For two hundred years now we have been discussing concepts like civilization, culture and technology in Turkey and the Islamic world. Recently, discussions around technology seem to be enflamed. Some people argue that along with technology some unwanted cultural behaviors appear, therefore we should stay away from technology.
What to Get from the West?
First of all, I should note that the debate is nothing new and not limited to technology. The recent debate is an extension of what to get and what to reject from the West. The issue was widely discussed by Said Halim Pa?a around economic progress – moral progress; by Ziya Gökalp around culture-civilization, by Celal Nuri around real civilization-industrial civilization concepts.
We can say that the outline of the debate was drawn by Mehmet Akif Ersoy’s poem:
“Take the science and art from the West;
And up your time to max speed,
As it’s no longer possible to live without those things,
As arts and science have no nationality.”
A few Turkish thinkers in the constitutional monarchy era, and especially the attitude of Islamist thinkers claimed we can take science from the West but we should reject their authentic culture and their morals. Later on, Mehmet Akif Ersoy and others were criticized for not making a rather accurate assessment of the West. I am on the camp that think they are being unfair to Akif, because I think Akif couldn’t foresee the following criticisms:
Relationship between Technology and Culture
Indeed, technology reflects the general culture of the society it is being invented. Can the artificial intelligence technology which intends to recreate humans be considered independently from the culture it emerges from? I am not saying Western culture. These technologies are now being developed in non-western societies like China. The atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan; the one that killed not only enemy troops but also hundreds of thousands of civilians, plant life and animal life and destroyed the soil for decades making it impossible to grow crops; can we think of the bomb independently from the culture it was made in?
We can set forth Suleyman the Magnificient’s approach as an example to the relationship between culture and technology. The Sultan is disturbed by ants drying out a tree in the palace garden. Thinking about the lives of ants the Sultan writes a question poem to Sheikh –ul Islam Ebussuud Efendi.
“When the ant attacks the fruit trees,
Does it hurt the ant?
Ebussuud Efendi also replies with a poem:
“When Suleyman dies and appears before the Creator;
The ant would take its revenge from Suleyman.”
Indeed, the technology introduced by both approaches would take humanity to different courses.
We should also ponder the alienation issue that comes along with technology.
Technology is indeed related with culture; however, labeling other cultures’ technological inventions as “malicious” is dismissive, rejectionist and a sweeping statement. All cultures introduce technologies that meet their requirements that occur in the natural course of life. We can discuss the necessity of those requirements, but we can’t say that the needs of humans from different cultures don’t ever overlap. Therefore, people from different cultures are using similar technologies.
For these reasons, we can’t be making generalizations and reject technologies from different cultures. There’s nothing more natural than being selective in line with our own traditions, civilizations and cultural codes.
There are hadiths that advise us to be interested in technology but to be careful/selective about it like : “If science is in China, go there to get it”, “Wisdom is believers’ lost property”, “Acquire the weapons used by your enemy”, and “Powerful Muslim is better than weak Muslim.” These hadiths advise us to be in a proactive quest on the matter of technology. Acquiring the weapons used by your enemies certainly does not mean Muslims dropping an atomic bomb on other countries. Those thinking technology can be acquired are surely not advising that.
What is the Suggestion?
Those acting suspicious or have a negative approach are unable to set forth tangible proposals other than pure antagonism. Generally, western technology is considered as an extension of the mentality that made the West what it is today. Western belief, philosophy, and science are being considered as a single pack. This critical approach creates an awareness but it’s quite restrictive compared to the advise to go to China to get science. This sweeping acceptance or rejection can take the defenders of those ideas to radical points. Being unable to invent technology and rejecting technology can create an introvert, ghetto and fanatic society.
On the other hand, some people are suggesting using less technology or leading a Muslim life and inventing technology in line with Islamic concerns. These are indeed valuable concerns. At a time when everything is being over-consumed all campaigns to consume less is a blow to the consumption craze/slavery. Indeed, Muslims should lead a more Muslim life and be in an effort to invent technologies to meet their needs. These proposals are only meaningful when they don’t miss out on life and when they are thought out with modern developments.
However, all efforts from an introvert camp that closes doors to the world is facing the risk of being thrown into the hands of radical movements which consider terror as a normal method, and these groups are unfortunately abundant in the Islamic world.
The Islamic world is not where it is today because they are using too much technology. Less technology method was previously exercised. In the Ottoman experience, until the Balta Liman Convention of Commerce, there were serious restrictions and bans on the import of foreign goods into the country. We know the passive resistance of Ghandi in India, and Amish people rejecting technology in the USA. At this point in time, if we are still talking about western dominance and new potentials, it is obvious that offering a life devoid of modern developments and with closed-doors to the world is not an alternative. These methods may weaken the capitalist production style. However, the capitalist will not eliminate the hegemony which belongs to the West now and may be belong to another camp in the future.
Fear of Technology and Opposition Against It
If suspicions about technology are within the limits outlined above, it’s understandable. Other than that, antagonism against technology can be the expression of reactiveness, withdrawal and lack of self-confidence. Fear of technology or opposition against it is reminiscent of a submissive approach born out of the presumption that technology is wild and humane technologies cannot be invented.
In conclusion, the threats, risks and negativities created by technology can bring the end of humanity – and this is not our trademark argument. What’s authentic is the approach we should have in the face of this technology. Being outright rejectionist against technology without any selection can be intellectually appealing but standing against what’s applicable and setting forth a dream as a solution eliminates possible solutions and this attitude could result in quite the opposite intention and lead people to embrace and spread the things they are opposing.
This program was penned by Prof. Dr. Kudret Bülbül, Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University.