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  Modernization vs. Westernization
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phk
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« on: August 02, 2006, 04:11:14 pm »

This century will see the advent of the many more "modern" societies that are not Western. I remember sitting around in a college seminar with Sam Huntington, debating the meaning of the term "modern." As it applies to countries and societies, it's a very difficult concept to define. Can you think of a good definition? It's like beauty: you'll know it when you see it.

Aside from the exceptionalism of Japan, late developers have often emulated the West in order to "modernize." (Iran, Turkey, and the former French colonies of North Africa come to mind).

Ataturk banned the Fez cap, and Iran's Reza Shah taxed beards - both of which were considered un-Western, backward and therefore, undesirable. No more.

Starting with Korea, Malaysia, and now China, more countries are becoming modern in their economic and political organization, and their application of technology, without necessarily becoming "Western." Spend a day at a Japanese or Korean company (I spent a bit of time at Toyota, Sony, and Samsung), and you'll get the sense that the operating culture is distinctly non-Western. And yet, very modern.

One often gets the sense from American leaders that the faith placed in individual rights, consumerism as a measure of progress, secular politics, and liberal democracy are universal values. At least, there is a widely shared view that moving in the direction of those values is part of an inevitable historical teleology.

In fact, these ideas are Western values, which cannot be assumed to be universal. Lee Kwan Yew, Kishore Mahbubani and Huntington have been keen to make this distinction.

Many Asians, Arabs and Africans no longer want to reflexively be like America or Europe. Even Latin America is distancing itself culturally from the U.S. and Mother Europe. People increasingly want to define their progress and idenitities in their own terms. There is also a growing awareness that America and Europe are imperfect, and may not be ideal models to follow.

It's especially important for the Muslim world to spawn countries with an indigenous, Islam-influenced modernity.

My top picks are Malaysia and Turkey (which may be slowly evolving toward to a new cosmopolitan Islamic identity rather than a European state with an inferiority complex).

Maybe Iran, Dubai, Bahrain, and dare I say Iraq will follow. It's important for these countries to succeed in order to demonstrate alternative models of economic, social, and insitutional development that are homegrown and innovative, but no less "modern" than those mimicked (or inherited) from Western countries in the past. It might mark the beginning of the end of the current identity crisis in the Muslim world, and show a promising way forward.
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