Over the past forty years, an unfounded fear of cultural invasion has taken hold, permeating the thoughts of many in our society. Ever since the Eighties, when the division of the world into distinct "Eastern" and "Western" blocs came to an end and the concept of globalization emerged, the issue of what is termed "cultural globalization" has been extensively discussed here, with the fear being voiced that this global culture will overwhelm our cultural specificity. I have written extensively concerning this issue, and have stressed repeatedly that only those with a modest store of cultural specificity are thus threatened; countries with a vast cumulative legacy of cultural specificity such as ours, whose cultural identity is interwoven with historical and geographical factors, have little to fear: like the Japanese, our cultural specificity is too deeply entrenched to waver. Those who describe the Japanese as having been culturally invaded by outside influences cite only inconsequential, culturally negligible phenomena such as eating fast food and wearing American-style clothing; however, human relationships, the veneration of elders, strong family ties and the dedication to work quintessential to the Japanese culture, have all remained unchanged for the past sixty years, during which Japan has been actively and overwhelmingly exposed to dealings with the West.
Nevertheless, while it could be understandable that some might raise concerns over our ability to maintain our cultural specificity when confronted with the wave of globalization sweeping the world, the question of progress is a completely different matter. The principles and values underlying progress are completely in accordance with the principles upon which our cultural specificities are based: no one could possibly allege that the fundamental beliefs of Egyptians, Arabs, Muslims and Copts conflict with concepts such as the value of time, dedication to work, the global nature of knowledge, team work, the culture of systems and of individuals, and a firm conviction that management is a key tool in achieving success. In fact, I would have imagined that many of us would lay claim to the fact that these very principles were inherent in our history hundreds of years before they became the mainstay of present-day human civilization. It might be thought that what I said applies to most of the values quintessential to progress, but would be difficult in the case of pluralism, for it is believed by some that Muslim religious thought is based upon one model of pure, absolute truth; this in my opinion is a grave misconception, for there are numerous texts in the Koran which support pluralism, the most significant of which is perhaps the text which points out that if God had wished all people to follow one single religion, He would have done so. The Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed) also abounds with texts that provide ample proof that pluralism is an inevitable fact of life.
It would indeed be strange to assume the existence of a conflict between our cultural specificities and between values such as respect for time or dedication to work; such an assumption simply propagates primitive, backward ideas. In fact, if additional proof be needed that the values of progress do not conflict with our cultural specificity, it is enough to note that such values flourished in Egypt during the last century, and only dwindled at a later date when what some people term "the disintegration of Egyptian society" took place.
I remember during the Eighties when I was working for one of the most spectacularly progressive entities in south-east Asia, it was generally held by most economic institutions in the area that there were two distinct work forces, the Chinese and the Malawi; and the prevailing belief was that for work to be done efficiently and well, it was best to rely on the Chinese, who were known for their dedication, good team-work and strong work ethic. The Malawis (who were Muslims) were, on the other hand, known to be lazy, inept slackers with no respect for the work ethic. This belief prevailed until one man took over leadership of a country where more than seventy percent of the inhabitants were of the denomination categorized as ineffectual and unlikely to achieve: the country was Malaysia , where the population is predominantly Muslim. This leader was able to achieve a miracle, taking his country to the highest levels of distinction in every field, so that in a period of less than twenty years, all the values of progress were manifest in this country which had previously been wallowing in a mire of laziness, ineffectuality and backwardness. The world thus discovered two major truths:
-First, that backwardness is not due to unalterable biological factors, but rather to circumstances which, if changed, could reverse the situation completely.
-Second, progress can be planted and flourish in Christian, Buddhist or Muslim environments and is not exclusive to anyone.
It is worth noting that all Malaysian cultural specificities pertaining to human relationships, family ties, and religious values remained unchanged in this age of progress and did in no way diminish. And to those who venture to say that this progress was brought about by the Chinese minority in the country, I would simply reply that this – if true – simply goes to prove that progress can be contagious, which is actually not a bad thing at all, though to refute this theory in the case of Malaysia in particular is easy, for the simple reason that the Chinese minority had always been there in Malaysia – what had been missing was the man who had the foresight and initiative to bring about these changes: Mohamed Mohatir.