The Impact of the West

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Modern Islamic history is commonly defined as beginning "with the impact of the West, or more specifically of European imperialism - its first arrival, its spread and the process of transformation which it initiated" (Lewis 1996: 273). This impact has been dated either from the defeat of the Ottomans by Russia in 1792 or from the arrival of Napoleon in Egypt in 1798, and it gained momentum in the nineteenth century. For different natural and historical reasons, Turkey, Egypt, and India became the first regions to encounter the conflict between Islam and the West. The transformation of Turkey serves as a standard example of the process of Westernization in Muslim lands. The first "dose" of Westernization was "injected" into the traditional Ottoman system in the era of Selim III (1789-1807), in the form of borrowed Western technologies of war. But this initial step caused a strong pressure towards the imitation of the West in all aspects. A few decades later, new reforms, called the Tanzimat, were introduced that split society into two competing systems. "In politics, in administration, in education, in intellectual life, two sets of institutions, two sets of ideas, two loyalties - one to the old and the other to the new - stood side by side" (Berkes 1959: 17). The impetus of Western modernization succeeded in the promulgation of an Ottoman constitution modeled on Western charters in 1867 and the formation of a parliament. However, the constitution and parliament did not last for long. The traditional regime was able to resist until its total collapse was brought about after the defeat of the Ottomans in World War I in 1918. On March 3, 1924 the caliphate was abolished and the last Ottoman sultan was expelled from the country (Black 2001: 311-14).

With the fall of the Ottoman caliphate and the spread of Western secularism over all regions of the Muslim world, Islam was removed from state power. The new phenomenon of "powerless" Islam is a key to the understanding of most of the current Muslim political ideas and trends, from liberation movements to fundamentalism. The introduction of Western modernity into Muslim lands through imperialism in all its forms, political, economic, and cultural, resulted in major dislocations. The effects were both destructive and constructive. Evidently, imperialism had dismantled Muslim culture and replaced it with Western modes of thought and action. But it may be argued that modernization was beneficial to the Muslims. The balance sheet of imperialism was undoubtedly difficult to evaluate (Fieldhouse 1976: 42). Muslims, however, generally believed that the evils exceeded the benefits. Even after the decolonization that followed World War II, many still attributed their political and economic underdevelop-ment to the continuing dominance of the West, whether by neocolonialism or globalization. The present reality in Muslim countries is best described in the following remark:

In the last decades of the twentieth century, the Middle East faces two major crises. One of them is economic and social: the difficulties arising from economic deprivation and, still more, economic dislocation, and their social consequences. The other is political and social - the breakdown of consensus, of the generally accepted set of rules and principles by which a polity works and without which a society cannot function, even under autocratic government. (Lewis 1996: 485)

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