The fourth Nordic conference on Middle Eastern Studies:
The Middle East in globalizing world
Oslo, 13-16 August 1998

The Middle East, in whose world?

(Primary Reflections)

Hassan Hanafi
Cairo University

NB *This is the unedited paper as given at the Oslo conference. An updated and edited version has been published in Utvik and Vikør, The Middle East in a Globalized World, Bergen/London 2000, 1-9. Please quote or refer only to the published article.*
1. The expression Middle East is an old British label based on a British Western perception of the East divided into middle or near and far, which are two relative concepts having Britain as a referring point. The expression is a projection from outside, not emerging from inside, conceiving the other in relation to the self as it was always the case in classical orientalism, the periphery in relation to the center, which is already a power relationship expressed in cognition.

2. Globalization is also another label from the same kind, expressing the power relationship between the East and the West after the collapse of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union. Globalization is not an essential concept but an existential given, not a substantial factor but an accidental fact. Sometimes political scientists transform a reality to a concept, a fact to an essence, a spatio-temporal situation to an everlasting state of mind, de facto to de jure, doing harm to the discipline itself and switching superstitiously from science to ideology, from political analysis to political position. If the expression Middle East was coined in the British mind the term globalization is also coined in the American intelligence research centers.

3. The so called Middle East has its own label from within not from without, perceived by its own peoples and cultures. It is called the Arab World, a geographic label which is not a sufficient one for an Arab nationalist preferring the Arab Nation. It is called also the Islamic or Muslim World, a larger circle which is more satisfactory for a pan-Islamist. Some modernists, such as Malik ben Nabi from Algeria would equate it with the Afro-Asian World even if it includes some non-Muslims but they share the same ideals of independence and development with the whole. The identity of this world is not essentially religious but socio-political.

4. Some modern labels, during the era of globalization are projected to alienate the Arab Nation/World away from its own identity such as the Mediterranean countries including the Arab World with Europe, to minimize the tension between the northern and the southern shores of the Mediterranean, between the West and Islam given the common heritage during the Greco-Roman rule, during the Islamic Rule, during medieval crusaders or modern colonialism or during the actual north-south dialogue. The Middle East itself began to be a new label away from the British geographic label but as a new political entity which includes the Arabs and the Israelis, both exist in the Middle East which may stretch also to Greece and Iran and may be to Turkey. The Middle East is not exclusively Arabs but it is also Iranians, not only Muslims but also Jews. Globalization is a community of interests not nations for a future Middle East in which Israel plays a central modernizing role instead of Egypt.

5. Globalization was always a World system. The powerful was the global while the weak was the local. The global was the center while the local was the periphery. Ancient China was the center of the world according to ancient cartography. Persia and Rome disputed the center of the world. Then Islam as a new power inherited both, Western and Eastern powers and became the center of the world in spite the invasions from the West, the Crusaders, and from the East, the Tatars and the Mongols. The West followed, after reaching the Western hemisphere by crossing the Atlantic, even if the intentions was to reach India by the western root. Since Western modern times till the end of modern times Europe was the center of the world, Africa, Asia and Latin America were the periphery. Globalization is not a recent phenomena since the downfall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the socialist block with the exception of Cuba and China. Globalization is not one instant in modern history of Europe but it was always there, expressing the will of the powerful, the balance of power between the center and the periphery.

6. Globalization expresses one sole course of history of a special historical consciousness, that of the West. In the beginning of modern times, Europe was expanding westwards crossing the Atlantic, two years interval after the fall of Grenada in 1492, and eastwards against the Ottoman Empire in Eastern Europe to the extreme limits of Asia passing by India, putting an end to the Mongol Empire. The XIX century was the peak of European expansion when Europe inherited the center of the world making from Asia, Africa and America its periphery. Colonialism was its outcome. If military colonialism is almost ended with the exception of some aggressions here and there, economic exploitation, scientific dependency and cultural domination are still continuing. Globalization is a new form of Western hegemony after the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the socialist regimes, as if history was blocked in time and in space, nothing after and nothing elsewhere.

7. The Arab World has another historical course in history. In macro-analysis, the Arab/Muslim World has tried since last century reform and renaissance, to end its middle ages during the Mamluk and Turkish rule. It left behind two big historical periods: First, the classical culture in the golden age reaching its peak in the IV century Higra and ending after al-Gazali's critique of rational sciences giving the Ruler an ideology of power, Ash'arism in Creed and Shafi'ism in Law, a period which Ibn Khaldoun rightly described in his Mukaddima, the first seven hundred years. The second, is from Ibn Khaldoun on till last century, from the VIII to the XIV century, in the next seven hundred years when memory wrote what reason produced, when reason commented and summarized itself, transferring knowledge from the self or from the other since last century. The Arab/Muslim World is now beginning a third historical period ending its own middle ages and beginning its own reformation and renaissance. That is why in spite of all the difficulties of the present, a more hopeful and optimistic Islam appears in the writings of many contemporary thinkers before and after the collapse of socialist regimes, and the surmounting tone of globalization. The Arab/Muslim world is not living in the era of globalization, the historical course of the other, but in the beginning of its third period in history, the historical course of the self.

8. The micro-analysis shows that since the last century the Arab/Muslim World tried a large reformist movement, Islam against colonialism from outside and oppression from inside. Most liberation movements came out of reformism especially in North-Africa. Western liberalism was the outcome of religious reform since it was its model. Independent from religion, it became secular liberalism based on natural science. This liberal model ended after the Arab military revolutions in the beginning of the second half of this century. The model switched from liberalism labelled as feudalism, elitism and pro-Western alliance. A large movement of decolonization and social construction of modern nation states began. The fifties and the sixties were the romantic and heroic era of pan-Arabism, the third world, Bandung, the Afro-Asian solidarity movement and the non-alignment. In the seventies and eighties, and maybe till now the socialist ideal collapsed after the defeat of 1967 and the death of Nasser in 1970. The independent state became dependant, socialism switched to capitalism and the public sector was privatized. The historical course of the Arab/Muslim World is from colonization to decolonization to recolonization. It has nothing to do with globalization and the Western historical course. Only synchronically, the era of globalization in the historical course of the other corresponds to the era of recolonization in the historical course of the self.

9. Globalization is a fabricated concept, not a reality. It is an ideology in spite of the old myth, the end of ideology and the beginning of technology, another myth. In the name of the world as a global village, the information revolution, the Internet, the E-mail, the satellites and all modern means of communication and mass-media, all borders are dropped, between nations, peoples, cultures, customs and manners called specificities, particularities, value-systems, etc... The purpose is to pass the free market economy, the end of economic planning and the state economy after the fall of socialist regimes in 1991 proved that the free market economy is the most congruent to human activity. With multi-national corporations, economy is implemented on a world-wide scale. The group of eight, the GATT, the World Bank, the IMF and all international financial centers are run globally not locally. There are only two alternatives: to compete or retreat, to produce or to consume, to create or to imitate, to invent or to assimilate, to give or to take, to export or to import, to be in the center or to be in the periphery.

10. Other side-concepts came into help such as: civil society, governance, human rights, gender, greenery, end of history, clash of civilization, freedom, democracy, etc. Civil society is introduced as an alternative to the state, a society governed by the unions and the NGOs. A free society is the prerequisite for a free economy without any state intervention, irrespective of the historical context of the concept and its anti-religious and anti-state connotation. It is blocked by other traditional concepts such as Ummah, 'Ashira, Kawm, Ahl, Sha'b, Kabila, Raht, Naas, etc. Governance gives the priority to administration of business instead of the national state. Government is management rather than national sovereignty. It can be run by international experts not by nationals. The value is that of the individual, not the community. The battle is human rights not peoples rights. The individual inherits society as society inherits the state. The state is reduced to society and the society is reduced to the individual. The individual is even split into a male-female dichotomy in the name of the gender. The liberation of the female precedes the liberation of the individual and the autonomy of the state. Feminism is a component of civil society. The struggle for freedom and equality begins by the gender not by socio-political struggle. The struggle for freedom and democracy is not a struggle for freedom and democracy per se as a part of natural right but as a prerequisite for free economy. The Greens are fighting against pollution in the West not against desertificaiton in Africa, to protect environment in the West by stocking the nuclear residuals in countries of the Third World. The collapse of socialist regimes meant the victory of capitalism and the free market economy. History ended, the prophecy accomplished, the Messiah appeared and the process fulfilled. For the periphery where traditional societies live, the clash of civilizations is their destiny as if the conflict between the center and the periphery is not a power conflict including socio-economic conflict, but only a civilizational one as if the clash of civilizations was a cover-up for the real socio-political and economic hegemony.

11. If globalization is the empowerment of the center, fragmentation is planned for the periphery. The power of the whole requires the weakness of the parts. The divisions in the Arab/Muslim world are accentuated, exposed in the mass media and even encouraged. Studies on minorities, ethnic, religious and sectarian are abundant: Arabs and Barbers in North Africa, Kurds and Arabs in Iraq and Turkey, Arabs and Africans in Southern Sudan, Muslims and Copts in Egypt, Sunnis and Shi'is in southern Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait in particular and in the Gulf in general, Druz, 'Alawites and Muslim Brothers in Syria. All these divisions exist in Lebanon, the victim of civil war for more than fifteen years. Political divisions are usually the outcome of such fragmentation like civil war in Algeria between FIS and the Army, in Afghanistan between the Talebans and the government. The center is unifying itself while the periphery is dismantled including Russia: Chechan and Georgia, Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, etc., borders conflicts between states in Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea, tribal genocide in Rwanda, mass killing in Congo, etc. While European unity is hailed, admired and implemented, the fragmentation of the Arab/Muslim World is deplored and encouraged. Pan-Arabism or Pan-Islamism are unrealistic. Regional co-operation is weak. Arab summits are inefficient. The Arab common market is in stalemate since half a century.

12. Islam is described in Western mass-media as a substitute to communism and the red threat coming from the East before the collapse of socialist regimes in 1991. The West needs an enemy, to justify its use of power and legitimize its direct or indirect aggression. Islam is linked to violence, terrorism, bloodshed, civil wars, backwardness, poverty of the majority and opulence of the elite, ignorance, drought, hunger, violation of human rights, torture, imprisonment, prejudices against women, social oppression, political dictatorship, severe penal code, traditionalism, persecution of intellectuals, writers and artists, etc. Islam is threatening the identity of Europe by Muslim customs and manners: scarves, mosques, violence, language, education, minority groups, sub-cultures, etc., such as Turks in Germany, Moroccans in the Netherlands, North-Africans in France, Asians in Britain, Black-Muslims in America, while orthodox Jews are not.

13. Globalization expressing the one-polar world as another new world order does not tolerate any challenge even in potentia and in the future of any resistance or even reluctance to be a part of the global world. The bipolar world is finished for ever. It is not only a part of recent past history but it is the structure of future history. A challenge to globalization may not come from Asia. The new industrial societies are busy in performing their Asian wonder. Their upheaval is dependant on Western capital, Western stock-markets and the free market economy. It is a fragile experience especially after the devaluation of their currency in Indonesia, Malaysia and even in South Korea and Japan. The World global economy goes beyond peoples and cultures. Latin America, the home of Che Guevara, the birth place of liberation theology and of dependency theory is now cooling down, hit by hunger, drugs, poverty and oppression. The sixties were a nice dream. Africa is also hit by civil wars, border conflicts, drought, hunger, famine, genocide, dictatorship, AIDS in spite of the end of apartheid in South Africa. The Arab/Muslim world is still struggling in spite of its dependence on USA and recognition of Israel, defending its own cultural identity and autonomy in a global world. That is why it is antagonized and threatened: the Iraq embargo, the Libya blocus, Sudan and Iran threatened, Egypt marginalized, Israel supported, Islamic fundamentalism encouraged because of its conservatism and fought because of its anti-westernism, etc. The Arab/Muslim world may represent a possible challenge of the one polar world, given its historical depth, its cultural specificity, its long struggle against foreign domination and its material and moral potentialities. Islamic movements are becoming more and more stronger. Islam is succeeding as vehicle of protest, as an expression of socio-political grievances, presenting itself as an alternative.

14. The Arab/Muslim World having its own historical course does not mean isolating itself from the globalizing world. There was no culture which was so open to the world as the Arab/Muslim culture, taking birth by a creative interaction between the self and the other. There is no victorious culture which was so respectful to endogenous cultures as the Arab/Muslim culture was. Aristotle was the first master, Plato the owner of power and light, Socrates the wisest of all men, Galien the best of all ancients and moderns. Greek, Roman, Persian, Babylonian and Indian cultures were translated, commented, summarized, assimilated and reconstructed in the new culture. Historically, the Arab/Islamic culture was at the center, the crossroad of ancient Eastern and Western cultures. Geographically, it is also the center between East and West, North and South. It is in the heart of the globalizing world. The challenge is in whose world, the old world of the center or the new world of the periphery, the world of the other or the world of the self, the world which is imposed by the one polar world or the world which is created by multi-polar world?

15. Instead of a globalizing world in the name of the one-polar World and expressing the power of the center, why not conceiving an interdependent world in the name of the multipolar world expressing the surmounting power of the periphery? It is inconceivable that the culture of the center which is based on pluralism to the point of scepticism, relativism, agnosticism and even nihilism is defending globalization, a unitarian, unilateral and monolithic world-view and as a substitute to totalitarianism constantly equated to former socialist regimes. The double standard is not only in and out the center but it is inside the center itself. The periphery which has been all the time accused of dogmatism, unilateralism and monolithism, as "oriental despotism" is now defending a multi-polar and interdependent world. Examples of China, Malaysia and Iran can be given for this interdependent world, living in a global world without loosing one's own national sovereignty and independent will.

16. The Middle East in a globalizing world may be the beginning of a new type of world studies away from classical orientalism axed on language and history to open a new horizon for world history. The Zeitgeist is not the monopoly of the West in general and Hegel in particular but it is open to all nations, peoples and cultures to find for themselves a place in world history. Classical orientalism can switch from language and literature to culture, from history to philosophy of history, from subject-object, observer-observed relationship to intersubjective experience shared by all, subject and object in the same time. The spirit of the world, the movement of history, the cross destinies may be the global world every culture is living. The challenge is to know the future direction. The global world in the center may be closing its modern times from the Cogito (Descartes) to the Cogitatum (Husserl), from Discours à la méthode (Descartes) to Against method (Feyerabend), from the Critique of pure reason (Kant) to Farewell to Reason (Feyerabend), from the great restoration (Bacon) to deconstructionism (Derrida), from the beginning of modern times to the end of modern times. The cycle of Eurocentrism may have been accomplished. The new Zeitgeist may be going from Westwind to Eastwind, from Northwind to Southwind. A presage or a reality, an omen or a law of history, a prophecy or an eschatology, a promise or a fulfilment, who can tell?

Hassan Hanafi
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