POLI496 - Senior Seminar: Politics & Religion
Dr. Brad Hale
December 10, 2004
The Middle East and the West Relations in a Globalized World & the Christian Response
While the world
continues to grow smaller with the advances in travel, technology, and
telecommunications, the divide between the industrial and non-industrial world
appears to be increasing. Furthermore, the West perpetuates the cycle by ignoring
the root of the problem in many of the regions of the world, particularly the
Middle East. The Western governments and media typically explain the source of
the Middle Eastern hate for America due to their refusal to join the 21st
century world, thus painting the picture that the Middle East is a land full of
ultra-radical, ultra-conservative religious barbarians. The initial source of
conflict needs to be recognized by the West as their own lack of understanding towards
the region, not the lack of desire by the Middle East to join the 21st
century world. The current situation that exists for the Middle East is that
its historical roots have failed to be examined by the West, without Western projection,
in order to understand the contemporary conflict within the region;
additionally, the church must re-evaluate what is essential from the gospel,
and distinguish itself from Western ideology that is not Christian theology.
It is only once this is done that the Western Church can hope to aid in the
prevention of the eventual collision between these two globalizing regions of
the world. This paper will examine the dynamics of globalization, the problem
with western projections of the region, the historical foundation of the
current state, and the theological understanding of mission to a
Globalization: Where the West
and the Middle East Collide
concept of globalization has gone from functioning as a buzzword, to a fully
approved description of the current state of the world. While it has been convenient
to debate the concept, it is quite difficult to define. There are some that feel
century "phenomenon" of globalization is nothing new, and they reference to information that shows ratios of trade to GDP are relatively similar between the early 20th
indicating the world was as global of an economy then as it is now.
While the economic picture may be similar, the increase in air travel, and the use of the Internet have globalized the social and cultural scenes; consequently a proper and more modern definition of globalization should compensate for these changes. YaleGlobal Online supports this by saying, "distance has been largely overcome and human-made barriers lowered or removed to facilitate the exchange of goods and ideas."
Anthony Giddens defines Globalization as, "the intensification of worldwide social relationsÉin such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away."
But it is Charles Wolf Jr. that best encompasses all sectors of globalization when he defines the concept as, "the increased speed, frequency and magnitude of access to national markets by non-national competitorsÉ [of which includes] to encompass all
markets: social, cultural, and recreational markets (including markets for intellectual property, literature, film, media, music, and sports), as well as those for merchandise and commercial services."
Much time and writing have gone into the relationship between the modern globalization effort and the historical imperialization effort. It is to be assumed in this article that these two concepts are neither synonymous nor antonymous. Just as imperialization has in the past, Globalization certainly distributes culture in both directions, from the first world to the third world, and vice versa. The fundamental difference between these two concepts is that globalization is a less direct manner of influence, which is highly politically motivated in nature. The European nations of the past established colonies and relationships, yet America has never established colonies, and therefore, has never possessed "direct control."
It is important to recognize that the Middle East was and continues to be a globalizing force within the world. Further discussion in this paper will indicate that the Middle East is not anti-globalization, and if anything, occupied an influential role in establishing the foundation of contemporary globalization. The focus of this article will show how the West and the Middle East exist as two large globalizing entities that are destined for collision if nothing is changed. Before examining the historical roots of the modern Middle East, it is important to explore Edward Said's concept of Orientalism, and its effects on contemporary East/West relations.
Orientalism: The Problem of
Orientalism can be summed up as the misunderstanding of the West towards the East, and their continual projection of this misunderstanding. This primarily occurs when the Western (particularly American) media portrays the Middle East in either one of two fashions: 1) as villains and fanatics, or 2) as weak people that are a problem to be "stamped" out.
These methods of reporting on the
Middle East have led most Americans to believe that Muslims from the Middle
East are their greatest enemy, and they simply hate America out of envy of its
modern advancements and freedom. By centralizing media attention on the
stereotypical image of Muslims, the media neglects the more imposing issues of
the continual political support of Israeli occupation of Palestine, the
suffering of Middle Easterners under US-imposed sanctions, and other instances
with direct interventions by the West.
September 11, 2001 was an enlightening moment for most Americans, and although horrific, compelled many Americans to seek the truth in regard to what is occurring outside U.S. borders. Yet, Said believes that the United States' understanding of the Middle East, the Arabs, and Islam has not improved since the attacks.
Said said this in an article
post-dating the 9/11 attacks:
What is more depressing, however, is how little time is spent trying to understanding America's role in the world, and its direct involvement in the complex reality beyond the two coasts that have for so long kept the rest of the world extremely distant and virtually out of the average American's mind. You'd think that America' was a sleeping giant rather than a superpower almost constantly at war, or in some sort of conflict, all over the Islamic domains.
America continues to criticize Arab and Muslim societies for their "backwardness" in compared to the West (i.e. lack of democracy, women's rights, etc...), but the West fails to recognize that these issues are not simple changes that can be implemented at a rapid pace. Additionally, democracy is hardly homogenized in Western governments, so to expect the Middle East to supplant an acceptable form of democracy into it governance, is unrealistic at this time.
America and its social-science of the Middle East attempts to uncover the facts about the region, yet typically neglects to consider the arts that also serve in understanding the soul of the Middle Easterner. It is common to understand the Middle East through reading stacks of "expert reports," but rarely is Middle Eastern literature discussed. One can find countless statistics regarding all sorts of sociological fields, yet Middle Eastern art is scarcely used to decipher what is at the soul of the Middle Easterner. Contemporary scholarship looks for the covenant answers that are typically produced through scientific evaluation and statistics, and consequently fail to understand various aspects of complexity within the region.
One perpetual mistake the West makes is that is allows the media and Hollywood to inform the public of what the Middle East is like and how the common Middle Easterner thinks. In its drive to make money, Hollywood has designated the Middle Easterner as the typical villain in its films. The news media has contributed to this kind of inaccurate image by parading the opinions of so called "experts" on Middle Eastern topics in desire to grab quick sound bytes and fiery debate. This of course, rarely produces an educated and in depth understanding of the historical and contemporary Middle East. As Edward Said said, "What [America's] leaders and their intellectual lackeys seem incapable of understanding is that history cannot be swept clean like a blackboard, clean so that "we" might inscribe our own future there and impose our own forms of life for these lesser people to follow."
That said, it is
important to examine the historical Middle East. For the West, understanding
the history of the Middle East should be of the utmost importance to uncovering
the contemporary Middle East.
History of the Middle East
of the historical foundation to the current situation of the Middle East is
essential for the Western outsider. This paper breaks the history into
four-parts: 1) the Historical Centrality of the Arab Land, 2) the Rise of
Islam, 3) the Diversity Within Islam, and 4) the East-West Interaction.
Historical Centrality of the
The history of the
Middle East is one filled with prosperity, warring, and conflict. Because the
large majority of the area was unstable, communication between the different
regions within Arabia was immensely difficult. From the beginning of recorded
history (and presumably before then as well), the region of Arabia has been a
center for trading. It connected the Mediterranean countries with those of
Africa and the Far East.
The history of the region is rather
limited due to the lack of ability to complete archaeological digs, and the
historical development of the region is at best a theory. Out of all the
theories, most widely supported would be the Winckler-Caetani theory, which
according to Bernard Lewis is this:
According to this [theory], Arabia
was originally a land of great fertility and the first home of the Semitic
peoples. Through the millennia it has been undergoing a process of steady
desiccation, a drying up of wealth and waterway and a spread of the desert at
the expense of the cultivatable land. The declining productivity of the
peninsula, together with the increase in the number of the inhabitants, led to
a series of crises of overpopulation and consequently to a recurring cycle of
invasions of the neighboring countries by the Semitic peoples of the peninsula.
It was these crises that carried the Assyrians, Aramaeans, Canaanites
(including the Phoenicians and Hebrews), and finally the Arabs themselves into
the Fertile Crescent. The Arabs of history would thus be the undifferentiated
residue after the great invasions of ancient history had taken place.
From this residue, the region of
Arabia divided itself into two main sub-regions: the north and the south.
The south was
characteristically different from the north due to the fact that it consisted
of primarily sedentary people that were based on agriculture. Their religion
was polytheistic and their political structure was monarchial, with a regular
father-son succession. Meanwhile, the north was comprised of nomadic, Bedouin
tribes and was heavily influenced by the Hellenized Aramaic culture. 
The political structure was focused around the group, and individuals had no value, except that which they belonged to the larger "familial" group. Rulers of these large, extended families were elected by the council of elders and really held little power. The leader could be described as the first among equals, and his sole duty was to carry out the will of the group. The life of the tribe was regulated by the Sunna
that was essentially a guide to the way the ancestors had previously carried
out their life. There were a pantheon of gods they believed and worshiped;
however, they were all lesser deities under the great God, Allah. This
religion was not a personal, but rather an entity of the community.
In 384 AD, a peace
agreement was struck between the Roman and Persian empires, which opened up
direct, international trade routes that were far easier and less dangerous than
the trade routes through Arabia. This peace agreement lasted until 504 AD,
which forced the region of Arabia into economic and social deterioration and
The successes of these alternative
routes eventually brought large amounts of chaos and power struggle to the
region, and the peace accord broke up in 502 AD. A new series of wars were
brought to the region until the final Perso-Byzantine conflict of 603-28.
While isolated from the rest of the world, the city of Mecca became the national center of the region of Arabia due to its placement between the Mediterranean (north), Yemen (south), Egypt and the Red Sea (west), and the Persian Gulf (east). Mecca had quite a diverse population and was ruled primarily by wealthy business men. This is not, however, to be confused with modern times, western capitalism. As Bernard Lewis puts it, "[Mecca's leadership] had only recently emerged from nomadism and its ideal was still nomadic a maximum of freedom of action and a minimum of public authority." It was in light of recent conflict, oppression and an oddly organized city that Muhammad was born.
The Rise of Islam
Unlike its counterparts, Judaism and Christianity, the rise of Islam was afforded the privilege of being created in the full light of human history. The rise of Islam was centered on the prophet Muhammad. According to the Qu'ran, Muhammad was the final prophet of God who was entrusted with correcting the obvious perversions of the Jewish and Christian communities from the teaching of their prophets. He was most likely born into a reputable family of the Quraysh (the aristocrat business-class), but for unknown reasons lived as and orphan who was eventually raised by his grandfather.
After reaching maturity, he married the widow of a wealthy merchant named Khaija. Muhammad's spiritual background is fairly vague, but it is clear from his writing in the Qur'an that he was well acquainted with Judaism and Christianity, though there is no evidence that he ever considered himself a follower.
Where as Judaism's primary leader, Moses, was never able to see the Promised Land himself, and Christianity's primary leader, Jesus, was humiliated and crucified before Christianity rose out of the persecution of Rome to become the dominant religion, Islam's chief leader was able to attain victory in creating his religion, conquering surrounding areas, and implanting a civil society that deemed him as supreme commander.
The rapid success, while at the
time was believed to be a true blessing from Allah, later explains why dealing
with defeat and subjection to the West is difficult for the modern Arab to come
to terms with.
Muhammad's first attempt to bring Islam to the forefront of Middle Eastern culture took place in Mecca (modernly placed in Saudi Arabia). Resulting in minimal followers, mainly family and members from the poorer class, Muhammad eventually came to terms with his failure in Mecca and accepted an invitation from the people of Medina to transfer there. 622 AD marked the turning point for Islam as Muhammad left Mecca as a private citizen, and entered Medina as a magistrate and sage of the community. As Bernard Lewis states, "In Mecca he had preached Islam; in Medina he was able to practice."
Early attempts to
spread the religion outside of Medina were quite civil. For example, in order
to attract the Jews to his new found message, he included the Jewish feast of
Yom Kippur and initially had all Muslim followers pray towards Jerusalem.
Eventually coming to the realization that Judaism had little desire to support
Islam, Muhammad eventually dropped the Jewish festival and redirected all of
his followers to pray towards Mecca. It was at this point that Muhammad
created a more strictly Arabian element to his faith.
While peaceful at the genesis of Islam, Muhammad eventually turned to force in order to achieve success. In March of 624, Muhammad led 300 followers in an attack on some caravans coming from Mecca. This started six years of battles between the Medina-led religio-political body led by Muhammad and his previous place of residence, Mecca. It was not until the year 630 when Muhammad was finally able to siege Mecca. With Mecca under control, Muhammad's mission was finally accomplished and he died two years later, having done a great deal during his lifetime. In addition to the revelation received by God that later ministered to millions of Muslims, he had developed a well organized and heavily armed community; which would serve as the foundation to the power the Arabs would eventually attain in the later centuries.
With the decease
of Muhammad, one could assume that chaos would thrive, especially given the
fact he left no instructions on whom to take his place. Relatively speaking,
it was peaceful exchange of power after the death of Muhammad, and Abu Bakr
took over, being the first Caliph (trans
. deputy) of the prophet Muhammad. The position of a Caliph is quite different than that of the typical Western religious leaders. The Caliph had not only religious authority, but ultimate control over political and military decisions. The conquest of the Arab people began in 633 at the Battle of Aqraba. This victory instilled a level of globalizing confidence that carried the rest of the Arab conquest to extend the region. From 636-639, Byzantine (modern day Turkey), Persia (modern day Iran), and Egypt fell. The initial conquest was primarily motivated by the pressure of over-population in the Arabian Peninsula and was not as much an Islamic motivation, but rather a political Arab motivation. Once captured, the Arabs did not force change amongst those that were "newly acquired" residents of Arab controlled land. The religious administration established the status of Dhimmis
which is assigned to non-believing residents.
Although considered to be second-class citizens, the beginning was hardly
oppressive. In fact, there is great evidence to indicate that Christians in
the region of Egypt and Syria actually preferred their new Muslim leaders to those
of the Byzantine Empire.
A Syriac Christian historian was even quoted as saying, "Therefore the God of vengeance delivered us out of the hand of the Romans by means of the ArabsÉIt profited us not a little to be saved from the cruelty of the Romans and their bitter hatred towards us."
What is quite intriguing about this statement is this was some three centuries
after the conversion of Constantine and the statehood of Christianity within
the Roman Empire. The fact that these Christians actually preferred Muslim
rule over Christian rule indicates that the globalizing efforts of the Arabs
was both progressive and civil.
Caliph Ummar was murdered in 644 causing a fairly abrupt stop in the
successful globalizing conquest of the region. However, in 656 AD, civil war
broke out with Caliph Ali walking out of Medina which signified two important
developments in Arab history: 1) Medina was no longer, nor would ever return to
be the capital of the Muslim world, and 2) it was the first time a Muslim
Caliph turned Muslims against each other. Unfortunately, this would not be the
last time, and from that point on, Arab history shows the capital of the Muslim
kingdom changing locations, and a constant struggle between Arab brothers.
The newly empowered Umayyad Empire took control of the region following the civil war and continued the previous conquest of Caliph Ummar under the new leadership of Caliph Mu'awiya. Under Mu'awiya's leadership, the Arab kingdom increased to control the Persian Empire, as well as further west in Northern Africa. Serious attempts to conquer Constantinople occurred during Mu'awiya's reign, though he was never successful. Mu'awiya died, and the transfer of power was completed peacefully to Yazid. Three years later, Yazid died, this time leaving his son as his successor, who died six months into his reign. At this point (683 AD), civil war broke out for the second time in 30 years.
Diversity Within Islam
By this point the Arab/Muslim kingdom had developed into quite a sophisticated society, and like any society, had developed significant social classes. There were three main classes: Arab believers, Mawala believers, and Dhimmi non-believers. The complex social framework of the Middle East then, and to this day, is one of different social, religious, and economic classes, and it is here that the difficulty is encountered in defining what it means to be an Arab. On the surface it appears as if anyone from the region of the Middle East, which follows Islam, is an Arab. But this definition is the product of a severely incompetent West, in understanding the make-up of the Middle East. By definition, an Arab is one who speaks Arabic. The dilemma lies in the fact that there are both Muslim and Christian Arabic speaking individuals. In addition to that, Islam is compromised primarily of three distinct geo-linguist groups: the Persians (Iran), the Turks (Turkey), and the Arabs (Arabian Peninsula). Like in any society, whenever societies, religions, and economic classes clash, there is a tendency to create a hierarchal level of status within the culture. In the initial development of Islam within the Middle East, the dominant culture was Arabic speaking, practicing Muslim citizens. Thus the highest status (and most benefits) was granted to those who spoke Arabic and followed Muhammad's teaching. Behind them were the Mawali, who were non-Arabic speaking Muslims. This group primarily made up of those from Persia, but also included the Aramaean, Egyptian, Berber, and any other non-Arabic converts to Islam. The final tier of social class was that of the Dhimmis. These individuals were those that refused to convert to Islam for whatever reason; this includes, but is not limited to Arabic speaking Christians.
It was out of this tiered social class that the greatest division within Islam spurred. The discontents of the Mawali reached its apex, which in turned created large support for the movement known as the Shi'a (commonly referred to in English as the Shiites). Although the Shi'a movement that initially began with the Arabs, as a political faction that opposed the Caliph (those in power), the Mawali were quickly adopted and eventually the Shi'a movement lost its Arabic roots. It eventually moved into Persia (Iran) and to this day is the biggest division within Islam.
more internal conflict and a third civil war that found its source in Baghdad,
the Arab kingdom continued to spread and by 710 AD had reached Spain. In less
than 100 years after Muhammad had first spoke of his revelation, an entire
culture and religion had spread from a city within the Arabian Peninsula and in
incredible globalizing effort spread from modern day Spain to Iran. This
globalizing force had never been actualized with such speed and success.
the 8th century, trade routes had brought much attention to the
Middle East and were the source of most ancient conflict in the region.
However, now under Islamic control, the economic and technological advancements
were staggering. Through the region, there was a surplus of clothes, carpets,
tapestries, upholstery, cushions, etc &that was exported to the ends of the
earth. By the 751 AD paper was brought from China and adopted into the Arabic
life. This addition to culture was nothing short of the eventual printing
press in Europe and spawned a great intellectual and cultural maturation. By
the 10th century AD, the international trade routes were so
sophisticated that the entire known world was connected through the Arab
nations. As Bernard Lewis puts it:
Alternative routes to India and
China ran overland through Central Asia. One source lists the goods brought
from china as aromatics, silk, goods, crockery, paper, ink, peacocks, swift
horses, saddles, felt, cinnamon, pure Greek rhubarb; from the Byzantine Empire
as gold and silver utensils, gold coins, drugs, brocades, slave girls,
trinkets, locks, hydraulic engineers, agronomes, marble workers, and eunuchs,
and from India as tigers, panthers, elephants, panther skins, rubies, white
sandalwood, ebony, and coconuts.
Even the complexity of banking had
reached a level of sophistication that was surprising for the 10th
century. It is believed that checks could be written in Baghdad and cashed in
The Islamic Empire of Arabia had
grown into the dominant world power. All trade was done through them, bringing
their culture just as quickly as their products.
following centuries of prosperity, and the Arab kingdom acquired even more land.
However, things were beginning to change by the 11th
century. By now, the office filled by the Caliph had long been disputed by the different regions and at times had more than one man filling the position. Although the Caliph was placed in power by a religious source - the Shari'a - the office itself did not hold any spiritual authority. The Caliph was not able to change or create doctrine, and was not supported by any level of priesthood. It was in the 11th
century that the Sultan emerged as a co-political ruler alongside the Caliph.
While this was not seen initially as a significant development, it later
allowed for the restraint of power given to the Caliph and the diversification
of the supreme leadership within the Islamic kingdom.
was at this time, the first in history where the world of Islam began to show
weakness. It was during this time that the Islamic kingdom experienced a
multitude of attacks from within and beyond its borders. This started out as
minor losses of peripheral areas such as Spain, and eventually grew to a much
larger, and a much more devastating psychological attack on the once commanding
Islamic kingdom. It is during this time that the Crusades took place.
Unfortunately due to the de-Christianization of the West, the Crusades in
modern history have become grossly misunderstood. As Bernard Lewis puts it:
At the present time, the Crusades
are often depicted as an early experiment in expansionist imperialism – a
prefigurement of the modern European empires. To the people of the time,
both Muslim and Christian, they were no such thing.
When the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem, barely four hundred years
had passed since that city, along with the rest of the Levant and North Africa,
had been wrested by the armies of Islam from their Christian rulers, and their
Christian populations forcibly incorporated in a new Muslim empire. The
Crusade was a delayed response to the jihad
, the holy war for Islam, and its purpose was to
recover by war what had been lost by war – to free the holy places of
Christendom, and open them once again, without impediment, to Christian
A major consequence of the Crusades
was the depopulation of the Palestinian coast, which later provided a foothold
for the West to access the region. It was a predicament that the Islamic
kingdom never recovered from. By 1258, the legal center of Islam and the
capstone of Islamic unity, Baghdad, were captured by the Mongols. While the
Mamluk dynasty rose to the call of defending the region against the Christians
and Mongols, it was at this time that the Ottoman Empire began to surface out
of Anatolia and would change the region forever.
What is confusing for many westerners
when studying the Middle East is that the Ottoman Empire signified the fall of
the Arab kingdom, but not
the fall of the Islamic influence. There were three important changes to the
regions during the empowerment of the Turks. The first of these being the
Middle East transferred from a commercial, monetary trade economy to one that
was primarily supported by agriculture. It was at this time that Europe was
rising out of the Dark Ages and into the age of modernity. This increased the
development of navigation and shipping, and before long had developed their own
trade routes, superseding the Middle East land routes, thus rendering the land
routes relatively useless. The second development was more psychological in
nature. With constant defeat their surrounding enemies, Arabs began to
understand their role within the changing world as inferior, essentially for
the first time since Muhammad had empowered them with the revelation of Allah.
The third development can be found with the center of the Islamic world
shifting from Arabic speaking Baghdad, to Egypt. By 1517, the Ottomans had
finally defeated the Mamluk dynasty and by 1534 the Ottomans controlled as far west
as Morocco and as far east as Iran. What this meant to the region was that for
the first time, the ruling Islamic power was not Arab, but rather Turkish.
is at this point of the article that one must abandon the historical approach in
explaining the current situation of the Middle East and consider what went
wrong. Although, by the 16th
century, the once glorious Arab-controlled
region and religion had been turned over to the Turks, the Middle East was
still a dominant world power, and they were still Islamic. After all, the
Ottoman Empire was by far one of the most powerful, advanced and influential
empires this world has ever seen. So what happened? What was so catastrophic
that the Muslim people went from being the epicenter of world power, to one becoming
of the most oppressed, and poverty-stricken areas of the world? Simply put,
those in the region feel the nations fell away from the true Islamic message.
Their focus then, is to return their world and the rest of the world back to
the days when Islam was supreme.
It was Oded Yinon, a professor at
Jerusalem University College and a consultant for the Mossad (Israeli version
of the CIA), who strengthened this point when he informed his class that
terrorism is not an attack on lives, but rather an attack on progress. The
world has spun out of control for the Muslims in the Middle East and the logic
goes that if they can deter progress, then the world by default will return to
the days of the Ottoman Empire and Islam will once again rule the world.
fall of Islamic, and the rise of Western, supremacy was such a slow and gradual
shift that it left the Middle East unaware of its occurrence until it was too
late. Despite the change of control within the Islamic Empire, and the slight
loss of territory, much of the ideology remained the same. They possessed
progressive technology that if no longer was advancing the Empire on the world
scene, was at least maintaining their level of competition. However, turning
into the 18th
century the Ottoman Empire began to receive crucial
blows to their control of the region. It was the Treaty of Carlowitz that was
signed in 1699 which marked the first time the Ottoman Empire had to come to
terms with their military inferiority and was forced to learn the art of
diplomacy. The response to this loss initiated a snowball effect for the next
200 years of turning to the West for advancement. Initially this was done for
the purpose of military advancement. Young Ottomans were sent to Europe,
primarily Austria, to learn the art of war from the West. The unforeseen by
product of the academic journey was that for the first time in history Ottomans
were leaving their homeland, and being subjected to influences that came from
residing in a different culture. By the time they were to return home and
divulge their new knowledge of military tactics, they were also bringing home new
ideas on philosophy, politics, and economic theory.
continued to worsen for the Middle East when in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte
conquered Egypt, once again illustrating that a small, European country could
drive to the heartland of the Empire and over take it. On top of that stunning
blow, they received a second when the removal of the French from the area was
not from an Arab or Turkish source, but rather that of England.
This once again reinforced their gradual slide, but significant inferiority in
the world scene that only left the region wondering all the more why they were
not succeeding like in the days of old.
the world kept turning, and Europe and the Far East experienced the Industrial
Revolution, the Middle East continued to fall further behind. Although they
attempted to join the revolution, their efforts came up short, as it was
difficult to increase jobs, productivity, and investments in light of the fact
that they had nothing to export. According to the World Bank, the entire
region has less export than the country of Finland when oil is taken out of the
picture. To make matters worse, what wealth the region did posses was usually
invested outside of the area, as wealthy Middle Easterners preferred to invest
their money in the developed world.
World War I broke out in 1914, the once glorious Arabic speaking, Islamic
controlled region of the Middle East consisted of no independent Arab states.
The entire Arab world had been divided, conquered, and humiliated.
After World War I, and eventually World War II, the United States of America
rose to be the predominate globalizing influence of the world. The odd thing
about this new world power was that unlike all previous world powers, the
United States had no desire to play the imperial game. What this meant to the
Middle East was that for the first time in over six centuries, they were left
to determine their destiny. But while the 20th
century could have
brought a glorious revival to the Middle East, it feared two western
ideologies: socialism and nationalism. As Lewis writes:
the beginning of the twenty-first century both were discredited, the one by its
failure, the other by its success. Socialist plans and projects were put into
effect, but did not bring prosperity; national independence was achieved, but
did not bring freedom. If anything, both brought the reverse of their declared
of the historical accounts of the Middle East, the Arabs, and the Islamic
Empire is two fold: 1) by definition, Islam and the Muslim beliefs are not in
contrast to globalization, and 2) Islam was once the source of one of the
greatest sources of globalization this world has seen and is only waiting for
the day for it to return.
Current Tension Between West and
the Middle East
As previously mentioned by Charles Wolf, Jr in the section defining globalization, it is precisely within the "social, cultural, and recreational markets" that the West finds herself in large conflict with the Middle East. As Globalization and Americanization increases, so too does the resistance of the leaders of the countries that morally feel what is stemming out of America is wrong. As Daniel L Byman puts it, "When they think of America, they're not thinking of the land of Thomas Jefferson; they're thinking of the land of Britney Spears and jokes about sexuality on every sitcom they watch. They're seeing a very disturbing social order that's quite different from what many of them envision for traditional society."
What bothers the leadership within the Middle East is that in
accepting the modern, globalized culture, they are in turn denying their own,
ingrained morality that is so vital to Islam. Many have said that it is
impossible to bring the Middle East into the 21st century because
the people simply do not want to be brought into the 21st century, and as the old saying goes, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't force him to drink." Yet the entire Arab population is not the average Middle Eastern extremist, nor does the leadership within the countries accurately reflect the desires of the public. For the most part, the Middle Eastern public is not only being led to the "water of the West", but they are drowning themselves in it. It takes only a cursory walk through the streets of Arab controlled territories or countries to realize that the public desires that which the globalized world is putting out. Byman adds, "I don't think the Islamists can win the war on American culture because their people want it. It's not like we're forcing U.S. movies down the throats of the Pakistanis. They want them."
Western Church will need to be able to understand the predicament it finds
herself in. The church is, for good or bad, associated with the West. What
comes out of the West is what is found on television, in movies, on within the
media. What makes matters worse for the church is that although the Middle
East wants the entertainment elements that are coming out of the West, they do
not trust their ideological beliefs. As Ivan Krastev says in his book The
, "To Islamic fundamentalists, America embodies a hateful modernity; to Europeans, America, still clinging to religious faith and capital punishment, is not modern enough. In the Middle East, America is accused of hostility to Islam; in the Balkans, of being pro-Islamic. "The United States is blamed both for globalizing the world and for "unilaterally" resisting globalization." He goes to say that, "What's new is not anti-Americanism as such, but the fact that blaming America has become politically correct behavior even among America's closest allies.'"
If the church is going to be able to minister in the Middle East as an
ideological entity, it is going to have to figure out methods to separate
herself from the West.
Theological Reflection on the
Christian Response of Restoration
From its very genesis, Christianity has been a
globalizing force. Jesus left areas He called home in order to influence
others towards the truth and expected his early followers to do the same.
Although there is little evidence that Jesus ever left Israel during his
ministry, before the end of the century, his followers had left their homeland
to evangelize the known world. It quickly became very apparent that being a
follower of Christ meant there would be opportunity for dialogue and
confrontation on the international scene. Contemporary Christ followers might
be removed from the first century culture, but they find themselves aligned
with the same first century conflict: how as Christ followers do we live and
minister in a globalized world? If Christians are going to go into the world
they need to first understand why they are to go out, and second, what their
mission should be about.
theological question that must be asked in response to the two globalizing
worlds of the West and the Middle East coming evermore into conflict is as
Western Christians are we called to go the Middle East at all? There are those
within the church that feel there are enough problems at home in America to
deal with before the church should venture out into the Middle East. While
this position should be commended for its desire to spread the gospel in its
surrounding areas, it fails to recognize the ultimate desire of a universalized
salvation and the alleviation of international suffering.
The key thrust of
all missionary activity within the church derives from the great commission
given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20:
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
The final commission Jesus has to
his followers is to spread His gospel of truth to all areas of the earth. Did this meant to abandon their homeland of Israel to find converts from afar, absolutely not. However, it also meant that believers from the homeland should be equally concerned with spreading the gospel outside of its borders. The spread of the gospel in the New Testament is understood as two-fold: 1) eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, and 2) God's desire to release the oppressed from earthly oppression. The New Testament shows early on how Paul was concerned with not only the salvation of the people he came into contact with, but also being able to provide for the poor and the poor
churches in other regions of the world. It is here the contemporary Western
church must step in and recognize its place in the world. T. Howland Sanks
[The first century church]
understood that God intended all wealth for the common good and therefore to be
shared. The private ownership of goods is a result of the fall, and if some
were wealth it was in order that they could take care of others. This was done
by almsgiving, which meant not just giving away loose change but keeping for
oneself only what was necessary and giving he rest to those in need.
It would be extreme, irresponsible
and reckless to assume the great commission requires all
believers to drop out of their current situations to
go into physically and spiritually poorer areas of the world to bring the good
news of Jesus Christ. However, the macro-level Western Church must recognize
that it has a role in all areas of the world, and that it should provide support
in any means it has access to, including financial, political, and personal
The second question that plagues the Western Church in light of globalization in the Middle East should be is it a requirement for the church to be in the majority, or align itself with the governing body, to be effective? Christianity is unique to Judaism and Islam in that it does not require the church to be in the majority to function. This is a hard concept for the Western Church to understand due to its influence in American politics, but the truth of the matter is there is very little within the New Testament that instructs Christians on how to live in the majority. A Muslim friend of Phillip Yancy once said, "In the Qur'an, I can find nothing to teach us how to be a minority religion, while in the New Testament I can find nothing to teach Christians how to be a majority religion."
This simple, but yet profound statement is the key to effectively function in
the contemporary Middle East. The Western Church must
abandon its desire to implement American democracy in the
Middle East before it takes action to spread the gospel to the Middle East.
In Luke 20, Jesus answers a question regarding taxes and loyalty in a profound manner that has serious implications for the Western church in the non-Western world. His famous answer of "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's," opened the door of the church to live in a secularized, dualistic society in which they were not a large source of control.
This should be a source of freedom for the church; despite the fact most Western Christians would look at it as a curse. In reality, the church is free to live, function, and minister in any circumstances. This does not mean the church should sit idle in the Middle East, but rather remain proactive to fulfilling their mission of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, despite the lack of governmental support. When given the opportunity the church should challenge the local governments to stop oppressive practices, and when resistance is met, always fall on the foundation that the church is built on God, not on government and continue its practices as best as it knows how. John Locke's basic understanding of government was to protect life, liberty and property, and the church should not forget that.
While the contemporary Middle Eastern governments are not necessarily meeting Locke's expectation, this does not give the church to alienate a region of the world by insisting on a form of government that would accomplish anything more than Locke's desire (i.e. force democracy when monarchy could work). In short, democracy is not the litmus-test for a healthy government, nor is democracy a New Testament requirement. This does not infer that the church should not be an advocate for democracy when possible, but rather implies that it should not look to democracy as the Israelites looked to the golden calf as a solution to all their problems.
As the world continues to shrink due to the
advancement in technology, ideological differences are going to increasingly come
into conflict. The important element is not to rid the world of ideological
and cultural differences, but rather, the church needs to be focused on
pursuing truth in all that it does and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ as
it does that. That pursuit must include being able to remove itself from
Western biases that have plagued centuries of Westerners, and preach that which
is essential to the gospel, not Western ideology. It is only
once true understanding of the Middle East and the theological essentials to
Christian fuse will the church be of any influence and aid to the region.
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