|The Self and the Other: Sustainability and Self-Empowerment (WB, 1996, 76 p.)|
|Culture and development|
Excerpts from a video written by Isrnail Serageldin, and
produced and directed by
Katrina J. Ecolivet
Understanding the culture of a society is essential when planning development strategies. This framework includes the complex of unique spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features that characterize a society-not only its arts and letters but also its ways of life, fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions, and beliefs.
The Western stereotype of Islamic culture as an unchanging society comes from the false assumption that four dichotomies exist between Western and Islamic culture: (1) the West is modem, and Islamic culture is traditional, (2) Western people are driven by materialism, while Muslim people live in a spiritual world and derive their sense of identity solely from the Quran, (3) the West is highly advanced technologically, while the Muslim world is not, and (4) Muslims behave differently from non-Muslims.
Addressing the issue of poverty in the Muslim world, Mr. Serageldin gives the following explanation for the incongruity of finding slums in the shadow of rich monumental Islamic architecture, such as the Khayed Bey Mosque in Cairo:
What you see [in Cairo] is a manifestation of the use of an
inappropriate development paradigm
A society has a code that is central to the interpretation of its cultural identity a code that is understood throughout that society and that gets broken when the development forces take on inappropriate manifestations.
Figure 1. Three-tiered model
A three-tiered model that explains how social behavior functions in a society is applied to Islamic culture. The model explains what causes the societal code to break down (figure 1). The three tiers of the model are defined as the intellectual, perceptual, and physical domains.
In the intellectual domain theoretical ethics are debated by scholars, philosophers, and intellectuals. Most people in a culture do not perceive their society through this ideal ethical order.
In the perceptual domain theoretical ethics are distorted by the people of the society and transformed into practical ethics. Practical ethics shape social values and become the primary guide to individual behavior. This behavior, when collectivized, becomes social praxis, or what we observe a society doing every day.
Most changes in a culture enter society at the level of social praxis, as in the Muslim world today, because of either strong modernizing forces or major physical changes. If these changes persist long enough at the level of social praxis and are widely accepted in the domain of practical ethics, then religious scholars, philosophers, and the intelligentsia begin to alter society's theoretical ethics.
A society has a code that is central to the interpretation of its cultural identity, a code that is understood throughout that society and that gets broken when the development forces take on inappropriate manifestations - Ismail Serageldin
I have a vision of development that sees it as a tree that is nurtured by feeding its roots, not by pulling on its branches - Ismail Serageldin
Changes can also enter the intellectual and perceptual domains directly. They enter the perceptual domain through the mass media and the education system.
When changes enter the perceptual and intellectual domains, especially the intellectual domain, it is possible to maintain the general framework of society's cultural identity. The framework is evolving, but it is both integrated and integrating: integrated in that its internal coherence is maintained and people feel at ease with themselves and their society and integrating in that it is capable of incorporating new ... elements, constantly growing and adapting to new challenges . . . and creating new opportunities.
If change is not internalized and integrated, the result is tension in the system and a breakdown in the code. But when change is internalized and integrated, the system is healthy and adaptive. Development becomes nurturing.
Mr. Serageldin's closing vision is of a rejuvenated approach to development:
I have a vision of . . . development that sees it as a tree that is nurtured by feeding its roots, not by pulling on its branches. We must empower people to be all they can be. They must create their own identity, their own institutions. This is a vision of sustainable development. . . It seeks equity for all and is people-centered and gender-conscious. It empowers the weak and vulnerable to become the producers of their own welfare or bounty rather than the recipients of charity or aid. It recognizes that development must have a cultural content and that institution building and the enhancement of human capacities are central parts of the development process and under gird economic well being. And it places short term actions within a long-term framework.