For centuries, religious wars have caused bloodshed due to fervent emotions and oversimplified dichotomies such as "Us vs Them," "good vs bad," or "white vs black." Nonetheless, Western culture, even before the Enlightenment, has attempted to eliminate harmful simplifications by employing inquiry and critical thinking. However, Western culture is not perfect, as exemplified by the Nazis who burned books and suppressed art and people of "inferior" races. Similarly, Italian schools taught children to scorn the English because they believed the latter was greedy and inferior to the thrifty Italians.
Differentiating between identifying with ones roots, empathizing with individuals from other backgrounds, and judging what is good or bad can be challenging. While Moscow is a beautiful city, one may prefer Limoges because they know the language there. Every person identifies with the culture they grew up in, and although some people transplant their roots, these cases are rare.
The West has been curious about other civilizations for economic reasons. Earlier, the Greeks referred to non-Greek speakers as barbarians, meaning they stuttered while speaking. Nonetheless, some Greeks such as the Stoics recognized that although barbarians used different words, they referred to similar thoughts.
Cultural anthropology emerged in the latter half of the 19th century as the Wests attempt to assuage its guilt towards other civilizations and especially towards those groups referred to as savages: societies without a history, primitive peoples. The cultural anthropologists job was to show that Western cultures ought not to disrespect and try to suppress beliefs that differ from their own. To determine whether one culture is better than another, a set of parameters must be established.
Cultures can be described objectively: "These people behave like this, and they believe in spirits or a single divine being that pervades the entire nature." The anthropologist acknowledges that objectivity has its limitations. If one prolongs their lifespan from 40 to 80 years, do they lead a fuller life? Many view technological advancement and trade expansion as desirable attributes of their civilization, but some opt for a simpler life such as living harmoniously with the environment by eschewing air travel, cars, and refrigerators to make baskets and travel on foot. Ultimately, to distinguish one culture as superior to another, determinations must be based on a set of values that we are unwilling to abandon.
Is technological development a universal parameter of civilization? Pakistan possesses the atom bomb, while Italy does not. Does this make Italy an inferior civilization, and is it preferable to live in Islamabad than in Arcore? The Islamic world deserves our respect since it has given us philosophers, historians, and polymaths such as Avicenna, Averroes, Al-Kindi, Avenpace, Avicebron, Ibn Tufayl, and Ibn Khaldun, the father of social sciences in the Western world. The Arabs of Spain excelled in geography, astronomy, math, and medicine when the Christian world lagged behind.
In conclusion, one can only say that their culture is superior when they have a set of values that they cannot abandon. Therefore, it is crucial to establish parameters to define one culture as better than another.
History can be a double-edged sword, as exemplified by the actions of different cultures throughout time. The Turks were known for impaling their enemies, while the Byzantines and Catholics resorted to blinding and burning, respectively. The Saracen pirates committed heinous acts, but so did the buccaneers of the British empire. Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were enemies of western civilization, but the western world had its own monsters in Hitler and Stalin.
However, the issue of parameters is not limited to historical context. Western cultures, which are based on freedom and diversity, allow individuals to hold conflicting values and beliefs. For instance, while life preservation is considered good, air pollution is not. Yet, scientific research aimed at prolonging life may necessitate the use of power systems that produce pollution. Thus, Western culture recognizes its own contradictions and shortcomings, such as the difficulty in promoting positive globalization while preventing negative consequences.
Nevertheless, questioning parameters is a delicate matter that requires thoughtful consideration. For instance, is it reasonable to protect bank secrets? While some people argue that it is, this could have adverse consequences if it aids terrorists in their financial transactions. Therefore, we need to continually re-evaluate our parameters to ensure that they are truly beneficial to society.
Furthermore, Western culture values diversity and allows other religions and cultures to flourish within its borders. However, other cultures have not always received the same opportunities to observe Western customs and practices. Transcultura is promoting an "alternative anthropology" that exposes researchers from different cultures to Western societies to foster cross-cultural understanding.
Thus, it is crucial to study other peoples beliefs and practices to better understand ones own. Inviting Muslim fundamentalists to investigate Christian fundamentalism could help break down barriers and promote understanding. Lastly, promoting diversity is a paramount parameter that helps create a mature, pluralistic society.
However, contemporary political divisions have clouded the issue. Many conservatives claim to defend Western values, while some on the Left are perceived as pro-Islamic. This ignores the historical reality that cultures have committed heinous acts at different times. Thus, we must be vigilant in promoting a culture of diversity, tolerance and mutual understanding, free from political divisiveness.
On the other hand, it is the reactionary ideology, in its most positive sense, that has historically challenged the secular notion of progress and advocated for a return to traditional values – starting from the rejection of the French Revolution. Its only a handful of neo-Nazi groups that romanticize the West and harbor extremist views towards Muslims. The more serious proponents of traditionalism have always regarded Islam as a spiritual alternative, alongside the beliefs of primitive cultures and Buddhist teachings. Theyve emphasized that our faith in progress has impoverished us, and that the truth lies in exploring Sufi mysticism or the whirling dervishes, rather than promoting a feeling of superiority. As a result, a peculiar dichotomy is emerging within the right-wing movement. Perhaps this is a reflection of the present state of confusion, where no one seems to have a clear idea of their position.
Nonetheless, it is during times of confusion that analysis and criticism become prevalent as useful tools for examining our own and others superstitious beliefs.