Arab News —
As I watched the “The Last Samurai” with Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe, I could not help but think of the lessons learned from the transition from old Japan to new.
Set during the late 1870s, the movie illustrates the struggle of the modernization of Japan, as the country evolved from a feudal to a modern, Western-style society. This struggle is illustrated by the decision of Japan’s emperor to abolish the traditional Samurai way of life.
The Samurai stood for many good things, such as honor, bravery, nobility and sacrifice. But they also believed that anything modern corrupts the spirit of Japan.
This led to a confrontation between old allies, the emperor and the Samurai. The Samurai rebellion is led by a proud warrior. The emperor hires a world-weary American war veteran, played by Tom Cruise, to train his army. The movie unfolds as the two warriors, whose cultures make them enemies but whose values make them comrades, are pitted first against one another and then side-by-side against the modern muskets of the emperor’s American-led army.
However, we all know that the emperor won the battle and this led to the modernization of Japan. Hollywood romance aside, what happened to Japan during the 20th century is nothing short of a miracle. During the first part of the century they became a military superpower in the Far East. They were feared by their neighbors for the ferocity and fearlessness of their soldiers. After World War II they became an economic superpower and equally feared and respected in the world for their economic might.
Some will argue that this was possible only because Japan abandoned its old ways and jumped on the bandwagon of the modern — Western — world. I don’t think so. I believe this was possible because Japan was able to draw on its historical strengths and retain the soul of its values and traditions. This is what made Japan special.
The Japanese were able to modernize their Samurai beliefs to fit the requirements of the modern world. When you think of corporate Japan and the Japanese workers today, one can’t help but think of competitiveness, pride, respect, honor, and commitment without fear to die rather then live dishonorably. Isn’t that what the Samurai stood for centuries ago?
Why were the Japanese able to change, adapt, and draw strength from their values, traditions, and heritage, and transform their ancient warriors into modern soldiers or corporate employees while we in the Arab world have failed to do the same?
The world is now telling us, based on the mistakes of a few, that the strengths of our past are our weakness and we are not fit for the modern world. The world is telling us that to be able to catch up and to have any hope of joining the industrial/information world, we must abandon some of our religious beliefs. Why is there this gross misinterpretation of our values and religion?
Perhaps the interpretation we ourselves provided a century ago of our values and beliefs was not sufficiently adaptable to guarantee their continuity while benefiting from what the world has to offer today. Instead, we have chosen to stagnate, to get into endless debates on side issues, to enjoy the modern consumables like kids in a candy store while simultaneously producing a narrow-minded, intolerant, militant type of Islam and exported it to every corner of the globe.
Perhaps the answer can be found in a book published by a Japanese Arabist, Nopoaki Notohara, who spent about 30 years living in the Arab world and wrote a book entitled “The Arabs.” In this book, the author, who seems to care a great deal about this part of the world, mentions some for the major differences between the Japanese and Arab minds.
He says that Japanese “add something new every day, while most Arabs just reminisce on facts discovered long time ago.” He also says the Arabs cannot comprehend how Japan was able to deal with the US after being bombarded with atomic bombs at the end of World War II. The Arabs, he says, “expect that Japan makes an everlasting enemy of the US until doomsday.” They are also at a loss to understand that Japan did a lot of “truthful” and “candid” soul-searching following their grave defeat, and were able to learn from their old mistakes. Also, the Japanese discovered early on that emotion alone does not make a future and that they must deal with their old enemies and make them allies for the benefit of Japan.
The writer concludes that the Arab mind cannot overcome its emotional, backward-looking thinking. This, I believe, limits our ability to adapt, change, and benefit from experiences, and is one of the reasons why we have not yet been able to transform from our old warriors, whose values were similar to those of the Samurais, into modern day warriors fit for this era.
Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate ourselves and learn from past mistakes, keeping the values that make us special while becoming adaptable, flexible, and letting the voice of reason and tolerance speak louder. That way we may gain the respect of the world through a deeper understanding of our own culture. In turn it will give future generations an improved chance of prosperity and growth.
We don’t have to search far: Just look at some Muslim countries that have become successful while keeping their values and traditions. I am thinking in particular of Malaysia and Dubai’s boom experience.
Perhaps most Arab countries missed the Industrial Revolution, but it is not too late to be a key player in the Information Revolution. We just need to member that emotion alone never makes a future.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Arabs Have Much to Learn From the Japanese
I promised a friend to post this article... it actually mirrors many of the thoughts that ran through my mind after watching that movie... a civilization rich in its past..poor in its present... stuggling to deal with modernity... hmm...sounds very familiar...
Posted by Firas at 10:33 AM