Muslim World's Modernity Challenge

My essay on modernity challenge faced by Muslim world, written for online course

Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World
by Dr Ebrahim Afsah

  1. What is special about modernity and which challenges does it generally pose to traditional societies?
  2. Which challenges did Iran face from the 19th century onwards and what had these to do with modernity?
  3. Which elements of the first three response patterns can you make out in modern Iranian history, and what accounts, in your view, for the ultimate success of the fourth in the shape of the victorious Islamic Revolution?
My essay:

The most remarkable modernity challenge faced by traditional societies, in particular Muslim societies is the inevitable series of loss in battlefield, in war(1), in diplomacy and lastly in aspect of culture and civilization(2). Though the modernity apparently stems from exclusively Western experiences such as Renaissance, Lutherism and the French Revolution, the total European modernity development is essentially supported by the economic gains, intellectual enhancement and political improvement provided by the geographic discoveries, which were simultaneously the cause for the fall of the Muslim societies. Iran was one, perhaps the worstly affected one of them.

While Ottomans, having the Turkish Straits, and Egyptians, having the Suez, still had a comperative commercial advantage against the rising powers of Europe, as they are not totally left outside the main trade routes, Iran, the center of the Silk Road and Spice Road, the two  much more popular, profitable and dominating trade routes in the middle ages, was almost totally adandoned as the Europeans had now direct trade connections with China and India. Though Iran used to have cultural influence in nearly 2/3 of the whole Asian continent and had endless but mostly succesful military engagements with its surrounding countries (3), all of which were once established by former Persian statesmen at a point in history (4), it was now more difficult, than any other Muslim country, for Iran to set aside its proud global challenges, admit the inevitable economic downsizing and replace its habits inherited from the heroic past, with the new methods of the Western, which had been considered as the evil for centuries.

All these factors combines, rendered Iran even more helpless against the invading powers of Russia ang Great Britain; when the governors and the people admitted the need for adopting the Western ways, the governmental institutions that could reach West and bring away the enlightment, as the case in Japan and party in Ottoman, were already ruined by internal conflicts and external hostilities. For Iran, the only way to obtain modernization was expecting it to come to Iran by itself; which was a rationale for welcoming, though not surrending to, the British and Russian territories of influence.

Now it was too late for Iran, for emulation/secularism and the experience of accelerated adoption of Western culture failed by 1979. Unlike other countries, Iran could not and did not try religious reforms as a means for modernization, because Shiate was the only strong political instrument that the state could employ for providing the order among its people. And its efforts to be a rentier economy with modest traditional objectives was ultimately disappointed by the Amglo-American coup, by the end of which its democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was taken to exile for rest of his life.

So, the ultime success of today's Iran to be an advanced republic depends on its ability to create a sound checks and balances systems, formed of 3 elements at least; the current system with one (maybe two) centers of power is not reliable in long term, because once the economy of the country allows the state to challenge its hostile countries, the balance-seeking policy of Iran will evade into history and the constitutional structure will be the only guarantee that keeps Iran people secured from too marginal decisions about the country's fate.

(1) Turkish-Russian War, Russian-Persian War, Second World War for Turks etc.(2) Low literacy, delayed industrialization and capitalization and inability to seize the technology and social & cultural developments.(3) Turkish-Persian wars between Timur and Bayazit, Hasan and Mehmet II, Shah Ismail and Selim I etc. on one side, Turkmen-Iran strugles on the other side and Iran's series of invasion into Iran, especiallay by Nadir Shah.(4) Ottomans are successor of Rum Seljuks, a Turkic state whose official language was Persian; Persian was also the formal language of Seljuks in Inner Asia and Mughals in India.

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