Monday, 11 July 2011

Liberalism, Consumerism, Islam

In June I attended a conference of the Oasis journal founded by Cardinal Angelo Scola in Venice (recently elected Archbishop of Milan). It is a journal mainly for Christians in Islamic countries, published in English, Arabic, Hindi, and other languages, recommended to anyone who takes an interest in inter-religious questions and the position of Christian minorities in the Middle East and North Africa. The conference this year was about the “Arab Spring”. While listening to the distinguished contributions, my own thoughts moved in the following direction.

In a traditional society, whether Christian or Islamic, human beings live surrounded by reminders of God, which function as a call to prayer. In the world fashioned by modern technology, this is not the case. The environment created by mobile phones, TV, internet, and even modern transport is essentially a new culture, within which religious faith starts to seem irrelevant. (That is, within the world of the imagination, where most people live.)

If the Islamic world is now immersed in this electronic culture, I do not see why the Islamic religion will not go the way of the Christian, and lose much of its dynamic, culture-forming capacity. Recent riots and revolutions seem to have very little to do with Islam, and this may indicate that social behaviour is no longer being shaped primarily by religious conviction, even in its impoverished ideological form (“Islamism”), but rather by material discontent coupled with a sense of solidarity mediated by new technology. This certainly makes it easier to mobilize against tyranny and corruption, which is a great thing, but at the same time it leaves these societies wide open to a consumerism no longer just Western, but fast becoming universal.

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