Civilization and New Engagements in the Middle East and Africa

Civilization and New Engagements in the Middle East and Africa

The Pan Islamic Movement

One of the social movements that came out of the Islamic world in the Middle East and Asia during the last half of the 1800s, partly in response to colonialism and the pre-colonial histories of these regions, was the Pan Islamic Movement. Now, historians often say that this was a unifying movement between Sunni and Shia Muslims and Muslim communities across different nationalities, but there was something even more fascinating going on in the treatises and articles written at the time by Muslim scholars. It had the potential to develop into a kind of rebirth similar to the Renaissance era in western history. The Pan Islamic movement gave rise to intellectual debates in science, industry, philosophy, and law.

 

One of the things scholars debated during this time was the simple question of: Can the countries of the Middle East/Asia establish modern civilization on a foundation of Islamic teaching like western civilizations developed on Christian teachings? With this question came insightful observations about western civilization as it was being studied. Towards the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, Islamic scholars were concerned that western civilization was becoming increasingly secular, and that ultimately this would become the downfall of the west. Muslim scholars of this time period were then troubled by another question: How does the Muslim world industrialize without succumbing to the same problems of secularism that are destined to bring down the west? Dubai is a prime example of Islamic Scholars being able to achieve their goal of, in this case, a city based on Islamic principles, present day Dubai has booming industries and international trade all within traditional Islamic culture.

 

Clashes and Divisions in the Middle East

Unfortunately, as the 20th century unfolded, these opportunities for development turned into violent clashes between western countries form of statebuilding agendas in the Middle East and Islamic resistance. Countries like Egypt, Iran, and Algeria reflect these often-times violent clashes. Some have even become failed states like Libya. The countries of the west have become markedly less secure permeated by terror franchising and economically less fit. The foreign policy of Great Britain in the Middle East over the course of the 20th century, until they pulled out of the region around 1970, was to stabilize the region by balancing the competing influences of Saudi Arabia and Iran. The US took on this same approach when it entered the region. The power dynamics in the Middle East now consist of Saudi Arabia, US, Israel, and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) generally offsetting Iran, Palestine, Syria, China, and Russia. China and Russia in particular have built their foreign policy approach around US hegemony in the region and have been able to enter through Syria and Iran.

 

Global Superpowers have new designs for the Middle Eastern and African Regions

At the heart of the region’s instability is this very divide between Israelis and Palestinians and Saudis and Iranians. China has wisely spread its interest across these two divides importing most its oil from Oman, which is one the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Iran in order to diffuse tension and maximize its economic potential. China as a major manufacturer exports to the Middle East much of the regions commodities not produced locally and engages in major construction projects in the region. Russia also has utilized similar opportunities to connect Eastern Europe through its influence in the Middle East. In turn, the US is extending its competitive spirit in the region with new initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

The agreements being pursued now in the Middle East for the peace of the region and the growth of its countries are likely to set up the successes and failures for the next century. The African continent as well stands to gain from the international competition, but presents slightly different challenges. The African continent shows the influences of the Middle East, Russia, and China respectively. With growing international interest in the problems plaguing the African continent Archival Institute, at the May 2018 African Symposium at West Point, offered an approach for reciprocal partnerships that could protect native countries from exposure to Chinese and Russian exploitation that combines the tasks of building critical infrastructure on the African continent and in the US simultaneously. This project is currently in the research phase and will address unemployment, migration, climate change, corruption, and security.

 

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Persian Voices: Reza Shah Pahlavi

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Persian Voices: Reza Shah Pahlavi

A soldier gives his life for his country on the battle field. You should do the same thing. You must sacrifice yourselves for the prestige of your country.

—Reza Shah Pahlavi

 

Edited by Albert , Hourani, Philip Shukry Khury and Mary Christina Wilson. The Modern Middle East: A Reader. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press , 1993. Page 688. Print.

Najmabadi A. (1991) Hazards of Modernity and Morality: Women, State and Ideology in Contemporary Iran. In: Kandiyoti D. (eds) Women, Islam and the State. Page 53. London: Palgrave MacMillan, A division of St. martin’s Press LLC, 1991. Print.

 

Editor’s Note 1: At a ceremony in 1933 for the newly established National Bank of Iran, Reza Shah demanded the bank employees to act as soldiers.

Editor’s Note 2: During Reza Shah’s reign, since national literacy levels were still quite low, many of the clerks employed across government institutions were from the religious establishment.

Persian Voices: Iran’s Path to Modern Medicine

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Persian Voices: Iran's Path to Modern Medicine

Until 1309 (1930) he practiced mostly old medicine [Islamic medicine]. When it was time to take the exam, he went to Tabriz. There he studied with Dr. Tofiq who had studied medicine in Switzerland. Because there were no medical books at that time in Persian, he used Istanbul-Turkish translations of European medial texts. He studied both theory and practice [modern medicine]. He learned from him how to use a stethoscope, to take blood pressure, and do examination of women. He then took the licensing exam and passed.

—Son of One Hakim

 

Ervand, Abrahamian. “The Iron Fist of Reza Shah.” A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 90. Print.

Persian Voices: Modern Civilization

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Persian Voices: Modern Civilization

I told the king that modern civilization, which has become famous in the world, has two faces. One is manifested in boulevards and the other one in laboratories. I thought [Reza Shah] would get the point, but what emerged was more of the civilization of boulevards.

—Prime Minister Mehdiqoli Khan Hedayat

 

Farhang, Rajaee. “The Politics of Revival, 1920s-1960s.” Islamism and Modernism the changing Discourse in Iran. Austin: University Of Texas Press, 2007. 31. Print.

Persian Voices: A Fourth Power

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Persian Voices: A Fourth Power

Among the powers of the state there is a fourth power which, if it should disappear would greatly harm freedom and the Constitution, for it represents public opinion… Of course, a power is required which is external, which may alert the public to current instances of both corrupt and good practices and educate people in regard to the good and the evil, and generally direct public opinion toward rightful ideas. Of course, I mean the press which represents political parties and groups and not the ideas of a single person…

—Ali-Akbar Davar, the Klub-e Mah, October 1922

 

H., Enayat. Law, STATE, AND SOCIETY IN MODERN IRAN Constitutionalism, Autocracy, and Legal Reform, 1906-1941. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, A division of St. martin’s Press LLC, , 2013. Page 120. Print.

 

Editor’s Note: Ali Akbar Davar constructed the modern judiciary under Reza Shah importing French judicial models to Iran, and even introduced a statistics division designed to improve the efficiency of the trial processes.

Persian Voices: Young Intellectuals during Raza Shah’s Reign

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Persian Voices: Our Younger Intellectuals

Our younger intellectuals cannot possibly understand, and thus cannot possibly judge Reza Shah. They cannot, because they were too young to remember the chaotic and desperate conditions out of which he arose.

—Ahmad Kasravi

 

Ervand, Abrahamian. “Chapter 3. “Ahmad Kasravi”. A History Of Modern Iran. New York, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Page 96. Print.

Shireen, T. Hunter. “Assessing Reza Shah.” Iran Divided: The Historical Roots of Iranian Debates on identity, Culture, and Governance the Twenty-First Century. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield , 2014. Page 49. Print.

Persian Voices: Fires of Norwuz

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Persian Voices: Badr ol-Moluk Bamdad

Two or three years after the admission of girls to the university, some boy and girl students clubbed together in the days before Nowruz (the Iranian New Year on 21 March) and worked long and hard to organize a convivial celebration with the traditional bonfire on Chaharshanbe-ye Suri (the Wednesday before Norwuz). The bonfire symbolizes the end of dark days and the burning away of past evils. It was arranged that the bonfire should be lit in a certain large courtyard, and that the girl students, whose number had now risen, should form a ring round the fire and the boys should stand behind them and all should sing a Nowruz song. Probably at the suggestion of an agitator outside the university some boy students acting in concert stationed themselves just behind the girls and joined hands and all at once, pushed, with the intention of driving the girls so close to the fire that they would get scorched or burned.

—Badr ol-Moluk Bamdad

 

Farzaneh Milani, (1992). Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers, Contemporary Issues in the Middle East (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1992). Page 26

Persian Voices: Peacock of Paradise

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Persian Voices: Peacock of Paradise

She would decorate her assembly room like a bridal chamber and her body like a peacock of Paradise. Then she summoned the followers of the Bab and appeared unveiled in front of them. First she ascended a throne, and like a pious preacher reminded them of Heaven and Hell and quoted amply from the Qur’an and the traditions She would then tell them: “Whoever touches me, the intensity of Hell’s fire would not affect him.” The audience would then rise and come to her throne and kiss those lips of hers which put to shame the ruby of Ramman, and rub their faces against her breasts, which chagrined the pomegranates of the garden.

Mirza Muhammad Taqi Sepehr

 

Farzaneh Milani,(1992). Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers, Contemporary Issues in the Middle East (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1992). Page 81

 

Editor’s Note: The writer describes Tahereh Qorratol’Ayn, a modern female writer cursed for her involvement in the Bahai’s Babi Movement.

Persian Voices: Persian is Sugar

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Persian Voices: Saints and Sinners Treated Alike

In no other place on the face of the earth but in Iran are saints and sinners treated alike. Finally, after five long years of suffering and homelessness, I was returning home.

—Sayyid Muhammad Jamalzadeh, Persian Is Sugar

 

Sayyid Muhammad Jamalzadeh, from the collection: Once Upon a Time. Translated by Iraj Bashiri.

 

Editor’s Note: Persian Is Sugar is a known literary work famous for encapsulating the Constitutional Movement in Iran in which western-educated intellectuals participated in a revolution to transform Iran from autocratic rule to a constitutional monarchy with a parliament. Literary elites were often educated abroad and upon returning home could take up liberal causes though found themselves repeatedly up against larger forces from Iran’s government and conservative Islamic clergy.

Persian Voices: The Tale of the Sands

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Persian Voices: The Tale of the Sands

My destiny is to cross the desert.

The Wind crosses the desert and so can you.

But whenever I try, I am absorbed into the sand; and even if I dash myself across, I can only go a little distance.

The Wind does not dash itself… Allow yourself to be absorbed by the Wind… Today you call yourself such and such a river only because you do not know which part of it is even now your essence.

Sufi poem

 

The Tale of the Sands, The Sufis Idries Shah. Introduction by Robert Graves. Page 292 and 293

 

Editor’s Note: Sufism is a branch of Islam which shares a relationship to the practice of alchemy or chemistry in the west. In Iran, the Sufis played a role in bringing about the first shia Islamic State in the form of the Safavid Dynasty in 1501 by Shah Ismail who was the head of a Sufi order, and later the revival of Sufism factored in the founding of the constitutional monarchy in 1906. Sufism also uses the discipline of dance as a form of spiritual conquest.