Forced modernization

Convinced that the difference between the West and the Rest derived from economic factors, many political movements outside Europe, just as in the Soviet Union, placed economic growth at the top of the agenda. In doing so, they consistently imposed modernization programmes that complemented economic and political considerations with distinctly social and cultural ones. The struggle to end illiteracy was inevitably a major issue. In most Arab and Islamic countries the proliferation of the printing press, together with the introduction of newspapers and magazines, began only in the late nineteenth century. The IISH collection nonetheless comprises older materials about the area, including incunabula (120).

The new media became very popular among reformist groups, such as the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire (121-122). Soon afterwards, the Kemalist Turkish Republic became one of the most telling examples of forced modernization of a largely agrarian society, visibly manifested in styles of dress, the introduction of the Latin alphabet, and compulsory schooling for boys and girls (123-126). During the military dictatorship in the 1980s the IISH started building a Turkish collection, securing important materials. The collection soon encompassed the great Turkish migration to Western Europe as well.

Many modernization movements derived inspiration from the Soviet Union but were nonetheless feared as competitors of communist movements in the countries concerned, in part because of their nationalist element. Relations during the Cold War further complicated this tension. In oil-producing Iran, Reza Shah Pahlavi followed a Western course (127-130). Other countries in the region, such as Afghanistan (131), Egypt (132), and Sudan (133-135), eager to achieve comparable economic growth, experimented – in some cases only temporarily – with different versions of forced modernization.