Jerusalem: Stuck in time and between civilizations

Some political problems require a wider perspective for an adequate evaluation due to their global nature. It is the case that wider perspectives are philosophical. Jerusalem is a civilizational phenomenon. That is why it cannot be left aside to be solved by simple international peace negotiations. In this case the concept of civilization and the phenomenon of the rise and fall of civilizations enter into the picture. Certain historical facts may lead us to clues for unraveling our perception of the Jerusalem issue today.

If we examine past civilizations we will see that it is extremely hard to distinguish them from cultures except that they are much broader and include more than one culture; hence, a civilization is in fact “a universalized culture”. A civilization is in the true sense a culture which is no longer limited to its local and national confines. As such it begins to include within its boundaries many sub-cultures, all of which are very much colored by the foundational culture that has become an all-embracing culture, which we now call civilization. It is possible to find such a culture in the ultimate analysis of every true civilization. We may distinguish three criteria for civilizations: universality; multi-culturality; having an official language that characterizes its literature, whether scientific or artistic.

Depending on the foundational culture, either religion or science or they both together may render a civilization universal. In case of Islamic civilization, for example, it is primarily the religion that has universalized the Arab culture. Because the Islamic civilization began to include, as a result of its universality, many other national cultures, the original Arabic culture which was universalized in the form of a civilization began to lose its Arabic character, it was thus blended with a universalistic color that made up the Islamic civilization. In case of the Ancient Greek civilization, on the other hand, it is primarily the scientific activities that rendered it universal. Since the original foundational culture of this civilization was the Greek culture, all scientific and literary activities were carried out in this language, which then became the official language of this civilization until its fall.

In case of the Western civilization if we take Christianity as the main element in the rise of this civilization, it is possible to identify the Roman culture as its foundational culture, whose language, Latin, became its official language. But later on through the rise of nationalism Latin was given up. Today English is about to take its place as the official language of this civilization. Religion by itself was not able to universalize the Roman culture; it was the scientific activities in the Middle ages which universalized only the Roman heritage, since by that time the Roman culture was very much diversified into many European cultures in the form of Christian customs.

If there is a foundational culture which gradually becomes a universal culture called ‘civilization’, then there is a process that can be identified as the ‘rise of a civilization’. On the other hand, just because there are civilizations in the past that has fallen, we may infer on the basis of the rise of civilizations that there must be also a process that can be identified as the ‘fall of a civilization’. In this context I am more concerned with the dynamic principles which lead to the rise of a civilization. If these principles are identified correctly, there isno reasonto lookfor such principles for the fall of a civilization, because the fall must follow upon the lack or insufficiency of the dynamic principles that lead to the rise of it.

The universalizing element is able to give a moral dynamism to the society into which it is born. Moral dynamism is the principle agent of the social mobility. We can see this in the fact that in every society there are: 1. morally sensitive individuals, 2. the common mass, or people at large; 3. selfish or morally insensitive individuals. Among these three classes usually the first and the third group are dynamic. For the former class struggle to restore morality and good order in a society, whereas the selfish class remains indifferent to this end by spending their dynamism to their own ends. The masses, on the other hand, are driven to either side. In the midst of these chaotic struggles the emergence of certain intellectual activities is almost inevitable, as both the moral and the selfish sides will try to justify their ends rationally in order to draw more supporters. But since for the selfish the end is more important than the means, they will definitely try to use other attractive means to draw supporters. Therefore, in this struggle it is still the morally sensitive that is primarily intellectually and spiritually productive. This leads to an immense intellectual dynamism. By the ‘intellectual dynamism’ we mean the ‘dynamism inherent within originality and novelty’ of ideas and doctrines such that the foundational culture had never seen of their like before. This gradually leads to the advancement of scientific and literary learning, which are universalizing factors within the foundational culture.

When these universalizing dynamic forces are atwork, a tremendous social mobility in the foundational culture begins. These activities will gradually lead to the re-organization and betterment of social institutions including the political and economic ones as well. An intellectual who is active in educating the individuals of his society will reform the educational system. It is this re-formative and enlightened effort at all organizational levels follows upon intensive intellectualism that is present within the culture. Usually there seems to be a relation, although not a necessary one, between the political body and the educational reform. Either the political body brings about the educational reform at the request or directions of the intellectuals or intellectuals themselves take the initiative and produce educational dynamism, which may in turn lead to a re-organization of the political body and thus produce a great political mobility within the political institutions. These activities which also include the legal undertakings can be called ‘political dynamism’.

Similar reformations take place in the economic and other institutions yielding thereby to improve the prosperity of that society. To give an example, the pre-Islamic Arabian culture, which is in fact the foundational culture of the Islamic civilization, in its original state could have never led to the rise of a civilization. But it was greatly modified by Islam which started a sufficient moral dynamism in that society to lead it to the emergence of a civilization. If a civilization does not retain its moral dynamism, then all institutions begin to deteriorate and as a result dynamism to the opposite direction begins to take place; first, the selfish gains the majority of the masses and intellectuals become corrupt, then the moral struggle gives in. The civilization thus collapses and all of its institutions gradually become corrupt; a phenomenon which can be observed both in the Ancient Greek civilization and Islamic civilization of today. If we examine the bygone civilizations of the past we shall see many similarities between them and the present Islamic civilization. In fact, today there is no more a civilization that deserves the name Islamic civilization. A culture can be called civilization only if it is dynamic morally in the first place and intellectually (namely, scientifically) in the second place. In case of the Islamic civilization both dynamisms were propelled by the religion; this leads us to infer that the collapse of the Islamic civilization must have come upon the collapse of religious consciousness. This can be observed in the misinterpretation of religion or its mythologizing which eventually led to the ineffectiveness of Islam within these societies. This gradually led to the downfall of all institutions, including the military and political institutions.

Is the Jerusalem issue an isolated, individual case; or is it a civilizational case? I am afraid that most Muslims today handle it as an individual problem, in which case in order to solve this issue they do not pay attention to the civilizational forces surrounding this issue. The best lesson is again provided by the history; when the Crusades started, a conflict took place again around Jerusalem . But at that time Islamic civilization though was politically scattered mainly by the brute force of other cultures, its dynamic structure was able to handle the problem as an individual isolated case; hence Jerusalem ultimately remained in the hands of Muslims. But Muslims today have civilizational problems; moral decadence, mythological understanding of religion which lead to the weakening of Islamic principles in individual and social life and finally intellectual decadence which leaves no creative scientific activities.

The most important factor in Islamic civilization is of course religion, but in order to generalize this to all civilizations, we shall pose the fact that the moral dimension dies within those societies that are included under that civilization. Selfishness rules supreme, individuals think of their own ends only; as a result, social institutions do not function properly. Then, intellectual life also becomes corrupt, because educational institutions are integral part of a civilization, once they are corrupt no serious intellectual will be produced; as a result scientific activities will no longer be creative. This will yield inefficiency to deal with social problems; and no new concepts will be invented to express new interpretations of meaningful phenomena in human life and culture. The scientific downfall will lead to technological backwardness which will lead to military weakness. Every other people around that civilization will try to get their share from the falling civilization. The people and the geography of the falling civilization become like a dead corpse of an animal upon which vultures and many other scavengers rush to get their share. I believe that this is what has happened to the Islamic civilization and the Jerusalem issue cannot be isolated from this phenomenon. If my presentation seems realistic, then this problem cannot be solved without a comprehensive outlook. This requires us to look into the Jerusalem problem and in fact the Balkan, Azeri, Iraqi and Afghani and in fact all Muslims from broader civilizational perspective.

Prof. Alparslan Açıkgenç
Fatih University

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov