28 February 2011

Quote for the day -- cultures can change

"And a confession. For years, like many conservatives, I had become convinced that culture truly does matter and that culture would prevent the Arab world from ever developing the kind of democracy that exists in the West. The Persians and Jews and Turks and Kurds were different, I thought. The Arabs? Too tribal; too divided; too religious. Ajami reminds us that this narrative was favored by the Arab tyrants themselves and protected their interest. It was also favored by Israel, as a buttress to its case for open-ended colonialism in its own backyard.

"What I failed to grasp is that culture changes, that the younger generation, as in Iran, were increasingly aware, thanks to the new media revolution, of how backward their own societies had become. Culture still matters, mind you; and I am not optimistic about what might end up in power in Libya, and remain wary of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. But this is a process - and it may be happening faster now than before. We have surely learned to be humbler in our generalizations.

"What took place, after all, in the cradle of democracy, Britain, before it became what it has become? (Sorry, America, but parliamentary democracy, and its core rationale, was born elsewhere). Huge religious conflict, a bloody civil war ending in the execution of the monarch, a fundamentalist dictatorship under Cromwell, another revolution in 1688, followed by three centuries of development and adjustment and war. And this was with the benefit of being on an island, with no standing domestic army and a weak royalty and strong aristocracy going back to the thirteenth century."

Andrew Sullivan

I must acknowledge a similar failing. I never thought that the Islamic world was doomed to medieval backwardness forever -- while cultural differences are very important, and the mentally- crippling effects of Islam are especially damaging, still humans everywhere are biologically the same. I was always confident that modernity, secularism, and freedom would win out all over the world eventually. But I certainly didn't expect such a spectacular step forward so soon.


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