What is Civilization?

  1. Did civilization progressed from savagery to barbarism to civilization?
  2. Is civilization a process by which nature is ‘recrafted by the civilising impulse?
  3. Does civilization have universal values or it is limited by geographic boundaries? 

A book review by Kenan Malik on ” Civilizations” written by historian, Felipe Fernández-Armesto.

‘It can now be asserted upon convincing evidence that savagery preceded barbarism in all the tribes of mankind, as barbarism is known to have preceded civilization.’ So wrote Victorian anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan in his 1877 classic Ancient Societies. According to Morgan, savagery, barbarism and civilization ‘are connected with each other in a natural as well as a necessary sequence of progress.’

The idea of history as progressing in a series of natural stages from savagery to civilization is a very Victorian notion, testament to the values of a bygone era. Ours is an age deeply skeptical both of the idea of historical progress and of the capacity of humans to be civilized. No one articulates better such skepticism than the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto. The notion of ‘civilization’, he points out, is often a self-serving one, defining as ‘civilized’ the culture to which one belongs. This was particularly the case with nineteenth century European ideas of civilization, rooted in racial theory, which saw Europe at the summit of historical development, and the rest of the world as savage or barbarian. For Fernández-Armesto the idea of a progressive history is ‘repugnant’. History, he suggests, ‘lurches between random crises, with no direction or pattern, no predictable end’. It is ‘a genuinely chaotic system’.

But if Fernández-Armesto dismisses the Victorian concept of civilization, he doesn’t reject the idea altogether. Rather than describing civilization in terms of human progress, however, he describes it as a relationship between human beings and their natural environment. Civilization is the process by which nature is ‘recrafted by the civilising impulse, to meet human demands.’ In this sense every society is civilized, because every society is faced with a constant battle with nature. Certain societies, Fernández-Armesto believes, are more civilized than others, but only because they ‘more strenuously challenge nature’. This does not mean, as the Victorians thought, that such societies are in any way ‘better’. Indeed, according to Fernández-Armesto, civilization is often ‘irrational’ because in measurable ways such as ‘the durability of the way of life or the levels of nutrition or standards of health’, more civilized societies are often worse than less civilized ones.

Armed with this definition, Fernández-Armesto takes us on global tour.

Read full review


Posted by F. Sheikh


“Dharnas vs Democracy” By Fatima Tassadiq

(It is a worth reading article by Fatima Tassadiq who is currently completing a Master’s degree in Anthropology at Columbia University. The clarity of her arguments are very impressive. F. Sheikh )

In May 2013, I, along with many other Pakistanis weary of a system steeped in corruption, bribery and dynastic politics supported Imran Khan’s bid to power through the general elections.

I was deeply critical of his stance on the Taliban, the War on Terror and absence of a clear political ideology but nevertheless felt that his financial incorruptibility and integrity would be a welcome change from the clientelist politics of the PPP and PML-N.

I wasn’t naïve enough to think that Imran would win by a clear majority, because his appeal was largely restricted to upwardly mobile urban middle and upper classes, as evidenced by a report by Gallup Pakistan.

It was also highly unlikely that the PPP’s and PML-N’s historic stronghold over Sindh and Punjab respectively, would be destroyed in the course of a single election. This view was confirmed by opinion polls and surveys prior to the elections.

Also read: Open letter to Imran Khan, from a PTI voter

Nevertheless, I hoped that Imran would emerge strong enough to form part of a national coalition.

That didn’t happen.

I was disappointed but not entirely surprised and after making a series of embarrassingly elitist comments regarding the ‘illiterate masses’ I moved on.

That is how democracy works.

In a system of one person one vote, all opinions count equally – even if some of them are loud enough to dominate the public space through dharnas, while others quietly follow old political affiliations. In a democracy we have to be open to the possibility that the politicians we think are ill-suited for leadership may get elected, and we must respect the mandate of the people if democracy is to flourish.

It is the latter aspect of democracy that is, I believe, apparently difficult for many PTI followers to digest, with most translating any critique of Imran Khan’s tactics as support for corrupt veteran politicians.

The situation deteriorated with the PMl-N’s refusal to implement timely electoral reforms, address electoral irregularities, not to mention, the horrifying Model Town massacre that gave an undemocratic opportunist like Tahirul Qadri a place on the negotiation table.

But the Azaadi March and PTI’s single-minded pursuit of Nawaz Sharif’s resignation has lost many people with its convoluted ‘logic’.

The claim that PML-N’s victory was engineered through massive rigging has not been corroborated by independent sources like the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), the EU Elections Observer Mission and the National Democratic Institute.

Undoubtedly, there were irregularities and causes for concern. But electoral law violations do not automatically translate to rigging at the scale needed to manufacture a landslide victory.

There is no ground for demanding a resignation in the absence of any judicial opinions or evidence from non-partisan experts. The PTI is trying to set a dangerous precedent by insisting that elected governments can be declared illegitimate and toppled on the basis of street power. Read Full article by clicking link below;



Tutu to Israelis: Free yourselves

From: Ricken Patel – Avaaz.org <avaaz@avaaz.org>
Date: Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 4:13 PM
Subject: Tutu to Israelis: Free yourselves
To: nasikelahi

Dear friends,

This is the first time an opinion piece has gone out to our community, but this one’s historic.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has just published a powerful call to conscience in an Israeli newspaper. In it, the Nobel Laureate and anti-apartheid legend stands with 1.7 million of us in calling on companies to boycott and divest from the Israeli occupation and repression of Palestine. His love shines through, as he urges Israelis (87% of whom supported the Gaza bombing) to liberate *themselves* from this terrible status quo. It’s a must-read:

His Op-Ed is here (free registration may be needed, or try this other link).

The piece is exclusively published in an Israeli newspaper, but it’s a powerful legitimizer of what some governments still see as a controversial position, and the rest of the world needs to see it. The only way that will happen is through people sharing it. Let’s share it with everyone!

This campaign is gathering real pace. Russell Brand has recorded this video backing our campaign, and the companies we’re targeting are starting to reach out to the Avaaz team and ask for meetings. Avaazers in the UK are campaigning to end arms sales to Israel as the government there initiates a review. And shockingly, even the US government cancelled a shipment of hellfire missiles to Israel!

The pressure is working – so let’s keep it up! If you haven’t yet, sign the petition here. Or click here to keep sending messages to our target companies. Let’s make sure they don’t think they can ride this out. And if you have a local campaign you could start to ensure that your town, or university, or community divests from the repression of Palestinians, start your own campaign here.

It’s a tremendous thing for us to once again stand alongside Archbishop Tutu – one of our truly great non-violent leaders. Because in a world torn apart by extremists who successfully demonise the ‘other’, non-violent strength is transformative – the strength to be firm, even tough, in standing up for justice, but out of a love for all people that refuses to fall victim to the fear and ignorance that is our universal enemy. A love that recognises that all our fates, and freedom, are intertwined. That’s the precious spirit that our greatest leaders, from Gandhi to Tutu, have taught us, and that our community strives to live up to with each and every campaign.

With hope,

Ricken, Alex, Fadi, Jeremy, Ana Sofia, Ari and the rest of the Avaaz team

PS – This campaign is about creating the conditions for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, and safe homes for Jews and Palestinians alike. Both anti-semitism and racism against Palestinians, like all hatred, are grotesque and should be fought. At the end of day, it is extremists on both sides that work together to threaten a peaceful future, and our work is to bring reasonable people together from all sides to take the action needed to save both Israel and Palestine. If anyone feels this campaign is one-sided, please check the Avaaz team’s response and explanation here.

Avaaz.org is a 38-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making. (“Avaaz” means “voice” or “song” in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 18 countries on 6 continents and operates in 17 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz’s biggest campaigns here, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

To ensure that Avaaz messages reach your inbox, please add avaaz@avaaz.org to your address book. To change your email address, language settings, or other personal information, contact us, or simply go here to unsubscribe.

To contact Avaaz, please do not reply to this email. Instead, write to us at www.avaaz.org/en/contact or call us at +1-888-922-8229 (US).

Note from Nasik Elahi:

Bishop Tutu has directed his remarks to the Israelis in an Israeli newspaper but his remarkably ethical statements carry the same import for all countries, particularly in the Islamic world.