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August 16, 2013, Friday

Arab Spring and the paradigm issue

The silence of Western countries about the coup in Egypt cannot be explained only by real politics and national interest after hundreds of supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi were killed in a crackdown last Wednesday.

In my opinion, the West has failed to create a new paradigm to regulate their relations with the East since the 1990s when the Cold War ended. This is why the effects of the old paradigms designed for the 20th century continue to have influence today. But since these paradigms have become outdated, the West frequently finds itself in a paradoxical situation in their relations with the East that it cannot justify easily. Now, the West's inability is the main attribute of the relationship that they established (or could not establish) with the East.

I have discussed this issue in previous columns. Now, I want to discuss the East's paradigm, designed to regulate their relations with the West.

It was not easy for the East to respond to global competition while fighting against Western threats and under immense pressure from the West after the Renaissance, the Enlightenment period, the French Revolution of 1789, geographical discoveries, technical inventions and industrialization. Modernization spread everywhere; the West had to look to the past in order to find something that was not modern. It was this counter-essentialist approach that has provided the groundwork for the West's prejudices about the East. As the recent developments in Egypt have proven, the way that the West -- excluding post-modernist and post-colonial discourse -- describes the East has never changed for the last 400 years. The East was a place where weird, wild and lazy "humanoids" were gathered. The rich natural resources of the East could not be left to remain stagnant in the hands of tribes; they had to be used for the sake of the West's great visions and ideals. There is no change in this attitude of the West, either.

Internalization of the West's superiority in the East has also become a deep-rooted "faith," and suggests that that the source of every problem in the East is the West. The West has not been equated with Satan only for its evil qualities; there were also religious, unconscious drives that demonized the West in the eyes of the East. Satan is not an ordinary creature. Satan was so well-equipped, powerful, overbold and intelligent that he rebelled against God. Moreover, when you take a look at the world's current situation, one can easily claim that Satan has become quite successful in the world. For the believers, the Satan metaphor was very functional. Just as the West stereotyped the East, the East also has reduced the West to a fixed Western image that integrated its evil qualities and its knowledge and technical equipment.

The East's violence-prone attitude of rebelling against the West and the uniform Western perception have created a deadlock in the East. Modernity has conquered everything, including perceptions, time and space. It has become the atmosphere that we live in and it becomes impossible to think in any other way. Thus, in order to have an escape, Easterners resisted change. Radical organizations such as al-Qaeda have greatly exploited this contradiction and enjoyed vast room to justify violence. The violent practices of the West, such as occupations and its attitude of a double standard have been used as an excuse to resort to violence. However, the reason for this minefield was not modernity itself, but the East's failure to create a new paradigm. (The East could not find a way to respond the West.)

Although there are some exceptions, the East has already admitted defeat and it seems that there was not any alternative to the changes (and injustices, such as occupation in Palestine) but violence. While deconstructing the West's tactics, late Columbia University Professor and Palestinian intellectual Edward Said inadvertently underlined and reproduced the West's superiority. Thanks to Said, the East realized that the West was much more complicated, powerful and intelligent than they had known and it was an honorable act to fight against such an enemy, even if they may be eventually defeated. And of course, their belief in Allah's promise that He will grant the ultimate victory to the innocents and the Islamic ummah was very strong. Paradoxically, this confidence -- submission -- stemming from a different interpretation of the Quran has also caused a short circuit in the believer's ability to think and to solve problems (create a paradigm). Referring the task of solving despair to Allah and choosing violence, even for self-defense, has reinforced the East's passiveness against the West, which then used the East's physical attacks as tools to legitimate its superiority. The vexations and harassments of the West have disrupted the chemistry of the East and the Islamic world that is an important part of it.

Isn't it possible to think in other ways?

What does that make us, if we are to think that modernity was constructed independently from the East and Islam? Do not we accept that change is timeless and it affects everything that exists in the world? Do not we accept that everything in the history of humankind (civilization) is the accumulation of every historical age and nation that has now reached our time and, like a river, it will continue to flow down to the future? But Easterners have perceived and accepted modernity as pre-eminent in the world; it was as new and extrinsic as aliens.

Can we isolate the contribution of Islamic scholars such as Alhazen, who made significant contributions to the principles of optics; Al-Kindi, who discussed the theory of relativity within the scope of physics for the first time; Al-Biruni, who correctly calculated the densities of many minerals and Ibn Yunus, who invented the pendulum as a timing device and established rules of physics before Galileo from the enlightenment of the West? How can you ignore the contributions of the Islamic civilization in Andalusia and Sicily? How has the principle of continuity of the civilization been disturbed?

My intention in recalling these facts is not merely to soothe Easterners' inferiority complex with nice words. The facts have an important function. The East can see the beyond modernity only if it correctly defines the contradiction caused by their submission to a false perception of modernity imposed by the West and restore its misguided perception of modernity and the principle of the continuity of civilization. Without deconstructing the pre-learned dogmas, it is impossible to expand the limits imposed on us by the presumptions.

Describing Westerners as technological vandals who want to plunder the East's material wealth creates another uniform perception. But, the Enlightenment's humanitarian efforts to fight poverty, famine, diseases and superstition are admirable. Considering its democratic values, the EU, which is the most important union established for the sake of peace in the world's history, is very valuable.

Sometimes, we just forget that we are only part of a larger picture. Both the West and the East are choosing the parts that they want to see by isolating themselves from their historical concepts. In this way, we forget how the West used to watch the East with awe and had accepted the superiority of the Ottomans until 17th century. Just like the Ottomans, whose presumed superiority prevented them from self-contemplation; modernity has become a collective paradigm and does not reflect on itself.

The reason for this is that the Western paradigm considers itself "completed" and perfect while on the contrary, there is a lack of a paradigm in the East.

Perhaps, in contrast to established belief, both the West and the East, which have reached their natural limits, can come to their senses and the East may thrive in the next millennium. And maybe, in the coming era the world's axis will not start to shift toward the east but will be located at a mid-point in a way that will become a bridge between the two worlds.

Previous articles of the columnist