Issue XLIXa: Reconceptualizing East and West [a series]

13 Mar

When Sultan Mehmet captured Constantinople and ended a Western empire that lasted 1,123 years and 18 days, he walked into the desolate palace and found ruins.  The Byzantine Empire outlasted the Roman Empire for centuries, and it had now met its end by the Turkish Muslim king who began the Ottoman Empire.

As the sultan stepped into the Palace of the Emperors, he whispered these immortal lines in Persian:

The spider weaves the curtains in the palace of the Caesars; the owl calls the watches in the towers of Afrasiab.

Given the recent events in the Middle East, perhaps the West should feel as irrelevant and defeated as the old Byzantines.  History’s movers and shakers now populate the East and not the West.  For the first time in maybe centuries, events and ideas in the East inspire history in the West.

Madison, Wisconsin is a strange place to imagine would be where the globalization of ideas began to reverse its direction.  Cairo’s protests inspired massive resistance in Wisconsin.  Al Jazeera (which spread the seeds of revolution) received surprising praise for its substantial and serious news coverage (especially compared to American news) from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  The export of ideas and ideologies (or at least the credit for them) has flowed from West to East for decades if not centuries.  The current of ideas, backed up like the Aswan Dam, just burst through from East to West and (like the Nile) from the global South to North.  The West is stuck and in decline.  If it is to remain relevant, it needs to copy the best of the other side’s ideas.

The old ways of teaching history and conceiving of the world do not give us the appropriate language to speak intelligently about this new world.  Mehmet even changed the name of Constantinople to Istanbul so we may need a new map to this world as in his world.

How can we find this language?  Where do we begin?  How do we re-conceptualize East and West?  The following Bhatany Report series will seek to answer these questions and re-orient our Eurocentric understanding of the world.  First, we will challenge certain orthodoxies on the origins of ideas.  Then we will challenge the idea that increasing diversity in employment, politics, and power will increase a diversity of the mind.  And finally the Bhatany Report will explain how and why we can fix our own mental maps.

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