The gusty winds of modernization
EVERY YEAR, many Saudis find themselves in a conflicting cultural situation. They observe nearly the whole world engaging in celebrating the start of the New Gregorian year, while not finding a niche for them in this global celebration. Although it hardly seems like a problematic issue, it may hold future cultural challenges.
Just last week, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has attempted to arrest more than 50 men and women for celebrating the New Year in a public café. They refrained from doing so after facing hard opposition from the angry crowd. Interestingly a couple of weeks earlier, apparently frozen turkeys suddenly disappeared from supermarkets in cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh, and that was not due to the birds selling out!
Now, Saudi Arabia has surpassed the dilemma of acceptance of physical and material aspects of modernity. Society found it natural to be living in modern residential housing, driving luxurious cars, rushing to obtain the latest technology in communications and embracing the new information age. But when it comes to the social aspects of modernity, many Saudis face an internal struggle and have to go through the dilemma between their culture’s traditions and the social requirements of global modernization.
What makes conservatives in a constant state of concern over the acceptance of social modernization is what they have come to know about it from past experiences in other cultures. Societies undergoing the process of modernization tend to be dominated by abstract modern principles and laws, paying lesser attention to religious beliefs and cultural traditions.
In addition to that, the change in lifestyles associated usually with modernization is often confused with westernization. Many people believe and fear that the biggest challenge and danger of modernity is its impact on the thought process of future generations of young Saudis.
The continuous bilateral dilemma as a constant choice between technological modernization and social modernization will always end up with everyone facing contradiction between their traditional culture and global culture in the modern world. Maybe what we need to do is to stop trying to understand modernization as an either/or problem of choice and add a third dimension to the problematic equation.
Most neighboring Islamic and Asian nations faced with the same predicament have addressed the modernity problem by addressing the issue from three aspects: The technological and economic dimension, which is acceptable to all; the social and political dimension, which is in a bad need for development and modernization; and the specific values and ethics dimension, which is deeply concerned with religious and moral fundamentals.
After all, every society needs both tradition and modernization to sustain the real value of humanity and community, but people should be prepared to accept anticipated change which is bound to rise in coming days due to integration of economic, political and social areas in the globalization culture.
A Tweet: “The dramatic modernization of the Asian economies ranks alongside the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution as one of the most important developments in economic history.”
— Lawrence Summers