Civilizations: East vs West - Part 1

| by Dr Rifai

(November 08, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Studies on different civilizations, cultures and races should be done objectively. In these series of articles I shall explore the similarities and dissimilarities between Western and Eastern civilizations. Sometime, I shall provide some constructive criticism of both, without any prejudice and discriminations. I shall maintain impartiality in my writing as much as possible. It is not my purpose to provide blind and stanch criticism on other peoples’ way of life and culture rather I should try to understand the positive aspects of social life in western and eastern cultures. It is not my intention to create division between people of different cultures and ideologies rather to unite them all as one human race. Yet, we should try to understand difference between religions, cultures and ways of life. Such mutual understanding should unite humanity as one human race though we are different in our ethnicity, languages, culture and religions.

However, peoples’ perception of others differs people to people. People of one faith can perceive other’s faith differently within the perimeters of their own faith and understanding. Therefore, eastern man’s objective understanding of western culture may be proven to be subjective in the mind of a western man. The primary objective of this article is to compare and contrast the culture, traditions, customs, manners, thinking patterns and life styles of people in West and East. This is not an academic or scientific study on this subject rather narrative, descriptive and comparative study on the western and eastern way of life. I shall refer to my personal experience of interacting western people in England for the last two decades. It is also not my intent to pass judgment on other peoples’ way of life, culture and freedom rather it is mere comparative narratives to appreciate the differences in human civilization and culture.

Much has been said and written by scholars and academics about destructive impact of western civilization on the culture, traditions and ways of life of people in East. The cultural impact of western civilization on the people of globe is so intrusive and invasive even nomadic people in deserts and deep forests are unable to escape from such cultural onslaughts. With rapid advancement in information technologies, the western cultural influence intrudes living rooms of people in each and every corner of the world. Many western scholars predict that western world will dominate the rest of world culturally with universalization of western ideologies and ways of life. One British writer puts this in his words “the story of western civilization is now the story of mankind”.

This means that the mankind has to accept the cultural influence and western way of life willingly or unwillingly and it also means that the western philosophy of life and its ideologies will dominate the world. According to this description the western civilization determines the destiny of mankind. In his famous book the End of History Francis Fukuyama asserts that “the end of history as such: that is the end of mankind’s ideological evolution and universalization of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”.

These, writers claim that western world as it is today dominates the entire world ideologically, culturally and politically. It may be partially true, given the superiority of political, military and technological advantages of western nations; western nations dominate the rest of world today. It is reported that 75% of modern technological and scientific inventions are made by western world today and naturally the western civilization culturally and linguistically influences the rest of the world with these modern inventions and productions. For instance, English language is the lingua franca of modern science, technologies, aviation industries and international business transaction and consequently, with it English language carries its cultural influence all over the world.

Today, the influence of English language on foreign native languages is so invasive that thousands of English words are crept into the native languages of many nations and native people of many foreign languages cannot speak their own languages without using at least some English words mixed up with their native mother tongues. To this greater extend western civilization of modern time has already intruded the entire globe in a scientific and modern way. Yet, will the western civilization maintain its grip on others forever? How long western nations could dominate the rest of the world under their political, military and cultural hegemonies?

Human history tells us that world leadership was dominated by different civilizations at different historical ages. Eastern civilizations dominated the world leadership for a certain historical time until western civilizations began to dominate the world with decline of Eastern civilizations. The rise and fall of human civilization is one of the natural laws of this universe. A numbers of scholars and academics in the East predict that western civilization is doomed to decline in human history as all previous civilizations. This is not a good tiding at all yet, it is an inevitable fact in human history. Yet, such argument must be substantiated by scientific, religious and sociological evidences and facts.

A large numbers of western scholars, theologians, social scientists too predict such an eventuality. A greater numbers scholars, different religious leaders and politicians in the East too predict that western civilization is bound to decline. They give hundred of reasons for their predictions and arguments. Ghandi’ strongly rejected the Western civilization. He depicted it as the 'Kingdom of Satan’ that pollutes everyone it touches. Iqbal, Maryam jameela, Maududi, Sayyid Qutub are a few scholars of Islamic faith who have made stanch criticism of western civilization in recent time in modern history.

It is generally believed that Western civilization is constituted from three distinct traditions namely, “ a) the Classical culture of Greece and Rome b) the Christian religion particularly western Christianity and c) the Enlightenments of modern era”. (James Kurth p 5). These three constituents are the foundations of western civilizations upon which western way of life was evolved.

James Kurth maintains that the term Western civilization is an anomaly in the history civilizations. This term was invented and introduced to the modern world only one hundred years ago. This term Western civilization is not equivalent to the term used for all other civilization such as Islamic civilization, Hindu civilization and orthodox civilization because these civilizations retained religious connotations and identifications in their manifestation. Moreover, he maintains that before the Enlightenment era the term Christendom was identical with the term Civilization in the usage of people in the west, because, the term that people commonly used for their civilization was Christendom in those days. (James Kurth p.6)

The enlightenment brought about the idea of separation between the church and state. The papacy of the Roman church struggled with the Roman Empire. Moreover, the intellectuals and rationalists started to question many fundamental teachings of Christianity and secularist elite groups challenged religious leadership of Christianity. This religious-political and secularist intellectual polemic contentions and argument gave birth to the notion of skepticism and atheism in within the intellectual communities of western societies. This modern enlightenment era produced the concept of liberal democracy, the free market and the belief in reason and science. The British “Glorious revolution” of 1688 manifested the ideal of liberty and constitutionalism and French revolution of 1789 manifested the meaning of democracy and rationalism.

One could convincingly argue that the main source of modern western civilization is not Christianity rather main sources of western civilization are derived from Greek and Roman political, legal and freedom concepts. These concepts were further enhanced and expanded with modern era of enlightenment. It would not be wrong to argue that marginalization of religious teaching of Christianity on the basis of rationality and logical reasoning paved the way for the beginning of western civilization based on liberty and reason.

This is a brief out line for the origin and development of western civilization in a historical perspective. It can be said that rational and free thinking is the basic of western civilization. It has marginalized the teachings of Christianity since the time of Enlightenment era and consequently, human desires and inclinations become the fundamental basis principles of modern western civilization. It is mere human desire is the basic factor that decides what is good and what is bad for man in this modern western civilization. The divine guidance and instructions are greatly marginalized from everyday of life of people in the modern western civilization.

The term East is very often referred to Eastern blocs during the Cold War, including Soviet Union, china and communist allies. However, the term Eastern world is broader one that includes all Eastern cultures, religions and civilization including Middle East, South East and far Eastern geographical areas. Unlike western civilization, eastern cultures and civilizations are based on different religious teachings and principles. Hindu civilization is based on Hindu religious and mystical teachings. Buddhist civilization is based on the teaching of Lord Buddha. Likewise, Islamic civilization is based on two fundamentals: divine revelation and Prophetic traditions. Unlike eastern civilizations, modern western civilization does not get its guidance from an external source or from a Super being/ divine source.