American & Middle Eastern Scientists
GEORGE J. JENNINGS
Middle East-American Indians
P.O. Box 632
Le Mars, Iowa 51031
From: PSCF 42 (June 1990): 100-112.
This paper holds that dialogue is an imperative for scientists interacting with their counterparts in a cross-cultural exchange. In interacting with those in the Middle East, dominated by Islamic thought and rich tradition, members of the American Scientific Affiliation in a tour of Cairo, Amman, and Instanbul, will be confronted by a world view and values that both differ and agree with views held by those in evangelical and orthodox Christianity. In an exchange on views to overcome such gross ills of famine, disease, illiteracy, female subservience, and rigid conservatism, we must first seek to understand the Middle Eastern culture and mentality that surfaces in their theoretical and methodological opinions. Since both world views subscribe to basic monotheism, we will understand and aid in programs of relief by establishing a common ground for action.
Paul entered the synagogue [in Ephesus] and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussion daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (Acts 19:8-10 NIV)
In 1990 ASA members will be visiting with Middle Eastern scholars that include Muslims. Although we differ in basic theological assumptions, we can join in a common quest for answers to issues of justice, peace, famine, and disease by such interaction. Our goal will be to seek relief and solutions to human needs aggravated by the chaotic ravages of the Middle East's endemic disasters caused by both mankind and nature.
Incessant wars there have aggravated natural disasters, such as droughts,
hostilities stem in part from 19th and 20th century imperialism and colonialism
the West. Western invasion and exploitation began with Napoleon's invasion of
at the beginning of the 19th century. We note also that Middle Easterners still
remember the Crusades with Christians stereotyped as "bad
guys" much as
today's Western media cast the Arabs (loosely used to speak of all Middle
people) into a "bad guys" image. We cannot give attention
here to the
Crusades, nor to other catastrophic invasions, such as by the Mongols with their
incredible devastation. For example:
From 1218 to 1221 the Mongols chased Muhammad's army, laying waste to the great cities and much of the farmlands...The atrocities committed by the Mongol armies defy description: 700,000 inhabitants of Merv were massacred...The Mongol aim was to paralyze the Muslims with such fear that they would never dare to fight back. (Goldschmidt, 1979: 91-92)
Be that as it may, I think that the ASA should explore with Middle Eastern
all realistic proposals to alleviate tragic and gross physical and psychological
among the population mosaic there (Coon, 1958). And although we in the ASA are
not conventional "missionaries" with short-term
appointments, we should see
ourselves as genuine ambassadors for Jesus Christ with our sciences as implements for fulfilling an ambassadorial role to serve others.
In my own field of anthropology, there is contention between those who seek to establish the discipline as pure science and those who seek to apply their research findings to aid those in distress and deprivation. That I favor the latter in applied anthropology within my evangelical Christian stance, will, I hope, be apparent from
my involvement in our ASA overseas enterprise to Middle Eastern cities.
Regional Development in the Middle East
Lancaster's contemporary assessment (1989) concerns a vast area with different ideas about what became known as the Middle East during World War II. In this region between Africa, Asia, and Europe, diversity ranges from barren deserts to fertile pasture and arable lands. Development plans and efforts here have a long
history with many fiascos.
In the 1960s the development emphasis was towards the large-scale integrated
project, the irrigated agricultural schemes-complete with
multilateral agencies such as the World Bank. In the 1970s, development experts
discovered "miracle" seeds, and suddenly it was the decade
of the Green
Revolution. The 1980s have been concerned with correcting some of the mistakes made by those early development pioneers.
Too many development projects were initiated without much thought for the
involved. The dams displaced villagers and then saddled them with water-borne
diseases. The miracle wheats required large-scale inputs of often imported
fertilizer-a drain on foreign exchange.
Only recently have development experts learned to plan projects with an eye to
wider, particularly environmental, consequences. Too frequently, the mad rush
towards greater food production has been at the expense of the environment, but
more recently the concept of sustainable development has increasingly been
I agree with Eric Sharpe's views (1974) on dialogue as a guide for us ASA scientists in an exchange with those from the Middle East. Briefly, these include:
(1) Discursive dialogue (often labeled "debate" or "discussion") involves meeting, listening, and exchange on the level of mutually competent intellectual inquiry. As an intellectual activity, it can be profitable among equally equipped partners, since it presupposes the willingness to listen as well as to speak. I may add that Americans tend to want to speak and direct rather than to listen, and we in the ASA need to exercise restraint in such dialogue.
(2) Human ("Buberian") dialogue rests on commonly accepted existential foundations; it assumes the possibility for persons to meet purely and simply as human beings, irrespective of contrasting assumptions. The inference is that one can control inherent ethnocentrism and sectarianism. This is extremely difficult because assumptions usually reflect those of one's own culture and resist acceptance of others; thus, they are subjective rather than objective and tend to make dialogue more theoretical than practical. After all, is it not an ASA assumption that we don't have all answers but our continuing task is a quest for more and better answers?
(3) Secular dialogue stresses that where tasks are to be performed anywhere, believers of different creeds may share a program of joint action by minimizing different convictions. While still clouded with theory, this exchange does offer possibilities for those who are sincere. If we are not committed to aiding people in need, we had best skip this jaunt to the Middle East.
We in ASA do want our efforts to reach beyond relief of physical
needs to offer spiritual views of our Christian faith.
(4) Spiritual dialogue (called the "extra-human" by some anthropologists; e.g., Bharati, 1976) seems more at home with those trained in contemplative and monastic traditions. Its emphasis tends to rest upon prayer and meditation rather than upon debate and discussion. This difference between Western and Eastern colleagues comes into sharp focus when love is introduced as an imperative concept to aid Third World relief programs (Jennings, 1980).
The relative brevity of our ASA visit in various cultures and lack of fluency
languages will limit this form of dialogue about abstract ideas such as love,
regeneration, etc. Yet we in ASA do want our efforts to reach beyond the relief
physical needs to offer spiritual views of our Christian faith. To ponder the
of minds in Middle East/East Africa is indeed an opportunity to be models representing our universal Christ with His compassion clearly evident.
The Culture Concept in Cross-Culture Development
Our proposed ASA visit to East Africa and the Middle East anticipates different ways of life and different cultures. We need, therefore, to mention basic ideas about culture as used in the social sciences, especially as used in anthropology. Definitions of culture are bewildering (Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1963). I accept Paul Hiebert's succinct idea: "Culture is the integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society" (1976:25). This view infers diverse cultures of mankind both historically and geographically, and is clearly inferred by Paul's analysis to the Areopagan scholars in Athens (Acts 17:24-26).
Our ASA Christianity in Western culture will reflect a biblical/theistic
world view in
dialogue with scientists from a different world view of Middle Eastern culture,
though we share an ancient heritage, mostly that of the Old Testament. I think
that Stott, a theologian rather than a professional anthropologist, envisions the
concept as imperative for successful programs of improvement in the meeting of different cultural minds:
"Gospel and Culture" is not a topic of purely academic interest. On the contrary, it is the burning practical concern of every missionary, every preacher, every Christian witness. [Are we not one of these categories?] It is literally impossible to evangelize in a cultural vacuum. Nobody can reduce the biblical Gospel to a few culture-free axioms which are universally intelligible. This is because the mind set of all human beings has been formed by the culture in which they have been brought up. Their presuppositions, their value systems, the ways they think, and the degree of their receptivity or resistance to new ideas, are all largely determined by their cultural inheritance and are filters through which they listen and evaluate. (Coote & Stott, 1980:vii)
Contemporary Middle Eastern Cultural Change
To be involved in Middle East development, we must reiterate that culture as a system conditions members in any society. Culture is dynamic and changes. These changes are accelerated when one culture with advanced technologies dominates a culture less advanced. Furthermore, change often introduces varying degrees of
conflict about values and goals in the subservient or recipient society's members. To understand the cultural systems in the Middle East, we briefly suggest the basics of life and thought there, and then cite what I believe has posed major Middle Eastern problems in efforts to aid the victims of change. From this, we seek to propose empathetic and viable development programs toward realistic goals.
"Culture is the integrated system of learned patterns
ideas and products characteristic of a society."
First, Islam postulates a total, comprehensive way of life. Religion thus serves
organic function. It encompasses the Muslim's duties to God (worship, fasting,
pilgrimage, almsgiving) and duties to one's fellows (family, commercial, and
features). In brief, Islam is a religious system that pervades the total life of
faithful. Consequently, our American notions about separating the secular from the spiritual-separation of church and state-is foreign to most Islamic thought.
We in the ASA need to see that Islam's modern history includes
chaos as well as construction.
Second, the 20th century has seen Muslim countries faced with formidable sociocultural upheavals. Hence, we need to identify problems in the struggle for independence from colonialism: the birth and development of independent states with the pressures and strains of modernization; the conflicts between Arab nations and
Israel (including Arab Palestinians in the occupied West Bank/Gaza); the national rifts in Lebanon, Cyprus, Yemen, Sudan, and Ethiopia; and the emergence of oil-producing states into a world economic bloc. We in the ASA need to see that Islam's modern history includes chaos as well as construction. And some of these
changes have stemmed from well-intentioned Western programs to overcome desperate needs (Jennings, 1987).
From consequent regional stresses come various reactions with labels such as
"Islamic resurgence," "militant Islam,"
or "Islamic revival."
Further reactions include the Iranian revolution under Khomeini; the seizure of
Great Mosque at Mecca by Muslim extremists, followed later by the massacre of Iranian Shi'ite pilgrims by militant Sunnis at Mecca; the brutal carnage in crushing the Muslim Brotherhood members by Syria's Assad; the endless horrors in fragmented Lebanon; the eccentric adventurism of Libya's Qaddhafi; the assassination
of Egypt's Sadat; the enormous bounty offered to kill author Rushdie for his Satanic Verses (causing international concern and strained diplomatic relations at the time of this writing), and other tragedies that make media headlines-all relevant in the discussions about development with Middle Eastern scholars.
In the middle of all this, my recent field observations there show increased
devotions by Muslims. Now there is more mosque attendance, a return to
dress by women, and greater observance of fasting during Ramadan, to mention the
obvious. All these demonstrate that Islam is virile, and, unexpectedly to many
scholars, is now a factor we must recognize in any plans offered for improvement
Development, Change, and Cultural Authenticity
We in the ASA need to correct some deep-rooted myths about Islam-among them that it is a static, monolithic system with a traditional world view that is irrelevant for modern living; that to become modern is impossible unless the people adopt Western and secular ideas; and that religious and political institutions must
necessarily be separate in modern systems of government.
Our effort here needs to examine changes as these may challenge Middle
cultural authenticity. Will genuinely helpful aid programs attack the people's
personality to leave them in states of anomie-aimlessness or
life? Can we help them to physical betterment without hurting them or causing
mental pathologies with overtones of spiritual recalcitrance to appeals from our
Christian faith? Will we be indifferent to harmful implications in representing
In current discussions with Middle East intellectuals, a fear is sometimes expressed that too much change will eventually destroy the people's identity as Arabs, Iranians, Turks, or tribal groups. Advice is offered that the people should restrain the process of change in order to preserve their cultural authenticity. Clearly this
response suggests the need of contextualized proposals by the innovators to prevent identity loss from improvement designs imported from a modern culture outside the region.
The cultural conservatism in resisting changes is what
anthropologists call "the culture boundary maintaining mechanism," the
means used to bar changes to venerable thinking and behavior in their way of life.
Every society attempts to preserve the status quo of its values
and institutions when they are threatened by contact and potential weakening and
destruction from an intruding society with its own cultural values and systems.
cultural conservatism in resisting changes is what anthropologists would call
"the culture boundary maintaining mechanisms," or the means
used to bar
changes to venerable thinking and behavior in their way of life. Thus, the Amish
people in Pennsylvania, surrounded by both modern urbanism and advanced
agriculture, resist this by means of "shun," which is
complete ostracism for
any member of their community who deviates from the customs long held by the
In considering the rigid restriction of Middle Eastern traditionalists, they are actually denying the acculturational process in their cultural history and authenticity. Their traditional culture maintenance mechanism is the stubborn and literal adherence to the Qur'an and the Hadith. They thus refute their own history and the innovations that brought them the glory of the Abbassid Period (750-1258 A.D.) with its adoption and assimilation of external ideas-the very process which generated their "cultural authenticity."
As I see it, an excessively protective attitude is a camouflage for attempts to reduce the pace of change, or even keep the entire region in the grip of traditionalism and hence under the hegemony of the present power systems both nationally and internationally.
The culture of any group is its collective experience through time and in place.
Admittedly, in this post-World War II period, there had been modernization in the Middle East. The amounts of change vary greatly from place to place, with most alterations occurring in the cities and least in the remote mountains and deserts. But to say that the Middle East has become modern in its structures and institutions, its ideologies, its science and arts, its values, attitudes, and behavior, and the lives of its individuals, is gross exaggeration. There remains considerable room for improvement before the people can begin to be modern and effective in the world community. The people, in my thinking, can continue to change with minimal fear for their cultural authenticity. In fact, they can and should change in order to become truer to themselves and their heritage.
Some questions need to be answered: What is Middle Eastern cultural authenticity on a most general level, or what is authenticity for the Arabs, the Turks, the Iranians, or others? Is it a quality that is a permanent attribute of their collective personality or their "national" character? Are the Middle Eastern people endowed with a quintessential characteristic that distinguishes them from other peoples, such as the Chinese or the Indians? Is their culture so different from everybody else's in our modern world that it has to be treated differently?
Biblical absolutes as abstract truths remain constant,
but their applications change to fit cultural circumstances.
To me, the problem surfaces when we view, for instance, the Muslim Arab culture as a monolithic entity, permanent and static in nature, given once and for all then preserved through succeeding generations. To be culturally authentic, the Arab, the Turk, or others must-according to this view-preserve this monolith and
faithfully hand it down intact to posterity. Such a formulation obviously over-simplifies the problem, but the fact remains that we have here an unhistorical and, indeed, an erroneous view of culture.
By this I mean that the culture of any group is its collective experience through time and in place. As the group moves through time from generation to generation, it continually meets the new needs that challenge it. The response of the group shapes its experience of reality, which, in turn, adds to its culture. The group learns to acquire new cultural traits and discard others, so that its culture continues to develop in the service of group survival and satisfaction with enhancements. Culture is thus continuously changing and accommodating the group's institutions, beliefs, and values to its ever-rising needs, both material and ideological.
We as members of the ASA with our Christian stance, hold biblical absolutes such as love, mercy, forgiveness, and others (the Apostle Paul's "fruit of the Spirit," Galatians 5:22-23), that do vary in different cultural expressions according to time and circumstances. That is, the biblical absolutes as abstract truths remain constant, but their applications change to fit different cultural circumstances. Thus a traditional Chinese wife will demonstrate her love to her husband differently than a modern American wife to her husband; both could be obeying the Pauline injunction to the Ephesians about the husband-wife relationship as symbolic of the Christ-Church relationship of love.
Most economic thought is subject to Islamic ethical norms of
the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sharia.
Certain cultures may be more open to change than others, although the reasons
this are not always clear. But there is no culture that does not change unless
a dead culture-i.e., an archaeologically reconstructed culture of an
such as the Aztecs of Mexico or the Babylonians of Mesopotamia. Anthropologists
justify their description of a culture that no longer exists in the form practiced earlier by the phrase, "ethnographic present," to caution the reader that conditions have changes, changes to be revealed in a diachronic examination-"through time"-of the dynamic reality of the group.
Furthermore, the unity of a living culture contains diversity, even with contradictory values tolerated as group cooperation versus competition. Some cultures allow more diversity within them than do others; there is probably no culture that exhibits total, uniform integration. This Middle Eastern diversity led anthropologist Carleton Coon to use "mosaic" to describe the maze of differences (1966).
Middle Eastern culture (with sub-cultures) has had a long and variegated
Our present essay bypasses this to focus upon the present. One of the greatest
impacts on Middle Eastern society in recent history has been its contact with
modern West. This cultural interaction has continued for nearly two centuries,
varying degrees of depth and intensity at different times and areas of the region.
During these two centuries, Western culture has experienced enormous change. Someone once wrote that George Washington would feel more at home in ancient Babylonia than were he to live in today's America. The Middle Eastern peoples have been exposed to various trends and changes during this time. The modern cultural encounter with the West is perceived by Middle Easterners to be more forceful and pervasive than others in their past, not only because the West is more powerful, but also because they view it from the position of their contemporary weakness following centuries of virtual stagnation and subordination.
The Middle Easterners have adopted many elements from modern Western culture, notably in the realm of technology (even Khomeini used audio cassettes to bring about the Iranian revolution!), but also in social organization and some ideology. Now there is increasing resistance to this acculturational impact. As the Middle Eastern countries moved towards political independence when colonialism declined, the preservation of cultural heritage and cultural authenticity intensified.
Tradition has loomed over most Middle Easterners as the rock of sure
safety to which they can cling amid the insecurity and instability of change (Jennings, 1987a). Only in tradition can many of them find their identity and
cultural authenticity. We in ASA must recognize this reversion; we will
meet scholars who bear psychological scars, if not open wounds, who find
themselves in a present state of flux. We must be discreet so that our
for proposals in areas where some of them have been wounded by earlier schemes
are as compatible with traditional cultural traits as possible.
Islam & Development in the Middle East
A common assumption in development theory is that modernization weakens religion and fosters secularism. The reality in some Muslim lands tends to contradict this (Jennings, 1984). While modernization has curtailed some traditional power and influence of the religious establishment ("ulama") among government and legal personnel, religion itself has not weakened appreciably. The Iranian revolution and the extreme restrictions in Turkey and Saudi Arabia on Christian missions make this clear. In Iran, Egypt, and Syria, the young educated Muslims are using their newly acquired knowledge and skills to develop Islamic responses to political and
social problems, along with movements to implement change.
Religion remains a powerful force in these lands, and we need to be
sensitive to clergy opposition to Westernization.
Islamic resurgence is not merely from mass alienation or rejection of modernization in Islam's resurgence and change in cultural ideology. In development proposals, we discover that Islam has become an instrument espoused both by incumbent government and opposition forces. Both respond to the sociocultural exigencies of
their countries and try to obtain legitimation and mass support for their program and policies. President Assad illustrates this in Syria, with an additional problem as an Alawite, a marginal sect of Islam, that finds him walking a fine line to avoid confrontation with the dominant Sunnis in Syria.
Religion as an integral part in economics prevails among Islamic peoples
et al., 1980). Some scholars argue for Islam's compatibility with Eastern
including its relationship to current socioeconomic changes in the Middle East.
addresses itself, as I observe it, to many aspects of development including
ownership, taxation, interest, income distribution, and related matters (Jennings,
Thus, most economic thought is subject to Islamic ethical norms of the Qur'an, the Hadith (Muhammad's interpretations), and the Sharia (Islamic judicial opinions). Economic traditions held by Muslims are their alternative to laissez faire capitalism and Marxist socialism. I hear this question in various forms: "If Western countries can evolve economic systems of a hybrid nature, might not Islamic countries do the same?"
The belief is that Islamic principles do not necessarily preclude development
rapid economic growth. On the contrary, the argument is that Islamic principles
advocate factors generally regarded as essential to economic progress. Perhaps
exists something like the Protestant Work Ethic, even though some of my
disavow this. Some of my Western colleagues even ascribe to Muslims a "pious
poverty" that hampers improvement in the Middle East, but our affluent
Western lifestyle is adopted to contradict such judgment.
Not all Westerners have gone to the Middle East to share altruism
and spiritual concern.
The Iranian revolution is a dramatic case of Islamic thought about religion and development (Bayat, 1980). In historical perspective on fundamental Shi'ite beliefs and institutions, we can see a direct relationship to the Iranian revolution in 1979. Thus, in pre-Pahlavi Iran (before 1920), the relationship of Shi'ism to the state was
marked by confusion and ambivalence. In flux, the Islamic clergy progressively institutionalized their religious authority, but they failed to develop a cohesive group to overcome factional differences and so had little clout in governmental decisions.
Responsibility for poverty and misery is from both sides.
All this changes after the 1920s by secularizing reforms and anticlerical policies implemented by the heavy-handed policies of Reza Shah Pahlavi. His dynasty emphasized a pre-Islamic (Iranian) heritage to establish imperial identity with modern reforms in law and education. The reforms were based mostly on Western models through Durkheim's influence upon a Turkish sociologist, Gokalp (Peretz, 1978:157-158). Gokalp gained the interest of Ataturk who promoted laicism (secularism), and Resa Shah in Iran. Subsequent events show rejection of secularism by most Turks (though the Turkish constitution grants religious freedom), but not to the point of revolution as in Iran. Why so? And how does this relate to dialogue for development now?
For those of us in ASA who seek to help meet needs in the Middle East, the policies for modernization/development after World War II put the learned Muslim clergy on the defensive with the clergy's reaction as a distinct, socially defined, ideologically cohesive class of its own. This unity provided the force to oust the Shah; it also has potential for organized opposition to plans that we may offer in dialogue with Islamic scholars there. Religion remains a powerful force in these lands, and we need to be sensitive to clergy opposition to Westernization.
Again, ASA efforts to aid must note equal significance in lay Islamic
is, among the professional classes who form the social infrastructure for
and for adoption of innovations. Differences between clerical leaders and lay
intellectuals must be recognized for a successful dialogue between the West and
Middle East. This necessitates credible exchange with lay scholars in proposals
benefit their people.
Middle East Education and Development
In my research, three issues for dialogue come to the fore: education, politics, and religion (Hudson, 1979). Of these three, politics and religion must be discreetly treated at all times. It goes without saying that political and religious institutions cannot be avoided but both must be neutralized; these are volatile issues that can block fruitful exchange. Educational issues are less highly charged. To me, fundamental educational gaps cry for attention (Hudson, 1979). These discrepancies include:
(1) There is a need to contextualize education. Although Western models of education have achieved much in the past, they have often failed to interact positively with local communities. The people feel isolated or distant from schools, so they neither lend their support nor accept educators' advice.
There is, unfortunately, a deleterious effect in Western educational models. Students emulate teachers more in form than in meaning and function; consequent degrees of anomie plague many students. This aimlessness fosters student frustration and a desire to abandon the home community, preferably to emigrate to the West. Hence, educated persons with potential are lost to countries which could profit from such education.
(2) Education must view human resources as assets, not liabilities. To overcome this negative attitude which limits employment, education needs to emphasize dignity in work of any kind, including manual labor. All tasks then contribute to community well being. My first field study four decades ago in villages revealed this problem. Village youth, when sent to cities for education, refused to return to be models of manual work in the villages (Jennings, 1958:159).
(3) Illiteracy must be eliminated. This problem varies from country to country in the Middle East, but about 60 percent of the people cannot read or write. The wealthy oil states should confront this problem, for they can benefit immediately with skilled personnel, including trained, able leaders for the home communities in any nation.
(4) Discrimination against the poor and women must be banished if development is to produce enduring benefits for all Middle Easterners. Thus, my research data shows low worker productivity when compared with advanced lands. To hold women as second-class citizens is to bar half the population from their potential contribution. Their subordination perpetuates inferior values by maternal influence in children's personalities during the critical enculturational years.
(5) A "teamwork" ethos must become part of the Middle Eastern mentality. This problem is simply and bluntly the refusal to cooperate within levels in the socioeconomic system. People are more or less forced to join in community projects and comply grudgingly. This barrier to development correlates with deep suspicion towards superiors in all levels of work, from manual tasks to executive positions.
(6) Population growth is a serious problem; the
birth rate is among the
highest for the world's major cultural regions. Some states use manpower
to promote higher birthrates. The lack of many skilled personnel in the Middle
is aggravated by this issue. This can be overcome by education, not by increased
Put bluntly, Middle Eastern society has become schizophrenic with
ambivalence toward modernity and traditionalism.
As we might surmise, our Western idea to limit family size through planned
parenthood is highly controversial in the Middle East, whether among Christians,
Muslims, or Oriental Jews. But population growth rates decrease among those who
are Westernized. (Note: the higher birthrate among Palestinian Arabs in the
West Bank/Gaza compounds Israel's problems if it annexes these areas; for
Palestinians as citizens have larger families to portend a majority in Israel's
future. Nor are these Palestinian Arabs all Muslims; some are
educated Christians who also
experience restrictions and participate in the "infadah," or
(7) The Middle East needs institutional planning principles and techniques at all levels. The inability to develop adequate scenarios has wrecked attempts to deal with major problems. Tactful dialogue is imperative, for Muslim fatalism emerges in reluctance to plan for an unknown future.
(8) Also with tact, we must not allow development plans to overtly
Islamic views, yet religious dogmatism should be lessened. As
a matter of
fact, Islam can be interpreted to support general improvement for Muslims. In
discussion, we may avoid ambushes if our views are on broad grids of theism and
monotheism rather than a fine mesh that separates Christian groups (Watt, 1983).
(9) There are felt needs in the Muslim world that are yet to be satisfactorily addressed. Although the unemployment rate in some Middle Easternlands is high-slumping oil prices exacerbated unemployment and forcedinterregional expatriates back to oil-less homelands-thousands of skilled/professional jobs await filling. Development in the Middle East is not toproduce a Western clone state. We are to listen carefully in order to identifybona fide hurts as they define them.
Surely we can see here Jesus' definition of "neighbor" in "the Good Samaritan" explanation. Personally, I look in vain here for evidence that the benefactor, a despised person to orthodox Jews, linked his aid to a theological demand. It may be fair, however, to infer a testimonial sequel by the Samaritan in his neighborliness.
(10) The democratization of educational process is
imperative for good (i.e.,
functionally productive) education. "Democracy" and "freedom" have
different meanings, even in the West; such concepts are indeed foreign to Middle
Easterners. Categorical labels assigned to any people stem from educational
insensitivity and are inexcusable in the ASA. Thus, references to the "Third
World," "Undeveloped World," and the like have no
place in our
discussions as we exchange ideas about freedom and individual liberty.
Motivation for Development
I think that we must agree that many development theories are far from being value-free (Hudson, 1980). In anthropology, for example, I know theorists who have greater concern for testing their theories than for wrestling with the plight of societies they diagnose. We in the ASA do well to ponder the implications of this
Do we allow our values and assumptions to hamper rather than help the needy
another culture? This danger has often given me pause. This hazard surfaces in
some programs, but it can be minimized or neutralized. How so? If we condition
approach with the genuine altruism advocated by Pitirim Sorokin (1958, 1954).
Doesn't it go without saying that we in ASA should adopt selfless means to aid those in need? Surely we can assume that our motivation is not for exploitation, self-enhancement, or personal gain.
We must admit, on the other hand, that our Christian theological grid most likely will be suspect to many Muslim scholars, especially when our views on aid are linked with human depravity and reconciliation with God uniquely through Jesus Christ. Actually, some reputable Middle Eastern theorists do infer "sin" when addressing backwardness and deprivation among their people. While they blame Western exploitation, they admit the reality that suffering and deprivation are also found in their own leaders' closets.
The emancipation of women, for integration into total cultural
will be restricted so long as traditional values and corresponding social roles
We from the West must admit, too, that some charges against Western projects have justification-not all Westerners have gone to the Middle East to share altruism and spiritual concern. I agree with Patai (1971) who analyzes charges and countercharges about causes for Middle Eastern problems (Jennings, 1986:213f).
To Middle Easterners, the West's motivation for coming was domination, politically and economically. They say Western powers gained control in the Middle East by collaboration with regional rulers, who were either coerced or bribed into serving Western interests.
The Western countercharge is that without Western initiative Middle Eastern
resources would have remained untapped. The West was invited by Middle East
leaders to find and exploit natural resources, and to employ Western technology.
Then, Western companies shared their profits with the legal owners, the
classes in the countries. Unfortunately, the West argues, the rulers shared little of the benefits with the populace, but pocketed most returns. Hence, the rulers are responsible for the poverty and degradation that prevails among ninety percent of the people.
While this argument continues, we who seek to aid must emphasize areas of
agreement. To me, responsibility for poverty and misery is from both sides. The
ruling classes are guilty, for their actions and attitudes were instigated by
influence and inflamed by their own greed. But our Christian views demand
empathetic dedication-our proposals are within the biblical ethos of caring and sharing.
Despite such commitment, we will meet Islamic conservatism that dominates their sociocultural system. Put bluntly, Middle Eastern society has become schizophrenic with ambivalence toward modernity and traditionalism. Much social and corresponding psychological tension in life reflects a sharp polarization (Jennings, 1983:92; 1987a).
Modernity is found mostly in urbanized sectors; here it is culturally
upper social classes. Traditionalism is rooted in backward agricultural and
sectors; its strength is among the lower classes. For the most part, economy and
most people remain bound to values and behavior patterns of long standing. These
undergird conservatism and resist changes. Thus, the people are even adamant to
appeals from revolutionary theory. They block progressives who attempt to
socialism, especially in Marxist form, among the majority.
Women and Development
In any development program in the Middle East, a fundamental need is improved status/role for women. Change has come to upper-class women, and it varies from country to country, but women continue to be the most oppressed segment in the region. Overwhelmingly, whether Arab or non-Arab, traditional law and social
practice support male dominance. This need is obfuscated by conflicting reports.
The emancipation of women, for integration into total cultural life, will be restricted so long as traditional values and corresponding social roles persist. Religious ideology is maintained not only for spiritual views, but also because it sanctions the established order of power. Thus, women's liberation in the Middle East is structurally bound. Any radical change in women's positions would signal, more than any single factor, the fracturing of the existing structure. In this respect, women constitute a revolutionary class in the Muslim Middle East.
Moreover, qualified women observers suggest that women's dress symbolizes their social position. Mernissi offers a neo-Freudian interpretation of the veil. She raises the question whether a desegregated society, where formerly secluded women could gain equal rights commercially, socially, and sexually, would be an authentic Muslim society (1975).
Anthropologist Elizabeth Fernea believes that Islamic dress is an eloquent
of the female quest for honored status among Muslims (Fernea 1978, 1985). That
the veil/modest dress is a complex symbol with multiple implications and
impacts. When manipulated, it symbolizes a new meaningful Islamic approach to
old and new problems; it can also be a reaction against modernization and
secularization. Dialogues for development need alertness to this sensitive and
emotionally-charged custom in the Middle East.
Democracy and Socialism
I join other scholars in examining two ideologies for dialogue between the West and the Middle East. We find that attraction to parliamentary democracy in the Middle East is overwhelmingly among middle-class intellectuals. They link democracy to modernity and constitutional government. But Muslims, Christians, and Jews of the Middle East tradition and mentality, even though intellectuals, do not understand what democracy means, neither in theory nor in practice.
These three major religious groups fail to see democracy as a recent
phenomenon in the Western world; that when linked with a capitalistic mode of
production, it is found in but a few industrial nations of the world. And
Christianity, within the system, has influenced Western cultural ideologies
historically. Most Middle Eastern scholars cannot foresee implications in its
transplanting and growth in their own different cultural experience.
This disagreement on God-in-relation-to-man terms usually centers
on human freedom and God's sovereignty.
Anthropologists caution that "form" in Western democracy is
in "form" only; democracy becomes something quite different
"function" and "meaning" where Islam
prevails. It requires more
than adoption of democratic "form" to transplant the concept of "freedom" among those who do not comprehend it as it is understood within Western political thought (Linton, 1936:401f).
Socialism has never gained a large following in the Middle East. Surely
and hostage-taking do not stem from socialism; these extreme illegalities stem
frustrations among people dispossessed of land and a way of life. Intransigence
spawned by impotence against policies and power which destroy cultural
based upon profound religious values and world views. This came into sharp focus when Khomeini offered millions of dollars for the death of Rushdie.
Middle Eastern "socialists" in the "period of
awakening" (the 19th
century), were mostly utopians with a superficial knowledge of European social
theory. At best, they were incipient reformers. They did, however, popularize
for socioeconomic change. We who seek to improve conditions can build on those faulty efforts, but always with concern for holistic
welfare, allowing reasonable
secularization for attaining desired improvements.
Watt's "Contribution to Dialogue"
The eminent Islamicist, W. Montgomery Watt, a British Anglican, offers relevant advice for dialogue between Western Christians and Middle Eastern scholars (1983). Significantly, the foreword to Watt's book is by His Excellency, Shaikh Ahmed Yamani, of Saudi Arabia, a Wahabi Muslim and Harvard graduate, who writes:
I believe that the signs around us today auger well for the future of religion in the world. The resurgence of Islam in various parts of the world and the discontent that is often sensed in the Western world with the increasingly materialistic outlook of society in general indicate clearly, to my mind, the direction in which the Christian and Muslim worlds are heading. (Watt, 1983:x)
We share Yamani's comment about materialism. Pondering that world view, Watt
envisions his task as, "The affirmation of religious truth against
Such thought is also labeled "naturalism," "humanism,"
"naturalistic humanism," or "secularism" (Sire, 1976, provides a lucid review of these ideologies).
ASA members agree that science unlocks many doors to alleviate human problems
and improve the lot of mankind. But in commitment to improve the Muslim world or
elsewhere, we know that science in and of itself cannot answer ultimate concerns
"Why?" No mature scientist claims to possess all answers to
reality, although scientism infers it does.
Watt maintains that theism offers a common ground for dialogue between Christians and Muslims. However, agreement in theism does not remove the formidable chasm separating Christians and Muslims theologically, for Yamani asserts:
In the great debate between Christians and Muslims, however, there are areas of fundamental principles where no amount of logical discourse can bring the two sides nearer to each other and where therefore the existence of an impasse must be recognized. Issues like the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ and the Crucifixion are central to Christian beliefs, have no place in the Islamic faith, having been categorically refuted by the Qur'an, on the authenticity of which there is no discord among Muslims. The discussion in this book [by Watt] of the Crucifixion and the "salvation" it represents therefore will not be very convincing to the Muslim scholar and the attempt to find real parallels to it in Islam will have dubious prospects of success. (Watt, ix-x)
While we respect Yamani's views, we need not abandon hope for dialogue about
development to alleviate desperate Middle Eastern needs. Though some impasse
exists, certain basic theistic ideas allow cooperation to pursue routes of aid.
Certainly shared views include removal of famine, disease, illiteracy, shelter,
discrimination. We can discuss amicably general cosmological ideas as means for cooperation and accomplishment. We can discuss that:
(1) Both Christian and Muslim accept God as Creator. The two faiths
special revelation provides information not derived from natural phenomena. Watt
accepts theistic evolution after Teilhard de Chardin (1983), including
evolution in the noosphere. Few Muslim intellectuals seem influenced by such
cosmological concepts, and many Christian scholars reject such views.
(2) Both the Bible and the Qur'an clearly express that God controls the events in history. Muslims, thus, wrestle with ideas about human ability to control/change, or how much God allows man to alter natural events or circumstances. In addressing development, skepticism may surface because Muslim leaders tend to question concepts about human improvements.
(3) Contemporary Christians view relations between God and mankind (since the Renaissance) with multiple philosophical outlooks. We can minimize these differences by emphasizing the relatively coherent view in the Qur'an and early Islamic interpretations with biblical parallels.
I agree with Watt that Islam sees mankind's relation to God as that of a
"slave." Many modern Christians challenge such usage.
Christians employ such terms as "servant" and "creatureliness,"
explain the relationship between God and human beings.
In exchange about relations, we will encounter objection to the use of terms
"sons" and "daughters" of God, since the
Qur'an refutes the
thought that God has offspring. This objection holds also for the phrase
"children of God" in the Bible. Muslims do speak of relation to God with the term of "khalife" (caliph); by this some are elevated from slave to stewardship status. I do not think that such status differences of man to God for discussions are insurmountable if tolerance exists in scholarly exchange.
At the deepest level, Christians and Muslims agree that humanity
never completely loses its creatureliness or servile status.
This disagreement on God-in-relation-to-man terms usually centers on human freedom and God's sovereignty. To Watt, human freedom usually is no more than the lowest kind of freedom, that of the physical body. But we need not limit freedom to anatomical limitations or even to cultural conditions. (For the control of man by
culture found in American life, see Jules Henry's Culture Against Man, 1963.) Restrictions thus caused by ignorance are lessened by gaining fuller and more accurate information in knowledge.
The inherent difficulty here is that we live encapsulated within our world
including notions of freedom. Thus, in dialogue with Muslims for
development-assuming friendship-we should become aware of
within our own cultural view of reality. Freedom as a necessary concept for improvement in the Middle East requires patience and discretion in the meeting of minds.
At the deepest level, Christians and Muslims agree that humanity never
loses its creatureliness or servile status. This contradicts scientism, which
that advances in scientific knowledge will eventually enable us to control
courses and events. Christians surely acknowledge this as fact: there can be no
ultimate success in controls or change outside God's purposes and sovereignty.
We accept this, but on a human level man has the responsibility to change;
however, success rate rests upon the knowledge to avoid ignominious failures as
reported in history. The great British ground-nuts (peanuts) scheme in Africa
World War II was to solve many of the world's food problems; it came to nothing
because some essential facts had been overlooked. Numerous studies have analyzed why failures occurred. Neihoff's (1966) case studies of development projects come to mind. He urges planners to anticipate various influences at play when seeking to correct adverse conditions, especially when projects are by Western innovators who hold different values and world views.
In my opinion, plans for improvement in Middle East development need two basic reminders as an infrastructure:
(1) The project advisor must be informed about change from a sociocultural point of view; he or she must know something about the principles of acculturation.
(2) In general, for introducing change here, one needs to involve local religious leaders, since they are a powerful leadership force.
In addition to Niehoff's notes above, we may add other anthropological titles
deal with preparation for development plans and personnel, including: Brislin
Brislin and Pedersen (1976), Paul (1955), and Spicer (1952). Each of these are
introductions to acculturation with implications attending those who plan to
administer cross-cultural improvements.
Dialogue is imperative for significant contributions to improve welfare for Middle Easterners-or elsewhere-to be successful. No longer can Western people claim exclusive answers for relief among disadvantaged peoples. The former paternalism must be replaced by fraternalism-the sharing and discussion of improvement projects by both sides.
I have sought to provide helpful information for ASA involvement to meet
Eastern needs, in a major cultural realm dominated by the Islamic world view and
values. I cited Sharpe's categories of dialogue earlier. Also helpful are
"three main levels," from the World Council of Churches, for
Muslims (1979). The three levels proceed from ecumenical reflection among Christians, to actual encounters with Muslims, and climax by actually living the dialogue. Most of us in the ASA cannot go beyond the first and second levels.
But we need not despair. A brief visit in the Middle East with development in
may adjust our scientific lenses to explore opportunities and realize the third
For many of us to work during extended stays in the Middle East may seem
impossible because of work, family, health, and other reasons. Nevertheless,
level may become possible by grants or other sources, so that our skills can alleviate the adverse conditions of so many in the Middle East-or elsewhere in the world. In scientific exchange with Middle Eastern scholars, we, as Christians, ought not ignore possibilities to bring our skills and knowledge into play for the benefit of those needing our involvement for improvement.
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