Globalization and Middle Eastern Culture

Globalization and Middle Eastern Culture

The term globalization has positive connotations in that it implies interaction and sharing through technology and suggests the improvement and development of less developed countries through connections with countries that are more economically wealthy. However, this is not always the way in which the term is interpreted by some countries and cultures. There has been a negative reaction throughout the world in recent years to the concept of globalization which is increasingly viewed as a means of domination and assimilation — especially with regard to cultural aspects. A more formal definition of globalization is as follows:

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Globalization can be conceived as a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions, expressed in transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power (see Held and McGrew, et al., 1999).

In essence globalization is characterized by a “stretching of social, political and economic activities across frontiers, regions and continents.”

It is also marked by the interconnection between different countries in areas such as trade, finance, migration and culture. “Globalization, in short, can be thought of as the widening, intensifying, speeding up, and growing impact of world-wide interconnectedness.”

There are two divergent points about the benefits and dangers of globalization. On the one extreme are the “hyperglobalists” who are enthusiastic about the possibility of a global economy — harmoniously integrating the various regions and cultures of the world. At the other end of the scale are the skeptics who are suspicious of the aims and goals of large scale globalization. “Dismissing the idea of a unified global economy, the skeptical position concludes that the world is breaking up into several major economic and political blocs, within which very different forms of capitalism continue to flourish.”

Another important issue to consider is the difference or the similarity between the concepts of westernization. It is the identification of westernization with globalization that has created the fear of this proposed interaction in developing countries as well as the Middle-East.

There is a significant difference between the concepts of globalization and westernization. However the two terms tend to be conflated in many theories of globalization. Theoretically they are very different but the question has been raised as to whether there are elements of westernization innately included in the process of globalization. The theoretical difference is outlined as follows.

Globalization is a process in which “the whole world becomes like a small village, where the less advanced communities can develop their capacities” and that “tends to be a two-way street process, which makes it possible for each community to take as well as to give.” Westernization, on the other hand, tends to be a one-way street, meaning that one region attempts to dominate and control other regions in the name of globalization. Moreover, while globalization occurs through the free will of different communities, Westernization is characteristically imposed upon other regions.

The question that arises in many developing counties and in many Arab and Middle Eastern countries is whether globalization in effect is a form of disguised westernization. This is a crucial issue that relates to and affects the rich cultural heritage of Middle Eastern countries. On the one hand, globalization can be seen as a promising result of integrated and shared visions through technology; while on the other hand it can also be viewed with suspicion as a form of cultural assimilation and domination by the more media rich and economically powerful cultures. Therefore to many Middle Eastern people globalization and western cultural intrusion and hegemony are one and the same thing. The following quotation stresses that while Islamic people are generally not entirely opposed to and in fact are quite positive about new technologies and the mutual benefits of sharing information and ideas, they are also wary of the implications it might have for their cultural and social values.

Islam is not anti-globalization (or modernity, which is considered to be a by-product of globalization) in its original sense, but Muslims do have a problem with Westernization. “Although Westernization of society is condemned, modernization as such is not. Science and technology are accepted, but they are to be subordinated to Islamic belief and values in order to guard against the Westernization and secularization of Muslim society.”

By its very nature globalization impacts on people’s way of life and often causes adjustments to the pattern of the dominant global culture. This has meant that the affect of globalization on Middle-Eastern counties has become a very controversial issue.

To a large extent, globalization promotes integration of the world and calls for the removal of all cultural barriers. Although globalization is a vital process toward transferring knowledge and education to the world, it still has its negative effects on most cultures and civilizations. Its impact on cultures, in this case the Arabic culture, is relatively controversial.

Many Islamic States and cultural institutions are particularly aware of the possibility that their cultures might be affected by the influx and ascendancy of western cultural norms. “Many nationalists and cultural trustees of the Arab world, for instance, condemn the influences of globalization on their culture. Conservative Arab nationalists and fundamentalists argue that their culture cannot adhere to many globalized notions. ”

An example of the way that globalization is already having an impact on cultures in the Middle East and other regions of the world is the reduced emphasis on native language and the predominance of English as the universal language. It should be remembered that besides its function as a communicative tool, language is also a repository and a conveyor of cultural traditions. The fear is that traditional languages might die out which will inevitably have a far-reaching affect on cultural heritage and transmission. This fear is express in the following analysis and study.

At the end of the 20th century, according to Nigerian CEL researchers, out of 6,800 languages classified as threatened, being spoken by the roughly six billion people of the Earth, 2,400 of them (35%) are indigenous to Africa. Indonesia is home to 672 languages, Papua New Guinea to 800, and Nigeria to 400 languages. While some of them are well-known, others are virtually unheard of outside a small community of speakers. The fear being expressed today is that some of these languages, in view of their degrees of adulteration or outright abandonment, may not live to see the 22nd century. In fact, it is estimated that only ten percent of the present languages in the world will survive. The fear is that of a homogenous world, where everybody speaks the same language, wears the same standard clothes, and thinks the same standard thoughts.

In conclusion, the issue of globalization remains a very controversial topic, particularly with regard to cultural issues. While globalization certainly offers communication and technical advancements to developing counties it is something of a double-edged sword. It can also mean that dominant cultures by extending their economic and cultural grasp can detrimentally affect other cultures.


Cheruiyot K. Our Languages Are Dying [article online] Available from; Internet: accessed December 1, 2004.

Held D. And McGrew A. Globalization. (article online); available from; Internet: available from; Internet: accessed 6 December, 2004

Maisami Mona, Islam and Globalization. [essay online] Available from The foundation Magazine (August 2003) k=33& 1677948306& show=part1; Internet: Accessed 1 December, 2004.

Moussalli Mohammed, Impact of Globalization ( Article online) Available form Daily Star ( August 25, 2003); Internet: accessed 5 December, 2004

Held D. And McGrew A. Globalization. ( article online); available from; Internet: available from; Internet: accessed 6 December, 2004

ibid ibid

Maisami Mona, Islam and Globalization. [essay online] Available from The foundation Magazine ( August 2003) k=33& 1677948306& show=part1; Internet: Accessed 1 December, 2004.


Moussalli Mohammed, Impact of Globalization ( Article online) Available from Daily Star ( August 25, 2003) ttp://; Internet: accessed 5 December, 2004


Cheruiyot K. Our Languages Are Dying [article online] Available from; Internet: accessed December 1, 2004.

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