The role of Islam in modern Europe is a subject of heated debate despite the fact that countries like Britain, FrancThe Trouble with Islam (1596-1949)
The role of Islam in modern Europe is a subject of heated debate despite the fact that countries like Britain, France and Holland have experienced centuries of exposure to the Muslim faith. Much of that experience was lost after the colonial empires evaporated, or had never much influenced the minds of the majority of people in the home country. Interestingly, some of the fiercest critics of Islam have a colonial background.
The Dutch experience started around 1600, lasted for 350 years, and concentrated on Islam as practiced on the south eastern fringe of the Indian Ocean, the "Muslim Mediterranean". Around 1600, Islam was still making inroads in this area.
The Dutch colonials brought perceptions about Islam with them from Europe. Scholars agree that the Western conception of Islam has hardly changed sice 1250 to 1350, and is mostly negative. Regarding the Dutch colonials, in they did not attack Islam, and often treated those who professed that religion with the necessary respect. They governed and traded in this atmosphere of tolerance but could not consider Islam as a definite partner in religiosis.
The author sees four main patterns in the Dutch attitude to (Southeast Asian) Islam. The earliest pattern is a mixture of caution, curiosity, selective admiration, and a clear distancing. When they came to Asia, the Dutch traders were in a weak position for negotiations and were often more shrewd and less biased than their successors. Although they disapproved of Islamic religious doctrines, their ideas had not yet become fixed. In the second pattern Muslims were judged on the basis of 17th century Dutch theology and Luther’s politically biased rejection of Islam and crusader ideals. Muslims were seen as detestable heretics, although opinions often did not correspond with actual Muslim practise. The third pattern came along with the settlement of colonial stations and fortifications. Islam was now seen as dynamite, the greatest danger to Europeans' security. Muslims were forbidden to participate in trade. After colonial rule had established itself, fear was no longer required, and a fourth pattern emerged, consisting of a feeling of superiority and a patronising attitude. The Dutch started to consider themselves as teachers, with secular ideas of development (education) and Christian missions. Islam was considered a backward and superstitious religion.
Travel accounts from the first voyages to the Indies (de Houtman, van Neck and later Valentijn) contained reasonably informative and objective accounts of Islam, in greater detail than descriptions of Hinduism from the same time. The descriptions of Islam built upon the substantial and easily accessible body of literature available in Europe. The Dutch had also been in contact with Muslims I'm the form of north African pirates (rather than Turks or Arabs during the Crusades). Knowledge of local Islam as practiced in Southeast Asia was not very profound however.
Back home, the theologian Gilbertus Voetius had various translations of the Koran to his disposal. In 1655 he called Islam the most formidable among the non-Christian religions. He was disappointed that Christians traded and made treaties with Muslims without caring too much about spreading the gospel. In his own treatise he explained the essence of Islam and possible remedies for the disease. He emphasised the differences in the concept of god. The Muslim heaven was too carnal to his taste, and the replacement of the Sabbath with the Dies Veneris made him think they venerated the goddess of love, just like the pagans. The Calvinist liked the prohibition of images, though. He happily quoted Averroes who could not imagine a people more absurd than the Catholics who ate their god. He considered Islam a lesser evil than Catholicism. At the same time his colleague Adrianus Relandus is recommended by many for the first fair account of Islam in a Western language.
A proponent of the third pattern was Jan Pieterszoon Coen. He held a low opinion of Ternate Muslims, as they did not have to keep there word to Christians. Pregnancies of VOC-staff were terminated, he claimed, and that was all the more reason for the settlement of large groups of Dutchmen in the Indies. Racism was absent in Coen's thinking (he praised the Christians from Ambon), as was conversion of Muslims. He respected all contracts to the letter. Some 1000 contracts with local rulers would be signed in 200 years. Depending on the balance of power, the VOC would be more or less lenient. The final clause was often an oath on the Bible and the Koran and "the parties by way of further communication drank water that was poured over krisses, which from since ancient times till now signifies a pact of the highest order." Non-Christian religious services were regularly forbidden, but at the same time a Muslim priest was paid for administering oaths in court cases, and Islamic family law applied to Muslims. The British interlude under Raffles showed a more conciliate attitude towards local rulers, but little interest towards Islam.
In the 19th century the fortress made way for the palace and the plantation. After 1850, the acquisition of territory became a key concern. After the abolition of forced farming, agricultural production was developed. Muslims were more and more seen as backward and teachable inhabitants of what was becoming a developing country. At the same time the spirit of Calvinism made way for the Enlightenment and Romanticism. The journalist and novelist P.A. Daum saw Islam as "an inferior religion that was by nature averse to development and progress", and Islam inevitably resulted in hypocrisy and lack of productivity. Still the bupati (native regents) were considered local religious leaders. The colonial government started to appoint Advisors for Native Affairs. Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, one of these advisors, advocated a segregation of mosque and state. He stressed the difference between Islamic ideals and political aims. Snouck also considered the Islamic system too rigid to adapt to a new age. Organisation and education on a religiously neutral basis would emancipate and liberate the Muslims from their religion. Education had to start with the upper classes and should be strongly oriented to the mother land, including a thorough training in the Dutch language.
In the Mission Phase, Islam was seen as a formidable opponent that should not be attacked, but should be curtailed. The book quotes among others the missionary Poensen, who stated that Islam could not satisfy the ultimate needs of the human soul, and found a lack of domestic life in it. During this period the colonial government supported missionary activities among the still pagan areas, also as a dam against Islam. Such activities were forbidden in strongly Islamic areas, and the Muslim's in the Volksraad, the parliament of sorts, managed to curtail financial support for Christians.
Looking at the issue from the Indonesian side, the image of the Dutch that emerges from most of their writing is varying from neutral to quite negative, which is often related to religious differences. This was not the only attitude however, as many cooperated with the Dutch, and conservative Muslims appreciated the freedom of religion that the colonial government offered. The early 20th century saw more people learning Dutch and mutual admiration among those who appreciated javanism or socialism. However, some of the native population also became aware of the negative opinion of Islam among the Dutch, and this caused friction. This happened at the same time as the modernist movement in the Middle East, that seems to have had little effect on Indonesia.
Even after decolonisation, separating the Christian and Muslim communities remained a policy to maintain harmony. This meant however the introduction of Islamic family law for Muslims (mixed marriages could no longer be administered) and growing difficulties for building churches in areas with large Muslim majorities. 50 years after independence, the period after Soeharto's turnover of power proofed how vulnerable the balance between Christians and Muslims can be.
I found the book quite good and balanced, but it is doubtful if the colonial experience is very helpful for understanding the current discussion in Europe. I am afraid I did not learn much beyond the no-brainer that the West's confidence in its relation with Islam is determined by its belief that it can determine its own destiny. Some of the arguments like Daum’s and Poensen’s are still made today. However, it is also clear is that the West’s take on Islam can be seen as expressions of philosophic tendencies of a time. Right now Europe does not want to be bothered by religion....more
Low City, Big City is a description of Tokyo during the period that Japan caught up with Western powers after centuriesCivilisation and Enlightenment
Low City, Big City is a description of Tokyo during the period that Japan caught up with Western powers after centuries of near isolation. The book does not contain much political, economic, intellectual or literary history, but seems more like an intellectual remembering what he read in the local newspaper. It covers Tokyo during the Meiji and Taishi emperors, and roughly matches a Chinese sexagenary cycle. The title refers to Yamanote as the High City of the intellectual and financial elite, and Shitamachi as the more dynamic Low City of merchants and artisans, and Mr. Seidensticker’s favourite. The book contains some copies of woodblock prints made during this period, depicting interesting, gay coloured scenes of Japan's transition.
At the end of the Tokugawa era in 1863, Edo was more like Washington than London or Paris. As a centre of government, it was not yet a great commercial centre. Edo’s economy was seriously affected by the fact that iIn 1862 Daimyo families were no longer required to live in Edo. Many left, and the population fell from over one million to half a million. With the name change to Tokyo (i.e. Eastern Capital), and the emperor's move from Kyoto to Tokyo, Tokyo started growing again, mainly by attracting people from Japan's northeast. Tokyo was a low rise city, with lots of open spaces, like a collection of villages, with transportation often on foot or by boot. Mr. Seidensticker quotes an attendant of General Grant during his visit to the city in 1879:
There is no special character to Tokio, no one trait to seize upon and remember, except that the aspect is that of repose
Earth quakes and fires were a regular feet of the city, and the city was rebuilt regularly, and almost completely after the great earth quake of 1923, that killed about 100,000 people in which was essentially still a wooden city.
With Japan opening up to the outside world, brick buildings are erected, and gas lights introduced. The first form of transportation on wheels is the rickshaw, a Tokyo original. They would later be replaced by horse-drawn buses, soon electric trams, and trains.
A cultural caesura happens in 1873 when the empress stops blackening her teeth. That year already a third of Tokyo men had cropped hair in the Western style. It doubled in 7 years. Many important changes occur in these years, including like driving on the left, reading from left to right, the introduction of beer, meat and dairy products, the appearance of the first Chinese restaurant, and the fad for rabbits with large floppy ears as pets. The 17th century dry goods store Mitsui (now known as Mitsukoshi) transforms itself into a department store, drawing crowds with culture and entertainment. It becomes a mandatory part of a tour of Tokyo for country folk. Its competitor Shirokiya brought shop girls as innovation. By 1923, two thirds of men wore Western dress in 1923, although women clung to traditional dress longer:
The relationship between tradition and change in japan has always been complicated by the fact that change itself is tradition.
According to Mr. Seidensticker, Tokyo has always been a fun city. Performances and festivals have always been central to Edo and Tokyo culture. Kabuki theatre, the tea ceremony, and elegant "pleasure quarters" of Yoshiwara were important manifestations of this culture. They were considered decadent by Tokugawa bureaucrats. However refined may have been the trappings of the theatre and of its twin the pleasure quarter, sex lay behind them, and worse, the purveying of sex. During the Meiji, the vulgarity is taken out of Kabuki theatre, and its image is consequently upgraded. It was accomplished with new theatres and the imperial family attending plays. Yose, vaudeville was the favourite form of theatre for the poor. The grounds of the larger shrines and temples were often pleasure centres also. The Asakusa Kannon was one vast and miscellaneous emporium for the performing arts. Sumo wrestling was also made acceptable by imperial viewing, and women were gradually allowed to attend this sport with religious significance. At the same time Yoshiwara decayed into prostitution, and tea houses started to operate as liaisons between geishas and wealthy merchants.
Nihombashi became a conservative area of town, whereas the Ginza with its main road of brick buildings became innovative and nouveau riche. Ginza was also the home of Seiko and Shiseido (by a pharmacist who first experimented with soap, toothpaste and ice cream). Earlier generations of rich Tokyoites had a Western building for receiving guests, but lived in more traditional premises themselves. Many shogunate estates gave way to public buildings.
The reign of Taisho saw the emergence of specialist schools and the office lady. During this era cars and motor cycles were introduced, as was asphalt in Ginza. Sanitation and sewage still primitively collected. In the 1920’s still only 20% of the mass was collected.
Farmers, in the days that they bought, were willing to pay more for sewage the higher the social level of the house. The upper-class product was richer in nutriment, apparently. So, apparently, was male excrement. In aristocratic mansions where the latrines were segregated by sex, male sewage was more highly valued than female. It seems that the female physique was more efficient....more