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The savage mass murders of one group by the other and vice versa so destroyed civic comity that the Indian subcontinent, populated by people of identical ethnic stock, had to be divided into a Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India. Why, we might ask, if the Hindus and Muslims had lived side by side in relative peace and harmony for nearly a thousand years, would they suddenly become so profoundly intolerant of each other's religion just as nationalism reared its head?

Not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when they finally embraced the printing press, did the majority of Muslims outside India attain the high literacy rates that had distinguished the great Muslim renaissance occurring between the eighth and eleventh centuries. This recent and rapid acquisition of alphabet literacy has coincided with the sudden eruption of the Muslim protestant reformation that Westerners call "fundamentalism." Many modern Muslims insist on a stricter, more literal interpretation of the Quran than had been expected of followers in previous Muslim societies. In countries long associated with literacy, such as Tunisia (ancient Carthage), Iraq (ancient Mesopotamia), and Egypt, women continue to enjoy greater rights, than those in other Islamic nations. Generally, the more recently a Muslim nation experienced its print revolution, the more patriarchal it is.

The rapid rise of Muslim fundamentalism has been in reaction to the perceived threat of a foreign siren goddess with a captivating big eye: television. Beginning in the 1960s, television images of Western music, culture, and morals pervaded the Casbah. In response, Islamic extremists in Algeria gunned down TV announcers and women wearing Western clothing-a strange coupling-as well as families living in houses with TV antennas. In Iran, harsh punishments await anyone in possession of a TV satellite dish. The Taliban in Afghanistan, the most recently literate Islamists, are the most extremely patriarchal.

Resembling a new generation of Cadmean warriors, the fundamentalists are fighting desperately to prevent images of any kind from invading their society; at some deep level, they understand that iconic information is the carrier of feminine cultural values. Alas, their efforts are reminiscent of the mythical King Canute, who ordered the tide to not come in. No group in any country can successfully restrict the flow of image information. Television, more powerful than Asherah, Astarte, or Athena, has doomed all fundamentalist movements, and their extremism is the rearguard action of an army in retreat. But that does not preclude this dangerously wounded organism from inflicting severe harm on societies that are trying to grant women more equality. Earlier fundamentalist movements-the Hebrews, the Orthodox Christians, and the Protestants-succeeded because behind them all was the new technology of alphabet literacy. Television has reversed this process, and as a result, religious fanatics who believe that the only truth is contained in a book will, in the end, be bypassed, and will become curious relics.

Other societies that tried to control image information have recently provided unforgettable images-on television. The dismantling of the Berlin Wall symbolized the piercing of the Iron Curtain, which had been a metaphorical blockade erected to prevent electromagnetic information from inundating the authority of the totalitarian print culture of Communist Eastern Europe. The Russians feared the television image of Ed Sullivan more than the writings of Thomas Jefferson. The communists, through the use of jamming, almost succeeded in keeping their people ignorant. But in the 1980s the new VCR technology circumvented state-controlled airwaves, and smuggled videotapes of Western movies circulated in a huge black market. The computers that began to appear in the Soviet Union delivered the coup de grace. No culture can successfully shut out pictorial information for long anymore. The Iconic Revolution, surfing along on electromagnetic waves, will ultimately crest any man-made obstacle. When a culture shifts its emphasis from written words to iconic information, it will experience tumult. The reverse is also true. We live in a time when these two countertrends are occurring simultaneously in different cultures of the world. This is the subtext behind many of this century's fractious headlines.

Throughout the world, diverse groups of people are repudiating nationalism and proclaiming loudly, through the use of car bombs and ballot boxes, that they want out of the current system of nationhood. Many of the entities proposed by rebels make no economic or geopolitical sense, but that in no way has dampened their advocates' tribal fervor. Ethnic groups, clamoring for independence, beset the former Soviet Union. Tribes in Africa routinely make a mockery of the colonialists' maps. Even the recent war in the former Yugoslavia was driven by ethnic and religious tribalism. Most commentators, confronted by these seemingly inexplicable occurrences, claim that the Cold War had held these passions in cold storage for fifty years. But the Cold War does not explain why northern Californians want to break away from southern Californians. It doesn't explain why the Basque separatists want to separate from Spain, or why the Quebecois clamor to pull out of Canada. The Realpolitik of the Cold War is not the reason the people of the modern world seek to shake the restraints of paternalism and return to the way of the native: the reason is that television has wrought a global change in human perception.
     
     
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