Now, sitting in Vermont, where we seem to get Beirut's annual
rainfall each week, trying to distill from the turbulent five past years
some order or clarity of the experience, the passion drains from the
argument. Why not be
content with a good solid professional program in agriculture,
population, education and economic planning and management?
That is what the receptive governments in the Middle East want
and expect from the Foundation. That
is what the New York office urges. That is what the Foundation's staff and experience offer the
professional competence to do.
Why agonize over the beliefs and the values of another culture,
the pervasive impact of modern technology on traditional institutions,
the attitudes towards life and work instilled in early childhood?
Why, in short, did we become so involved in the culture of the
region in the process of formulating the Foundation's Middle East
program when it appeared that both Arabs and Officers would have been
more comfortable if we had not? This paper attempts to examine the powerful influence of
culture on Middle Eastern development, and hence on our development
Ever since the Point Four program proved so disappointing a
sequel to the Marshall Plan, development agencies have sought to find
out what, in addition to capital, is needed to stimulate societies to
self-sustained growth. Obviously,
people in less developed countries were unable to make as effective use
of capital assistance as the Europeans because they had not been
adequately trained and they lacked modern institutions. Foreign aid programs have consequently focused for the last two
decades on building "human capital" and institutions.
Despite the general lament that insufficient resources are
devoted to development assistance programs, I think it is fair to say
treat the results from the amounts now spent are still disappointing. There are national success stories like Korea and Taiwan, which
seem to suggest that if the foreign assistance is massive, remarkable
growth can be achieved. Or
perhaps, when Singapore and Hong Kong are added to the list of
successes, the conclusion may be that if money is abundant and the
population is Chinese, rapid development is possible.
But overall, the national and international development efforts
since the Marshall Plan have failed to the extent that many now doubt
their eventual success. Population growth and natural resource depletion may outrun
the ability of societies to control their destinies. It is possible that a greater foreign aid effort by the
developed and oil-rich countries would turn the tide, but we should at
least consider the possibility that foreign aid strategy is mistakenly
allocating the present effort. We
may be devoting too much attention to training elites and not enough to
changing the attitudes, values and abilities of the masses.
Western strategy of fostering modern institutions and training local
people to operate them has been able to reach relatively few people. Often the chosen few have become alienated from their own
societies by their advanced training. As a result, many intellectuals seek employment in advanced
countries or find ways to insulate themselves and their families from
the masses of their own people at home. Other familiar problems include the growth of inappropriate
institutions, the use of inappropriate technology and a host of
anomalies, inequities and absurdities readily observable in the
process of elite development has gone too far in most countries to be
reversed, even if assistance agencies changed their objectives. Perhaps the creation of elites was a necessary part of
decolonization. In any
case, they do exist in most developing countries. The problem now is their tendency to isolate and entrench
themselves and their families. For
foreign assistance agencies, the problem becomes one of ensuring that
the chief beneficiaries of their programs are the masses and not merely
While this is familiar rhetoric in
foreign assistance circles these days, the program implications of it
are less clear. Having
defined program objectives in terms of mass impact, or helping the
poorest of the poor, it is not obvious how this is to be done without
encountering a dilemma. Many
programs with the objective of aiding the poor have inadvertently
resulted in the creation of institutions that in effect foster and
maintain new elites. Universities
are conspicuous examples in most countries, as are hospitals and even
agricultural research programs. (Probably the most revolutionary element of the Green
Revolution was the focusing on farmer output as the measure of success
rather than scholarly publication by the researchers.)
It seems to me that the most effective
way to avoid this dilemma is to begin by analyzing the services needed
at the local level, and then design an institution or program to meet
the need. Imported
methodology or technology will generally be required, but it can be
selected and adapted effectively only if the local problems are well
understood and accurately diagnosed.
This of course requires an
understanding of the culture as well as knowledge of technological or
methodological alternatives. This
is one argument for greater cultural sensitivity on the part of
development assistance agencies. An
understanding of the culture is needed to ensure that assistance reaches
the people and meets real needs.
The second reason, which emerges by implication from the
discussion above, is that cultures themselves contain elements that
inhibit modernization. Examples
include the following:
languages that lack technical terminology, retain archaic syntax, or
superstitions concerning causes of weather, crop performance, disease;
attitudes towards time, work, leisure;
patterns of interpersonal relations that inhibit mobility and contain
rigid class boundaries, depressants of initiative;
-- values, such as measuring wealth
by numbers of cattle, age veneration, kinship obligations, low
variables determine the context for all development programs, but they
are seldom explicitly recognized. One
could argue that cultural variables contain the most serious and
intractable obstacles to development. If that is the case, and I believe it is, why isn't more being
done about it?
one believes development is the most important of life's values. Nor is it clear which attitudes, beliefs and values must change,
or how they may change and remain consistent with the cultural heritage.
There is no blueprint for cultural development, only models
of other cultures that have developed, and they all have features that
are unenviable. Every
culture-group proudly bears distinguishing characteristics that set it
apart from others. Some
values and mores of traditional cultures are properly admired by
sensitive people from developed countries. Indeed, if development can occur without the destruction of
traditional hospitality, courtesy and self-sacrifice that typify some
cultures, a more meaningful and pleasant style of life may emerge than
we have yet achieved.
are some tasks that societies must somehow learn to master if they are
to use modern technology to produce more. Russians, Japanese, French, Americans and others have painfully
learned how to make and use modern technology without losing their
cultural identities. They
have not done so without damage to ancient values, of course, and all
remain constantly engaged in the struggle to retain meaning in life
while increasing its abundance.
Is there a role
for foreign assistance agencies in the intimate and delicate process of
cultural redefinition and modernization?
Clearly, the answers to cultural questions must come from the
people of the culture. But
foreigners can sometimes help to formulate the questions. They can also bring to bear the experience of others, the
methodologies successful elsewhere. And they can work with local people on the adaptation of
imported methods and technology to specific needs.
The level of
abstraction in this paper may have exceeded the bounds of tolerance for
a program discussion, but in the Middle East the abstractions can take
on concrete meaning. A
fascinating example is Kuwait, where the traditional Bedouin Arab-Islamic culture, ancient and proud, has acquired the fruits of
modernization without the grinding process of gradually increasing the
productivity of the people. Money
doesn't grow on trees, but it gushes from the ground, which obviates
even the intricacies of horticulture. The economic problem is solved for a few generations, without the
necessity of modernizing the culture.
The results are
curious, if only casually observed and little understood. A few remarkable Kuwaitis head modern institutions staffed almost
entirely by foreigners. Most
of the Kuwaiti population seems baffled by the new age, unable to find
the motivation to take advantage of their extraordinary educational and
occupational opportunities. The
crude birth rate, unlike other countries where full modern health and
social services are available, has risen to 51 per 1000, one of the
highest in the world.
It would be
interesting to conduct comparative research on Kuwait and Israel, where
a highly modern cultural group undertook to develop a land not greatly
blessed by minerals and agro-climate, however blessed it may otherwise
be. In practice, such
research could not escape the political and emotional currents of the
region; but I think the mere contemplation of the juxtaposition is
revealing of the vast role of culture in development.
(It should in
no sense be demeaning of the Kuwaitis to say this. The Bedouin culture is an admirable one, enabling a hardy people
to challenge a harsh natural regime with poetry in their breasts. Modern life offers benefits of physical comfort, but quite
possibly these are accompanied by an initial moral decline. That is another subject, one worthy of sustained
attention. Here it needs only to be noted that in propounding the cause
of development, it is neither necessary nor appropriate to claim a
higher moral position.)
The Bedouin culture of the peninsula is only one of the traditional cultures of the
Middle East. The region
also has a long peasant tradition and the world's earliest urban
development. The complexity
of the cultural pattern has challenged program managers since the Beirut
office was opened. There
follows a review of some of Don Kingsley's thinking and my own on the
programmatic implications of Middle Eastern culture(s), and then an
examination in these terms of selected elements of our program over the
last few years.
Cultural factors quickly
intrude upon the thinking of those seeking to formulate development
programs in the Middle East. The
pervasive presence of Islam and the undefinable quality of Arabism are
influences ever pressing on program design but never well understood. We are baffled most perhaps by the obvious similarity of Middle
Eastern peoples to ourselves, and the less obvious, but still
fundamental, differences between us.
Arab, Turk and European interaction has been frequent, if not
friendly, throughout history. Military
and intellectual superiority seems to have pendulumed back and forth
through time. For the past
several hundred years, however, the gong seems to have been struck in
the European sector; the gap between the cultures seems seldom to have
been greater. But why?
Did the Reformation set us apart?
Did the industrial revolution open a gulf by advancing the
Europeans and at the same time holding back the Arabs?
Are the rigors of a northern climate so much more conducive to
effort than the warmth of the Mediterranean and the desert?
Is rainfed agriculture a spur to independence and freedom
unmatchable in regimes dependent on irrigation?
Is the poetry and rhetoric of Arabic unsuited to the precision
required in modern life? Was
the Ottoman Empire so stifling an institution that a century will be
needed to erase its effects?
Questions such as these constantly assail the minds of those
responsible for formulating program strategies while they are daily
confronted with the patterned irrationality of so many aspects of life
in the Middle East.
Kingsley's first year in Beirut he wrote a staff discussion paper called
An Approach to Foundation
Programming in the Middle East (November 7, 1968). In it he discussed many aspects of the operational environment of
the Foundation in the region. After
dwelling briefly on Islam and Pan Arabism he has an interesting section
headed "The Middle East as a State of Mind."
In it he considers such factors as the transcendental quality of
words and symbols in Middle Eastern culture, the apparent Arab tendency
to confuse objective facts with subjective thinking, the dearth of
analytical thinking and of objective observation and evaluation, the
rigid legal system and ideology of Islam, and the peculiar character of
the Arabic language as a culture carrier.
mind of the Middle East is literary rather than scientific,
inspirational rather than operational, intuitive rather than deductive. If this is true -- and there is a host of distinguished witnesses
to its validity -- it must profoundly affect strategy, the dynamics and
the pace of the modernization process and the character of programs
designed to facilitate it."
suggested three areas for program focus in addition to food production
and population: (1)
intellectual and functional isolation;
(2) patterns and methods of thought; and
(3) political instability. These
formulations reflected his analysis of the cultural climate in which he
intellectual and functional isolation historically to the sterility of
the Ottoman Empire and more recently to the political antipathy that
arose between the Arabs and the West as a consequence of the creation of
Israel. He suggested that
the Foundation should stimulate Middle Eastern/Western dialogues on
professional and scientific levels and among leadership groups.
Don looked to
the social sciences as useful tools for fostering general concepts of
causality and probability in Arab thought processes. He also suggested that consideration be given to efforts to
modernize the Arabic language.
limited impact the Foundation could hope to play in increasing political
stability in the region he, nevertheless, thought that a small
contribution could be made by encouraging the growth of associations of
intellectuals, professors and other opinion-makers; by supporting
research by local scholars on problems of political organization; and by
encouraging the private business sector when one was found to
years our program objectives and strategies have naturally evolved from
the Kingsley formulation, but up to the present time restatements of our
plans and objectives have continued to grapple with the impact of the
Arab-Islamic culture on the development process. We have continued to allocate substantial resources to increasing
food production and limiting population growth, and we have added a
concern for the environment; but our greatest challenges have remained
in the cultural field.
year an occasion arose to write a discussion paper in which our program
was reformulated or at least articulated somewhat differently. The first exercise, in
March 1972, was a paper prepared for a
review by the Trustees of our work in the Middle East. The formulation of objectives in that paper was heavily dependent
upon the Kingsley analysis. Perhaps
the most significant change was the addition of an explicit objective
concerning the cultural development of women. This modification reflected the role of women in inculcating
cultural patterns and methods of thought in succeeding generations..
In May 1973 a
program discussion document that became known as the Curfew Paper dwelt
at some length on historical and cultural factors influencing Middle
Eastern development and suggested that our goal should be to assist Arab
modernization with the minimum necessary departure from traditional
values and beliefs. The
paper contained a rather extensive discussion of the nature of the
development process in which the relationship between culture and
technology was examined. It
suggested that development could be defined as the adaptation of a
culture to a higher level of technology.
In the Curfew
Paper our program efforts were regrouped into:
-- those fostering individual
-- those enhancing the usefulness of
-- those facilitating Arab interaction
with the outside world.
In May 1974 a short reformulation again grouped program
activities under three major themes as follows:
-- The individual and
designed to help prepare the child for modern life, including projects
dealing with childrearing, psycholinguistics, science and mathematics
teaching, and Arabic and English teaching.
Technology and social systems: Activities
designed to enhance the responsiveness of Middle Eastern institutions to
the requirements of modern technology, including the following:
agricultural economic, economic, social, legal, environmental, and
sociolinguistic research; management; and population.
designed to improve the relevance of modern technology to the Middle
East, primarily through ALAD.
In reflecting on why both Don Kingsley
and I found it necessary to depart from the Foundation's standard
program categories in articulating our conceptions of the Middle East
program, it seems to me the major reason is that the standard categories
are useful for budgeting, but at least in the Middle East, inadequate as
program descriptors. In a
sense they imply a uniformity of approach to work in these broad sectors
that, if true, may not be wholly desirable.
Any set of categories implicitly reveals assumptions about the
nature of the development process. The standard categories suggest to me that we believe our role to
be to assist societies to acquire and use modern knowledge in growing
more food, limiting population, training the young, and planning and
managing their institutions. The
implication seems to be that modern ways of performing these tasks will
be similar everywhere.
Kingsley and I were searching for categories that would encompass
somewhat different programs. Importing
and adapting Western ways of performing certain functions continued to
characterize most of the work of the Middle East office, but we also
strove to find ways of working on underlying cultural phenomena which
seem to inhibit Arab development.
My own ruminations led to quite different programmatic
prescriptions from Don's. I
grew doubtful of the ability of the non-economic social sciences to
influence policy-makers, and to nurture concepts of causality and
probability in the culture.
My colleagues and I were also skeptical of the benefits of
increasing professional contacts with the West; we preferred to work on
ways to encourage already Westernized scholars to apply their skills to
Occasionally, we found an opportunity to support experimental
projects that dealt more directly with cultural impediments to
development. Kingsley had suggested work on the modernization of Arabic,
and Richard Tucker expanded our perceptions of what that process might
involve. Salah Al Tomah
gingerly explored program opportunities in the field, and we proceeded
to fund a project in Lebanon, which backfired badly when it was
misinterpreted to the sheikhs of Al-Azhar. We are still in the field, convinced of the vital importance of
improving Arabic teaching methods for the entire educational process,
but we proceed slowly and warily.
Gradually, our thinking about how to deal with the cultural
dimensions of development focused on the cultural environment in which
the individual is prepared for modern life. This concept includes the formal education process, and the
acquisition of the basic tools of language, science and mathematics,
within it. But an important
formative period occurs before formal schooling begins, and it is this
span that increasingly drew my own attention.
Childrearing is not normally a high priority field in foreign
aid, yet it is in the first five or six years of life that an
individual's attitudes, values and beliefs are first formed. Later cognitive development is also greatly affected by the
environment of the child in these critical years. All of these individual characteristics change later in life, but
psychologists generally agree that change is less rapid and more
difficult in later years. Many
of the cultural traits that bedevil efforts to modernize management,
education and government are introduced in these early years. The motivation for high fertility may also spring, in ways we
don't understand, from attitudes and values acquired early.
Recognition of the commonplace fact that women, especially
mothers, dominate the formative five years led to our program interest
in women. The universal concern for advancing women's lot that seized
the Foundation came later, reinforcing our sense of the importance of
the neglected sex.
Cultural factors have thus had an important influence on two of
the three categories that encompassed our programs in the 1974 paper. The third, the adaptation of agricultural technology to
Middle Eastern agro-climatic conditions, was a large and important part
of the total program, but less influenced by the cultural environment
and hence not central to this paper.
We have seen how the other two categories, (A) institutional
modernization and (B) individual modernization, could equally well be
categorized as (A) standard Foundation programs that are deeply affected
by the cultural environment and (B) programs that are conceived in
direct response to the cultural environment.
The distinctions are not tidy, but they have had real value to me
in conceptualizing and describing our work. In the following section, examples of work in these two
categories are used to illustrate the difference.
While Kingsley and I were restlessly
trying to understand the impact of the history and culture of the Middle
East on the development process and to engineer appropriate program
responses, most of the resources of the Middle East program continued to
be channeled into agricultural research, population, social sciences,
management and education projects which would be familiar to any of our
field offices. One could
dwell upon the ways in which Middle Eastern culture affected the results
of our efforts in each of these fields but I think the social sciences
offer perhaps the most representative case.
Our objectives in the social sciences are in essence very similar
to those in most other fields. The
following concise statement comes from a memo by Peter Hakim, dated
March 17, 1976, on environmentally related agricultural research. In this paragraph he is speaking of the need for research on the
long-run effects of different agricultural technologies and cultivation
of the consequences are known qualitatively; what is required are a
better understanding of causal connections and greater precision in
measurement, both of which would permit more accurate prediction of
probable changes, and hence an increased ability to control or avoid
them. Such knowledge and
understanding should improve decisions regarding choice of technologies,
and management practices.”
Hakim's words admirably describe what
we try to do in much of the Foundation’s development program. We are seeking to introduce modern methods of gathering and
organizing more precise information so that governments can more clearly
understand what is happening in their countries, why it is happening,
and what the direct and indirect effects of various interventions are
likely to be. This
generalization seems to apply as well to agricultural research as to our
work in the social sciences and the environment.
This work involves the Foundation with
local people on the modern end of the social spectrum. We are training people in modern disciplines or cooperating with
people already functioning in the modern sphere. Although we are dealing with the already “modern" sector,
we find much to be done. Researchers
and policy-makers are generally out-of-date in terms of developments in
their disciplines. Institutional
linkages often are missing, so that people trained to develop knowledge
are not in regular communication with those who make policy, and both
may be out of touch with the people the policies and practices are meant
to affect. The tasks of
development assistance are thus never ending, because new improvements
are made in knowledge generation and use in advanced countries at least
as rapidly as previous methods are incorporated by the developing
In Southeast Asia the Foundation has apparently succeeded in
stimulating social science research through a regional awards program. Closer to home, the Iranian and Israeli social scientists
appear to have respected and established roles in their societies. At the Social Research Institute at the University of Tehran, the
director complains because so many of his researchers are working at
government request, leading to over-emphasis on applied research. Government departments have learned that new budgetary proposals
have a greater chance of acceptance if they are supported by research
In the Middle East office, after numerous staff discussions
ranging over two or three years, we concluded that while the Middle East
has a relatively large number of people trained in the social sciences,
many are poorly trained and few are functioning very productively except
as teachers or social workers. There
appears to be a lack of definition to the work of these social
scientists. Their professional orientation often remains aligned with the
graduate schools where they were trained. Their own society seems not to understand them or know how to use
them, so the best of them write and publish professionally in foreign
languages for foreign journals. Strangely,
this is perhaps more greatly rewarded by Arab universities than
publication locally in Arabic.
Our diagnosis was that the most
serious problem facing the Arab social science community was in defining
and establishing the appropriate relationship between their professions
and the culture in which they live. When, or if, social science research becomes valued, it will be
rewarded and the enterprise will flourish.
We decided that our funds could best
be spent employing well-qualified Western social scientists who,
supported by DAP funds for research awards, would work closely with Arab
social scientists in designing and conducting meaningful research. In addition, interest in forming a regional organization of
social scientists was to be carefully nurtured.
The design of suitable research
projects requires a high order of cultural sensitivity and a creative
application of research methodology. This combination must usually be sought through the collaboration
of a staff member or consultant and local researchers. Several promising efforts now underway serve to illustrate
-- Salacuse and Sudanese researchers
from the IAAS and the Faculty of Law collaborating on research on
-- Jernudd and IAAS conducting a
-- Gotsch assisting agricultural
economists in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Sudan to design research
projects on irrigated farming systems;
-- Hazleton, Saylor, Gueli, Benedict,
and Hill helping to design and guide projects by Arab researchers.
identity is also fostered by increasing communications among Middle
Eastern social scientists. A
regional association (OPSSME) was formed following the
Foundation-financed Alexandria conference in 1974. Leila Hamamsy has been the key figure in OPSSME, but Benedict's
low-key support and guidance has been valuable in launching the
organization's program of workshops and newsletters.
Although it would be
premature to evaluate the results of this strategy I think the research
efforts underway are likely to be fairly effective in terms of their
immediate objectives. Our
staff and their Arab colleagues are imaginatively demonstrating how
social science methodology can, as Hakim suggests, produce a better
understanding of causal connections of development phenomena and an
increased ability to control or avoid predictable changes. The research is effectively orienting the social scientists
involved to the potential contributions of their disciplines to Middle
Eastern society. The
numbers of researchers are not great, however, and they are found mainly
in the more advanced countries, particularly Lebanon, Jordan and
For the researchers'
increased knowledge and understanding to be reflected in improved policy
decisions, decision-makers must become actively aware of and concerned
about the results. We have
been less successful in creating governmental demand for research
tend to rely more heavily on past experience than on scholarly analysis
and in this they are generally quite correct. The data base is too small, the researchers too naive or biased
and the educational background of officials too limited to permit heavy
reliance on the social sciences at the present time.
It is only when policy-makers face a severe discontinuity in
experience or when traditional methods are leading to an obviously
deteriorating situation that they are likely to reach out in desperation
for the guidance of social scientists. Examples of these conditions include:
The construction of a dam, which opens new productive possibilities but
creates severe social dislocations in the process;
-- the implementation of a land
reform, which changes power relationships in often unforeseen ways;
-- the deterioration of the savannah
from overpopulation and overgrazing.
would conclude from this that our work in the social sciences can be
most effective in circumstances where it is possible to predict the
necessity for rapid social change. This means we must be very careful to diagnose appropriate
situations for the application of our limited funds in the social
One important aspect of the diagnosis
should be the stage of development of the country. An emphasis on the social sciences is, I suspect, more
appropriate to Latin America than to Africa or the Middle East. Good social scientists can be found, or trained, in any region,
but their contributions to society are likely to be greater where the
society is more advanced, and thus more able to appreciate and use their
There may be an analogy to be found in
other areas of our work. Improved
methods of management may be more readily accepted when they accompany
an introduction of radically different technology; environmental
research should be predicated on perceptible imminent catastrophes or
radical changes in methods of water control; and educational research
should focus on aspects of the system which are obviously failing.
This conclusion may seem too obvious a
point, but I believe we and others have in the past been prone to yield
to a fascination with modern methodologies without adequate concern for
the circumstances in which their use is most obviously merited.