On being Westernized

Posted on June 8, 2006


I recently read two posts that have made me think about “westernization”, by Moorish girl and Kalko3. The first post details a feud between Salman Rushdie and Ziauddin Sardar, another author, who calls Mr. Rushdie a “brown sahib”. This, as you might imagine, is the Indian equivalent of an Uncle Tom, “an uncritical anglophile”. Kalko3’s post is a criticism of the well-known Egyptian blogger, Sandmonkey. He derides him mostly for having grown up privileged, and one of the characteristics of privilege according to Kalko3 is speaking in affected Arabic peppered with English and French terms, and apparently desiring that Egypt should have nudist clubs. Although he savagely attacks Sandmonkey for leaving the United States while so many people suffer agonies to get there, what attracted my attention was his (seemingly contradictory) accusation of Sandmonkey of being westernized.
I haven’t thought about westernization in a long time, mainly because I have been living in the west, and also because I suppose I have always been westernized. Am I a “brown sahib”, I wondered? I suppose I would be a brown mem-sahib, if my reading of books from that part of the world serves me right. Do I uncritically approve of every aspect of westernization?
That depends on what you mean by westernization. If we call it absolute freedom of speech, sexual freedom, technological innovation, capitalism, religious freedom, the rule of law, equality: then yes. I accept and approve of all of it, unpleasant consequences included. That is because I think respect for the individual, and her freedoms, is the highest ideal to which society should aspire. All other considerations must bow before this. I guess that is why I love the law; I see it as protecting these individual freedoms against the encroaching desire of society to have conformism everywhere.
So why am I moving back to the Middle East, if I love the whitey so? It’s because whitey’s individualism results in isolationism, mostly. And right now, I think I am too young to enjoy a life of just work (as if there is an appropriate age for that). Life amongst “my set” in Egypt is as westernized a lifestyle as we can manage, while still reaping the benefits of the intensely social culture. We try to limit the interference of friends and family members in our lives, while enjoying their company and solicitousness. It’s an ongoing struggle, maintaining this balance. I suppose it’s easier for me because I maintain a healthy geographic buffer zone between my parents and myself. Ultimately, though, I don’t think it will be practicable to select only this tiny fraction of the Middle East, while revelling in all that is Western. Eventually I will have to sacrifice one or the other, I suppose. I’m guessing it will be the pleasant side of collectivist Middle Eastern culture that will have to go.
But until then, I’m going to enjoy myself.
Posted in: "ethnic", Egypt, politics