West 'needs to present values better' to Arab world
ROME - Dr Benedikt Koehler, the author of Early Islam and the Birth of Capitalism, delivered a talk on the subject of pre-fascist era historian and Leone Caetani’s insights into the then-relationship between Libya and Italy at the Euro-Gulf Information Centre.
The talk was focused around the theme of culture: defining oneself against the other, the centrality of Islam to the Libyan identity, and the “acid washing” effect of western rationalism when imposed on the Libyans through colonialism.
Koehler did an excellent job of summarising Caetani’s theory that “heretical” religious movements in the East are also social and political in nature, a point excellently demonstrated by Koehler’s own research into early Islam: “The prophet built a mosque and a market,” political and social structures are intimately linked to religion.
Caetani’s knowledge of the region was, and remains, nearly unparalleled, a wealth of information that allowed him to form a picture of Libya society from its bedrock up.
The rationalism, secularism, and materialism of the west, in his opinion, was inevitably going to lead to the east rejecting these values and returning to the Islamic core of their society with renewed fervour.
Of course, Caetani’s insights did not prevent the colonisation of Libya, the brutal war that followed, or the passing around of the region between post-war powers until revolutions led to the end of Gaddafi’s rule.
Koehler kept stressing that “Caetani wrote this 100 years ago, you could change the date and people would believe that it was written yesterday.” Tragic but true, Westernisation as a means of optimising the local population for the generation of wealth is doomed to fail.
Speaking to Koehler after the talk, the Italian Insider asked how the west and east can interact in a way that is not inherently oppositional. Koehler pointed to the vacuous nature of the western world, individualism is prioritised above community or religious values, two forces that shape people’s lives and aligns them with the people they live with. “We could do a better job presenting our own values, materialism is clearly not enough.”