modernity as is claimed is a synonym for being civilised, or if it is an altogether different issue and social phenomenon having no relation to civilisation at all. Unfortunately modernity has been imposed on us, the non-European nations, in the guise of civilization.
For the past 150 years, the West has undertaken the task of modernizing men with missionary zeal. All non-European nations were put in close contact with the West and western civilization and were to be changed to ‘modern’ nations. Under the guise of civilizing nations, acquainting them with culture, they presented us with this modernity, (when I say “us”, I mean the non-European and third world nations), which they persisted in calling “ideal civilization”. Our intellectuals should have understood years ago and made people realize the difference between civilization and modernity. But they failed to do so. Why did the educated not notice this issue during the 150 years of western modernization of their nations? I will discuss their failure in this paper later.
Before any further discussion I should like to define certain terms on which I intend to concentrate, which, if left ambiguous, should render the discussion vague. After explaining the terms, I shall address myself to the subject.
1. Intellectual: An everyday term frequently heard in Iranian society and in all societies, European or otherwise. What does it really mean? Whom do we name intellectual? Who are the intellectuals, and what is their role and responsibility in their own societies?
An intellectual is one who is conscious of his own “humanistic status” in a specific social and historical time and place. His self-awareness lays upon him the burden of responsibility. He responsibly, self-consciously leads his people in scientific, social and revolutionary action. (See also “From Where Shall We Begin” and “The Intellectual and his Social Responsibilities” by Dr. Shariati for further discussion on this).
2. Assimilation: This is at the root of all the troubles and constraints facing the non-Western and Muslim countries. Applies to the conduct of an individual who, intentionally or unintentionally, starts imitating the mannerisms of someone else. A person exhibiting this weakness forgets his own background, national character and culture or, if he remembers them at all, recalls them with contempt. Obsessively, and with no reservation, he denies himself in order to transform his identity. Hoping to attain the distinctions, and the grandeur, which he sees in another, the assimilator attempts to rid himself of perceived shameful associations with his original society and culture.
3. Alienation: The process of forgetting or becoming unfamiliar with or indifferent to one’s self. That is, one loses the self and directs perceptions from within another person or thing. This grave social and spiritual illness manifests itself in many different shapes and forms and depends on many factors. One factor alienating a human being is the tools with which he works. Sociology and psychology report that a man, during his lifetime gradually tends to forget his real, independant identity as he increases his contact with a certain tool or profession more and more every day. He begins perceiving his tools in place of his selfhood.
For instance, in a person who deals with nuts and bolts every day from 8a.m. to 6 p.m. all feelings, thoughts, affections and personality will gradually become suspended. He must perform a certain mechanical task continually. Possibly an assembly belt runs in front of him and he is ordered to skip two nuts and twist the third nut once. This man, who has diverse emotions, aptitudes, thoughts, tastes, tensions, hatred, feeling and talent, becomes a body which skips two nuts and twists the third one once most of his time, during his working hours, which is also the time when he is most active and energetic. He becomes an instrument, simply a piece of equipment for production and his effort is confined to a monotonous job which he must do day after day, and in so doing, suspend all the characteristics which make up his personality.
The best among many examples of such situations was given by Charlie Chaplin in a famous film, “Modern Times”, in which he plays a man originally free from any attachment or obligations, with all his desires, emotions, feelings, excitements and needs. He feels love for his sweetheart, respect for his parents and sympathy for his friends. He enjoys sitting and chatting with others, partaking of their normal customs, and exhibits a normal variety of fears, hopes, talents and responses. For instance, when he sees his mother, he displays feelings towards her as if he had not seen her for a long time. When he meets a friend from the past, he wants to spend some moments with him talking about what happened, about life and the good old days. He feels love and affection when he sees his sweetheart; he feels hatred and rancour boil when he sees his enemy. He wants to fight, attack him and gain revenge. He is a human being, with complex needs and expectations. He enjoys a good view and hates seeing a depressing one, just as a normal, free man might be expected to.
Then he goes to work in a huge and complicated factory whose functioning he cannot even conceive. He neither knows what the factory produces nor what synchronizes its many diverse elements. He applies in an office, fills out some forms and then is told to report to Mr so and so. Then, he is taken through a hall and into a room. A man comes along and tells him what to do. And just what is his job? Here is what his job is all about: there is a big hall used as a place for an assembly line where a huge metal belt constantly moves. The belt comes in from one side of the hall and goes out the other to other sections of the assembly line. He does not know where the belt comes from and where it goes and why it does so. Seven or eight workers are standing there beside each other. His job is to skip two nuts on the moving tape and twist a third nut once. And again he is to skip two and twist the third, and this he has to repeat over and over during his 10 hours of work. Then the bell rings and his day of work is over. He goes home without knowing what the nuts were and why he did what he was told to do, where they came from and where they went to and what they were used for. He cannot understand this job at all. Beside him stand the 7 or 8 other workers; they cannot even speak to each other because the belt is moving at such a speed that if he tries to find out about the worker next to him, and neglects the moving belt, he will miss the third nut, the whole factory will stop, and he will be punished or fired.
This man must be all eyes to watch the nuts. The work that he performs, this human being, is to twist the nuts once or twice and that is all. But a human being is a creature with certain characteristics. First of all, he must know the purpose of his work, and secondly, he must do a job in order to achieve a particular goal. He chooses the goal, and then, once chosen, he creates a job as a means toward that goal. He then begins during the job, to touch and feel the essence of his purpose. A certain goal and a chosen outcome limits one’s work, and eventually one achieves the goal. Apart from seeking a goal while he works, being aware of the job, the man is a human with diverse feelings and urges.
Charlie Chaplin, in the role of this particular worker, sees his mother, fiancée and friend, who have come to see him in the factory. He is not yet accustomed to the rough and monotonous system of machinery; he is not broken in yet. While he is working, suddenly he sees his mother, fiancée or friend, and putting down his tools, leaves his job behind to go to say “Hello . . .. how are you?” “Where have you been?”” It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. I missed you . . . sit down, let’s have a cup of tea and. . . .”
Suddenly he sees policemen rushing in, red lights on, alarm bells ringing, inspectors coming in. What has happened? The factory control system has reported that one single nut has been skipped without being twisted, and everything has come to a standstill. “What have you done?!”” How could you?!” He is arrested, blamed and punished for his negligence.
A momentary manifestation of a simple and natural human sentiment in him causes the system of machinery to break down. This clearly illustrates that in the present system there is not the slightest room for expression of a human sentiment. However, they train and control this very man who once had feelings and emotions until he becomes like a machine, too, and after 20 years of work the phrases “a human is a rational being,” and “a human is a worshipping animal” and “a human is self-conscious and creative animal” and similar phrases normally used to apply to a human, no longer apply to him.
What has this man, after all, become? He is now a “nut twister animal” who skips two and twists the third nut once. On the street when this man sees a policeman with buttons like nuts on his uniform, he immediately takes out his wrenches to tighten them. He sees a woman with decoration on her hat or coat: immediately it comes to his mind to go and twist it once or twice or whatever! For him the whole world is summarized in the phrase, “Skip two and twist the third.” That is his philosophy, identity, reality and title to being a human. Why does he twist? In order to eat. Why does he eat? In order to twist! A circular man!
This man no longer perceives himself as the being who once had varied sentiments, desires, needs, weaknesses, sensibilities, memories and virtues. Those have tumbled down and he has become, in the words of Marcuse, a “one-dimensional man.” But Shondel calls him a “circular man” who produces for the sake of production.
This man who once was a little world, a microcosm, like God and with the attributes of God, has now been reduced to an extension of a wrench; which is to say that the character of the machine, of the bolts and of the mechanical motion, has penetrated him. He no longer considers himself as such and such, the son of so and so, from such and such a family, such and such a race and background, with such and such peculiarities. Rather he perceives himself and his reality as nothing more than part of a machine.
Alienation may sometimes become a serious mental ailment requiring the attention of a psychoanalyst. At its highest degree of intensity, it may necessitate confinement in an asylum. Alienation, which affects men through mechanical and dehumanized discipline, may be caused by bureaucracy and technology as well. As one of the sociologists put it, either Max Weber or Marcel Moose, in a complicated bureaucracy where there are many booths, all numbered, the man who has been working in, say booth 345, for 20 or 30 years and has been doing the same job for that long, generally considers himself as booth 345, rather than one having any other name or title. People address him as “booth 345” and think of him as “booth 345.” And the general feeling that he is not attached to anything except “booth 345” generates in him a feeling that he is “booth 345” not Mr so and so, the son of so and so, with such and such characteristics. Such is the alienation caused by bureaucracy.
Alienated, as a word, means being possessed by a ‘spirit’, or in Persian, a “Jinn.” People believed in such ‘spirits’ in the past, and when a person became insane, they believed that the ‘spirit’ had possessed him and affected his brain. They thought that the ‘spirit’ had ejected his intellect and taken its place, so that the possessed no longer felt himself human but was rather an evil being. The word today means a type of sickness described by psychologists and sociologists.
As men were possessed by ‘spirits’ in the old days, today a man is reduced to the position of a cog in a strict, monotonous and ruthless bureaucracy due to perpetual contact with a certain mechanical tool. He no longer feels and comprehends his individuality; he has “lost” himself. As they used to believe that a “jinn” possessed man’s spirit and made him insane, so today, means of production, tools and his type of work, possess him and control his spirit. They gradually obliterate his true personality and fill it instead with the characteristics of machine tools, job routine, bureaucratic hierarchy, and eventually he begins to identify himself with these.
There is another kind of “control by jinns” which possesses humanity and alienates a person or an entire class from itself. This type of alienation is more real, more frightening, and more damaging, and it is this . . . omnipresent form of alienation which affects us, the Iranians, Muslims, the Asians, and Africans. It is not an alienation caused by technology – we have not been alienated by machines. No machine is involved, nor any bureaucracy. A few administrative departments with a limited personnel are in no position to alienate any one. Nor has the Bourgeoisie reached the stage from which it could alienate us. Rather, what we are at grips withis something extremely unpleasant and dangerous – “cultural alienation.”
What does “cultural alienation” mean? As we have already mentioned, alienation, in any shape or form, indicates a condition in which one does not perceive himself as he is, but rather perceives something else in his place. A man in this condition is alienated. What he conceives himself as is not his real self at all, and whether it be as money or as machine or as booth 345, his conception makes no difference at all and depends only on luck or taste.
What is culture? I am not going to quote the differing definitions of culture here. However defined, culture includes a collection of intellectual, non-material artistic, historical, literary, religious and emotional expressions (in the form of signs, traditions, customs, relics, mores) of a nation which have accumulated in the course of its history and acquired unique form. They signify the pains, desires, temperaments, social characteristics, life patterns, social relations and economics structure of a nation.
When I feel my own religion, literature, emotion, needs and pains through my own culture, I feel my own self, the very social and historical self (not the individual self), the source from which this culture has originated. Therefore, culture is the expression and super-structure of the real being of my society, actually the whole history of my society. But certain artificial factors, probably of a dubious nature, creep into a society which has well defined social conditions or social relations, developed through a specific historical framework, and aquaint it with pains, sufferings, emotions and sentiments which have an alien spirit and are a product of a different past, a different society (different both socially and economically). These artificial factors wipe out any real culture and substitute a false culture suitable for different conditions and an altogether different historical stage, a different economy, and a different political and social setup. Then, when I wish to feel my own real self, I find myself conceiving another society’s culture instead of my own and bemoaning troubles not mine at all. I groan about cynicism not pertinent to cultural, philosophical and social realities of my society. I then find myself harboring aspirations, ideals and anguishes legitimately belonging to social, economic and political conditions of societies other than mine. None the less, I treat these desires, ideals, and anguish as if they were my own.
Another culture has alienated me. The dark skinned man of Africa, the Berber of North Africa, the Persian and Indian in Asia, each has a particular past and unique present. However, they feel inside particular pain and concern which they regard as their own, but which are actually offshoots of problems of periods following the Middle Ages, the 16th Century renaissance, 17th Century liberalism, the scientific progress of the 18th century, and the ideologies of the 19th century and the capitalist societies that came into being after World Wars 1 and 2.
So, African, Asian people, how does it concern you? Which problem do you have that causes you so much concern regarding its existence, solution, feeling, and reaction? It is as if I had a foot pain and put it down to nerves! Why? Because I associated with people I think more intelligent, polished, respectable and wealthy than myself, and they have “nervous disorders.” Rather than admitting that my foot aches, and seeking medication for, let’s say, corns; I seek a psychiatrist for the “nervous disorder” to which I attribute my pain.
My conceptions of myself are not as I actually am in reality, but as “they” are; that is, I am alienated. Is it not ridiculous to have, in a society with so much starvation and general feelings, desires and behaviour resembling those of present day Americans, English or French? The latter is surfeited with an excess of delicacies and pleasures and lacks purpose and goals. He wants rest and seeks peace. He is sick of the strict discipline imposed on him by the machine. He groans and complains of the discipline and order which have caused him so much distress. But I, suffering from the lack of technology, am yet groaning and complaining of distresses caused by technology! It’s as if we were run over by a car, had broken our arms and a leg, had blood all over our face and head; and yet, we empathize and feel for the person behind the wheel, who is fed up with having to drive and run over people!
In this way non-European societies become alienated by European societies: their intellectuals no longer feel Eastern, groan like an Eastern person or aspire to be Eastern people. The intellectual does not suffer because of his own social problems, rather he conceives of the pain, sufferings, feelings and needs of an European in the final stage of capitalistic and materialistic success and enjoyment. Thus, today the most painful disorder possible sweeps non-European countries, the psychological disorder of non-Europeans who possess a unique character and yet deny it. They hold in mind something alien. They conceive of someone else and imitate him blindly.
These non-European countries in the past were real and genuine. If you had visited these countries, say 200 years ago, they would have lacked today’s Western Civilization, but each and every one of them had its own authentic and solid civilization. They were unique: their desires, their delicacies, their forms of worship and all their good and bad behaviour; their action, their beauties, their philosophy, their religion – everything belongs to them. For instance, if I had gone to a country like India or any African country, I would know that they had their own unique tastes and buildings. They composed their own unique poetry, pertinent to their culture, and relevant to their lives. They had their own unique social manner. They had their own unique colors, maladies, desires and religions. All they had was their own. In spite of the fact that they were far below the level of present day civilization and material enjoyment, still, what they had, however trifling, was their own. They were not sick, poor they were, but poverty is something different from sickness.
But today, western societies have been able to impose their philosophy, their way of thinking, their desires, their ideas, their tastes and their manners upon non-Europeans countries to the same extent that they have been able to force their symbols of civilization (technological innovations) into these countries which consume new products and gadgets; countries which can never adjust themselves to European manners, longing, tastes and ways of thinking.
As Alined Yope, one of the greatest black intellectuals, puts it: “societies have come into being outside the European civilization – like our societies – which are “mosaic societies.” What does he mean by “mosaic societies”? A mosaic contains hundreds of colored tiles with different shapes and colors, all pressed in a mold. What shape do these tiles make? None! A mosaic has different colors and is composed of different pieces of gravel with different shapes, but in sum has no shape. Some civilizations, too, are mosaic civilizations. That is, civilizations which carry some leftover parts from the past, some deformed parts from Europe, and the combination of the two produces a half-civilized, half-modernized society. It is a mosaic also in that we did not choose the same materials as the Europeans to make a civilization for ourselves, because we did not know what a civilization was and how to form it. It is they who gave us the form, as well.
So without knowing what to make and without having any prior intention of how to form our society according to our own tastes and thoughts, and without knowing how to integrate different parts, or properly taking from here and there according to pre-planning, we started putting together different parts and elements to build a modern but formless society with no aim or goal. In the distorted result we find parts from everywhere, some native, some European, some old-fashioned and some modern – all piled up in shapeless, aimless confusion, and in result, creating a shapeless, aimless society as well. Such societies are non-European societies which, during the last century, have been able to get their construction materials from the West, in the name of civilization.
What is the origin of the emergence of this mosaic civilisation (or what I would call camelopard societies) in non-European countries which have no special shape and no fixed goal? It is not clear what kind of societies they are; their people and intellectuals cannot understand what they live for, what their goal is, what their future holds and what their ideology contains.
The machine emerged and developed during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in Europe in the hands of the capitalists and the rich. The machine has the characteristic of the need for constant increase in production when it is working. This is the machine’s coercion. If it does not increase its production with 10 or 11 years, it will die out, it cannot continue to function and cannot compete with other machines. Why? Because if it does not increase its production, other machines, producing the same merchandise on a larger scale, can sell it cheaper. Therefore, the production of the obsolete machine stagnates. The machine must produce more and more to be able to pay more to labor and to put products in the market more cheaply than its competitors. Science and technology have contributed to the development of the machine and improved its efficiency. This development has changed the face of humanity today. We should not consider it as one of the problems emerging in the world today; rather, strictly speaking, there is no other problem but this, which has been before us for the last two centuries. From it grow all the other problems facing the world today.
The machine must increase its production progressively each year. Therefore, to avoid stock-piling, it must also progressively create the necessity of continuous consumption. However people’s consumption does not increase at the same rate as does production. A certain society may have 30% increase in its paper consumption in 10 years and 300%, or tripling, of its paper production. Ten years ago machines produced 5 kilometers of paper per hour and today produce 50 kilometers per hour, while paper consumption has not risen and cannot rise to that extent.
So what is to be done about excess production or surplus? What is to be done with the extra piles of paper? New fields of consumption must be provided. Each European country has a special and particular taste and a fixed consumption; their populations do not exceed 40 to 60 million. The frantic production rate, rising constantly, exceeds the desires of people to consume. They can’t keep up! Thus since the machine has compulsively produced excess goods, it must step over it’s national boundary and push goods into foreign markets. When the capitalists gained control of machinery, technology and science in the 18th century, humanity’s destiny was determined. Every single human on the face of the earth would be coerced into becoming a consumer for the produced merchandise. European markets became saturated rapidly; consequently the surplus goods had to go to Asia and Africa. Asians and Africans had to consume the surplus European products.
Can these products actually be taken to the East, whose pattern of life does not require them, and force their consumption? Impossible! When you enter an Asian society you notice that the Asian’s clothing is made by his wife or in a native workshop. They wear traditional garments. There is no demand here for the products of factories which make machines, or “high fashion” clothes, or the “modern” fabrics of Europe. In an African society we will notice that their desires, interests and joys are confined to horse-riding and appreciation of the grace of their horses. They lack highways, drivers, ideas of machines, and the need for any of these. In their style of life their production is equal to their consumption, which is consistent with their traditions, tastes and necessities. For them, therefore, an automobile, as any other European product, is entirely redundant.
European factories produced an ever-increasing quantity of luxury goods and sought for them a market in Asian and African countries. It was out of the question to expect Asian and African men and women to use these products in the 18th century or even the 19th even if the products had been furnished free. They had other enjoyments; they had their own special native adornments. An African or Asian woman had no need for European cosmetics and no need for trinkets to beautify herself and dress up. She already had her own cosmetics, her own materials and make-up. She would use them and all would admire her. Nor would she feel any need for a change.
As a result of her attitude, the capitalist’s merchandise remained unsold. People with this way of thinking, with unique necessities and tastes, who have their own life style and produce their own necessities, were not the type of people who would consume the products of 18th century European capitalists. So what to do? The problem was to make people in Asia and Africa consumers of European products. Their societies must be structured so they would buy European products. That meant changing a nation literally. They had to change the nation, and they had to transform a man in order to change his clothing, his consumption pattern, his adornment, his abode and his city. What part of him to change first? His morale and his thinking. Who could change the spirit of a society, the morale of a society and the way of thinking of a nation? In this respect, there was little the European capitalist, engineer or producer could do. Rather, it was the business of the enlightened European intellectuals to plan a special method of perverting the mind, the taste and lifestyle of the non-European, not in a way that he himself chooses, – since the change he desires might not necessitate the consumption of European products – rather his desires, his choices, his suffering, his sorrow, his tastes, his ideals, his sense of beauty, his tradition, his social relations, his amusements – all must be changed so that he is coerced into becoming a consumer of European industrial products. So the big producers and big European capitalists of the 18th and 19th centuries let the intellectuals handle this project.
This was the project: all the people of the world must become uniform. They must live alike. They must think alike. Practically, it is impossible for all the nations to think in the same way. What structural elements go into the personality and spirit of a man and nation? Religion, history, culture, past civilization, education and tradition. All of these mentioned are the structural elements of a man’s personality and spirit and, in its general term, of a nation. These elements differ from one society to another. They result in one form in Europe, another in Asia and in Africa. They all have to become the same. The differences in thinking and spirits of the nations of the world must be destroyed in order for men to become uniform. They must conform, wherever they are, to a single pattern. What is this pattern? The pattern is provided by Europe: it shows all Easterners, Asians, Africans, how to think, how to dress, how to desire, how to grieve, how to build their houses, how to establish their social relations, how to consume, how to express their view, and finally how to like and what to like. Soon it is realized that a new culture called “modernization” was presented to the whole world.
Modernity was the best method of diverting the non-European world, from whatever form and mould of thinking, from their own mould, thought and personality. It became the sole task of Europeans to place the temptation of “modernization” before the non-European societies of any complexion. The Europeans realized that by tempting the inhabitant of the East with a compulsive desire for “modernization”, he would cooperate with them to deny his own past and desecrate and destroy with his own hands the constituents of his own unique culture, religion and personality. So the temptation and longing for “modernization” prevailed all across the Far East, Middle East, Near East and in Islamic and Black countries – and to become modernized was regarded as becoming like the Europeans.
Strictly speaking, “modernized” means modernized in consumption. One who becomes modernized is one whose tastes now desire “modern” items to satisfy his wants. In other words, he imports from Europe new forms of living and modern products, and he does not use new types of products and a lifestyle developed from his own original and national past. Non-Europeans are modernized for the sake of consumption. Westerners, however, could not just tell others they were going to reshape their intellect, mind and personality for fear of awakening resistance. Therefore, the Europeans had to make non-Europeans equate “modernization” with “civilization” to impose the new consumption pattern upon them, since everyone has a desire for civilization. “Modernization” was defined as “civilization” and thus people cooperated with the European plans to modernize. Even more than the bourgeois and capitalist, the non-European intellectual labored mightily to change consumption patterns and lifestyles in their societies. Since the non-Europeans could not produce the new products, they became automatically dependant upon the technology which produces for them and expects them to buy whatever it produces.
While studying in Europe, I heard of an automobile factory that advertised high-paying jobs for sociologists and psychologists. I was looking for a job, and besides I became very interested in knowing why a car factory needed sociologists and psychologists. So I went there for a job interview with the man in the public relations department. He asked me, “Perhaps you are wondering why we are recruiting sociologists while we usually hire mechanical engineers and the like?” I said yes. He brought out a map of all of Asia and Africa and pointed to some cities, telling me that in some there was a great demand for the cars and many customers but that in others there was no demand. He continued: “We can’t find out why there is no demand from engineers. It is the sociologists’ task to find out what these people like and why they don’t buy cars, so we can change the color or design of the cars, if possible, and if not, make them change their taste.” Then he gave me an example of European sociologists’ success in modernizing a certain tribe.
He showed me a wooded and mountainous area on the bank of the Chad River in Africa where many long-nomadic tribes lived. People there did not wear clothes and kept cattle for a living. He pointed out some areas where a group of people lived around the tribal chief’s castle. They had no schools, no roads or highways, no clothes and no houses. They lived in tents. Then he told me that the chief of this semi-wild village had parked two modern Renaults with gold trim in front of his palace.
“These natives were only interested in horses originally. The person who possessed the best horse was the most well-known and envied. Everyone tried to raise the best horse as a means of self-glorification and achieving dominance. As long as this kind of consciousness predominated in the tribe,” the car employer told me, “no-one would buy a car. Rather, all of them would continue to buy horses, and we do not produce any horses. So we tried to think of a way to make the natives buy the automobiles we produce in Europe.”
“The women of the tribe make themselves up attractively with preparations made of gum and sap from the forest, and everyone likes their style. Happy with their local culture, folk dance and native food, it is obvious that no women in the tribe will buy Christian Dior cosmetics nor would the men buy Renaults. Europeans never even tried to sell them anything. But eventually a development allowed the European sociologists an opportunity to change the taste of the natives. The chief of the tribe used to tie two beautiful horses with his best hunting dog in front of his headquarters, and now we have changed his taste. We have modernized him: instead of tying up his horses in front of his place, now, he takes pride in parking there the two Renaults with golden trim.”
I asked him with surprise: ” But they don’t have any roads?” “They have built a temporary 8 kilometer road,” he said.
“When the chief of the tribe first bought the car, every morning he would take a ride and all the people of the tribe would gather and watch the car. He did not know how to drive, so he hired one from here. The driver worked for him eight months and received a handsome salary. There were no gas stations near the tribe, so the gas was bought from far distances by boat.”
So the goal of the capitalist was not really to civilize this tribe but to modernize it. The chief who was proud of his horse and was a horse rider is now proud of his car and enjoys driving it. The chief of the tribe, like many other Asians or non-Europeans, has become modernized but one must really be naive to judge superficially that he has become civilised as well.
Modernization is changing traditions, mode of consumption and material life from old to new. People made the old ways; machines produce the new. To make all the non-Europeans modernized, they first had to overcome the influence of religion, since religion causes any society to feel a distinctive individuality. Religion postulates an exalted intellectuality to which everyone relates intellectually. If this intellect is crushed and humiliated, the one who identifies himself with it feels also crushed and humiliated. So native intellectuals began a movement against “fanaticism”. As Franz Fanon says: “Europe intended to captivate the non-European by the machine. Can a human or society be enslaved by a machine or certain European product without taking away or depriving him of his personality?” No, it can not. The personality must be wiped out first.
Since religion, history, culture, as a totality of intellect, thought, amassed art and literature give personality to a society, they all have to be destroyed, too. In the 19th century I would feel as an Iranian that I was attached to a great civilization of the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th centuries of Islam which was unparalleled in the world and had the whole world under its influence. I would feel that I was attached to a culture, more than 2000 years old, which in various forms and shapes, had created new intellectualism, new art and literature in the world of humanity. I would feel that I was attached to the Islam that was the newest, the most sublime and the most universal religion, creating all those intellectualities and dissolving all those different civilizations in itself to create a greater civilization. I would feel attached to the Islam which created the most beautiful spirit and the most sublime face of humanity, and I could also feel, as a human, that I had a unique personality in the eyes of the world and every person in it. So how could they convert such an “I” into a gadget whose only function is to consume new products?
They would deprive him of his personality. He must be dispossessed of all the “I’s” he feels within. He must be forced to believe himself related to a humbler civilization, a humbler social order, and accept that European civilization, Western civilization and the Western race are superior. Africa must believe that an African is a savage, so that he is tempted to become “civilized” and put himself readily into the hands of the Europeans who will determine his fate. The poor man does not realise that he is being modernized instead of being civilized. That is why we see that all of a sudden in the 18th and 19th centuries the Africans were described as savages and cannibals. Those Africans who had dealt with the Islamic civilisation for centuries were never known as cannibals. Suddenly the Black African becomes a cannibal, has a special smell, has a special race. The grey part of his brain does not work, and the forepart of his brain, like the Asian’s, is shorter compared to the Westerner’s!
Even their doctors and biologists have ‘proven’ (!) that the Westerner’s brain has an extra gray peel, which Easterners and Blacks lack!! They also have ‘proven’ that the Westerner’s brain has an additional length to the genes in the brain cells which allows him to think better than a non-Westerner! Then we see that a new culture was built on a basis of “Western superiority” and “the superiority of its civilization and its people”. They made us and the world believe that the European was exceptionally talented mentally and technically, whereas the Easterner had strange emotional and gnostic talents and the Negro was only good for dancing, singing, painting and sculpture.
Consequently, the world was divided into three distinct races: one which can think, that is, the European(!) (right from the days of ancient Greece up to now!) and the one which can only feel or make poetry, the Easterner, who has only mystical and gnostic feelings, and the Black, who can dance, sing and play good jazz.
Then this very way of thinking, which was introduced to the world to justify the need for modernizing the non-European nations, became the basis of thought for the non-European elites as well. We see how they created a conflict between the “modernized” and the “old-fashioned” in non-European societies for 100 years; a conflict which was, and still is, the most senseless fight one has ever seen.
Modernization in what? In consumption, not in mind. Old fashioned in what? In the form of consumption. It was natural that the fight ended in favor of modernization, and even if it had ended otherwise, it would not have been to the benefit of the masses. In this fight, the fight between the modernized and civilized, the European was the leader. In the name of civilization, the campaign for modernization was carried on, and then for 100 years, for more than 100 years, the non-European societies themselves strove to become modernized under the leadership of their sophisticated intellectuals.
Let us consider the genesis and composition of this class of intellectuals. Jean Paul Sartre in the preface to “The Wretched of the Earth” points out: “We would bring a group of African or Asian youth to Amsterdam, Paris, London……for a few months, take them around, change their clothes and adornments, teach them etiquette and social manners as well as some fragment of language. In short, we would empty them of their own cultural values and then send them back to their own countries. They would no longer be the kind of person to speak their own mind; rather they would be our mouthpieces. We would cry the slogans of humanity and equality and then they would echo our voice in Africa and Asia, “-manity”,”-quality.”
These were the persons who convinced people to lay aside their orthodoxy, discard their religion, get rid of native culture (as these had kept them behind the modern European societies) and become westernized from the tip of the toe to the top of the head!
How is it possible to become Europeanized through export and exchange? Is civilization a product that one can export and import from one place to another? Of course not ; but modernity is the collection of modern products which can be imported by a society within a period of 1,2 or 5 years. A certain society can be completely modernized within a few years. Likewise an individual could also become throughly modernized, even more modernized than the European himself. You can change his mode of consumption and he becomes modernized. That is exactly what the Europeans were expecting.
But it is not so simple to civilise a nation or a society. Civilization and culture are not European-made products whose ownership makes anyone civilized. But they made us believe that all modernization nonsense was a manifestation of civilization! And we eagerly threw away everything we had, even our social prestige, morality and intellect, to become thirsty suckers of what Europe was eager to trickle into our mouths. This is what modernity really means.
Thus a being was created devoid of any background, alienated from his history and religion, and a stranger to whatever his race, his history and his forefathers had built in this world; alienated from his own human characteristics, a second-hand personality whose mode of consumption had been changed, whose mind has been changed, who had lost his old precious thoughts, his glorious past and intellectual qualities and has now become empty within. As Jean Paul Sartre puts it: “In these societies an “assimilae”- meaning a quasi-thinker and quasi-educated person – was created, not a real thinker or intellectual.”
A real intellectual is one who knows his society, is aware of it’s problems, can determine its fate, is knowledgeable about its past and who can decide for himself. These quasi-intellectuals, however, succeeded in influencing the people. Who were these quasi-intellectuals in non-European societies? They were intermediaries between those who had the products and those who had to consume the products. A mediator who, aquainted both with the Europeans and with his own people, eased the way of colonization and exploitation.
That was why they created native intellectuals who did not dare to choose for themselves, who don’t have the courage to maintain their own opinions and who cannot decide for themselves. Such persons came to be deemed mean and inferior to the extent that when asked about the flavor of their food, the music they listen to, the clothes they wear, they do not have the conviction to say whether they like or dislike them. This is because it is no longer they who decide. They have to be told that such and such a dress is worn in Europe, and so they can like it. They are told that a particularly bitter food, which to them tastes like poison, is eaten in Europe and, therefore, they can eat it, even if it does not suit their taste. They eat it anyway because the Europeans eat it; they lack the courage and assurance to say they dislike it.
In Europe and America, when people go to a place where jazz is being played and they don’t like it, they just say so bluntly, and loudly. But in Eastern countries no one can be brave enough to say “Jazz is bad and I do not like it.” Why? Because they have not left him enough personality and human value to let him choose the color of his dress and the flavor of his food. As Fanon says: “In order for Eastern countries to be the followers of Europe and imitate her like a monkey, they should have proven to the non-Europeans that they do not possess the same quality of human values as the Europeans do. They should have belittled their history, literature, religion and art to make them alienated from all of it. We can see that the Europeans did just that.”
They have created a people who do not know their own culture, but still are ready to despise it. They know nothing about Islam but say bad things about it. They cannot understand a simple poem but criticize it with poorly chosen words. They do not understand their history but are ready to condemn it. On the other hand, without reservation they admire all that is imported from Europe. Consequently, a being was created who, first became alienated from his religion, culture, history and background, and then came to despise them. He was convinced he was inferior to the European. And when such a belief took root in him, he tried and wished to refute himself, to sever his connections with all the objects attached to him and somehow make himself like a European, who was not despised and looked down upon, and at least be able to say, “Thank God I am not an Easterner since I modernized myself sufficiently to reach the level of a European.”
And while the non-European is happy with the idea that he has been modernized, the European capitalist and bourgeois laugh at their success in converting him into a consumer of their surplus production.