Is this the face of a revolutionary?

2778545264_0041a2a1c6_crLast week several news organizations reported on an event in Pakistan that would not be terribly remarkable in most other countries: a fashion show. It wasn’t the season’s trends in burqas; it was clothes you might see exhibited in Paris or New York. It got so much attention because the Taliban has been staging attacks uncomfortably near the show’s location, Karachi. Hence, the event was as much a show of defiance as it was of commerce.

It also reflected what seems to be a common theme in the drama of Muslim social change: the fashion show was supported by the young, urban “elites” while the fundamentalist opposition has its stronghold in the rural provinces of the country.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? During the contested presidential election in Iran a few months ago it was often stated that the protesters were largely the urban “elites” of Tehran while Ahmadinejad and the ruling mullahs had their strength in the rural populations.

I’ve also read news reports recently about how in India and China the movement of large numbers of young people from the farms to urban centers to work in factories, offices and services is disrupting the traditional family values and protocols by which the mating and dating behavior of young people — young women in particular — are controlled.

Closer to home we’ve had decades of cultural conflict between “traditional values” and the more amorphous lifestyles of city inhabitants. That rift too breaks down in the US between the more rural “red states” and more citified “blue states.”

My point is that cultures are being hammered by similar changes everywhere, and the drivers of change are mainly implacable, large-scale demographic and economic shifts. Many of the events that grab our attention and seem so critical are often just noise against the background panorama of historical change. I’m not a big believer that “great men” or a specific turn of events are all that significant.

It also gives me a little more detachment about what’s happening all around. Despite the noisy clashes of people, the big changes seem to have their own agenda.


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