How do we perceive the West?
Bigger picture of the world is absent
The question of whether or not the West is evil is certainly loaded, and it is one that I feel too few are capable of answering.
This is because our education system teaches us very little about other cultures and civilizations, leaving us to stumble blindly through the events that shape our world.
We are taught so little about the outside world in secondary school; in fact, few know about what Samuel Huntington would call a “Clash of Civilizations” that is currently taking place throughout Africa.
There is a line of conflict zones that stretch from Somalia to Mauritania, through which Arabs and allied Muslim Africans are attempting to extend their influence southward, deeper into Africa.
In Mauritania, the pre-eminent slave state in Africa according to Anti-Slavery International, about 20 per cent of the population – or half a million people – are currently slaves.
Although progress is being made since slavery was finally criminalized in 2007, enforcement is difficult as compliance to this law still remains non-existent.
This system of Muslim Arabs holding black slaves is not an aberration and extends across all the conflict zones; according to the BBC, nearly eight per cent of Niger’s African population is enslaved by Arab nomads.
Certainly all of these statistics shocked me, as I had always thought that formal slavery had been wiped out throughout the world quite some time ago, and I wondered why I had never been taught about modern slavery in high school.
I was even more surprised to find out that this conflict goes far beyond the issue of slavery in eastern Africa.
A series of wars are currently being fought with the aim of solidifying Arab and Muslim political authority.
The major example of this is in Sudan, where a Muslim and Arab north is attempting to exterminate and repress the Christian and Animist African south.
This conflict is quickly spreading throughout the region; the government of Sudan is deeply involved with the intermittent civil war in Chad and has some links to the civil war in Somalia.
For the near future at least, it appears that this “Clash of Civilizations” is showing no signs of abating.
While these conflicts in Africa are among the most prolific, they are certainly not the only ones in the world.
“Is the West evil?” is a question that I believe cannot be answered until we have an education system that teaches students to see the big picture and gives them the proper context to grapple with this complicated question.
Past tragedy can’t dictate the future
It’s crucial to both identify and acknowledge that there is something to be embarrassed about in our past. Even at home, colonization of the Aboriginals of Canada requires a second glance at our history.
While we need to take into account the legacy of colonialism and imperialism, where is the line drawn between these dark ages of human rights and the modern age of increasing awareness? Some argue a line is yet to be drawn and never can be. As such, I must stress that it is time we reassess.
Most ancient proverbs such as “you can’t fight fire with fire,” thus, it is only logical to suggest that the solution to prejudice is not resistance.
I can recall a rather traumatic experience in a first-year religion course when an Aboriginal elder came to speak with our class. I, being personally fascinated with the tradition, was disappointed when she claimed we were brainwashed by white North American ideology.
She further stressed that Stephen Harper’s apology regarding the residential school system was heartless and that no solution will be reached.
I’m not usually an advocate for optimism, yet this was an unnecessarily defeatist attitude.
I verbally expressed my opinion that Harper never personally initiated the crimes and was merely trying to move forward; the most beneficial action would be to support forgiveness. My comments were overlooked, and my T.A. called me uncultured and prejudiced in class.
I still wonder why it was so absurd of me to desire a solution; to be able to not just coexist peacefully, but exist without divisions of underlying contempt.
It’s key to understanding that progression will not be met with continuous blame or resisting the opportunity to move forward. Likewise, it’s time that as a nation we re-evaluate our “solution” methods to addressing colonization and realize that neither an apology is enough, nor is throwing money at the Native community in hopes it will dispel more deeply rooted issues.
Most cultures have something to be ashamed of, and mine is certainly no exception. However, it’s reasonable to desire a united country where education concentrates more on the steps to take in bridging the gap between our unfortunate past and the potential of our future.
Eurocentric history is imbalanced
In western education, history is often taught with a very Eurocentric perspective, both in terms of praising the West’s achievements and condemning its atrocities.
Often, both the accomplishments and the atrocities committed by the non-western world are ignored.
The Europeans are constructed as both the inventors and the oppressors, and the people of the rest of the world are merely painted as victims.
Although this view is often applied to both history and the modern era, the truth is much more complex.
Many important innovations were made by eastern civilizations like the Chinese and Arabs, in fields such as mathematics, physics and astronomy.
They have produced many important inventions, such as gunpowder and the compass. And while the West is often portrayed as the sole source of all imperialism, Europe has in fact been conquered and colonized by Eastern empires time and time again – the Mongols, Persians, Ottomans, and Huns are prime examples.
It seems that much of this leftist view of “evil” western dominance emanates from a world view that could be most accurately applied to parts of the 19th and 20th century, but this view is now becoming increasingly outdated.
Although the West is wealthy and powerful, recent events such as the recession have exposed our instability.
In fact, Arab nations own much of America’s economy; the West is indebted to them and other developing nations – China in particular.
China’s rise will also weaken the West’s chokehold; it is possible that China could displace America this century as the world’s most powerful nation.
If so, even some of the most radical leftists may fondly remember the days of American dominance in comparison to Chinese world dominance and the atrocities that could come with it – if China’s treatment of Tibetans is any indication.
Exploitation, greed and imperialism are not exclusively western traits – they’re the negative side of human nature, which unfortunately exists throughout the world.
It is true that western civilization is powerful today and has been throughout history, but to see the West as the sole power and the rest of the world as helpless, exploited victims is to view the world through an oversimplified lens.
In university courses, such as global studies, this lens can sometimes be the main lens through which world issues are viewed.
Indeed, though this dichotomy is true in some situations it is far from being as all-encompassing as some believe.
Western guilt is justifiable
I feel the burden of the western history and the current realities of western supremacy are sometimes too brutal to bear.
I know that the West is horrendous because throughout history it has caused the highest death totals and has done so for various ends, including colonization. Hopefully it remains the worst.
But what sort of productive value does our obsession with western guilt provide the world?
While it is important to remember the past to prepare for the future – as it helps us understand the current state of power hierarchies, control, racism, sexism and all kinds of discrimination that exist – it also exposes how far humanity has come from its past and reminds us that, in the future, people will judge us for our injustices too.
I try to do my utmost to be a responsible and educated citizen of what has been deemed the “West,” the “Global North” or the “developed” world.
Yet everything I attempt to do to make positive change, and in essence limit my guilt complex as a westerner, seems to be shrouded in hypocrisy and generally tends to be counter-productive. In an effort to help those in need, I make donations, only to question whether that money ever gets to where I want it to go. I try to buy fair-trade, but then am bombarded with facts exposing its ineffectiveness. And after I make an effort to avoid “Made in China” labels, the media suggests that those sweatshop workers could use that work.
But the extremes of the West’s colonization and global exploitation are often overwhelming.
Indeed, my ancestors and culture have destroyed so much, I don’t know where to begin to correct their wrongs or if I even can.
The impact of colonization on every continent during the age of the European empires is immeasurable and so embedded in the affected countries that we often cease to recognize our participation.
And now it seems that with neocolonialism, the World Bank and the IMF are too far gone in privatizing foreign land and in-debting nations for my generation to see any real changes.
I suppose this is all said and done in the name of power, which today means capitalism and “democracy”.
It allows westerners to continue the lifestyles they enjoy – the luxuries and privileges granted to people who have the most money.
I know of these realities because of my education; it is reiterated by our professors that there are travesties going on in the world unnoticed.
It is also you and I who admittedly perpetuate them because of a lifestyle we enjoy in Canada and would be hard-pressed to give up.
Maybe it is right that the West feels guilty for what they do to so many innocent people without even realizing that we are the cause of such issues.