Sunday, July 16, 2006

Globalisation Is Not A Dirty Word

I've left the Kurds and their trousers behind me and made my way to the city of Hamedan, which used to be the ancient city of Ecbatana and another of Alexander's conquests during his campaigns. As befits such a historic place there are the prerequisite ruins (more walls), the mausoleum of Esther (from the bible, though it's ironic that such an important Jewish memorial is off limits to Israelis!) as well as various Achaemenid vestiges dotted around the countryside, most notably a frieze left by Darius at Bisotun in which he writes (at length) all the countries he has conquered, battles he has won, and asses he has kicked. It is particularly important because the inscriptions are written in 3 languages and was used to decipher the old cuneiform scripts (much like the Rosetta Stone was used for Egyptian hieroglyphs). The site would be more impressive if old Darius hadn't decided to place the carvings 100m up a sheer rock face so that we could see them better.

Hamedan itself is a bustling city with a pleasant climate at this time of the year (compared to most of the rest of the country) due to its relatively high altitude. If you spend any time in Hamedan you cannot ignore Hamedan's most famous citizen, Abū Alī al-Husayn ibn Abd Allāh ibn Sīnā, or just Bu Ali Sina for short (so that his name can fit onto street signs). Most people in the West know him by his latinised name Avicenna. The Islamic world's very own da Vinci Ali Sina, who lived during the 11th century, wrote books on theology, philosophy, mathematics and logic, though he is most well known for his book The Cannon of Medicine, which, once the Europeans had finally left the Dark Ages, was used as the authoritative medical textbook well into the 17th century and is known as the "Father of Medicine". Which leads me onto today's rant about anti-globalisation.

OK, that might be a leap of reasoning too far. The reasoning behind it is that globalisation, a horribly vague term that is used so often in the media that everybody assumes they know what it means but aren't really sure when asked directly, is the spreading of not just economic principles, but also culture and ideas across borders. And it isn't a new phenomenon. For most of history the traffic has mostly been one-way: from east to west. Paper, gunpowder, the decimal numeral system and every world religion, to name but a few, are all Asian inventions. It wasn't until the industrial revolution that the flow reversed. So when people claim about modern "western medicine" being forced upon people instead of using traditional "eastern medicine" they fail to realise that modern medicine is "eastern". And perhaps many of the aspects of the western cultural hegemony that are being decried are gaining ground, not because of some vast conspiracy, but because they are truly popular and they appeal to people. It's just that I've come across quite a few travellers who reject everything Western as being intrinsically bad and everything Eastern as good. Though I blame the perversion of the word globalisation on the media who have tried to find an easily-recognisable term for a band of disparate pressure groups whose only thing in common is their dissatisfaction with an aspect of today's society/economy and so they call them "anti-globalisation" activists (instead of "anti-farm subsidies" or "anti-free market trade", which, admittedly, is more of a mouthful). But without globalisation I wouldn't be able to write this blog (no internet), be able to travel, talk to people from diverse backgrounds about world politics, or do pretty much any of the things I like. So, although there are a lot of things wrong with the world today, the fact that people around the world have more in common and are able to understand each other slightly better is not one of them. Perhaps we need more globalisation?

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