Can we preserve our identity and culture? [Archives:2008/1140/Opinion]

March 24 2008

Abdullatef Al-Jabri

It is a humiliating phenomenon when we divest ourselves of our culture's roots and abandon our identity to run after the mirage of modernization and blind imitation of Western cultures. This colonial phenomenon has crept noticeably into our culture and spread across Arab and Islamic societies aimed at stripping them of their identity, their culture and their nationalism all under the guise of globalization.

The tendency toward hatred that we face nowadays is a fatal weapon to destroy our identity and culture. While our national culture is the only thing stabilizing our identity with its deep-rooted principles, they use their hidden plans to westernize us via progressive illusions making us like feathers swaying in the winds of subordination.

It's a good trend by national cultures to extend the ground of acquaintance between them with the different cultures all over the world. Meanwhile, the term of 'globalization' has been making the rounds clouded in suspicion and with a stealthy desire to stylize all national cultural identities into one Western manner. Inasmuch as culture is the most important aspect of humanity with a firm relationship to identity and nationalism, the matter here deserves distinction and preservation.

The concept of our identity and nationalism joined in culture can never be ignored, as it's a geographic, historical, spiritual and human actuality. Arabic language unites us. Our history is the inspiration for our present and moral principles are the foundations of our desired civilization. We have unified cultural spiritual trends and shared historical pains and hopes, which usually are similar and rarely different.

National culture in Arab society is an important aspect of our identity. It's an inclusive frame of cultural meanings and religious principles and shared roots, as well as aspirations. It's a source of power, at least an incorporeal power, which ought never to be sacrificed for the misunderstanding of modernization and advancement.

Today, while we stare in amazement at far-reaching Western societies with their urbanization and modernity, a feeling of frustration devours most of us, propelling us into a blind imitation of Western cultures and burying our identity and morality in the mire of modernization.

Even more bitter is the fact that we regard ourselves as adherents to advancement and modernity. The degree to which the West portrays its cultures – whether via mass media or by its adherents in our societies – affects the intensity of feelings about our religious and cultural identity.

I'm sure all of us are bitterly disappointed to see many of our nation's sons behaving in their conduct and appearance like what they've learned from these morally destructive propagandists. Moreover, they replace religious and moral principles with the absurdity of Western culture, which conflicts with our traditional tribal and religious values.

Modernization and being civilized is their pretense in order to be imitated in everything and this is what the West wants. So the question is: Is imitation important in order for us to be civilized?

Undoubtedly, our society still suffers due to its underdevelopment and it's inevitable that we'll adopt some of what the West has. However, the method of our imitation must be in science, knowledge, seriousness and the determination to rush toward wide-ranging progress. Thus, a clear understanding of modernity is important in order to preserve our identity and culture.

The light of knowledge should be taken wherever it appears – north, south, east or west – as the truth is useful wherever it emerges. What's important is to strengthen ourselves with that; otherwise, it will be the straw that broke the camel's back and we'll lose ourselves in the bog of blind imitation and civilized illusion.

Western cultures obviously have achieved a scientific revolution and modernization, but we still have our own identity, national culture and heritage, which once led the world, and which we should preserve today in order to reassert ourselves again.

The only thing we need is self-confidence and trust in our deep-rooted culture, which is an important element of our desired civilized personality. Self-confidence is certainty regarding our historical and cultural heritage, which helps us know how to go forward toward modern civilization using our intellectual ability, sciences and the unlimited desire of discovery and knowledge. This certitude keeps us from surrendering to our backwardness.

Maintaining our identity is realizing that humans are the target of any progress and there's no real value in this progression if humans lose their self-esteem, as well as their spiritual, moral and human values.

What's more, we must thoroughly perceive the grave danger that threatens our national and cultural identity, as well as to protect and save it. A sense of jealousy regarding our nationalism, our identity and our culture should remain. We should be more aware of the twin challenges of westernization and modernization and the fact that our identity is the most important part of modernization – not an obstacle to it.