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 The Challenges of Globalization and the Muslim World    by Professor A. R. Momin

Global culture and secularization

The global media, especially satellite television, advertising and the entertainment industry have acquired enormous salience in our globalizing era. Time Warner is the world's biggest media corporation with assets larger than those of many developing countries. International trade agreements, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), are especially favourable to the global media corporations in that they facilitate the domination of local markets by media giants. Entertainment around the world is dominated by Hollywood films and videos. The largest export industry for the US is entertainment, especially Hollywood films and videos. Hollywood blockbusters, legally imported or pirated versions, are hugely popular in practically every city around the world.

The global media, Hollywood films and videos and advertising send out certain messages-explicit as well subtle-which are embedded in the values, lifestyles and cultural patterns of present-day Western societies, especially the United States. These include the glorification of individualism and self-gratification, consumerism and hedonism, sexual freedom (including homosexuality and lesbianism), disregard for societal norms, and the glamorization of violence. One of the Hollywood video films Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has become immensely popular among adolescents and has sold millions of copies worldwide. Targeted at young boys and girls in the age group of 8-12 years, the video exposes young viewers to sex and violence. There has been a phenomenal spurt in the US, Europe and even in the metropolitan cities of Asia in the sales of PG-13 films, such as Loving Silverman, which have explicit references to oral sex, masturbation and necrophilia. The celebrity singer Janet Jackson's hugely popular million-selling album The Velvet Rope makes explicit references to homosexuality. The album has been banned in China, Singapore and Malaysia.

Western products-Coca Cola, Levi jeans, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Mickey Mouse, Barbie dolls, American pop culture-are projected by the Western media as global products aimed at global audiences, transcending ethnic, religious and cultural distinctions. The projection of Western culture in the guise of global culture sends out the subtle and subliminal message to the younger generation in Asia and Africa that the value system and cultural patterns of the West are superior and preferable to those of non-Western societies. This globalized cultural hegemony poses a serious threat to the cultural traditions and identities of Muslims as well as other people living in non-Western societies. This produces confusion and ambivalence in the minds of the younger generation.

In our globalizing era, the role of parents and other members of the family in the socialization of children has been greatly reduced. Peer group, global media, educational institutions and networks in the wider society now play a much larger role in the socialization process. Muslim children, especially those living in Western countries as well as in large metropolitan cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America, are being increasingly exposed to cultural influences which are at variance with Islamic values and traditions.

Global processes and institutions, such as increasing mobility, the accelerated pace of life, secularization and global media, are producing consequences which are at best a mixture of positive and negative elements. Individualism and consumerism, for example, seem to be making inroads into Muslim societies, especially in the highly qualified professional class. Increasing mobility (involving relocation in other cities as well as transnational migration) and growing career-mindedness are bringing in their wake uprooting and alienation from the neighbourhood, community and cultural moorings. They are also producing disturbing consequences for parents and other elderly members of the family.

In some Muslim countries, the ruling establishment, military junta and the educated elite continue to be under the strong influence of Western culture and secularism. They tend to look down upon those of their compatriots who are deeply committed to Islamic values, traditions and cultural symbols and often make them a target of ridicule, derision and victimization. In 1999, Merve Kavakci, a computer scientist who was elected a member of the Turkish parliament, was prevented from taking oath and was subsequently stripped of her Turkish citizenship because she entered parliament with her Islamic headscarf. Earlier, her father, Yusuf Ziya Kavakci, had to resign as Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies at Ataturk University on account of supporting Muslim women's right to wear the hijab. Her mother lost her teaching position at the same university for wearing the hijab. The family had to migrate to the United States.

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