The most defining property of modernity, according to sociologist Anthony Giddens, is that we are disembedded from time and space. In pre-modern societies, space was the area in which one moved, time was the experience one had while moving. In modern societies, however, the social space is no longer confined by the boundaries set by the space in which one moves. One can now imagine what other spaces look like, even if he has never been there.
‘Islam’ and ‘The West’ are questionable rubrics that in popular discourse have particular meanings and connotations. I want to take a look at how these seemingly diametrically opposed forces meet in possibility and actuality.
Islam is a world religion, roughly a fifth of people living identify with it. It is like any other religion, it is embodied in more than one way, that’s to say it looks and acts differently depending on where and when, different shades of the same colour on a palette you could say. This is an obvious but necessary point considering that repeated narrative of Islam’s one-dimensional nature.
The West is easier to definitely negatively, it is not a geographical area, after all Australia and Austria are nowhere near each other, nor does a language define it, I mean Portuguese and Danish don’t share much in common linguistically, perhaps the link is elsewhere. What has the power to relate people beyond immediate words in such a dramatic way? Religion seems to be the force.
The West is broadly speaking, Christian, it has different languages and more than a few ethnic groups, it underwent a process of secularization which has changed different countries to varying degrees, so France is secular in a different way to how Portugal is secular. Most Muslim Majority Countries are Secular in the political sense yet different still because the Enlightenment was an activity restricted to a relatively small area of the world, to pockets of Western Europe, its ideas percolating over time through those societies in different ways.
The West has a Christian heritage, this is the underlying relation that is at the root, (often unconsciously) of this modern discourse of ‘The West’ as I see it. This discourse is often the basis of identity politics, a type of politics that often sadly reduces the world to a polarised story of us the good, us the hero, us the victim, and them, the ‘others’, the ‘savages’, the perpetrators. This is an inescapable aspect of identity politics of which ‘Islam’, as a civilisation plays in the same way, nor is it confined to ‘The West & ‘Islam’, it is a matter of identity, a feature throughout history.
Where is the meeting of the Monotheisms you ask? After all I have described two worlds that would seem to be separate…there is a separation but there are always meeting points, even 1000 years ago there was a bridge between Aquinas & Avicenna via the former’s scholastic mentor. Very few civilisations maintain lives apart from the world beyond them. The question is to what extent? After all we are now seeing through globalization the deliberate dilution of national identities across the world. We ought not imagine however that in ages past there was no interaction between cultures. Scholarship has shown that whether through trade routes, through philosophy, through migration, there has always been a link between Christendom and its younger cousin, the Islamic world.
This is excluding all the untold stories that scholarship can perhaps never document, the only prospect that I find disconcerting is the loss of identity within both worlds, the commercialisation and post-modern process of a world of diverse groups living the same lives as consumers with the same goals and same importance and same truths….a world blind to nuance, without the wisdom to appreciate difference while distinguishing it.
The prospect of identity loss, loss of heritage and a watering down of human identity into a world of brightly lit consumerism and shallow selfish individualism is a prospect that should worry people, rather than reaching for convenient words like Islam and The West by which we attribute all sorts of phenomena.
This shallow, brightly lit postmodern world, promises so much, in fact it promises you everything, only to give you nothing….for everything is accessible, everything is permissible, everything is at your fingertips….
EXCEPT A MEANINGFUL LIFE. In the 21st century the prevailing spirit is one of estrangement, isolation and despair.
How do you fill that void within you?
In this new world, long since drifted from the past,
a great many people unwittingly destroy themselves
in an effort to fill that void,
a passive existence of routine destructiveness,
severing the ties that bind, each adrift.
The hollow existence of consumption is destruction,
every casual drink to unwind, every snack to satiate,
each and every flashing, arresting stimulation is destruction.
If we were to see ourselves,
to pause and have all strewn before our eyes,
how ashamed we would be.
If the privilege of boredom,
which the devil so cunningly arranges,
were by human will and aspiration, overcome…
we would be as mountains, steadfast, unmovable,
no longer drifting as hollow spectres,
for all would change, life would take root,
blood begin to pump with purpose around the body,
the unspeakable has emerged,
Glory to God!
A whole generation’s understanding of what it means to be social is being reduced to a relentless, pavlovian system of abstract connectivity which amounts to a barrage of inconsistent visual and aural stimulations, a system in which people have invested all their heart, hope and ego, a system upon which they are utterly dependent, and yet this is considered progress?
The economic and political order on which modern society was constructed killed off the tribal/clan/family based society, which was not based upon self-interest, it was based upon the common good. This system could only be born if the shared religious/mythological/supernatural worldview was eroded. And so a tyrant was born, the false-self, something which our ancestors and eternal truth demands we each, as individuals slay.