The Search For Models [Archives:1997/46/Culture]

November 17 1997

Is it enough to introduce foreign habits into a developing country and say that the country is modeling itself after the west without thinking of the country’s past? Is it enough to introduce western styled consumerism in an ever demanding material world when the world knows that Yemen has a rich traditional and Islamic past. How should the country brace itself for the 21st century? Fast food joints, imported English chocolate bars, satellite dishes that bring in foreign programs are proof of the foreign influence but what’s missing? To be clear, looking for roles to play can be very serious business when your dealing with state models and economic reform especially in a country where people might imagine a future conflict between traditionalists and reformers. The reader might just say its enough to “import” ideas into the country but to make them fit with the internal matrix of the society is a completely different matter. The country in question has a need to establish some kind of durable hierarchy with values and codes that pass from one generation to the next. Model hunting can be fun when a foreign habit is introduced and the Yemeni tries to experiment but the question is how is the Yemeni ready to integrate it. The country can also question its own values and add new ones to pre-existing ones to get a kind of mix, past and present in the now. That way people can always say that they haven’t forgotten their roots and can apply what they have learned in the past, to the present. This kind of search has gone in the west with the beat generation of the 50s and the hippie movement of the 60s. As post war boom babies have their own grown kids by now, they’re continually looking for new models based on those past experiences. How does this effect an emerging nation? The family will still remain the nucleus of the society regardless of the new trends but will feel growing pains as the new generation will impose new demands. A lot of those demands have to do with the media that transports new wave technology to the developing country. Sociologists know that technological trends go hand in hand with changing social views. Yemen like any other nation is now exposed to these new views because of continued contact with nations that it is trying to trade with and it is opening its doors to foreign expertise, some of which means an influence on the country’s social fabric. That is going on hand in hand with the changing infrastructure, the introduction of modern highways, telecommunications and international services etc. The Yemenis are in the midst of an inevitable social change that will eventually move the villagers away from their home to seek employment that bigger cities can offer. This was like the trend in the west as ruralism gave way to urbanization. That is, it made no sense for the local population to live away from where their new sources of earnings were. Looking for new models here is then actually doing what was done in the past in Europe and the West with the difference that Yemenis can do better by studying the short and long term benefits and detriments that increased urbanization causes . Yemen has the advantage of skipping several generations to reap the material benefits of what took centuries to build elsewhere. Problems arise though as the country is introducing new socio – economic infrastructures that do not have any historical basis here. This is a country which until not long ago was in part a colonial outpost where much depended on the port, and the north which had an agricultural base. The country has a rich cultural heritage which should not be ignored while changes occur. To introduce change too quickly is to ignore the need of respecting that cultural heritage and the current social trends that have arisen from it. The presidents trips to Europe parallels the modernization of the country, keeping it in tune with a more complex world where the key to the future is globalization of the world economy and the media. The family will still be the basic structure from which the society develops new ideas to fit that globalization. The challenge for Yemen is how it will keep a distinct identity within that globalization and reap the benefits of an ever changing world.
By: Martin Dansky