Discussion Paper No.3
Our course this semester, covering the
last 500 years or world history, helped me understand the major dynamic of the
world over that period: the individual versus the collective. In fact, this
dynamic is still in place today, and will likely be for the next half
millennium. Around the globe, individuals seek freedom and a future of their
own construction, while the collective seeks a society wherein all are equally
important. The individual speaks of personal freedoms and rights; the
collective speaks of personal sacrifice for the whole. Turkey displays this
struggle well. The Muslim citizens of this secular nation are debating the possible
election of a Muslim president. The majority of Turks do not want an Islamic
state. Another example is the women of Saudi Arabia, who have virtually no
rights but serve the purpose of bearing more children for the men and the
entire nation. In the United States, globalization is forcing citizens to
decide whether to support their own jobs in the U.S. or an overseas company
that does not pay its workers a living wage but gives us cheap prices. In many forms
around the globe, people are facing a centuries-old battle between the haves
and have-nots, the upper and lower classes, the religious and the secular, the
landed and the landless, the individual and the collective.
The Russian revolution of 1917
represents one of the best attempts to turn the individual into the collective.
Vladimir Lenin tried to make individuals equal and free (in theory at least) by
working together so that “the state…ceases to exist.”
Of course, Lenin’s method for such cohesion was Communism, wherein the
“dictatorship of the proletariat (workers) imposes a series of restrictions…to
free humanity from wage slavery.”
Lenin was tired of a “democracy for the minority” in which the poor, who worked
slavishly for the wealthy, were pushed aside and treated unequally. His
communism later morphed into socialism under Joseph Stalin after World War II. However,
Stalin only pushed the individual aside once again.
In the years since the breakup of the
Soviet Union, the individual has seen some opportunity to express himself
socially and politically. However, democracy in Russia today runs much like the
former Soviet Union. The government quiets many political parties, which do not
get television time to reach a mass audience. Some opponents to President Putin
and his policies are arrested and jailed. In this sense, both the individual
and the collective lose. The individuals do not have real democracy and the
collective loses the respect of the individual.
Iranian women also represent
individuals who lost rights to the collective. Under the Pahlavi rulers of Iran
women were able to obtain an education, wear western-style clothing, and
abandon the headscarf most Muslim women are obliged to wear. After deposing the
Shah in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini took over and reinstated Islamist principles. For
women this meant a return to headscarves and a backseat to men. Individual
freedoms were suppressed in favor of the community and its religion.
There are also examples of a
collective being returned to individuals. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela came
out of prison to lead the majority blacks to power after a century of white
supremacist rule. Mandela not only helped bring blacks out of their enslavement
to whites, but also gave everyone the opportunity of freedom. He held his
belief of social harmony his entire life, and demonstrated it clearly during
his trial for treason in 1963, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and
free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal
opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if
needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Another example of gaining individual
freedom is found in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Although not signed by all nations, this document helped create a global shift
toward assuring rights for all people. Article 1 of the declaration states, “All
human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed
with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of
The final article in the declaration forbids any state, group, or person from
violating or destroying any of the rights outlined. However, the real issue
with this declaration is that some nations do not always hold the vision of the
United Nations with high regard, and so choose to look the other way when
In no place is the disregard of the UN
declaration more evident than in Israel. In a country where the land is shared
by two vastly different cultures, the governing body of both groups seek the
capitulation of the other for their self-proclaimed right to their land. The
groups are Jews and Muslims. The land is divided in such a way as to give the
appearance of the upper hand to the Jews, while making the Arab Muslims feel
like foreigners in their own country. Of course, Israel, as it is today, was
created in 1948, not won through the spoils of war.
Thomas L. Friedman, a New York Times
columnist, wrote about a Jewish reporter who went undercover as an Arab in
Israel to get a feel for how Israelis treat Arabs. The reporter described his
daily life as follows, “The passersby stare at me like at a walking bomb.” He
also said he realized his place on the social ladder was at the bottom without
even talking to people. The man even had to pretend to be a “guest from Jordan”
to get into a nightclub. What Friedman brings to light is that fact that there
is no trust in Israel between the Israelis and the Arabs. In Israel, the
individual loses rights and freedoms to the collective government actions taken
by the opposing group.
At the other end of the
equality spectrum lies Turkey, a country that at once has a Muslim majority, a
secular government, and a desire for inclusion in a community of western
governments. This seemingly unusual combination got its start in the 1920’s
when Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk, became president of the republic after
receiving recognition of statehood by the Allied powers in the Treaty of
Lausanne. Ataturk “instituted an ambitious program of modernization that
emphasized economic development and secularism.” This policy of secularism
“dictated the complete separation between the existing Muslim religious
establishment and the state.”
Women, previously held in a slave-like servitude to men, were now emancipated
and able to vote. Western-style clothes were allowed, as was the use of the
Roman alphabet and Hindu-Arabic numerals.
The Turkish secular nation
has survived, although tenuously at times, up to today. The current Turkish
government, led by Prime Minister Erdogan, is proposing a new candidate for
president who is Muslim. The office of President would be the strongest
political office for Muslims to hold and would bring the potential for a change
from being a secular country to an Islamist state. The majority of Turks prefer
to be secular, according to recent polls, and see the return to Islamist
government as a step back.
reporting for the New York Times, says, “One of the problems for the
secularists is that the elite never fully redefined the legacy of Mustafa Kemal
Attaturk.” Tavernise continues, “The main secular political party, the Republic
People’s Party, lacks agile leaders who can articulate a unifying vision for
the diverse secular groups.”
Secularists worry that a move toward a Muslim state could be a move toward
radicalism. However, many devout Muslims own businesses and are better off now
than they were before. Now they value stability in society, in addition to
their religious concerns.
The debate is still open, but for now, Turkey is a good example of retaining
individual rights while the collective grows more meaningful in a dynamic and
increasingly modern state. Perhaps the European Union could learn from Turkey
after admitting them to the union.
Jerry Bentley and Herb Ziegler. Traditions
& Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, Vol. II: From 1500 to the
Present, 3 rd ed.
(New York: McGraw Hill, 2006), 964.
Bentley and Ziegler, 964.
Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield, eds. The Human Record: Sources of Global History, Vol. II: Since 1500. 4 th
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 503-505.
Andrea and Overfield, The Human Record…,
Kevin Reilly, ed. Readings in World
Civilizations, Vol. II
. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), 342.
Bentley and Ziegler, 1105.
Kevin Reilly, ed. Readings…
Bentley and Ziegler, 969.
Sabrina Tavernise. “In Turkey, Fear and Discomfort About Religious Lifestyle.” New York Times
, 30 April 2007, sec. A,
Sabrina Tavernise. “In Turkey….” New York