Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The de-Westernization of the Middle East

Like many people here in the US, post-911 I have been compelled to take more interest in the rise of the more fundamentalist currents within Islam. After all, from a national security perspective, it seems that people from formerly remote corners of the map are determined to make war upon us. Further, from a Christian perspective, fundamentalist Islam is rising in precisely those places (sometimes called the 10/40 Window) where the Gospel has spread least. Along the way, as I have continued to study and read, one of the things which has consistently struck me is the rate at which the Middle East (and the larger Islamic world generally) are de-Westernizing. It seems that freedom from colonial rule and self-determination has not produced the pro-Western, liberalizing, more secular modern states of Western government's hopes, but the reverse. The power vacuum left by the departure of colonial governments was quickly filled by corrupt autocrats that left their people suffering and in search of something greater to which to devote their lives. They are increasingly finding it in their faith, albeit in a form which is hostile to the West and the westernizing currents which used to flow through these countries.

I cannot do better in illustrating this trend than the folks at Pajamas Media, with their photos of the graduating classes from the University of Cairo.

This is the class of 1959. Notice that there are darn few women, but those who are present are wearing Western style dresses and none are covered or veiled in any way:

Here's the class of 1978. Notice that here there's an abundance of women, only now not just in dresses or skirts, but pants(!). Again, none of the women are covered or veiled.

By 1995, the situation has changed dramatically. Women seem to be present in virtually equal numbers with men, yet veils and coverings are now present in good numbers. About 1/3 of the women are covered, with others not.
By 2004, it's as if a curtain has been dropped on the female students. The composition of the student body (male/female) is roughly the same as in 1995, but now there are no uncovered women. Note too that in contrast to the women of '78 and even the women of '95, the women of 2004 has lost their right to bare arms (yes, I know, bad pun, but it illustrates a serious point).

It seems to me that if the West (and most especially the United States) is to have any hope of being at peace with the Islamic world, then we are going to have to come up with a better strategy than whatever we're doing at present. The tide of radicalization is clearly running against us. Moreover, while military force must be an option at all times (and especially where specific fundamentalist groups threaten), it cannot be the only one. Our long-term national survival may well depend on replacing the theology which gives Islamic fundamentalism its rise. If that is true, then what, I wonder, are Washington, Brussels, and London prepared to do to bring that about?


Matt said...

Interesting post. Challenging issue ahead of us all.

Eric M said...

I think it's the secularization of the West that has caused the Muslim world to change the way it approaches us. The fact that Western women were less covered wasn't such a threat when Muslims percieved that most Westerners were observant Christians with a sense of morality that was more similar to than different from Islam. They can no longer count on most Westerners really being "of the Book," so they worry more than we'll "corrupt" their culture.

I think that's primary. I think a secondary reason, though, is that after colonial powers moved out their local replacements cynically encouraged fundamentalist Islam as a way to validate their rule and control the population.

The Bullhorn said...


Good and interesting thoughts, as usual. Thanks for blessing me with them.