Identity and Globalization In the Perspective of the Right to Cultural Diversity
What is globalization ? Is it a new intellectual trend? Or a universal political system generated by the international mutations and the post-cold war political climate, manifested in the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union ?
Upon checking the Webster’s dictionary for a linguistic definition of the term under consideration, I found out that “globalization” was defined as the act of making global, worldwide in scope or application (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1991, p. 521.).
Definition of the concept
- What is globalization ? Is it a new intellectual trend? Or a universal political system generated by the international mutations and the post-cold war political climate, manifested in the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union ?
- Upon checking the Webster’s dictionary for a linguistic definition of the term under consideration, I found out that “globalization” was defined as the act of making global, worldwide in scope or application (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1991, p. 521.).
- Looking deep into this meaning, I realized that it was too neutral, indeed too innocent as it fell short of conveying the overtones of the term and the real significance of the concept as widely understood in today’s world.
- The political, cultural and economic meanings of globalization cannot be grasped rightly unless we adopt a comprehensive approach to the concept, which should encompass all the political, cultural and economic changes witnessed worldwide since the early nineties.
- Understandably, awareness about the historical setting in which the idea or system of globalization unfolded is likely to pave the way for determining the features of what may be called “the identity of globalization.”
- Half a century ago, in the aftermath of World War I, one of the new political concepts and theories which emerged at the time was the theory of “vacuum filling,” particularly in the Middle East, or more precisely in the Arab region.
- This theory was based on the idea that the pullout of Britain from the region, as a result of the war, had created a vacuum which had to be filled by the new power whose intervention had played a decisive role in bringing about the victory of the allies. The theory upheld, moreover, that this nascent power had the right to exercise its sovereignty, not only in that region but also in other regions of the globe. Though not a direct legal sovereignty, it was nonetheless a form of intellectual and cultural sovereignty, culminating in political and economic hegemony.
- Going back to the current epoch, and more precisely to the early nineties, one realizes that the theory of “vacuum filling,” which used to dominate the international arena fifty years ago, has been reformulated in consonance with the requisites of the new world order and the overriding developments witnessed worldwide, a situation which tallies to perfection with the aspirations of the mighty victor of the cold war. Shall we, then, perceive globalization as an updated version of the theory of vacuum filling ?
- This leads, in turn, to a cardinal question : Does globalization undermine the sovereignty of States by trespassing on their prerogatives, debilitating their national independence and encroaching upon their right to make their own decisions ? In other words, does globalization abolish the function of the Nation State although it may be enjoying full sovereignty in accordance with the provisions of the international law ?
Relation between globalization and the new world order
- There is a form of globalization prevailing in the world, today, through some international powers which, though not States, have as yet a direct say in the international politics.
- Acting through multifarious channels that interconnect societies, these powers capitalize on their informal relations with non-governmental circles, wielding transnational bodies, such as international organizations, and multinational companies and banks (Dr. Al-Sayyid Alioua, Management of International Struggles, study on the politics of international cooperation, p. 40, National Library and Archives of Egypt, Cairo, 1988.).
- This type of globalization complements the world order which came into being in the aftermath of World War II, through the setting up of the United Nations system. One distinct feature characterizing these two types of globalization lies in the absence of any form or manifestation of hegemony, domination and quest of supremacy and might. The international community has been living under these two orders for over four decades, until the world’s political map changed with the emergence of a superpower that snatched the reins of the world’s leadership, and started steering its destiny alone. To buttress its monopoly of power, this superpower imposed a type of globalization that served its own interest.
- The world order which started crystallizing in the wake of the cold war was based on the networking of international relations in the fields of trade, economics, science and technology according to a global system, which conferred upon international relations a global character, termed globalization.
- However, it must be stressed that the common interest of peoples and governments will not be achieved under such an order if the identities of nations are relegated to a second order and their cultural and civilizational specificities blotted out no matter how powerful and inexorable may be the force behind all this.
- Whatever be the motives underlying inter-State relations, all observers would agree that these relations are governed by the logic of a “never-ending struggle for power and self-interest.” However, if power is the real goal pursued by States, the quest of power should definitely rely on what is commonly known in political science, and more precisely in sociological politics, as the paradigm of “mutual dependence.”
- Such a pattern of dependence rests, indeed, on the cooperative propensities of the human nature and in inter-State relations.
- Furthermore, it builds on the thrust of education, culture, economics, international trade and technological progress in order to consolidate world peace, dignity and human liberties. It views the world as a conglomerate of highly interactive States, whose mutual relations are governed by a self-dynamic logic in the fields of diplomatic, economic and social exchange (Ibid.).
Globalization is not antonymic to identity
- Globalization cannot, therefore, be the anti-thesis of identity, nor its substitute. From this perspective, when it does not trespass these bounds, but promotes, instead, the diversity of cultures, the flourishing of identities and the constructive inter-religious and inter-civilizational dialogue, globalization becomes the soundest option open to mankind, whicheventually leads, by dint of experience, to the enhancement of mutual respect to the best interest of each and everybody.
- Tolerance is an essential ingredient of peaceful societal relations. When tolerance evolves into mutual respect, which is actually a more positive quality, relations become clearly more courteous. Mutual respect constitutes, therefore, a basis for the establishment of a plural society, characterized by good inter-State neighbourhood, stability and respect of diversity, the latter being its raison d’être (Neighbors in a unique world, report of the commission on the management of the affairs of the international community, revised by Abdu Salam Ridwan, “Alamu Al-Maarifa” magazine, issue 201, National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature, Kuwait, 1995.).
- Should globalization relinquish this humanitarian drive and ethical basis, it will be more akin to totalitarian ideology than to a legal order intended for the entire mankind.
- International legal order can only serve mankind if it is based on the rules of international law, and derives its raison d’être and continuity from the very values of humanity. In other words, the globalization which professes to serve the public interest must be liable to international law, which guarantees to the States their full, inalienable sovereignty, and to the humans their integral rights.
- This requires, evidently, the application of the provisions of international law, notably the Article 13 of the Charter of the United Nations Organization, which provides for “promoting international cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, educational and health fields, and assisting in the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction,” and Article 73 of the same Charter, which stresses the necessity to “ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned, their political, economic, social, and educational advancement, their just treatment, and their protection against abuses.”
Cultural diversity in the framework of international cooperation
- The protection of the right to cultural diversity requires the development of international cooperation in the fields of education, science and culture within the framework of the existing treaties, covenants and agreements that govern the work of international and regional organizations and institutions. However, it must be stressed that the exercise of the right to cultural diversity throughout the world cannot blossom fully unless dialogue among religions, cultures and civilizations be enhanced and further developed till it entrenches the values of concord, cooperation and coexistence among the followers of the different civilizations, and consolidates international cooperation within the framework of the existing international and regional organizations, which constitute, in their own right, an international system that rallies peoples, nations, States and governments alike, regardless of their religion, culture and civilization.
- However, to be constructive, efficient and purposeful, dialogue and interaction among civilizations and cultures must be founded on the basis of mutual respect in the highest ethical sense. In addition, it must rest on a set of sound and credible rules agreed by all peoples and regarded as the legal code governing the international community. Civilizational dialogue and interaction will be, in this context, grounded on the international legitimacy as well as on the rules of international law, which not only constitute common denominators for
- peoples and governments of the contemporary epoch, but are also, and more importantly, the chief conceptual framework generally acquiesced by each and everybody, unlike the religious, cultural and civilizational frameworks, which are a point of discord, indeed a source of struggle, which we, the heirs of the Islamic culture and civilization, view as a manifestation of the competition raging among peoples and nations, and thereby among cultures and civilizations.
- Dialogue leading to civilizational interaction becomes, thus, a human act that has a direct impact on the course of history, as well as an efficient instrument that helps maintain peace and security in the world, and a driving force that promotes stability and prosperity.
- Being eager to maintain close ties with our civilizational identity and to safeguard the cultural personality of our peoples, we cannot accept the type of dialogue and interaction among cultures and civilizations which is no more than intellectual luxury, with no tangible impact on the contemporary reality, or on the decision-making circles. Nor do we want a type of dialogue and interaction that originates from a feeling of racial superiority and civilizational haughtiness, grounded on cultural hegemony.
- In seeking to establish a type of dialogue conducive to civilizational interaction among cultures and civilizations, we are, in fact, aspiring to disseminate the values of tolerance, in
- the purest sense of the term, as understood by the Believers in God, those who have faith in the unity of the human origin and destiny (Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, On Building the Civilizational Edifice of the Islamic World, Vol. 2, in the press.). We are seeking to affirm, by the same token, the cultural and civilizational identities.
- Today, the right to cultural diversity has become one of the rules of international law, corroborated by the Charter of the United Nations Organization, in addition to the many treaties and conventions governing cultural cooperation relations within the international community. To guarantee this human right is tantamount to affirming the specificity of the culture of each single people in the world. By the same token, it would highlight the national identities and their civilizational features, which conglomerate into the global human identity based on the unity of the human species and the similitude of the human traits as bestowed upon humans by the Almighty Creator.
- In the first article of the declaration on the principles of international cultural cooperation (Issued by the General Conference of UNESCO, at its 14th Session, 4 November 1996.), it is said that :
- 1/ each culture has a dignity and a value which must be respected and preserved ;
- 2/ each people shall have the right and the duty to develop its own culture ;
- 3/ all cultures, with their rich diversity, differences and mutual influence, constitute part of the heritage owned in common by all mankind.
- The diversity of identities and specificities is not inconsistent in the least with the mutual interest of peoples and nations, provided it is allowed to unfold in the context of a human cooperation based on mutual acquaintance and coexistence. Such diversity embodies, indeed, the ingredients that stimulate the natural disposition of humans to work for the attainment of progress and prosperity, driven spontaneously by the force of competition and civilizational emulation.
- Since identity is so inveterate in the life of peoples and nations, it cannot be overstepped, blotted out or fused in the crucible of a single, hegemonic identity, whatever be the motive. The attempt to mop up the identities of peoples by insidious, coercive means would not only be a deviation from the natural course of things and a rebellion against the laws of the universe and the essence of life, but it would also be a violation of the very laws agreed by humans, a dangerous encroachment upon the rules of international law and a threat to peace, security and stability in the world.
Heritage and perception of identity
- Our perception of the identity is based on our civilizational heritage. In the Arab-Islamic culture, “identity” means to be distinct from others in all concerns. The term takes on three meanings : the personification, the person himself and the external existence (Abu Al-Baqa Al-Kafoui (d. 1094 H), Al-Kulliyat, p. 961, authenticated by Dr. Adnan Darwish and Muhamed Al-Masri, Al-Risala Institution, Beirut, First Edition, 1992.).
- In the Al-Taarifat, by Al-Jurjani, identity is defined as the absolute truth that enshrines facts amidst its folds like the nucleus that embodies the future tree (Al-Sharif Ali Ben Muhamed Al-Jurjani, Kitabu Al-Taarifat, Dar Al-Kutub Al-Ilmiyah, Beirut, 1995, p. 257.).
- In the contemporary literature, the term “identity” designates the fact of being the same in all respects, either to oneself or to a similar entity (The Arab Philosophical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 821, First Edition, Arab Development Institute, Beirut, 1986.). The same definition is given in the modern dictionaries, in which “identity” stands for the absolute essence of an entity, the essence which embodies its intrinsic qualities, distinguishing it from the others. It is also called the “unity of the self.”
- Whether we adopt the linguistic or modern philosophical acceptation of the term “identity,” the general sense does not change for that matter, as it will always connote the fact of being distinct from others or of being the same in all respects, that is to say to have specific characteristics, values and constituents that distinguish the individual and society from others.
- In short, the cultural and civilizational identity of a given nation represents the immutable and essential body of general characteristics and traits peculiar to the civilization of a nation,
- which confer upon the national personality a patina that distinguishes it from the other national personalities (Dr. Muhamed Imara, Al-Hilal magazine, February 1997, Cairo.).
- But how can the cultural and civilizational identity be safeguarded in the context of a far-reaching globalization, whose leverage stretches out to the entire international community ? More importantly, how can the requirements of national sovereignty tally with those of globalization ?
- The trend taken by globalization portends an adverse impact on both identity and sovereignty. The Western stance vis-à-vis the identity of peoples is conspicuously contradictory.
- While, on the one hand, the West takes great pride in its identity, to which it clings staunchly by the way, it refuses, on the other, to recognize the national identities of non-Western peoples, as it feels that globalization might lead to further awareness about cultural and civilizational specificity. In the view of the Western thinkers, in general, this is the thorniest problem with which they are confronted. Their intellectual perplexity vis-à-vis this problem is voiced with incomparable clarity.
Identity, globalization and hegemony
- In his latest study, not publicized like his former one, Samuel Huntington lays bare the contradiction in which the new superpower is entangled, exposing also the great quandary of the Western elite. In the November and December 1996 issues of “Foreign Affairs,” (Samuel Huntington, The West : Unique, Not Universal, “Foreign Affairs” magazine, Vol. 75, issue 6, Nov./Dec. 1996, pp. 28-46.) he contributed a study, unusually titled: “The West: Unique, not Universal,” in which he distinguished between the concepts of “modernization” and “westernization,” stating that the non-Western peoples could not become an integral part of the Western civilizational texture albeit they consumed Western goods, watched American films, and listened to Western music. He then upheld that the spirit of any civilization lied in its language, religion, values, customs and traditions, indicating that the distinguishing feature of the Western civilization resided in the fact that it was heir of the Greek and Roman civilizations, deeply marked by the Western Christianity and Latin origins of its peoples, in addition to the separation of religion from politics, the rule of the Law, the respect for plurality within the civil society, the systems of representation and the individual freedom.
- Samuel Huntington added that modernization and economic development could not bring about cultural westernization in the non-Western societies. On the contrary, said Huntington, they were likely to lead to further adherence by peoples to their original cultures. It was therefore high time that the West, said Huntington, dropped the illusion of globalization in order to foster, instead, the power, harmony and dynamism of its own civilization in the face of the world civilizations. Huntington pointed out that this required the unity of the West under the leadership of the United States of America, and the charting of the Western world’s boundaries from the perspective of cultural homogeneity.
- In this sense, is globalization a new formulae of the civilizational confrontation waged by the West, in the general sense of the term “West,” against the identities of peoples and the cultures of nations in order to impose the hegemony of a unique culture and civilization over the globe ?
- From this perspective, globalization is downright inconsistent with the rules of international law, the reality of international relations, let alone the national economics, the national sovereignty and the principle of cultural diversity.
- Should globalization proceed along this course, it will ultimately lead to the collapse of world stability by dint of eroding the gist of cultural and civilizational identity, and sapping the very bases of cultural coexistence among peoples.
- Because of its extensively coercive approach, globalization will bring on a worldwide anarchy of thinking and conduct, reflected also in economics, trade, arts, literature as well as science and technology.
- In spite of all that, mankind cannot, at the present time, disentangle itself from the constraints of globalization in view of its pressing need for keeping abreast of the economic, scientific and technological trends of the New World Order. It can, however, devise a counter-cultural current apt to face up to the hegemonic drive of the phenomenon of globalization on the theoretical and practical levels, and to cope with its fall-outs pending the emergence of new world powers that would act as opponents or at least counterweights to the power currently holding the reins of the world order.
- A group of futurists and strategists, mostly belonging to the West, concede that the first decade of the next century will witness the occurrence of a critical imbalance in the international power relationships on the political and economic levels, which will trigger a radical change in the trends of globalization. This will enhance the strength and prevalence of the international legitimacy resting on the rules of international law, not on the logic of power and triumph in cold war battles.
Dialogue and cooperation under international law
- An objective consideration of the current international juncture shows that the only way to secure a bright future for mankind lies in pooling international efforts in a way to entrench the principle of cultural diversity, promote the idea of inter-cultural and inter-civilizational dialogue and boost international cultural cooperation in its comprehensive sense, which encompasses all patterns of human expression. The aim is to circumscribe the adverse effects of the grim type of globalization, which takes no account of the cultural and civilizational identities of peoples, but gives extensive leverage to matter, relegating the spirit to the second order and casting concern and suspicion in the self, which push people to raise questions marked by utter despair, as indicated by His Majesty King Hassan II sixteen years ago (Speech of the Moroccan Sovereign at the opening of the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco, Fez, April 1980.) .
- The development and diversification of general cultural cooperation within the framework of the specialized organizations and in accordance with the international charters, treaties, covenants and agreements, are likely to absorb the impact of the heavy shocks rocking the identities of peoples, and lead to a genuine cultural and civilizational coexistence, thereby winding down the effect of globalization on the cultural and civilizational identity.
- By promoting cultural diversity and broadening its base in such a way as to cover the entire world, the international cultural action may goad the international will to gear the thrust of globalization towards science, technology and knowledge at large in a way to make the cultural and scientific aspect outweigh the economic and political aspect so as to safeguard the national interests of States, the rights of individuals and communities and the identities of peoples and nations.
- Science will ever remain an enterprise that transcends boundaries; it will go on developing in spite of -or perhaps because of- the linguistic differences and national rivalries. This is only natural since science has always been a civilizational undertaking, a legacy belonging to the entire mankind.
- Furthermore, science, in its general acceptation, does not require a political unity in the sense of a world government federating each and everybody (Tobby Haff, Dawn of Modern Science : Islam-China-the West, translated by Dr. Ahmed Mahmud Sobhi, “Alamu Al-Maarifa” magazine, issue 219, National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature, Kuwait.). The international community may cooperate on the largest scale in the fields of science, technology and knowledge at large, so much so that globalization will become scientific in content and cultural in source.
- It would be absurd to think that the current international order and the policy of globalization imposed by the world superpower are auguring a bright future, for sustainable development requires the involvement of all segments of the international community within a broader framework (Luis Hall, peoples and nations : research on the basics of political science, translated by Dr. Muhamed Fathi Al-Shaniti, register of the Arabs, Cairo.).
- Consequently, globalization must coexist with identities within the framework of cultural diversity for the achievement of human prosperity and world peace.
- Only then can globalization be a boon for mankind, not a bane.