West’s cultural address criticized [Archives:2007/1024/Culture]

February 12 2007

Moneer Al-Omari
Dr. Francois Burget delivered a lecture earlier this month at the Sana'a-based French Institute for Archeology and Social Sciences in which he tackled the improper Occidental cultural address, together with the West's misunderstanding of Islam.

The lecture coincided with publication of the Arabic translation of his book, “Islam at the Time of Al-Qaeda.”

Burget, who is chairman of Arab and Islamic studies and research at Aix-Marseille University in France, denounced the Occidental address, which claims to be a global one while showing no respect for other cultures. According to Burget, this address is an aggressive one.

In this regard, he referred to a meeting involving thinkers from across Europe and the United States and attended by French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The participants stressed that Europe and the U.S. have common values and struggles and further, they are both involved in joint battles, at which point Burget asked, “Against whom?”

Attempting to invent a potential enemy, Western thinkers sell concepts like “clash of civilizations,” a term Bernard Louis – not Samuel Huntington, as most people think – coined in 1964 while he was studying Oriental societies, specifically Turkey and the Arab world.

Further, they advocate their sponsorship of rights and human rights, while the fact is that they aren't doing so themselves. Once their interests are intact, they keep silent and never speak about human rights violations. Western silence about human rights violations in the Arab world is made in return for business deals, according to Burget.

The Occidental address does not call for showing respect to others, as they are viewed as different. Being very much interested in songs, Burget referred to numerous Western songs reflecting Occidental racism, a sense of superiority over others; for example, the French national anthem, which frankly calls for using violence against others. It furthers considers other blood inferior to theirs and thus, justifies use of power against them. He also referred to another song that promotes drinking and considers anyone who doesn't drink to be inferior.

Admitting the fact that misunderstanding others exists in all cultures, partially due to insufficient knowledge, Burget stressed the importance of recognizing the “otherness” in others. However, such recognition shouldn't be via dominance because neither party – the dominant or the dominated – can recognize the other.

The former, termed as colonizer by Burget, in no way will recognize the other and further, looks down upon it. The same can be said of the dominated party, or the colonized, which feels humiliated and unable to defend their own culture and identity.

The West's failure to see the otherness in others can be seen at many levels. For example, Europeans and Americans view Arabs with much misunderstanding and racism, even claiming that Arabs are resistant to change, while failing to understand Arabs and Muslim particularities, such as regards the hijab issue.

Burget also referred to the Arab-Israeli conflict, wherein hegemony and dominance prevail, noting that the conflict is wrapped in ideological and religious address.

He attributes such misunderstandings to the interplay between culture and politics, wherein political concepts are imposed upon cultural ones and Western media mix cultural concepts with political ones. In this regard, Burget criticized the U.S. for its attempts to globalize and impose its cultural concepts upon other cultures, noting that it failed to do so.

He also indicated that such tendency was prompted by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left the U.S. as the only player on the political field and the world's only superpower.

According to Burget, Al-Qaeda's existence is attributed mainly to the failure of political mechanisms and absence of international justice. He further noted that the world doesn't need cultural or civilizations dialogue to the same degree that it needs international justice and further, to confess the failure of politics in today's world.

Burget pointed out that one should give himself the chance to understand “the other” closely so he won't make wrong judgments about them. He cited the experience of the Joint Meeting Parties in Yemen, wherein the extreme left met with Islamic forces, whereas the case is completely different in all other Arab nations, where leftists refuse to ally with Islamists.

Burget considers that the only way out is to put all cultures on equal footing and believe that no one culture is superior to another. He maintains that cultural terms should be separated from political ones to reestablish a world cultural identity. Furthermore, people should respect other cultures, concepts and ways of thinking.

In the meantime, there's no need to blindly imitate others, as this can't make one like them in any way. Kamal Attaturk believed that development could be achieved by forgetting the Ottoman past and following Europe. Thus, he ordered hats to be worn instead of turbans; however, such an act didn't create development, as Turkey remains an underdeveloped nation unable to join the European Union.