[Paleopsych] Daniel Pipes: You Need Beethoven to Modernize

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Daniel Pipes: You Need Beethoven to Modernize

Middle East Quarterly
September 1998

It is possible to modernize without Westernizing? This is the dream of
despots around the world. Leaders as diverse as Mao on the Left and
Khomeini on the Right seek a high-growth economy and a powerful
military -- without the pesky distractions of democracy, the rule of
law, and the whole notion of the pursuit of happiness. They welcome
American medical and military technology but reject its political
philosophy or popular culture. Technology shorn of cultural baggage is
their ideal.

Sad for them, fully reaping the benefits of Western creativity
requires an immersion into the Western culture that produced it.
Modernity does not exist by itself, but is inextricably attached to
its makers. High rates of economic growth depend not just on the right
tax laws, but on a population versed in the basics of punctuality, the
work ethic, and delayed gratification. The flight team for an advanced
jet bomber cannot be plucked out of a village but needs to be steeped
into an entire worldview. Political stability requires a sense of
responsibility that only civil society can inculcate. And so forth.

Western music proves this point with special clarity, precisely
because it is so irrelevant to modernization. Playing the Kreuzer
Sonata adds nothing to one's GDP; enjoying an operetta does not
enhance one's force projection. And yet, to be fully modern means
mastering Western music; competence at Western music, in fact, closely
parallels a country's wealth and power, as the experiences of two
civilizations, Muslim and Japanese, show. Muslim reluctance to accept
Western music foreshadows a general difficulty with modernity;
Japanese mastery of every style from classical to jazz help explain
everything from a strong yen to institutional stability.


Among Muslims, choice of music represents deep issues of identity.
Secularist Muslims tend to welcome European and American music, seeing
it as a badge of liberation and culture. Ziya Gökalp, the leading
theorist of Turkish secular nationalism, wrote in the early 1920s that

   face three kinds of music today: Eastern music, Western music, and
   folk music. Which one of them belongs to our nation? We saw that
   Eastern music is both deathly and non-national. Folk music is our
   national culture, Western music is the music of our new
   civilization. Neither of the latter can be foreign to us.

More recently, as Turkish secularists find themselves under siege,
sold-out crowds turn out for concerts featuring Western classical
music. In the words of a reporter, these have "become a symbolic
rallying point for defenders of Turkish secularism." In an event rich
with symbolism, the Turkish embassy in Tehran gave a two-hour concert
of Western classical music in late December 1997, in tribute to the
forthcoming (Christian) new year. Few cultural occasions could quite
so sharply delineate the contrasting visions of Atatürk and Khomeini.

In contrast, fundamentalist Muslims, who nurse an abiding suspicion of
the West, worry that its music has an insidious effect on Muslims.
When Necmettin Erbakan was prime minister of Turkey in 1996-97, he cut
back on dance ensembles, symphony orchestras, and other Western-style
organizations. Instead, he fought to increase funding for groups
upholding traditional musical forms.

For fundamentalists, merely listening to Western music suggests
disloyalty to Islam. A speaker at a fundamentalist rally in Istanbul
flattered his audience by telling them, "This is the real Turkey. This
is not the aimless crowd that goes out to see [sic] the Ninth
Symphony." An Iranian newspaper published a poem that characterizes
the opposite of the downtrodden, faithful Iranians killed by Iraqi
troops as an audience of classical music buffs -- women with
"pushed-back scarves" (i.e., who resist Islamic modesty) and men with
"protruding bellies" (i.e., who profit from the black market). The
same poem, titled "For Whom do the Violin Bows Move?" argues that
concerts of Mozart and Beethoven promote the "worm of monarchic
culture." Anyone who listens to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, in other
words, must be a traitor to the Islamic republic. Or to Islam itself:
naming the very same composers, a Tunisian claims that "the treason of
an Arab . . . begins when he enjoys listening to Mozart or Beethoven."

Of course, if eighteenth-century composers so rile fundamentalist
Muslims, what do they think of rock and rap music? American popular
music epitomizes the values that Muslims find most reprehensible about
Western culture -- the celebration of individualism, youth, hedonism,
and unregulated sexuality. The Pakistani fundamentalist group
Hizbullah has singled out Michael Jackson and Madonna as cultural
"terrorists" who aspire to destroy Islamic civilization. The group's
spokesman explains this fear:

   Michael Jackson and Madonna are the torchbearers of American
   society, their cultural and social values . . . that are destroying
   humanity. They are ruining the lives of thousands of Muslims and
   leading them to destruction, away from their religion, ethics and
   morality. Terrorists are not just those who set off bombs. They are
   also those who hurt others' feelings.

Hizbullah finished with a call for the two Americans to be brought to
trial in Pakistan.

The Hizbullah statement points to the reasons why fundamentalists
mistrust Western music: it demoralizes Muslims and distracts them from
the serious requirements of their faith. Ahmad al-Qattan, a
Palestinian preacher living in Kuwait, finds that Western music
"involves pleasure and ecstasy, similar to drugs" and elaborates:

   I ask a lot of people, "When you listen to Michael Jackson, or
   Beethoven, or Mozart, what do you feel?"

   They tell me: "Oh, I feel my heart torn from the inside."

   I say, "To that extent?"

   They tell me: "Yes, by God, to that extent. I fell that all of a
   sudden I am flying. One moment I am crying, the next moment I am
   laughing, then dancing, then I am committing suicide."

   Our God, we seek refuge with You from singing and its evils.

Ayatollah Khomeini had similar views, as he explained to an Italian

   Khomeini: Music dulls the mind, because it involves pleasure and
   ecstasy, similar to drugs. Your music I mean. Usually your music
   has not exalted the spirit, it puts it to sleep. And it destructs
   [sic] our youth who become poisoned by it, and then they no longer
   care about their country.

   Oriana Fallaci: Even the music of Bach, Beethoven, Verdi?

   Khomeini: I do not know these names.

But then, unexpectedly perhaps, Khomeini softens his condemnation: "If
their music does not dull the mind, they will not be prohibited. Some
of your music is permitted. For example, marches and hymns for
marching. . . . Yes, but your marches are permitted." Others join
Khomeini in making an exception for marching music. Qattan, for
example, distinguishes between degenerate and useful music: "No Mozart
and no Michael Jackson, no singing and no instruments, only war
drums." Fundamentalist Muslims allow the ecstasy that Western music
can create is allowable only if it helps march youth to their deaths.

(As an aside, it is interesting to note that marches are the only
Western music significantly influenced by the Middle East: Gypsies
introduced Turkish -- or "Janissary" -- music to Europe in the
eighteenth century. The Austrian army appears to have been the first
to adopt this genre. It involved exotic new uniforms and such new
percussion instruments as tambourines, triangles, cymbals, bass drums,
and -- suggestively -- crescents. Accented grace notes added to the
exoticism. Soon after, these elements entered the orchestra too;
Mozart first used Turkish-style music in a sketch dating from 1772 and
"Turkish" effects are especially prominent in his Abduction from the
Seraglio as well as the finale to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. In a
sense, then, with marching music the Middle East is letting back in
its own innovation.)

In contrast, the Turkish authorities, marching to a different drummer
as is so often the case, rely on classical music to quiet their
forces. The so-called "Steel Force" units, the baton-swinging riot
police notorious for their tough tactics against street protesters,
are forced to listen to Mozart and Beethoven in their buses on the way
to operations as a way to calm them down.

Other fundamentalists have divergent ideas on what music is
permissible, a debate symbolized by the King Fahd Cultural Center, a
magnificent concert hall seating 3,000 at the perimeter of Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia. Shortly before his death in 1975, King Faysal approved
the building of this center as part of the recreational facilities to
turn Riyadh, his capital, into a handsome modern city. Completed in
1989 at a cost of $140 million, it boasts such lavish touches as the
finest marble and precious woods, not to speak of a state-of-the-art
laser lighting system, and a hydraulic stage.

But the hall has never staged an event. A foreign diplomat who managed
to visit the mothballed facility found that a full-time staff of 180
has for almost a decade maintained the building and its gardens in
mint condition. This has meant not just tending the flower beds but
air-conditioning the facility all year around so that the delicate
woods on the interior not deteriorate. Why is the cultural center not
used? Because it offends the strict Islamic sensibilities prevalent in
Saudi Arabia. According to one report, on hearing about Western-style
music played by mixed casts (meaning men and women) to mixed
audiences, the country's religious leaders "went berserk."

The saga of Riyadh's concert hall neatly illustrates the ongoing
debate about Western music among fundamentalist Muslims. King Faysal,
no slouch in his Islamic faith, thought it a permissible pleasure, but
the Saudi religious authorities deemed otherwise. Other
fundamentalists, too, disagree on specifics. The author of an advice
column in a Los Angeles Muslim weekly concedes that "Music with soft
and good tunes, and melodious songs with pure words and concepts are
acceptable in Islam," provided that this does not lead to "the mixing
of men and women." In contrast, `Ali Hoseyni Khamene'i, Iran's
spiritual guide, deems "the promotion of music is . . . not compatible
with the goals of the Islamic system." Accordingly, he rejects the
teaching of music to children and prohibits "any swing music that is
for debauchery," even when played in separate-sex parties. Egypt's
leading television preacher, Sheikh Muhammad ash-Sha`rawi, went
further and condemned Muslims who fall asleep to Western classical
music rather than a recording of Qur'anic recital. Inspired by his
words, fundamentalist hotheads in Upper Egypt stormed a concert and
broke musical instruments, leading to their arrest.

With such attitudes prevalent, it is hardly surprising that Muslim
practitioners of Western music have achieved little. As the historian
Bernard Lewis notes, "Though some talented composers and performers
from Muslim countries, especially from Turkey, have been very
successful in the Western world, the response to their kind of music
at home is still relatively slight." They enjoy neither renown or
influence outside of their native countries, and even there remain
minor figures.


How different is Japan! True, the early reactions to Western music
were adverse: on hearing a child in song in Hawaii, Norimasa Muragaki,
a member of the very first Japanese embassy to the United States in
1860, compared the sound to "a dog howling late at night." Within a
few years, however, Japanese heard Western music much more favorably,
to the point that the music drew some individuals into Western
religion. In 1884, Shoichi Toyama argued that "Christianity ought to
be adopted for, first, the benefit of progress in music, second, the
development of compassion for fellow men and harmonious cooperation,
and third, social relations between men and women." Note that he lists
music first.

Before long, some Japanese discovered that Western music expressed
their feeling far better than anything in their own tradition. As he
left French soil, the leading writer Nagai Kafu (1879-1959) mused
wistfully on the beauty of French culture:

   No matter how much I wanted to sing Western songs, they were all
   very difficult. Had I, born in Japan, no choice but to sing
   Japanese songs? Was there a Japanese song that expressed my present
   sentiment -- a traveler who had immersed himself in love and the
   arts in France but was now going back to the extreme end of the
   Orient where only death would follow monotonous life? . . . I felt
   totally forsaken. I belonged to a nation that had no music to
   express swelling emotions and agonized feelings.

Kafu here describes emotions almost entirely unknown to Muslims.

The local musical tradition engages in an intense give and take with
Western music. Woodblocks, a traditional Japanese instrument, are a
standard of jazz percussion. Traditional Japanese music has influenced
many Western composers, and John Cage probably the most directly so.
The Suzuki Method, which applies the traditional Japanese techniques
of rote training (hiden) to children learning the violin, has won a
substantial following in the West. Yamaha sells over 200,000 pianos a
year and is the world's largest maker of musical instruments.

Conversely, European classical and American popular music have become
part of the Japanese scene. Tokyo has nine professional orchestras and
three operas, giving it the highest mass of European classical music
talent in the world. Seiji Ozawa, music director of the Boston
Symphony Orchestra, rates as the most renowned of Japanese conductors.
Classical performers with wide reputations include pianists Aki and
Yugi Takahasi and percussionist Stomu Yamashita.

Though Japanese composers are yet little known outside Japan, their
pace of activity is considerable. Toru Takemitsu, who makes a
specialty of exploring timbre, texture, and everyday sounds in both
European and Japanese media, is perhaps the most renowned
internationally. Akira Miyoshi composes classic Western music. Toshi
Ichiyanagi, Jo Kondo, Teruyaki Noda, and Yuji Takahashi write in an
avant-garde manner. Shinichiro Ikebe, Minoru Miki, Makato Moroi, and
Katsutoshi Nagasawa write for traditional Japanese instruments. The
marimbist Keiko Abe is the best known of classical Japanese musicians
and Toshiko Akiyoshi the best known of jazz players.

European classical music has shed its foreign quality in Japan,
becoming fully indigenous. In this, Japan resembles the United States,
another country which has imported nearly all of its classical music.
Just as Americans have adapted the music to their own tastes and
customs -- playing the 1812 Overture on the 4th of July, for example
-- so have the Japanese. Thus does Beethoven's Ninth Symphony serve as
the anthem of the Christmas and New Year's season. Not only do the
country's leading orchestras play the symphony over and over again
during December, but gigantic choruses (numbering up to 10,000
participants) rehearse for months before bellowing out the Ode to Joy
in public performances.

As for pop music, the Japanese -- like nearly all the world -- idolize
American pop stars and grow their own local talent. But more
interesting is their intense engagement with jazz. So large is the
Japanese jazz market that it affects music produced in the United
States. Jazz coffee shops (which play music on state-of-the-art
equipment) have proliferated, and Japan hosts numerous international
jazz festivals each year. Japanese Swing Journal sells 400,000 copies
a month (compared to only 110,000 copies of the best-known American
publication, Downbeat) and roughly half of some American jazz albums
are bought by Japanese. Indeed, according to one American producer,
Michael Cuscuna of Blue Note Records, "Japan almost singlehandedly
kept the jazz record business going during the late 1970s. Without the
Japanese market, a lot of independent jazz labels probably would have
folded, or at least stopped releasing new material." This is too big a
market to lose, so American and other artists must increasingly pay
attention to Japanese taste.

As for Japanese creativity, the results here have been modest until
now -- composers and musicians do little more than imitate the styles
of foreigners -- but the existence of a large and increasingly
sophisticated home market offers fertile ground for Japanese musicians
to experiment and then to lead. Attempts to combine jazz with
traditional Japanese music have begun; these blendings are likely to
influence jazz as much as they already have architecture and clothing.
It seems safe to predict that the Japanese before long will become a
major force in jazz.

The Japanese give musically in other ways too. The karaoke machine
plays instrumental versions of popular songs and permits a bar patron
to accompany the music as though he were an accomplished singer,
providing a good time for all. Not only has karaoke has become an
amusement staple worldwide, but the characteristic Japanese-style bar
(with its hostesses, a mama-san, and karaoke microphone) has
proliferated in the West. Karaoke machines are sold in Sears Roebuck
stores and have won a large and cheerful, if slightly tipsy following.


Muslim and Japanese responses with Western music symbolize their
larger encounters with Western civilization. Muslims have historically
approached the West warily, fearful of losing their identity. This
prevents them from immersing themselves in Western learning or gaining
the needed skills in technology and business. They remain permanently
in arrears, coping with one wave of Western influence after another,
barely keeping up and exerting virtually no influence over the West.

The Japanese do things very differently. First, they throw themselves
whole-heartedly into the new subject, not fearing the loss of their
own identity. Second, they acquire skills, matching and even beating
the West at its own game; what the Tokyo orchestras are to music,
Toyota and Nissan are to cars. Third, Japanese evolve original customs
of their own, either based in their traditions (karaoke) or an amalgam
of cultures (Beethoven's Ninth for New Year's). Finally, they develop
techniques that Westerners adopt; the Suzuki Method in music parallels
the just-in-time system in car manufacturing. They have absorbed
Western civilization in its entirety, discarded what does not interest
them, taken what does, and mastered it.

Thus does the response to Western music exemplify the whole of a
civilization's experience with modernity. Its lack of utility makes it
all the more useful as an indicator of achievement. Why this
connection? Because, as Lewis observes, "Music, like science, is part
of the inner citadel of Western culture, one of the final secrets to
which the newcomer must penetrate." Music represents the challenge of
modernity: competence in this arena implies an ability to deal with
whatever else the West might serve up. Muslim resistance to accepting
music from the West represents its larger unwillingness, whereas the
Japanese have truly entered the inner citadel. In short, whoever would
flourish must play Beethoven as well as Westerners do.

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