Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

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Colonialism, part two

Timing is everything. Last night while I was making myself dinner, I read the part of Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History called "The Arrival of the West," which is highly relevant to the prior discussion of whether and how colonialism is different.

Basically Armstrong points out that Europe took three hundred years to become modern, through a gradual and unplanned transformation of all parts of society. When colonizing started,

The colonized country provided raw materials for export, which were fed into European industry. In return, it received cheap manufactured Western goods, which meant that local industry was usually ruined. The colony also had to be transformed and modernized along European lines, its financial and commercial life rationalized and brought into the Western system, and at least some of the "natives" had to acquire some familiarity with the modern ideaes and ethos.

This colonization was experienced by the agrarian colonies as invasive, disturbing, and alien. Modernization was inevitably superficial, since a process that had taken Europe three centuries had to be achieved at top speed. . . . [I]n the colonies, only a small number of people, who were members of the upper class and—significantly—the military, could receive a Western education and appreciate the dynamic of modernity. . . . Society was divided, therefore, and increasingly neither side could understand the other. . . . People felt lost in their own countries. Above all, local people of all classes of society resented the fact that they were no longer in control of their own destiny. They felt that they had severed all connection with their roots, and experienced a sinking loss of identity.

 . . . in the developing world, modernity has been accompanied not by autonomy but a loss of independence and national autonomy. . . .

The Islamic world has been convulsed by the modernization process. Instead of being one of the leaders of world civilization, Islamdom was quickly and permanently reduced to a dependent bloc by the European powers. Muslims were exposed to the contempt of the colonialists, who . . . . lacked historical perspective to see that they were simply seeing a pre-modern agrarian society, and that a few centuries earlier Europe had been just as "backward." They often took it for granted that Westerners were inherently and racially superior to "orientals" and expressed their contempt in myriad ways. All this not unnaturally had a corrosive effect. . . . [Muslims] would not be able to come to modernity as successfully or as smoothly as, for example, Japan, which has never been colonized, whose economy and institutions had remained intact and which had not been forced into a delibitating dependency on the West.

As I said, I don't have the history to judge this independently, but it makes a good deal of sense to me. Comments?


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