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  • “Mobile” vs. “Immobile” Civilizations

    Posted by Jonathan on July 14th, 2004 (All posts by )

    That’s how Reuven Brenner, in this recent column, characterizes the struggle between the democratic West and Islamic fundamentalism. Brenner’s argument is interesting.

    It is easy to criticize both grandiose thesis and narrow ones. To come up with a different way of perceiving the events and offer solutions is a bit harder. Yet this brief does just that. It shows that today’s conflict between Islamic groups and the West, as well as within Islamic societies, can be viewed as one between “mobile” and “immobile” civilizations, whose members can be found in every society. What distinguishes the US is that it has far more people sharing the outlook of a “mobile civilization” than any other country. And what characterizes many Islamic countries is that they have a large number of people sharing the values of an “immobile” civilization. “Relativist” orthodoxy notwithstanding, one point I make is that although one can understand the values and ideals of “immobile societies”, as fitting certain situations, there cannot be a compromise between these two civilizations. Today’s circumstances – demographic in particular – require moves toward “mobility”.

    Perceived from this angle, September 11 and the other terrorist attacks reflect the power struggle within the Islamic world, a type of struggle that Western Europe went through for centuries. As in Europe, the conflict within Islam, played out both within the countries and on the world stage, is an attempt of their “immobile”, tradition-based constituents to prevent members of their “mobile” constituents – and whom the US supports – to gain the upper hand. And as in Europe over the centuries, it is the rapid increase in population in Islamic countries that brought about the ever-increasing mismatch between the expectations of the many guided by traditional institutions, and reality. But, to quote Mark Twain, though history rhymes, it does not quite repeat itself, and today’s situation is also unique in many respects. The concluding section discusses ways in which the US could deal with this unprecedented situation.

    The column is long, the analysis well developed and worth reading in its entirety. Whether or not one agrees with Brenner’s thesis, his conclusion — that existential conflict between mobile and immobile societies is unavoidable — is sobering, and is all the more so for being consistent with the conclusions of more-conventional analyses.

    Where history does not rhyme, is where the separation of the two civilizations – between the mobile one in the US and the immobile ones around the world – is concerned. Whereas in the past they existed side-by-side, with little interaction, today, because of both population growth and technology, the two civilizations encroach on one another. And there is no common ground between a society where the “MotherLAND”, “FatherLAND” or “Sacred Land” dictate status and values, and one where equality before laws, and individual rights, guaranteed by an American-type constitution, are the dominating principle. Indeed, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, Camille Pecastaing notes, “Among the things that troubled [young Arab Muslims in France] was the contradiction between the liberal, egalitarian ideals of the West and the legacy of servitude they carried over from northern Africa. In the New World exiles could no longer rely on the comforting predictability of a traditional, hierarchical society; they were hit by the existential anxiety of choice and responsibility and the formidable risk of failure.”

    Looked on from this angle, European politicians’ perception that the two values are reconcilable is surprising. [. . .]

    The irreconcilability of western democracy and radical Islam are undeniable, yet many in the West continue to deny it, and that denial is part of the problem.

     

    3 Responses to ““Mobile” vs. “Immobile” Civilizations”

    1. David Mercer Says:

      Well here in the US we now are supposedly a HomeLAND, and the TSA is making mobility less and less attractive.

    2. Jay Manifold Says:

      I have not read the entire column, but I will be surprised if it is not strongly reminiscent of The Future And Its Enemies. Indeed, the conflict between mobility and immobility is a domestic one in the US as well, as David Mercer alludes.

    3. Jonathan Says:

      I recommend reading the whole thing. One of the points Reuven makes is that societies aren’t monolithic — there are immobile subcultures in mobile societies and vice versa.

      I haven’t read TFAIE but I think there is probably a lot of overlap between VP’s argument and Reuven’s. Reuven emphasizes development of capital markets as a key component of mobility that is lacking in LDCs, including most of the Arab world.