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Universalism, Global Apartheid, and Justice

Ali A. Mazrui in Dialogue with Fouad Kalouche



Multicultural background


Ali A. Mazrui
was born in Mombasa, Kenya. He is Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton.

external linkBiography
1 Kalouche: Could you tell us a bit about your own experience growing up in an intercultural environment and the influence of Philosophy and Religion, especially since your father was associated with leading the Islamic Enlightenment at the Swahili Coast.
2 Mazrui: I lived in a situation which I subsequently described as a »triple heritage« situation, one that is a convergence of three legacies in Mombasa: the Africanity, the influence of Islam, and the impact of the colonial West. As I was growing up, those three civilizations—African, Islamic, and Western—were constantly interacting in my everyday life, so I crossed civilizations several times a day. My father was Chief Qadi [highest Muslim judge] of Kenya and was constantly dealing with issues of the Shari'a and held classes in Islamic jurisprudence in the mosque. In addition, we received a lot of guests, some of whom spoke Arabic and others spoke Swahili, so this was the nature of my early years. At school, we were beginning to learn English. The British didn't plunge you directly into English from first grade; you took a couple of years before you are immersed in the English language as a medium of instruction. But before long, we were plunged into it and all this was part of my early experience in Mombasa.
3 Just one more word: Mombasa itself is quite an old city; it's virtually a thousand years old. And for centuries, it received sailing ships from the Gulf area, the Arabian Persian gulf, that are called dhows and these were coming in with the monsoon winds every year and leaving when the monsoon winds changed. That kind of trade was still going on when I was a child, so there was a special port, or harbor, which was for the sailing ships and there was a separate harbor for modern steam ships in another part of the city. So I grew up in what was very much a multi-cultural center and that profoundly influenced my own orientation towards taking culture seriously and taking cultures of diversity as a blessing and an asset.

Universalism: between religion and philosophy

»In general, traditions that are less strictly monotheistic tend to be less dichotomizing and allow for greater plurality and acceptance of diversity.« 4 Kalouche: In your writings, you are somewhat critical of the universalism of Western civilization, which you link to teleological assumptions that are religious in origin. How does Monotheism lead to »dichotomizing tendencies« and what are its social and political implications?
5 Mazrui: Because Monotheism is a doctrine of divine singularity and has a kind of divine monopoly, the religions that are linked with it tend to be »either/or« religions: you are either a Jew or not a Jew; you can't be both a Muslim and a Christian; and you can't be both a Jew and a Muslim, etc. So there is a very strong dichotomizing tendency and the Jews captured it with their division between Jews and Gentiles, while Muslims have a concept of unbeliever or kafir that operates, and Christians at one time had a notion of »Christendom« that indicated areas where the kingdom of Christ prevailed. Religions that are polytheistic are far less dichotomizing; you don't have to be either in this religion or out of it. You could in fact combine religions. Because I grew up in Africa I could see this very clearly: in general, the Islamic side or the Christian side disapproved of the mixture of religions.
6 On the other hand, many Africans combined their Islam or their Christianity with aspects of their indigenous religions. The indigenous side of their religion did not disapprove of the mixture. The mixture occurred anyhow but the Islamic or Christian side regarded it as sinful, whereas the indigenous African side regarded it as normal. You know, what's one additional god among friends, anyhow? So in general, traditions that are less strictly monotheistic tend to be less dichotomizing and allow for greater plurality and acceptance of diversity.
7 Kalouche: You also talk of the ethnocentrism of »progress« (both as ideology of development and as ideology of socialism) as you link Western and Judaeo-Christian teleological thought to the roots of religious and scientific universalism. Would you like to tell us more about that? Is the concept of teleology at issue or are you critiquing Western Civilization being itself the end-goal of universalism?
8 Mazrui: Probably a bit of both. There is a sense in which the West regards an interpretation of the »march of history« as having one destination and that is towards the evolution of institutions that are very Western. That tendency was initially very frank, it was just called »westernization,« and then people assumed that westernization was the route towards »modernization,« and now we have a related concept of »globalization«. All those three—westernization, modernization, and globalization—are interrelated and they assume a kind of a single direction of the march of history, with the final outcome being approximately what has been called by a westernized Japanese, Francis Fukayama, the »end of history«. So that the attainment of market-oriented Western-style democracy would be the final fulfillment of the human imagination in political and economic arrangements.
9 In general, it wasn't really a universal civilization but it would pretend universalism. So Western civilization became a pretense at being universal. You can even call it a kind of »universalized civilization« in the sense that I am westernized without being a Westerner, and you can have a universalized civilization which is not universal. So you're talking here about its distributions and its pretensions on the world scene. But the belief that history is moving in the direction of Western institutions has had enormous influence and has been reinforced by Western leadership in science and technology.
10 Kalouche: You have written the following: »The West as a role model or ideal society is ethnocentric; while the idea that all societies are evolving towards the same destination is universalist« and »the universalism of Western Civilization is one of the causes of its ethnocentrism«. Is there, or could there be, according to you, other forms of universalism that may have a better chance of being less ethnocentric and allow for genuine cultural pluralism, multi-ethnic identities, and more intercultural understanding?
11 Mazrui: Yes, there are other routes to genuine universalism. In one of his more persuasive essays, Samuel Huntington argued that Western civilization was not universal; it was unique. Now that is definitely a much more persuasive interpretation than either the argument from universalism or his other argument about a »clash of civilizations« which is debated for other reasons. In general, a genuine universal civilization would be one in which there would be much more balance in terms of contributions from other cultures into the global pool. I wrote a book in the 1970s called A World Federation of Cultures in which I envisaged a kind of a global federation not of states but of cultures. There would be cultures that would be the equivalent of the state level, and then there would be a federal level of culture which would be genuinely universal, and within that universal pool there would be an important contribution from different parts of the world—from China, from Africa, from India, etc.—instead of the present situation where what passes for universal civilization is really universalized Western civilization. So a really representative universal civilization would incorporate much more of the heritage of the different cultures of the world.

Economic versus human values

»I regard economy as consequence rather than as cause, you see. … I believe much more in the primacy of culture as the cause, out of which may develop different kinds of economies or may evolve different kinds of economic techniques or economic skills—within those societies.« 12 Kalouche: For some time now, economy has been accepted as permeating many aspects of human interaction but it is only of late that it has become an especially privileged field for ways of interpreting and understanding human life—and not only in political circles: meanings associated with terms such as recession, investments, free trade, or economic indicators are becoming familiar to millions of people as they are conveyed daily by the global and local media as well as by variety of other information networks. What is your assessment of this primordial role the economy plays in the way humans across the globe relate to the world and attempt to understand it? Is this a new mythology, religion, philosophy or something else? One could associate such a phenomenon with the victory of economic-based ideologies, particularly »free markets« ideologies, but do you believe that these take away from the importance of human »culture« or do they undermine human »value« as the cornerstone of human life (as Marxist or socialist ideologies implied in their own Eurocentric ways or as Aimé Césaire assessed in his Discourse on Colonialism)?
13 Mazrui: I regard economy as consequence rather than as cause, you see. So other things have to happen, and then you have economy imagined from it. I believe much more in the primacy of culture as the cause, out of which may develop different kinds of economies or may evolve different kinds of economic techniques or economic skills—within those societies. And some cultures are more productive than others, so I'm not saying that every culture is equally productive, because that would be nonsense. Some cultures are more stagnant than others but they are the cause of either stagnation or productivity and dynamism, and the economy becomes a consequence of that factor. Very often the cultures also decide what range of skills are sustained in a given society: some societies produce substantially more skilled human power than other cultures, and that has a lot to do with the precise configuration of the traditions of those countries.
14 Of course, there are alternative ways of interpreting reality which give economic factors much more causal power than I tend to do—because I see economy as consequence whereas most schools of Marxism would give economic forces much more causal power in the march of history than I give them. I have tended to say that, well, there are societies that have a lot of economic resources but didn't even know they were economic resources. Africa was rich with all sorts of minerals and it didn't even know it was rich in all sorts of minerals. Something was lacking. So, obviously, resources are not enough in determining whether the economy takes off on the basis of resources. Africans had a lot of highly intelligent people who didn't use their intelligence to tap either the minerals for production or the minerals for gems for exchange purposes, etc. It required a particular type of cultural orientation of acquisitiveness and accumulation, and a desire to possess, and the individual drive, and the achievement motive, and all these are really cultural dimensions rather than economic dimensions but they then have economic consequences as a result.
15 And some societies can make choices. It has always been a favorite illustration of mine that the Japanese asked themselves, from the Meiji restoration of 1868: »can we economically modernize without culturally westernizing?«, and the Japanese said »yes, we can do it« and they substantially did just that. They economically modernized without culturally westernizing, from the 1860s until they were defeated in the Second World War. The Turks and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk more or less asked themselves the same question: »can we economically modernize without culturally westernizing?« and they said »no, we cannot do that; we have to culturally westernize in order to economically modernize«. So the Atatürk revolution believed in changing Turkish culture entirely, because its leaders believed what was there was incapable of rising to modernization. They still didn't catch up with the Japanese. And then we came from Africa: »can we economically modernize without culturally westernizing?« we asked and we decided that we would culturally westernize without economically modernizing. So we became the third example, getting the worst of both worlds—for the time being at any rate, and I hope one of these days we come to our senses.

Global apartheid: from the cold war to after ›September 11‹

Ali A. Mazrui:
The Dream of Martin Luther King Jr and the Nightmare of September 11: From the Klan to the Qaeda.
Keynote Address at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast of the NAACP, Portland, Maine.
external linkArticle
16 Kalouche: In your description of »Global Apartheid« you depict a new world order where race and religion play an important role. According to texts you wrote in the early 1990s, Africans were the first economic victims and Muslims were the first military victims of this order. Do you see any possibilities of resisting or transforming this global apartheid?
17 Mazrui: The chances looked fairly bright that we would begin to resist until September 11. September 11 has redrawn the boundaries once again. We seemed to be making progress towards rallying the forces of solidarity among the underprivileged to confront both the racial aspects of global apartheid, which hurt especially black people, and the religious aspects of global apartheid, which hurt particularly Muslims. The effect of September 11 until now has been to aggravate the tensions against Muslims. So that side of global apartheid has become worse rather than better. But will that mean that the racial side—which hurt black people economically—will improve? Will there be more utilization by the West of greater resources for aid in Africa, for example, in order to make sure that al Qaeda and other militant Islamic organizations don't make any progress? It remains to be seen. At the moment, that's not happening. What is happening is greater pressure on African societies to scrutinize their own Muslim populations, with the considerable danger of African Muslims turning against African Christians and vice versa.
18 Kalouche: What about the debt crisis and the emergence of what some describe as a »new feudalism« on a global level, where the difference between rich and poor is growing exponentially?
19 Mazrui: That was definitely also a situation where things were getting a little better, in the sense that the West was coming to its senses that many of these debts were never going to be paid by poor countries. It's just a waste of everybody's time to have endless meetings: why not write them off and start again, etc. We were making considerable progress in that direction. Again, one major interruption was September 11. We don't know what the consequences of September 11 are going to be, because all this war on terrorism, which really is globalized by the US, brings enormous pressure on fragile governments and sometimes giving fragile governments an excuse to turn on their political opponents in the name of controlling the danger of terrorism. So in general, it has been a setback. I would like to believe the setback is temporary, but there is no doubt that there has been a major step backwards with regard to the debt crisis.
20 As to the international financial institutions, I think that the World Bank has taken a step forward on the other hand. It has become slightly more enlightened in its approach, by emphasizing reduction and alleviation of poverty much more than the old slogan of structural adjustment, and the new executive within the World Bank seems to be more progressive, by World Bank standards, than the previous executives. But we cannot be complacent and we don't know how long this would last.
21 Kalouche: With the end of the Cold War, can the thesis of the »development« of the Third World—or the poor people of the world—survive or do you see a cycle of interminable wars (as exemplified in the last ten years) necessary to undermining any possibility of seriously addressing issues of poverty and inequality?
22 Mazrui: The situation where one superpower is not as yet humble enough is definitely making things difficult about solving certain problems. Many of the more progressive policies of helping the poor before were policies that were pursued not for altruistic reasons but out of competition between the superpowers. One of the more positive consequences of the Cold War was that it made the superpowers pursue what Americans call »enlightened self-interest«: let's help these fragile economies lest they fall into the hands of the communists. These were wrong reasons for helping poor societies but, at least, they did make some contributions towards solving some of their problems. The trouble with the war on terrorism is that, unlike the Cold War—in some respects, the two wars are comparable—-it does not have a clear rival superpower. It is a war that is dominated by the United States and therefore it does not as yet generate the kind of motivation that could be defined as »enlightened self-interest« that influenced some of the gestures of the Cold War. So we haven't as yet benefited from this present stage of global conflict.

The primacy of culture

»One of the biggest complaints in my work is that power relations shifted in such a way that the West dominated the system and cultures as functions of communication became disproportionately under Western control.« 23 Kalouche: You have approached »culture« from a functional perspective: you defined it in relation to seven functions—that are quite broad. Culture, according to you, provides lenses of perception and cognition, motives for human behavior, criteria for evaluation, a basis for identity, a mode of communication, a basis for stratification, and a system of production and consumption. At this stage of your career, having written so much since you theorized about the seven functions of culture, has your approach to culture changed or would you add, revise, or amend anything to this approach?
24 Mazrui: One hopes that, at any rate, one enriches whatever paradigm one develops. There are times when one might revise such a paradigm, or totally abandon it, but I have no reason to abandon the commitment to the »primacy of culture« as an exploratory and an explanatory precondition for understanding society. That I believe in. Then the question of what are the different functions that culture plays: that is definitely one way of approaching culture in order to see what particular roles it plays in society. Again one could enrich what I have enumerated, and decide that there are other functions that could be added to it. But I suspect that the ones I have enumerated go a long way towards serving the purpose of enabling us to know how societies are motivated and moved by culture and how history marches across time in response to cultural imperatives.
25 Kalouche: How would you comment on cultural interaction or interaction between cultures? You have ventured to talk of the cultural foundations of power; would you have something to say about power relations between different cultures?
26 Mazrui: One of the biggest complaints in my work is that power relations shifted in such a way that the West dominated the system and cultures as functions of communication became disproportionately under Western control. So Western values and Western perspectives were transmitted to other societies in ways that were out of all proportion to their values. I have used repeatedly the statement that vices of the powerful acquire some of the prestige of power—so even Western vices, or what the West does that the West itself regards as sinful and bad become prestigious in other societies. This includes forms of alcohol, levels of dress, informalities, drug culture, relations between men and women, etc. So many of those are sometimes good contributions to other civilizations but much more often Western impact is negative on other civilizations. And that has had a consequence of erosion on those cultures.

African identity: the triple heritage and global Africa

Ali A. Mazrui:
Nkrumah's Legacy and Africa's Triple Heritage: The Shadow of Globalization and Counterterrorism.
Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Memorial Lectures.
University of Ghana, Legon, Accra.

First Lecture:
Nkrumahism and the Triple Heritage in the Shadow of Globalization.
external linkLecture

Second Lecture:
Nkrumahism and the Triple Heritage: in the Shadow of Counter-Terrorism.
external linkLecture

Third Lecture:
Nkrumahism and the Triple Heritage: out of the Shadows.
external linkLecture
27 Kalouche: You considered »Africanity« as being »the study of the human condition from an African perspective«. You describe it, in reference to Hegel, as a dialectical method seeking to negate the negation of the African people whose history is one of the most distorted of the world. If Africanity were the antithesis to the thesis of Eurocentrism, you ask whether Multiculturalism would be the synthesis—where »Multiculturalism« is a pluralistic method that aims at representing diverse cultures. Could you tell us a little more about this perspective?
28 Mazrui: I addressed the dialectic of ideas rather than the dialectic of economies. I placed it first with regard to Eurocentrism, which became the dominant distortion in the cultural arrangements of the world, and then with regard to Black people and African people trying to restore some semblance of dignity—from here evolved an Afrocentrism focusing on the achievements of Black people and arguing that the centrality of Africa in global affairs is a major component of the human experience.
29 Now if you take those two extremes, Eurocentrism evolving out of ultimate power and Afrocentrism evolving out of ultimate marginalization, you have the thesis-antithesis interaction. Then, my more optimistic assumption is that out of this interaction between the culture of ultimate power and the culture of ultimate marginalization will evolve a predisposition towards acceptance of diversity and multiculturalism. In reality, you would need more than just the clash between those two but, for analytical neatness, I put those two together and regarded multiculturalism as the synthesis.
30 Kalouche: Rejecting how Europeans defined Africa's identity, you contributed—following Nkrumah's Consciencism—to the reassessment of African identity in relation to the »triple heritage« (in stark contrast to Nyerere, for example, who defines Africans as united in relation to others, following the »us versus them« scheme as basis for identity). How do you see African identity evolving today?
31 Mazrui: The triple heritage is still operating but I also developed the concept of »Global Africa« so that you think of Africa and people of African ancestry scattered around the world as an evolving system and an evolving community—which will take time to become coherent but already a start has been made. Also in relation to that global concept, I developed the distinction between »Africans of the blood« and »Africans of the soil«. Africans of the blood, I define as people of Africa and of African ancestry who are black. Africans of the soil are people of the African continent who belong there; they are part of it—they are not immigrants—but they are not part of the Black races. By this I mean the fairer sectors of the Egyptian population, Algerians, Tunisians, or Moroccans. They are Africans of the soil whereas Ghanaians, Nigerians, or Zambians are Africans of the blood. But in reality, Africans of Sub-Saharan Africa are both of the blood and of the soil. African Americans are Africans of the blood but not of the soil. Arab Africans are Africans of the soil but not of the blood. So within this notion of a global Africa there are subunits of classification.
32 In relation to this classification, a few terms are beginning to make some headway among other people: the term African American is familiar enough but I coined the term »American Africans«. Now American Africans would be my type of Africans: they are African people who still have considerable roots in Africa. They may still have relatives in Africa; they may still speak an African language as well as English; they may still have an appetite for African cuisine that is natural from their upbringing; they probably still carry African names, etc. And within the United States, you have both populations: there is a much larger population of African Americans and you have a growing population of American Africans.
33 Then I raise the issue of whether American Africans ever become African Americans and the answer is they do. The first thing that happens is that after a generation or two our children or grandchildren begin to lose their language, the language they brought from Africa, which is a kind of a linguistic umbilical cord, and therefore their partial dis-africanization begins to take place. But at the same time, a formal greater integration with the American experience takes place and, over time, my children will be closer to being African Americans whereas I am closer to being American African.

Equality, freedom, and justice

Ali A. Mazrui:
Islamic and Western Values.
external linkArticle
34 Kalouche: You have positively assessed the impact on post-colonial Africa of Western philosophical theories interested in »equality« and that privilege »populism«. What do you think of equality and populism today? Both egalitarianism and populism are under attack: countries or leaders who even dare meddle with them have been recently the victims of campaigns orchestrated by the media: just to cite a few, Chavez and Venezuela, Castro and Cuba, Mugabe and Zimbabwe, and even Thaskin in Thailand. Their populism involves the glorification of the »ordinary individual« (that you attribute to Rousseau) that does not sit well with »liberal individualism« (that you attribute to Mill). Is the ordinary individual no longer viable in the age of the »global elite«? Are political theories based on »populism« and »egalitarianism« defunct in the age of »consumerism«?
35 Mazrui: The individual can never be completely unimportant because, after all, every human being has to be valued as a human being, otherwise we give elites, governments, and tyrannies too much power if we say that so and so is just an individual and that we can liquidate them. Secondly, we must create conditions in which individual initiative and individual genius can sometimes flower. It's true that great moments in history are the products of collective action but there are also great discoveries that are partly the product of great leaps of the imagination by individuals who are brought up in societies, in particular cultures, but who, nevertheless, are riding on the shoulders of giants before them. So you cannot rule out individuals completely. It is true that »individualism« as an ideology is substantially discredited and can be dangerous because it gives too much power to situations of unequal distribution. So we need »individuality« rather than individualism, individuality that is valued rather than individualism as an ideology of preeminence.
36 Then, I personally believe that some values are instrumental and others are fundamental. I belong to a school of thought that regards »justice« as the most fundamental of all values and that some other values, including freedom, equality, and populism are considered as instrumental towards justice. So you have freedom or you pursue equality not for their own sake but in order to realize greater justice in society. As for people like Robert Mugabe, for example, he was in pursuit of racial justice in Zimbabwe but he was not pursuing it in ways that use freedom as the means towards it. So the question is, was he using the best means towards justice? There are some means for the pursuit of justice that are better than others, and some of the ways in which he was handling the situation were unnecessarily sacrificial of the value of means. Means also have a value but it's just instrumental value rather than ultimate value.
37 Kalouche: In your early analyses, you approached the Cold War in terms of the opposition between the »freedom nexus« and the »equality nexus«. How would you describe freedom, equality, and especially justice in the post-Cold War era, and particularly nowadays?
38 Mazrui: In reality, the three worlds of the Cold War did not have justice as the center. The West had freedom as its central value. The socialist world had equality as its central value. The Third World had solidarity as its central value. None of them had justice as a central value. Occasionally they may use it in their rhetoric. But the powerful values at work in the West were liberty and freedom. The »workers of the world unite« is really and ultimately an egalitarian principle in unity and the quest for a classless society was also an egalitarian dream. The Third World was multi-ideological and the value keeping them together was solidarity and they tried to maintain that during the Cold War. But in general, I don't think the three worlds paid adequate attention to the pursuit of real justice.
39 Kalouche: Do you think this could happen soon?
40 Mazrui: Well, people of good will should continue to pursue it. So we should continue to put pressure on the elites, on policy makers, on educators, and at the local level, teacher's parents meetings, etc. There are all sorts of ways we can improve the chances of real justice in our existence.

Edmund Burke, tradition, and globalization


Edmund Burke
41 Kalouche: You have used Edmund Burke extensively especially when he associates a »nation« with an idea of continuity which extends in time as well as in number and in space, and where he highlights »common agreement« as the moral essence of a people whose power is only »power out of themselves«. Can this power be possible in today's age of globalization—to use a word you refer to often as describing the processes by which human beings are becoming more homogeneous at the global level as they are becoming more heterogeneous at the local level? Is »power out of themselves« a contradiction in terms today, since identities, including national and ethnic identities, are constantly being transformed by globalizing processes?
42 Mazrui: Globalization really has very paradoxical consequences: it has enlargement of scale on one side, especially of economic scale but it also promotes faster communication as the culture of communication reaches new rapidity, etc. But the same globalization has re-tribalizing consequences because people sometimes get bewildered by these new scales and they turn to the ancient certainties, and the ancient certainties are sometimes ethnic and tribal, which lead on to the collapse of societies like Yugoslavia, or the Soviet Union into smaller groups, or the collapse of Czechoslovakia, or major ethnic tensions in Africa. Also this re-tribalization can be »sacred«, that is, it can take the form of return to »sacred« values and to religion and to the pursuit of ultimate »sacred« symbols: so it could be Hindu militancy in India or Islamic militancy in the Middle East or it could be the attempt to forge Shari'a states in Africa, etc. Globalization has this paradoxical effect of both enlarging the economic scale of human arrangements and sometimes creating ethnic return, ethnic revivalism, or religious revivalism.
Steven Kreis:
Edmund Burke,
In: The History Guide.
external linkBiography

Andrew Webster:
Edmund Burke's Legacy.
A Tribute on the 200th Anniversary of his Death
external linkIntroduction
43 Kalouche: The compact between the living and the dead was as important to Burke, in your opinion, as it was to many Africans. Have the living forgotten the dead? From your perspective, what is left of such a »tradition« today, in Africa and elsewhere?
44 Mazrui: There is a sense in which the living have lost touch with the dead in many parts of the world, in the sense that there is inadequate attention to some of the older continuities—but not completely. The Cold War itself had globalizing consequences but people were less conscious of them because the world was still perceived in bipolar terms. So it took the end of bipolarity for people to become more conscious of the fact that they were really undergoing major forces of globalization. But the link with the past is by no means dead: it is alive and well, although it's not always alive in a healthy way because sometimes people clash over that issue. At any rate, there is no danger of total cultural amnesia.

Epistemology and sources of knowledge

»Both statements are correct: that the West as a system of knowledge today is triumphant but the West itself is built on foundations that are not entirely Western.« 45 Kalouche: Two major views about epistemology are reflected in your work: first, the view that Western Philosophy and Science destroyed or have been in the process of destroying (since the days of slavery, imperialism, and colonialism) structures of knowledge that are not Western, and second, the view that there is no epistemology that is properly Western since all forms of knowledge were developed by humanity and have inherited from each other and affected each other. How would you clarify these seemingly contradictory positions?
46 Mazrui: There's an element of truth in both. There is a sense in which the Western approach to knowledge has become dominant partly because educational systems have become patterned after the West and because the prestige of Western know-how has become globalized. We then learn from the West and our schools are structured in imitation of the West and knowledge itself is in the image of the West. Throughout Africa, I have repeatedly tried to get African universities to become less westernized than they are, and it has been a hard struggle to achieve that direction.
47 On the other hand, it is true that what the West knows is itself built on contributions of many other civilizations and that these other civilizations add to it across time. We do use numerals that, to the present day, we call Arabic numerals and the Arabs themselves responded with those numerals from Indian influence. The impact of the Greeks on the Arabs became a factor that, in turn, made the Arabs influence Western Europe through various dimensions. And the Chinese initiated knowledge and methods of knowing directions, including the use of the compass, as well as gun powder, etc. Some of these additions to human knowledge may be good and others not so good. Nevertheless, they are all part of the total sum of the human experience. So it is true that what passes for Western knowledge today was built on an accumulation of the expertise coming from many different civilizations. Both those statements are then correct: that the West as a system of knowledge today is triumphant but the West itself is built on foundations that are not entirely Western.
48 Kalouche: You constantly point to certain cultural forces that have somewhat become more dominant than others in shaping ways of relating to the world, and that may be affecting sources of knowledge. While in the past, religion, philosophy, and ideologies were prominent forces in these processes, do you consider the new media, including various information and communication networks as becoming the dominant sources of knowledge in today's world?
49 Mazrui: They are definitely transmitters. The issue of whether they are the medium or the message is to be debated, whether they are just transmitting what is available in terms of older traditions of religion, philosophy, ideology, ideas and discourse, or whether they themselves become, in addition, a message in their own right. And you could definitely argue that there is some truth in the MacLuhan argument, that the medium and the message have achieved greater fulfillment with the triumph of the computer and the internet in our own time.
50 And then some of the old ideas have died in schools or at least are in intensive care. So all the classes of philosophy that used to be much bigger, even when I was a student, have shrunk in size and other courses are much bigger. The biggest course today on this campus (Binghamton University, New York) is a course on »Terrorism and War«. Perhaps one day there was a time in the United States when the biggest course was on »Western Civilization from Aristotle to Jefferson«. If you had such a course today, you probably wouldn't get five hundred students enrolled—but for »terrorism and war« you do get five hundred students. So there has been a change in emphasis, which is striking, some of it is by no means healthy.
51 Kalouche: Do you see these transmitters as transmitting knowledge within an »inter-cultural«, a »mono-cultural«, or a »multi-cultural« environment?
52 Mazrui: Not intercultural. Intercultural assumes there is a lot of two-way traffic going on. I don't think there is enough of a two-way traffic going on. But multicultural, I would buy, in that it's now more than mono-cultural. It has become multicultural in the sense that different cultures are participating but not yet interacting with each other adequately. So cultures operate within cultures and only in a limited manner between cultures. But the final destination may be towards greater inter-cultural communication.
53 Kalouche: Thank you so much. Would you like to conclude by sharing with us what are your plans for the future?
54 Mazrui: You always dream, once you stop working as a university professor and become Emeritus or retired, of having time to catch up with all the reading you were not able to do and of writing, at last, that major philosophical book you thought one day you would produce. I have both dreams: to catch up with my reading and to write a major philosophical book when I retire.
polylog: Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 4 (2003).
Online: http://them.polylog.org/4/dma-en.htm
ISSN 1616-2943
© 2003 Authors & polylog e.V.


Ali A. Mazrui (*1933 in Mombasa, Kenya) is Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton. He is also Senior Scholar in Africana Studies and Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, and Professor at the University of Jos, Nigeria. He has authored over twenty books, including Cultural Forces in World Politics, The African Condition, and The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience (with Alamin M. Mazrui). His latest books, part of the African Canon Series published by Africa World Press, are entitled Africanity Redefined (2002) and Africa and Other Civilizations: Conquest and Counter-Conquest (2002). These books collect some of his major contributions to the fields of Africana Studies, Political Science, Sociology and Philosophy of Culture, as well as Social and Political thought. Mazrui is also the author of the critically acclaimed PBS/BBC television series The Africans: A Triple Heritage and its companion book.
Prof. Dr. Ali A. Mazrui
Binghamton University
Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS)
Binghamton, NY 13902-6000
external linkhttp://igcs.binghamton.edu/igcs_site/igcsdir.htm
Fouad Kalouche (*1966 in Beirut, Lebanon) is a Research Associate at the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton where he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture program. His dissertation was entitled Ethics of Destruction: the Path towards Multiplicity (2001). His areas of specialization include Social and Political Philosophy, Ethics, Philosophy of Culture, History of Philosophy, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Kalouche is a member of the research working group on waves of antisystemic movements at the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations, an executive board member of the Society for Social and Political Philosophy, and an editor of polylog.
Fouad Kalouche PhD
382 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14222
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