Muhammad caricatures (3)
The speck and the log:
We must learn to see our
own cultural blindness
(1) Freedom of Suppression
(2) But there is a context !
(3) We must learn to see our own cultural
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If something leads to the worst
political crisis since 1945 in an otherwise stable,
democratic country such as Denmark, it should be worth
asking some deeper questions: What is this about? Can
those leading and living in Denmark learn something from
it both as Danes and as Westerners? Can other Westerners?
And can we do things differently in the
If we ask such questions, we also
invite those who have burned Danish flags and embassies
to reflect on whether there could be better methods to
show their legitimate disagreement.
As things stand today, extremists
on both sides do nothing but confirm the worst images of
"the other" and thus an uncontrolled spiral of hate and
monologue threatens civilisation. Worst images lead to
worst case scenarios, to the end of civilised behaviour
and - perhaps sooner rather than later - of civilisation
There is enough destructive energy
under the sky. But let's not forget that even a tiny
positive thought can move mountains if picked up at the
right time. At the end of this third article I make some
very general proposals.
sides of the globalisation coin
The Muhammad caricatures belong to
the "soft" or deeper sphere of culture. But in the heat
of the debate there have been surprisingly few attempts
at cultural - and civilizational -
Should I put one word on it at that
level it would be racism. Perhaps cultural blindness and
lack of fundamental empathy across cultures. There is a
conspicuous lack of understanding of the inter-cultural
facts of the modern globalized world.
Denmark belongs to the Western
world, the Occidental civilisation. Many appreciate its
main features, its creativity, technological progress and
cultural production; many around the world feel attracted
to it, see it as a model - albeit fewer than before.
But then Western culture also
exhibits the famous other side of the coin: blind
dominance - often in the name of doing good - together
with misguided missionary zeal and the racism-based
worldview that places ourselves on top as # 1, as masters
and teachers and others below us as servants and pupils.
In short a remarkably blind but culturally programmed
contempt for those who are not like us, are below us and
less strong and worthy of our contempt only. This is the
philosophy that permits us to do to "them" what we would
never accept "them" doing to us - or, more softly, to
only teach them and never feel that we could learn from
Take the implications of the
traditional division of the world into the First, Second,
Third and Fourth world. It is a civilizational ladder on
which we are at the top and others stand lower. Given
this image, it is only natural that they look up to us
and we look down to - or upon - them. And those lower
will be civilised when they move up the ladder and become
like us. The exchanges such as development, aid, media
training, democratization, human rights, security, etc
are all one-way: from "us" to "them." We are the
missionaries, they are the disciples, we have the
solutions - and they should be grateful.
With the West being and having the
economic and military driving forces behind
globalisation, it is taken for granted by the West that
others want it our way too. So blind have we become that
we thoughtlessly promote the view that there is only one
economy possible (neo-liberal capitalism), only one way
of creating security (military including nuclear and
alliance membership), only one set of values - namely
those Western ones we promote as universal. It may be
civil liberties and human rights but never economic need
satisfaction for all, social justice or employment , let
alone human dignity. In contrast we seldom bother about
the biggest human rights violation of all called poverty;
it is built into capitalism. So while officially we offer
them freedom, choice and pluralism they get actually only
two option: be like us or perish, it's up to
We seem genuinely unable to see why
our policies are met with resistance. How come, we are
doing good, we are helping them, aren't we? The way
others may see it is that we have exploited them, gotten
richer while they got poorer. Our efforts at forced
democratization (a contradiction in terms) are seen as
occupation. Our nuclear weapons are seen out there as a
threat by and to "them."
We even seem unable to see that it
is we who have built bases, bombed and occupied them -
Palestine, Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan,
Iraq - while they have done nothing like that to us. They
are unable to. We are superior. The Americans make up a
good 4 per cent of the world's people but consume 48 per
cent of the world's military resources. What do we think
they feel about that?
One side of the coin is what we
think of ourselves. The other side is what they think of
us. No one, strong or weak, can afford anymore to ignore
the other side of the coin. And forcing people to share
our view of ourselves is a recipe for world destruction,
Is culturally based racism or
cultural imperialism too strong concepts for these basic
features of West's operations in the world community?
Yes, undoubtedly for those who have not had a chance to
see our own culture through empathetic eyes, i.e. by
living themselves into the perspectives of those who are
outside looking in upon the Western world.
Danish Prime Minister
The Danish Prime Minister, Anders
Fogh Rasmussen, may serve as an example, probably without
knowing or wanting to. He is simply not trained to see
the world in a broader perspective. Here is what he
stated in a long personal interview in the Danish daily
Berlingske Tidende on October 3, 2003: "We must have the
courage to say that we believe our values are better and
more valuable than other values."
The Prime Minister does not seem to
have asked himself if the values and norms of different
cultures can be compared. But it is philosophical
nonsense to state for instance that Christian values are
in and of themselves objectively better and should count
more than Islamic values - or vice versa, for that
matter. Even if you could compare apples and oranges,
what would the criteria for "better" be? And who would be
His statement carries the seeds of
racism. There are the civilised on top with their higher
values, the teachers and masters. There are lower-level
human beings below who must be taught how to behave
themselves - i.e. like us - one way or the other. But
where does this worldview - or lack of it - come from?
Which books of faith, culture and global affairs has the
Prime Minister read? How much of the wonderful richness
of the world has he seen and learned to appreciate? To
which extent has he seen his own culture from the
outside, with the eyes of those who both envy it and hate
it - and are the victim of it? Indeed, how much empathy
does he have with those who suffer the consequences of
his worldview, his words and his actions - such as on
I find it mind-boggling that the
same person makes a statement so imbued with manifest
cultural superiority as the above and also seems so
unable to handle his own and his country's relations with
the Muslim world - for instance not knowing, as it seems,
how to handle a letter to him from the Organization of
the Islamic Conference that comprises 57 states and
serves 1,4 billion Muslims worldwide.(See the
and a wider background
Generally, let's take the violence
exercised on the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. Could the
decision-makers have gone to war without ranking the
citizens there as evil, under-educated, less civilised,
lower-level beings not worthy of the human treatment we
allot our own? We could hardly have bombed, killed and
maimed about 1 million Iraqis through the sanction years
and through the war if we felt that they were our equals,
our brothers and sisters?
Wars become possible through
various psycho-political combinations of contempt for
"their" cultural and moral weakness, on the one hand, and
demonization combined with projections of evil and
primitiveness, on the other. In short, de-humanisation
and humiliation. But we in the West do not understand the
psycho-politics of humiliation, we seem to have lost both
empathy and compassion for the weak. And an increasing
proportion of the world's citizens feel weak in terms of
power to influence the present and the future when they
compare themselves with us in the West. They may feel
proud and strong culturally or otherwise, but in today's
world money and weapons is what counts in day-to-day
affairs. It may be different tomorrow or the day after.
The West will lose, the U.S.Empire go down.
we could begin to learn something important for the
Perhaps we in the West could learn
to be more humble, a bit more modest vis-à-vis the
rest of the world?
Perhaps we could learn that others
do not see us in the same bright idealistic and noble
light that we tend to see ourselves in.
Perhaps we could become a bit more
self-critical and be inspired by both Eric Clapton (Bo
Diddley 1957) - "before you accuse me, take a look at
yourself" - and Luke:
"Do not judge, and you
will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not
be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give,
and it will be given to you
Why do you see the speck in your
neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own
eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Friend, let
me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself
do not see the log in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the
log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly
to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye." (Luke
Danes and other Westerners happily
use products manufactured on the other side of the globe
by people different from them in many ways. They want
material products at the cheapest price - but want
nothing to do with the people who satisfy their
never-ending materialist cravings.
Denmark's immigration policy has
become xenophobic in general and anti-Muslim in
particular to an extent that characterizes the rogue
state and the narcissist society.
Perhaps we could learn to
appreciate a human, cultural and social globalization,
not only a raw capitalist and military-intervention
Perhaps Westerners could show
compassion for those who suffer - rather than turning
them off at their borders.
Perhaps we could learn that if
there is one natural law in human relations it is this:
nothing good ever comes out of humiliating others.
Perhaps the Danish government could
learn to build alliances with more than one country and
one at that which, according to worldwide public opinion
polls, is considered the largest threat to world peace
(together with Israel)?
Perhaps the Danes and other
Westerners could learn that we need huge reforms in the
educational system to adapt to the future world society?
That we should spend maximum 50% on understanding our own
culture and history and religion and the rest on
understanding others? That there is no point in business,
law, physics, management or modern technology unless we
have empathy and know how to be human and good fellow
Perhaps we could learn that there
is no point in a neighbourhood ethics when the impact of
our policies and day-to-day actions are global? That we
need a new global ethics? That we need modesty and
partnership with Nature and other cultures precisely
because we have so much technical power?
Perhaps people around the world
would appreciate us more if we introduced global history,
teachings of all religions, peace and conflict-resolution
and promoted an understanding of the importance and
feasibility of non-violent politics or peace by peaceful
means, the basic norm of the UN Charter?
Perhaps the world would become a
better place if our focus was not limited to our own
little more or less parochial state and government
policies but to the global society, that we at least
tried our best to treat it with the same compassion as
our own place?
Perhaps Denmark could spearhead the
education of experts in genuinely free research on issues
such as inter-cultural dialogue, reconciliation and
forgiveness, the psychology of religions and faith-based
practises. We simply all know too little about these
Perhaps Western governments need
many more experts on the human, socio-psychological
dimensions of conflict whom they could listen to before
they plunge their countries and peoples into disasters
such as the Iraq war or misses the likely human reactions
to the publications of such drawings?
I could go on. You can go on too.
We know it deep inside, don't we?
There is, in fact, so much we could
learn. But sometimes it feels like our leaders have lost
the willingness to learn. So convinced are they about
their own unmatched excellence-cum-infallibility that
they believe they can get along with just understanding
their own culture - while demanding that others
understand them. But in a globalizing world, it is no
more possible to promote one rule for you and another for
me. There is only one set of rules possible for us all.
Toward the end of his life Gandhi
was asked what he thought about Western civilisation. He
paused and said with a smile, "That would be a good
Western civilisation needs help,
urgently. But it behaves like a drunkard who refuses to
see that he has a problem. And if he eventually does,
blames everybody else.
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