Gilgit - Baltistan

Cultural values and post-modernism

By Farman Ali 

Globalization is now a reality of our daily lives, a topic that features regularly in academic discourse, a matter of concern and close watchfulness in the backward hilly societies. With the rapid revolution in information and communication technology, the world has shrunk to ‘the global village’. Human society, particularly mountain societies are faced with many challenges of what has come to be called as the post-modern world in which not only human living conditions are changing but long-cherished values and traditions are under stress of global trends. A kind of leveling of cultural differences is in process that is bringing a dull monotony in dress, food and living styles.

To traditional societies like ours, of greater concern is the moral issue as values change imperceptibly and the sharp border between good and bad dissipates and becomes fuzzy. Above all what worries most is possibility of the moral issue losing its relevance in social conduct. While cultures are blending and acquiring a kind of uniformity, the issues and challenges are numerous especially for our society where we have not yet developed the social and political awareness to be wary of where are emerging situations leading to. 

Our youths at their most adaptable period of life are at the crossroads of the cultural trends that through media exposure, fast travel and growing inter mingling of people from various parts of the globe dominate the current scenario. They are most vulnerable to such influences and since the future of society and continuation of traditions is dependent upon their way of life, it should be of urgent concern to all that they receive proper guidance in choosing and rejecting trends that are supportive or harmful to our valued traditions.

Ours is a cultural heritage having its distinct value systems and norms rooted in our past. It is not however that our culture is exclusivist or isolationist. We believe in respect for elders and brotherhood of mankind and so are open in our approach to others. But our identity is dear to us and we are keen to preserve it. For instance the influences flowing from the west present the picture of a society that is highly selfish and individualistic. In comparison we see the individual as part of the society.

Ours is a culture of social and filial responsibility. Parents look after their children till they become independent and form their own families. But in their old age it is the children who take care of all needs of their parents. Brothers feel responsible for their sisters and so on and so forth. This sense of filial responsibility is a dear value of our social existence. We cannot allow this hallowed tradition to be destroyed under any pretext of modernity or individualism.   

So the question is that of balancing between traditional culture and modern trends under the influence of globalization in the post-modern age. Progress has to be made and we have to march with the world. But this should not mean the dilution of our national personality which is of course nothing but the product of our values, how we think and behave and what our duties are as relatives and members of the society. We have to discuss these matters with the young people and know their thoughts about progress and change. Society is never static but the dynamics of change should have its parameters. But the best censors come from within that tell the youth what is to be accepted and what left alone. The youth will follow the elders if they see no hypocrisy or double standards in their lives and if they see them behave according to what they expect from the young.  The doors of progress and change cannot be shut on the youth but progress should not mean materialism and change should not mean the loss of our identity.

This writing also serves as the concept paper for second lecture by GECA.

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  1. Since being modern or traditional are long debated and controversial terms, I find it really difficult to brand some societies traditional and others modern and juxtaposing them against each other. This implies as if the modern societies are completely void of value systems and the traditional ones are all about good things. In fact that is not the case. Modernity is a process of change rather than a certain state or a static condition. It can be through evolution or revolution and can have negative or positive implications. Every society has been modern in its own respect.

    Why do we call ourselves traditional societies? Why do we simply adopt the terms defined by others and don’t try to develop our own perspectives on these notions. Ideally I would like to see my region to evolve in a thoughtfully calculated way which should lead us in a positive direction where we retain our own identities, values and traditions, where we learn from other cultures and societies what is not contradictory with the essence of our own religion and value system and where we are able to offer some thing valuable to others to learn from us.

    Why do we still call ourselves backward hilly societies? I think it is a very relative term and may not make any sense on its own. Yes the region still needs a lot of improvement from the economic point of view but is forward in other terms. To me backward are those societies where people are intellectually poor, don’t have the ability to tape into their potentials and the societies which are void of ethical and moral values. I don’t know why we love to portray our region as ‘backward’ which has a very rich cultural basis, has people with so much of potential and sensibility and has so many good things to offer to the other societies. Let’s feel confident about our heritage and tell others that yes we are open to welcome ideas that don’t hurt the essence of our cultural values but are sensible enough to say no to with any thing that may have negative implication for us.

    I would request our elders to give us the hope that we will be able to make our society much stronger and civilized in the true sense (not in the western sense) rather then just warning us that we are leading into a bleak future. Don’t only tell us that we are going to collide with something destructive, tell us the ways to avoid it and sail safely. We are lucky enough that we have always been being guided on each of these matters by a living Imam. What we need to do is reflect on the guidance, comprehend it and make it a part of our day-to-day lives. We have not only been verbally guided but practically enabled to hold on to what is good in our tradition and constantly conditioned to learn/accept what is desirable from other cultures/value systems.

    Yes we should start worrying if we don’t try to reflect and comprehend the guidance properly and live our lives accordingly. This laziness on our part will lead us to a destructive future ‘jahan hum na teen mein nay rahein gay na tera mein’. We will face massive identity crises.

    My apologies if I have been too picky about things.


  2. Thanks Farman Bhai to pick up an issue which we the youngster need to discuss and craft out a way to make lives and he society a satisfied one (we are but need more)
    We are in a society which is in the process of transition, transition in terms of social values, economics and trends. It is for some a condition of illusion,for some a hope,for some a threat to failure and turmoil and for some nothing because they do not reflect or bother to reflect about things and issues. Who is right? who is wrong?who to be believed in and who not to be so? these are the questions which are compelling us to share ideas and thoughts……………Irrationality and objectivity with some practical steps of unanimity can in my view act as a cure to any extent……
    we are talking about issues related to our society then we need to talk something real,some real exaples and so do the remedies. I gave my own examle time and gain about different issues. Here what seems to me is that am compelled due to situations to adopt some of the values which are not in my culture…..not adopting them can become a barrrier for my survival. if i am not going to adopt them then what is the alternate way .am living a compromised life.Studies and to further enhancement and cover the expenses doing a job…………definitely i have to crop out some thing to resolve the issue. we must accept this that there is a phenomenon of change. My personal opinion is that every one is independent and he/she spends life according to his/her own desire, So here it becomes quite difficult to make any one convinced to follow a framework defining our culture.


  3. Ms.Safina being at the student of Religion and philosophy it is amazing that you could not understand the difference between traditional society and modern society .The cultural and values are not subject to a particular area but they are subject to the behaviour of the people attached to that specific area or culture. Our younger generation are becoming part of the corporate society and living in metropolitan cities and indeed they are facing to adopt a new way of life and the danger are there to adopt new values and norms from other culture for example living as an isolated family and many others.

    To understand the real values of our society which are inherently ours we need to define the term “our values” as it self the term is perplexing the mind of youths and the intellectuals.

    Please have a look on the Tibetan culture and values and what measure they are taking to preserve that from the invasion of Chinese culture on their society as this is one of the real examples of “danger to culture and values” in the international media. Please comment we are facing the same danger as the Tibetans are facing?

    I will revert back to you after going through the culture of Tibet.

    Ali Sarwar

  4. ALi Sarwar your ideas are precious but as a younger brother i would request you to be unbiased and rational……Do you have that much knowledge which other person has ,,,, so please just share the ideas don’t be scrutinized and decisive,this is the beauty of Pamir times.
    thanks AMJAD ALI

  5. That is not criticism the person whom I refereeing is an inspiring and we remain much inclined to them for religious and social issues. Today there is much importance of critical thinking and solutions will come out of them too. We are much interested in creating a platform of civil society ingredients rather then garden of beauty. Indeed Pamir Times is playing a role of initiator for creating a healthy civil society in our region.

    Ali Sarwar

  6. Thanks everyone for sharing your views on the topic. Just a minor request, kindly remain focused at the issue being discussed rather than straying off.

    I would also like to share my two cents, just to push the multilogue (not-dialogue) forward 🙂

    FIRST: I agree with Safina Aapa because the epistemological connotations of the terms ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ are not soothing. I agree that branding some societies as ‘traditional’ and others as ‘modern’ can be problematic, seen in the context of the time line ‘position’ biases that are attached with the words ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’.

    The so – called traditional societies are considered to be less far from the zero (if we take history and development as a time line), compared to the so – called modern countries.

    Many consider the ‘old’, the traditional, to be ‘rotten’, non trendy, not worth it, and the ‘new’ – the modern, as ‘the cool’, thing. Definitely such people tend to go towards the superficial meanings implied by these words. The real debate, in my opinion, is different, altogether.

    Societies can be branded as ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’, have been branded, depending on certain parameters, which of course we have not set! Some of such parameters include the level of peace, prosperity, technological advancement, knowledge creation, innovation, advances in art and literature, exploration of the universe, mastery over natural resources, etc. I am not being judgmental about these parameters. Each of these has its pros and cons.

    Moving forward, if we seek guidance of the holy Quran on matters of superiority and inferiority we can see a clear distinction being made between those who ‘know’ and those who ‘don’t know’. I suppose the same would remain valid whether we talk about individuals or societies!

    Can the ‘knowledge’ that a society creates, the advances in technology that it initiates, the progress in the field of medicine, space, art, literature, philosophy, and other social sciences be made the basis of collective branding, as modern or traditional?

    To further elaborate the paragraph above let me pose the following questions. How many citizens of a country that is sending machines and human beings in the cosmos, for example, are completely aware of the space sciences and avionics? Or, in other words, just because Bill Gates invented the Microsoft shall we presume that the US, society or community (as a whole) is innovative and, thus, modern? This can be a point of further discussion and I hope that we will discuss it, further.

    SECOND: I think a distinction has to be made between the way commodities are branded ‘traditional’ or modern and the way the intangible (including value systems) are dealt.

    For example, I see rationality in forsaking a certain style of ‘old’ clothing, for a better (new) one. Similar stands true for food, for transportation, communication, housing, literary expressions and many others. But, as Farman Sahab has said, shall the filial relationships, the collective thoughts, considering the individual as the part and the society as the whole, also be abandoned in the name of progress?

    Some societies have done that; take for instance some countries in the “west”, including parts of the USA. Laissez faire capitalism, cherished by the admirers of Ayn Rand, and likes, in my reading, is a living example of such trends. We are fortunate to see the consequences of such radical transformations and learn lessons from them.

    Towards the end let me also put my feeling across that revivalism is not the way forward. It is the way backward.

  7. Ms Safina’s comment shows a confused state of mind. The concept has not been understood properly. Modernity is not a process. It is a state where society stands with respect to what is regarded as modern. The process is modernization. The terms modern or traditional are not controversial or debatable. We very well know what they mean or stand for. The difficulty arises when modernization is understood to mean westernization as the comment admits.

    Traditional is not a term someone outside has invented to describe our society. There are traditional groups even in the most advanced western societies with regard to how they look at religion, moral values, arts, music, family life etc. where people not only oppose civil liberty, liberal values, critical thinking but also reject the theory of evolution and believe in creationism. These people still like and vote for mindless, spineless and visionless leaders like George Bush and Ghazanfar Ali Khan, into power. The culture concept advocates change within established norms. It does not advocate remaining mired in a time warp.

    Again backwardness is a relative term and makes lots of sense not only in economic but also social terms. For instance in insisting on retaining harmful and inhuman customs, the society is showing signs of backwardness. There is no confusion about that.

    Can the young lady enlighten me how many writers, thinkers (critical thinkers), musicians painters, sculptors,designers and play-writes and performers we have produced we can boast of?

    Lastly the appeal to elders not to scare the youth is unwarranted. We cannot afford to be complacent and sing songs of self-praise to keep ourselves in a fools paradise. We have to be observant and keep a critical attitude and remain alert to harmful trends making way into the behaviour of our young people.

    Farman Ali
    Dawn, Islamabad

  8. Dear Framan Bhai,
    You think I am confused on the concept. Fine!
    You may think that these terms are not debatable! but to me yes they are. You may look at a painting differently and I may look at it in another way hence drawing different conclusions. This is the beauty of human mind.

    Terms don’t mean any thing on their own. We are the ones to attribute meaning and interpretation to them. My intention here is not to convince you on what I think about the terms. I respect your understanding of the discussed notions. Personally, I feel more comfortable in looking at a society through the lenses of progression, recession or stagnation in relative terms again. These trends may co-exist at a time in different spheres of life in a society. Yes we need to be careful about the indicators that we use to assess these trends.

    To be able to sustain, a plant has to remain deeply rooted. And to grow, it has to be provided with essential enabling environment. Both conditions are essential for the survival and growth. If we want to progress as what we are, we need to be deeply rooted in our own traditions so that we don’t lose ourselves in the flow of change and progression. Again we need to be careful about what we call our tradition!

    Just to bother you further, I would love to hear from you on few live examples of your understanding of modernity and traditional societies. Please quote some contexts!

    It is not the traditional or modern people who vote for mindless, spineless and visionless leaders, into power, rather these are the people who are not aware in the true sense. These people don’t have any intellectual thought process underpinned by the voice of conscience. Or they blindly follow the trends. To be able to come to a reasonable decision, a person’s faculties of intellect, emotions and spirit have to coordinate. Unfortunately, the absence of this kind of coordination leads to unwanted decisions/options. It is very rare that you will find an education system in the world that enables a human being to develop all these faculties and bring them into coordination for making a personal or a public decision or a choice. It is very rare to find a nation in the world with majority of its population having this kind of awareness.

    If we are able to educate our youth on the above grounds, they will be able to make wise decisions in any kind of crises whether it be personal or social, or it be a struggle between being traditional or modern as you have said.

    I believe that we have writers, thinkers (critical thinkers), musicians, painters, sculptors, designers and play-writes and performers that we have but are unknown to us as well as to the world. Even if we know them we don’t value them.

    Yes it is good to raise voices of concern over where the society is heading towards. We are over-diagnosed with the issues now . Lets suggest remedies. Give us the precautions!

    Yes Sarwer Bhai!
    I would love to have concrete examples from you on the difference between the modern and traditional.

    Best regards,

  9. Is modernity a Western concept, idea, process or reality? Anthony Giddens a noted Western social theorist in his book ‘The Consequences of Modernity’ makes it loud and clear that modernity is indeed a Western project. He asserts and jealously defends that modernity as we know it today came out of the intellectual, political and social struggles that took place in medieval Europe. French revolution, Napoleonic wars, the process of Renaissance, the whole episode of Enlightenment and a bitter struggle for religious reform consequently impacted the way European societies were politically and socially organised and governed. The notions of rationality, secularism and the concept of freedom of the individual are some of the building blocks of this whole process that has come to be known as modernity. Modernity turned out to be so successful that all societies around the globe today, weather traditional or whatever, simply want to emulate it. Some want an uncritical acceptance of modernity as happened under Kemal Attaturk in Turkey in the early part of the twentieth century. But there has been a serious backlash against modernity, as witnessed in post-revolutionary Iran, and elsewhere in the Muslim world. The double-edged sword of modernity is so powerful that Giddens in the above mentioned book proudly says that contemporary phase of globalisation is nothing but the universalisation of the values, institutional structures, and the philosophical outlook of modernity itself. We say modernity as a double-edged sword because it is inherently violent, and it gives ultimate and unfettered freedom to the individual thus tearing apart social cohesion and stability. The uncontrollable pursuit of self-interest gives rise to nothing but conflict and destruction. The violent and bloody 20th century that saw two great wars, subjugation of Asia and Africa, competition for power and resources in the cold-war are all in fact realities of modernity and dare we say ‘rational’ methods of pursuing individual interests. At the dawn of the 21st century in the so called age of globalisation the world is in fact mired in war and violence, besetting Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Georgia, and Kashmir on the one hand and violence in Africa and elsewhere.

    Modernity is western. While we recognise that it is a very broad concept with a lot of grey area for its diverse presentation but it is irresistible to reduce it to the notion of the individual as the ultimate goal. If modernity is all about a rational individual then tradition is about society, it is about custom, it is about continuity as opposed to rational departures. While the idea of rationality is deeply associated with modernity but it cannot be suggested that traditional societies are not rational at all. They are indeed rational but the practice of reason is always watched so as not to damage the social fabric. It is the community that is important rather than the other way round, as mildly hinted by Farman sahip in his paper above. I think here we should make it clear, it is not that traditional societies don’t merit or value individual initiative or particularity of human beings. In fact traditional societies are rather good breading grounds for heroism, and individual success but traditional societies may not necessarily uphold individual self-interest at the cost of the greater good of society.

    After sharpening the edges of the debate about the question of modernity and tradition, let us try and assess its relevance or irrelevance to our culture, identity, and social cohesion. First of all, there are compelling reasons to admit that our society in Hunza is a typically traditional society with a distinct set of values that sustained it for centuries. These values of brotherhood, of family, respect to the elders, co-operative behaviour in times of crisis and challenge, and filial responsibility as pointed out by Farman sahip, are indeed hallmarks of our civilisation that gives us comfort and also bestows us with a unique identity as to who we are. Here I am not suggesting that these are exclusively our own but I certainly say that these values have come to define us as Hunzukutz.

    Now the problem we are facing under the powerful assault of forces unleashed by modernity is a possible loss of a connection with our own heritage and the system of values that binds us together. More and more young people who have grown envious of Western culture by watching Hollywood movies, tasting McDonald burgers, wearing Jeans, drinking Cocacola, listening to rap music and simply imagining half-nude Western women think that they would certainly be better-off by simply and uncritically trying to follow the lead that comes from the West. I would submit that this tendency is dangerous and would simply wipe us out as a distinctly proud people. We will melt away and this process of melting will be quite tortures and possibly violent as well. How do we stop ourselves being dissolved in the great cauldron of modernity remains a critical question not only for us as Hunzukutz but it is the same challenge faced by other unique cultures and by great civilisations such as Islam, Confucius China, Shinto Japan and Bhuddist India at a broader level.

    The young generation in Hunza overwhelmingly gripped by whatever is foreign (apparently Westren) is not a healthy development. Some would argue as to whether it is possible to insulate ourselves from Western influences in this day and age of globalisation. Is it really a worthy idea to isolate ourselves from the great transformations taking place in technology, science, art, music and other trappings of modern life so as to save our ‘decadent’ old-fashioned and traditional way of life? What benefits we can accrue by following a path that completely shelters us from foreign influences. I think, here we should take a allot of caution. Without properly examining a thing before adopting is neither acceptable nor wise.

    It falls on the shoulders of our thought leaders who should help us appreciate the importance of what is universal. We should accept what comes to be universal but not at the cost of disappearance of our own selves. Universal awareness is a movement from the inside to the outside. It is not a cancellation of inwardness. It calls for an opening of windows, not a demolition of homes.

  10. Dear readers of PT,
    It is really an interesting discussion put forward by Farman Bhai. The current scenario seems to be more intricate, obscure and anomalous. Every one has his point of view which at some places touches the curve of reality and at some places deviates to a greater extent.
    We are the people who believe in social, ethical and moral values and can not disregard or deny this fact at any length. My point of view about our society is what Farman has already mentioned. We are having a traditional society and the transfer of norms and values from generation to generation has been there for centuries with some slight modifications from time to time.
    The recent changes in the external world which happen to be gigantic in their effects have greatly influenced the phenomenon of constant transfer. The smooth and steady transmission of values has been up to a greater extent hindered by the external interventions.
    We don’t need to get mushroomed with others and ultimately put to an end the very cherish able norms and values that were for granted and blessed upon us as a challenge by our ancestors. No doubt, no one is perfect and can not call ourselves as the ones having everything up to the mark but at the same time find many things that boost our moral and give us a driving force towards a prosperous future. We are enriched with many things that if practiced with the same notion can make us superior.
    We ought to cope up the challenges of the time and the rapid changes that happen to be mysterious for many ordinary people. But these should not be considered as ultimate rather should think as if there is anything else that could further build up our strengths and provide us with internal contentment and satisfaction.
    We are more tilted towards the material world and therefore place ourselves in the category of those who are in a transitional phase otherwise these changes should be normal and should not deject us being the believers of the divine authority who has blessed us with the capabilities of creativity, innovations and inventions. Indeed the ones who have made more efforts and have worked more diligently are leading the material world but I think this is not the ultimate and should not be ultimate.
    The calculated mind set developed as a result of material influences makes the life distasteful and selfish and the concept of balanced life dies at once. We need to develop a balanced life full of everything rather than full of one thing. The food, for instance if added with variety of flavors becomes more delicious and tasty and remains distasteful if is having a single flavor.
    We need to add all those ingredients to our life that really make it meaningful and balanced.
    I respect the valuable comments of all the readers and these ideas are not to suppress someone’s ideologies rather are to add to this stream of discussion.
    Aslam Ghalib

  11. I would like to add comparatively a new term ‘Multiple Modernities”. This term is gaining a widespread attention among the contemporary scholars, in the ongoing debate about modernity and traditions. The term Multiple Modernities is particularly famous among the postmodernists. Let’s think about Multiple Modernities and Traditions.

    In order to have a clear understanding of modernity it is important to keep in mind what do we mean by it. In the scholarship there are two points of views and both are contestable. One school of thought claims that Modernity is a Western Project, the other claims that Modernity is an unavoidable process in time and space anywhere in the world. The first school of thought believes on a single modernity that is Western Modernity (as a project) lateral school of thought talks about Multiple Modernities (as a process).

    I appreciate and value the input of Farman Bhai and Safina for their contributions. It would be much easier for readers if it is known for where does one stand when presenting their views, any of the above schools of thoughts or a third one. Because once it is clear regarding where does one stand it would make the feedback more effective.

    Abbas Ali (ISMC-AKU, London)

  12. Dear readers,
    I think its beauty of the notion “Modernity” that everyone can interprete it in different ways and that interpretation develop some time clarity and some time perplexity in mind. After analysis all the above comments I developed my own understanding regarding this notion which it to some extent in favor of Ms. Safina.
    As I think modernity is a process rather than a static condition because if we say that it is a static condition then for which tradition or space of time would we call modernity? If we examine the human life we will observe that it came across from different progression and on every stage there is modernity. Why I am saying that because our parents and grandparents also observed such changes in their time and they also called it modernity. Let’s say modernity is a static condition then in my perception there would be much modernity which Mr. Abbass also referred to the concept as called “Multi Modernities”. I do agree with Mr. Farman that Modernity is a state but question arise here that which condition we must call modernity. For example, in our area there are some turning points which changed our living stander and moved us towards new epoch. In 1948 we got freedom (it’s also debatable that we free or not), after 1960 new developmental projects has initiated by Aga Khan, 1974 President Zulfiqar Ali Butto demolished the Mir system. Here I observe three stages from which we came across.
    The point I am making here is that for which phase we shall call modernity. If we say that all those three stages were modernization (a process as Mr. Farman narrated it) where a point from where we moved towards modernity than it would be difficult to name one condition as modernity. If we say the time we are existing is modernity because we have advance technology and advance education then what about our coming generation. What they we call for this point of time? If they call their time period as modernity then what they we call our time period? So, it is too difficult to seat a time period and call it Modernity. In my perception it is a process because at every stage of life there is modernity. We can not fix it with any particular time period. If we did so then we will needed to bring other new notion for our coming generation.
    Modernity defined as static condition is western notion because they think the advancement of science which they have is modernity. But such advancements we observe in the past as well. Fatimid dynasty is a good example in front of us.
    Hameed Tajiki (GLT)

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