Saturday, March 5, 2011

bütün şarkılarımız senin için.

In the first week of lectures and readings for 'Islam and Muslims in World History', we've talked mostly about the idea of a 'universal history'- explaining the whole human past according to one's own paradigms. Whether creationist, Enlightenment, Romantic or modern in basis, this has tended in European history to draw a picture of linear development towards 'civilisation'. Because of this, the history of other regions is often exoticised even when portrayed.

An alternative to this is a more 'global history', an attempt to portray the connections between cultures and societies in the history of the world from a wider range of perspectives. This doesn't just include telling the stories of the rest of the world, but also the potential to tell these in light of foreign memories of the events; even exploring foreign values to choose which stories should be told in the first place, and what meaning is drawn from those. Far from relativism, this opens out so much of the real meaning of history. Humanity is intricate on so many levels: there's always something new to look at and piece into our understanding of universal history- and of our personal histories- as they really are.

It's interesting to begin learning more about the connections between Arabic/Oriental and Hellenic/Roman/European cultures. The divide between East and West didn't always exist, but it is difficult to imagine the Middle Ages or the current time without it. There have been many exchanges between the two that are easy to forget, and our lecturer also made a point of the differences between the Arab and Muslim 'worlds'. At some points in history the two have been basically synonymous, and obviously there is significant mutual identity, but not all Arabic speakers have been Muslims, nor by any means all Islamic societies Arab/Eastern. Territorial and doctrinal conflicts in the Middle Ages, along with the Classical concept of the barbarian, led to the deep 'otherness' that the East has attained in the eyes of the West, but this is hardly inherent.

Apart from the diversity of Islamic societies- the distinctions between religion, society and culture seem to unify groups while also allowing for significant differences- the continuities and changes within a single culture are also underestimated. Islam has developed over time, and cultures in one country or empire can change dramatically even within a decade. To speak of 'Western culture' as somehow the same in antiquity, in the Middle Ages, a few centuries ago and the present- and then of all these together as somehow different to 'Eastern culture'- is a false construct. The lines of time and space are much more nuanced than archetypal history and literature have sometimes portrayed.

I still have a lot to learn, just by listening and watching for a while. I don't feel I've begun to understand the real heart of Arabic and Islamic cultures. Drawing closer to this, there are things I'll both appreciate and disagree with, but hopefully in a different way to the stereotypes I have at the moment! For now, even the methodology is interesting... It's nice to be an Arts student this year :)

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