On Westernism, Modernism and Culture: We Must Not be Party to Cultural Genocide

  • 1

Dr Sumaya Firdous

“Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love, and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved.” ( Andre Malraux)
The culture of any society is associated with the beauty of its lifestyle. It is known by its many aspects like: dress, language, food and so on. Any culture has immense importance within its natives. The culture of a place gives it character. Culture is open to change and acceptance unlike traditions which are simply carried on from one generation to another. To protect our identity, protecting culture is a must. Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism proposes that, after Second World War (end of the “age of empire”) colonial imperialism left a cultural legacy behind to the colonized people which remain active in contemporary civilizations. Thus, cultural imperialism is very dominant in the international systems of power. Moreover, Spivak says that cultural imperialism has the power to disqualify or erase the knowledge and mode of education of certain populations that are low on the social hierarchy.
The most important aspect of culture is a language. Language isn’t only associated with the expression of feelings but is strongly connected with one’s identity. History is the witness to oppression of states through language. The world has 7,000 languages and the fact that nearly half of them are expected to vanish over the next 100 years( like the Whole language in India or the Panau language of Papua New Guinea). In the US, the Pacific Northwest is a major global hotspot for disappearing languages, like Athabaskan, a language of the Siletz tribe. Some languages have already gone extinct.
At the same time we can see that globally the western culture is spreading and many people and countries live with this culture. Western civilization has taken over our world and this has a lot to do with the fact that globalization and colonized countries are a root to the western countries. Whatever you see on TV, listen on the radio or even buy clothes from the store is what the western civilization wears, listen to, and even acts. All this is spreading over our world and everyone is being infected.
The building blocks of a particular culture are its children who usually carry on nurturing their culture and promoting it. However, children in our times show much interest in foreign movies, cartoons, languages, food, of which they don’t have any practical dispensation and indulgence. Western culture has engulfed our future including children. Our children, and even youth are exposed to stay in the corridors of dreams where they live throughout their life, and they show hardly any intimacy with their own culture. They live in total obliviousness and have fallen away from their roots, ultimately leading to the rejection of our cultural substance, and pave a smooth way for cultural difference and psychological distance. Similarly, foreign songs nurture a life of an oriental culture.
Developed nations have built up walls for the safety of their culture. For example, Japan preserved their culture and language. It is said ‘you can learn in others language but you can’t be creative.’ People of any distinct culture, especially Sub-continental and African countries, are giving access to cultural imperialism by their own hands. Modernism is good but under the realms of the security of our roots (culture or religion). The influence of other cultures on a particular culture is an open threat to an enriched cultural identity. Showing an attitude of superiority at the stake of own culture is nothing but ideological aggression and penetration of imperial states which receiving culture is engrossing blindly. People are passively absorbing the foreign culture under the tag of ‘freedom and democracy’ which sounds appealing but in actual sense is a threat in a disguise to any culture.
The identity or the cultural heritage of a nation can be coupled with the dress which we wear whether it dates back to Victorian times or this day. Dress has its own meaning, culturally and literally. Some anthropologists call it “Social Skin”. Clothes are means of expressing our individuality. When it comes to preserving and sustaining our individuality, we are notched up by the diversity. On the contrary, what are we doing?
We are following the tradition and culture of others while forgetting ourselves. In this way, we fail to remember what we are , overlook and disregard our roots. Women and girls are becoming the victims of such changes or (devaluing culture) as they have a natural tendency to adjusted easily with any external alien wave. She is by nature an accommodating being, and having a predisposition character soaks up and ‘dyes’ herself in each and every colour. She adopts uncultured values just for the sake of decorating herself instead of being natural. Fashion is actually the upper hand of making numberless dolls for their own benefits which leads to the commercialization of women. How pitiable is it to observe that a girl wearing makeup can’t even cry sometimes just for preserving the paint over her face?
The great post-colonial authors have made deliberate attempts of using words of their oriental language. In case of Kashmir, there is not any issue of cultural assimilation still it is under the threat of identity crisis. Is there any dominance on the people with which they are ashamed of their own culture? Although, they are not ready to accept any dominance in literal sense but still they are under an invisible dominance which is reflecting through their insecurity of following their own culture and values. People around us have become enemies of their culture and are promoting cultural genocide. It is pathetic to observe that culture is being used just for the purpose of politics and malicious fame only. Remember, we are discouraging and kidding with our language and cultural ethos. And, we have moved a long way in that direction. There are also deliberate attempts to snatch from us the very richness and abundance of our cultural and linguistic heritage, and we are a happy tool to it. We need to hug our culture and language again; else we will be strangers among our own children.

—The author is a Ph.D. Scholar and teaches English at Degree College Kishtwar. She can be reached at:sumaya2050@gmail.com.