Without trying to sound too blasé about it, there’s a lot of talk these days about the possible changing of the global order. China and Russia, we’re told, could take the high seat now and strip us all of our human rights.
Sometimes I find myself about to mindlessly buy into whatever news piece I’m momentarily reading or hearing, one that inevitably stokes fear of the terrible world—lacking in human rights—that Russia and China could soon bring to us.
Then I remember I’m Muslim.
As much as I don’t want to live under post-USSR, post-Cold War oligarchical Russia nor Hitlerian Xi Jinping’s China, I’m aware that the current global order set by the US, after dropping not one but two atomic bombs, and then diligently followed by its satellite nations in Europe, Canada, and down under is also far from ideal.
As Muslims, particularly those of us in the West, we tend to just try to follow the Dīn and, in the process of doing so and increasing our knowledge, feel increasingly at a loss for a place in society (not that this loss is necessarily a bad thing, indeed we recognize a need almost to isolate).
Muslims are not the only group who feel this isolation; in Eastern Europe, the same concern exists.
NPR has given their take on it:
“A recent poll shows the opposition is giving Orbán’s government a run for its money. But Orbán [Hungarian Prime Minister] is sticking to his script. In a recent speech, he ridiculed the West as a place where ‘they can give birth as a man.’
He also took a page out of Trump’s playbook and suggested that Brussels and Washington are planning to meddle in the upcoming election.”
You can read between the lines. “Trump’s playbook.” As if Washington was a pure place prior to 2016, and as if suggesting that a man cannot give birth is a parochial, oversimplistic understanding.
In any case, what these voters feared, NPR tells us, is liberalism. And that’s about right. They and other Eastern European countries like Bulgaria are also dealing with their position as a post-Soviet country that then tried to accept the Western system once the Soviet Union collapsed. It turns out neither system has worked well for them.
Now, many Eastern Europeans feel that the supposedly superior system that was forced upon them has also proven to be a failure.
Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, who often speaks out against liberalism (as well as immigration, though given much of the EU’s rather hypocritical stance on European versus non-European refugees, I guess we can say at least Orban is consistent in his prejudice), has just secured a fourth term in office.
The point of this article is not to show that these Eastern European governments are actually great. Some of them, like Poland, helped with the invasion and occupation of Iraq but are closed to immigrants from there. What we’re looking at instead is the internal conflict that so many populations have with liberalism and the changing, ever more woke values that the country’s that tout them swear are the morally correct way forward.
Liberalism, Eastern Europe, and the Muslim World: Culture Clash?
Definitions and precise understandings of liberalism can of course vary, but this basic definition from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics is a good start:
“Liberalism in general, the belief that it is the aim of politics to preserve individual rights and to maximize freedom of choice.”
Of course, liberalism has always been extremely hostile to traditional ways of life, as the brutal history of colonialism and neo-colonialism have proved. But the latest iteration of liberalism are so extreme that even the already-liberalized populations of the West are experiencing it as authoritarian. This flavor of liberalism we can call Wokeism. For example, to preserve the ‘right’ of a child to choose to be a boy or a girl or neither, parents are increasingly threatened with punishment by the state.
Nevertheless, one American author who traveled to eastern Europe, interviewing residents before and after the fall of the USSR said:
“‘For the World War II generation in eastern Europe, communism was the “god that failed”…For the current generation in the region, liberalism is the god that failed.’”
Many are now faced with either continuing to try to imitate the West to gain potential economic prosperity or to hold on to their values and stagnate. Yet, increasingly, with the recent economic downturn of liberal Western Europe and America plus the economic ascendance of China, the connection between liberal capitalism and prosperity seems less compelling.
That being said, traditional values are a result of history and religious beliefs that have differentiated East from West.
Samuel Huntington, the late academic who wrote the famous and controversial, “The Clash of Civilizations,” touches on this history. It’s worth quoting Huntington at length here, but I’ll bold what’s key:
“As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has reemerged. The most significant dividing line in Europe…may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia…In the Balkans this line…coincides with the historic boundary between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. The peoples to the north and west of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they shared the common experiences of European history –feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution; they are generally economically better of than the peoples to the east; and they may look forward to increasing involvement in a common European economy and to the consolidation of democratic political systems. The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems. The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe.”
The way that Huntington distinguishes between culture, under which he includes religion, and ideology implies that these are two fundamentally different things. Here Huntington shows that his western, liberal (small “l”) outlook clouds his understanding of how many in the world derive what we could call their “ideology”—by understanding and trying to implement their faith in their daily lives. This to me seems to be one of the fundamental problems with his assessment; Muslims do not separate their political views from their faith, nor are they willing to change the faith in order to accommodate Western sensibilities.
Regardless, Huntington focuses on this struggle between Islam and the West, seeing it, I believe correctly, as not subsiding. The irony is that he shows us why this will continue to be a problem merely by assuming that it is natural that religion and ideology are seen as distinct. He also seems to assume that the democratic political system is the one that all strive toward but most are not likely to achieve.
Even despite this, he recognizes that periods like the Reformation, Enlightenment, and French Revolution have shaped Western Europe to what it is today. Those values, in many ways, comprise their beliefs, which is why many are willing to change their religion to fit those beliefs rather than to change their actions to fit their religion (think abortion, dissolution of gender roles, LGBTQ everything, premarital sex).
Many eastern Europeans seem to be some of the last hold-outs in Europe, clinging to their religion and seeing it as their moral compass rather than just an aspect of their culture. The latter view is much more common in the West, where celebrating feast days and say, eating fish on Good Friday are done by many (of course there are exceptions) to preserve culture rather than to demonstrate their strong belief in their religion. I’d venture to say that for many in Western Europe, religious practice is not only tied to culture, but to nationalism. While this may exist in the United States, I think we could safely say it’s to a far lesser degree.
Muslims in the West often hear that there is no problem with their participation in all aspects of society. We see Muslim congressmen and women, we see Islamic groups supporting LGBTQ rights, we see all these contradictions that leave us unable to deny the reality that stares us in the face: there are simply aspects of Western liberal sensibilities and society that are not compatible with Islam. Period. No amount of being nice and overlooking them will make the contradictions less present.
The eastern Europeans seem to understand this too, perhaps in an even more personal way since many of them are Christian and see Christianity as a definitive part of Europe.
Post-Communist Eastern Europe: A Struggle of Values
The collapse of the Soviet Union led to people waking up, quite literally overnight, in a different country.
The type of ethnic tensions that had existed in Europe for so long, and had even helped to cause both world wars, were once again peaking. More conflict ensued as these countries sought to redefine themselves and grapple with the various ethnic groups that all used to be (somewhat) held together by the common denominator of the Soviet Union.
Along with the bureaucratic nightmare that was the USSR, it gave its people a godless state that in the end had little more to offer than false promises of prosperity through what was supposed to be collective ownership of basically everything.
Divides seems to be widening more than Huntington expected. Not only is this clash one of Islam and the West or even Eastern, Orthodox Christianity and Western and/or Protestant/Catholic Christianity, it’s a problem of traditional versus modernized values. That’s why even some of the post-Soviet countries that Huntington had identified as likely integrating more easily into the West are increasingly distinguishing themselves from it.
And that’s why NPR, ever-growing in its Wokeism, is reporting on Hungary’s struggle to conform to the new Woke values. While the West likes to point out that a new world order led by China and Russia will lead to tyranny and human suffering, they are more reluctant to point out the ways liberal values and Wokeism can also cause those things.
Being against “gender affirmation,” when it means lying to your child, is now being equated with being a racist, giving the “non-racists” the right to oppress and cancel all opposers. Liberal values, as we know well, have also been pushed on other countries not to their benefit but to their detriment and largely as a means to maintain the dominant global order, an order that has less and less to do with personal freedom anyway.
The War in Ukraine
Ukraine’s president is trying as much as possible to win over the West, to prove his allegiance to its values. He told the US Congress last month:
“Today the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine, we are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives in the name of the future. That’s why today the American people are helping not just Ukrainians but Europe and the world to keep the planet alive. To keep justice in history.”
We know well that Ukraine wants to be a part of NATO, and NATO stated in 2008 that they would welcome Ukraine’s (and Georgia’s) membership:
“NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations. We welcome the democratic reforms in Ukraine and Georgia and look forward to free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia in May.”
This push for Ukraine to enter NATO didn’t end there. As Noam Chomsky recently pointed out that in September 2021, “the United States came out with a strong policy statement, calling for enhanced military cooperation with Ukraine, further sending of advanced military weapons, all part of the enhancement programme of Ukraine joining NATO.”
Huntington notes that many of the so-called universal values peddled by the West are not shared by all:
“The very notion that there could be a ‘universal civilization’ is a Western idea, directly at odds with the particularism of most Asian societies and their emphasis on what distinguishes one people from another. Indeed, the author of a review of 100 comparative studies of values in different societies concluded that ‘the values that are most important in the west are least important worldwide.’ In the political realm…these differences are most manifest in the efforts of the United States and other Western powers to induce other people to adopt Western ideas concerning democracy and human rights. Modern democratic government originated in the West. When it has developed colonialism or imposition.”
The study he cites is from 1989, but considering that 33 years in light of the history of civilization is not so long, we can say with some certainty that this likely has not changed that much. The study sites that societies with a more collectivist outlook make up about 70 percent of the world.
Would Muslims prefer a world order set by China and Russia? Considering that China is putting Muslims in concentration camps and that Russia helps al-Assad to wreak havoc on civilians, we can say no.
We don’t want either. And apparently neither would many inhabitants of this world.
- Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (1993): 22–49, p.29-31. ↑
- Ibid., p.41. ↑
- The study he sites is: Harry C. Triandis, “Cross-Cultural Studies of Individualism and Collectivism,” Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, vol. 37, 1989, pp. 41-133. From the 1990 New York Times article that discusses the study: “They also suggest that the nature of American individualism has been changing toward a greater emphasis on raw self-interest, and that the rise of individualism in a society goes hand in hand with economic growth. The work contrasts individualism with ‘collectivism,’ in which a person’s loyalty to a group like a family or tribe overrides personal goals. Recent studies say this outlook predominates in most cultures of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. The late Raoul Narrol, a professor of anthropology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, found in a 1983 study that such societies have among the lowest rates of homicide, suicide, juvenile delinquency, divorce, child abuse and alcoholism. They also tend to have lower economic productivity, though as countries like Japan become more affluent, they also tend to become more individualistic. The collectivist cultures comprise about 70 percent of the world’s population, according to the studies. But virtually all the data of modern psychology and most other social sciences come from the most individualistic cultures, like the United States. As a result, some social scientists say, many Western assumptions about the universals of human behavior actually apply to a minority of people, albeit those in the most advanced economies.” (Goleman, Daniel, “The Group and the Self: New Focus on a Cultural Shift,” December 25, 1990) ↑