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Clash of the century (world's great faultlines are religious rather than economic)
Sydney Morning Herald ^ | July 19 2003 | SMH neglected to tell us

Posted on 07/18/2003 8:39:11 AM PDT by dead

The events of the past two years have shown us that the world's great faultlines are religious rather than economic. The "clash of civilisations" is too real to ignore.

When former US president Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, several conservative commentators complained that it shouldn't have been awarded to someone who had been misguided enough to praise the human rights record of the late Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. But given what happened when Yugoslavia disintegrated, others might suggest that poor old Tito himself deserved the prize every year from assuming power during World War II until his death in 1980 - for performing miracles.

The former Yugoslavia was built on the faultlines between three civilisations - Western, Orthodox and Islamic - and 40 years of communist rule failed to do anything more than paper over divisions that stretch back through centuries of Ottoman rule to the Great Schism of 1054, and even further to the Roman emperor Diocletian.

After visiting the region a decade ago, the Vatican's "foreign minister", Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, reported to Pope John Paul II that "Yugoslavia doesn't exist anymore. When I was in Zagreb I felt as if I were in Vienna, and when I was in Belgrade I felt as if I were in Istanbul." And while there is no doubt that it took a deliberate campaign of manipulation to unleash the bloodshed of the 1990s, the fact remains that the war in the Balkans was one of a series of "civilisational" conflicts that have become all too familiar in the post-Cold War world.

It is exactly 10 years since Professor Samuel P. Huntington first theorised this new era in The Clash of Civilisations? - one of the most controversial and hotly debated articles ever published by the US journal Foreign Affairs. The director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, Huntington sees international conflict after the Cold War as characterised not by traditional rivalries between nation states or by arguments over ideology or economics, but by cultural and civilisational differences.

"Differences among civilisations are not only real; they are basic," he writes in the essay. "Civilisations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most importantly, religion. The people of different civilisations have different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views on the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes."

Huntington divides the globe into nine occasionally awkward tectonic plates - Western (led by the US), Orthodox, Islamic, Hindu, Confucian and Japanese, with Latin America and Africa more doubtfully classified as "candidates" for civilisation status, and Buddhism, oddly, as a "fossil" civilisation largely absorbed and superceded by China and India.

He envisages friction in all directions along the borders between these civilisational plates, and also within civilisations. At various times, the vast and increasing global reach of Western power and influence will bring us into conflict with each of the other civilisational groups (the West against the rest). But in particular there will be two major clashes: one in the short term with a resurgent Islam and, perhaps more ominously, a longer-term clash with an emerging China.

Since expanded into a book, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster, 1997), the Huntington thesis seems to have been remarkably prescient in the light of recent world events: al-Qaeda, President Bush's "crusade", the Taliban, Kashmir, Nigeria, Bali, the "axis of evil" and even the division between Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds that threatens the unity of postwar Iraq. Although perhaps it doesn't explain the recent admission by Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary of Defence, that the main reason behind military action in Iraq was oil.

The Huntington thesis has annoyed almost everybody. From the start, he was accused of massively over-simplifying the causes of Islamic extremism, offering "civilisational incompatibility" as the reductive explanation for Islamic extremism rather than dealing with specific Muslim grievances.

More recently, and especially since the war in Iraq, he has been dismissed as a darling of the US neo-conservatives, and his theory as a justification for the juggernaut of globalisation and the new Bush doctrine of pre-emptive unilateralism.

The truth is that Huntington is an old-fashioned Democrat rather than an ideologue. A former speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson and Jimmy Carter, he is a teacher who shuns interview requests. Ironically, he developed his theory during classes at Harvard to get his students to challenge their triumphalist Western assumptions.

In the 1990s the world had become fixated on globalisation - the new-found ability of capital, corporations and technology to move around the planet almost instantly, uniting it into one market. Indeed, a few years earlier, Huntington's former student Francis Fukuyama had come up with his own theory of the end of history, in which he anticipated the onset of globalisation by arguing that, Western democratic liberalism and market capitalism having beaten Soviet communism, the rest of history would be a kind of American mopping-up operation.

Huntington warned against such assumptions, arguing that "in the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilisational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous."

Why the hostility to Huntington's theory? In the West, there are signs that it points to a change in academic fashion - potentially a change on the Left, not merely a shift to the Right. Cultural materialists on both Left and Right are annoyed because the theory returns us to the idea that religion matters in explaining how people live and how the world works - that culture is fundamental, enduring and more important than economics. It also challenges the illusion of the ecumenical pacifists that true religion is only ever about love and peace. Above all, it cuts across three decades of Western self-hatred since Vietnam, challenging us to reacknowledge not just the West's misdeeds, but also its vast collective achievement.

Huntington has been extremely reticent about any suggestion that he predicted the attacks on the World Trade Centre, but if he provided the theory, the planes on September 11 provided the material facts. In response to nihilistic evil on this scale, postmodern relativism was seen to flounder. After September 11, it is clear that the grand old narratives are holding and the long historical view is back.

When Palestinian writer Edward Said published his article The Clash of Ignorance in US political weekly The Nation a few weeks after September 11, it was telling that most of his indignation was directed at Huntington, while Osama bin Laden barely rated a mention. Referring to the "alleged opposition between Islam and the West", Said described the Huntington thesis as a gimmick, and argued that "labels" like Islam and the West "mislead and confuse the mind, which is trying to make sense of a disorderly reality that won't be pigeonholed or strapped down as easily as that".

Interviewed by New Perspectives Quarterly at the same time, Huntington carefully acknowledged that Muslim governments had been far from uniformly anti-Western in their response to extremism:

"Bin Laden is an outlaw expelled from his own country, Saudi Arabia and later Sudan. The Taliban which supports him was recognised by only three of 53 Muslim countries in the world. All Muslim governments except Iraq - but including Sudan and Iran - condemned his terrorist attack. Most Muslim governments have at least been acquiescent in the US strategy to respond militarily in Afghanistan. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference condemned bin Laden's terrorism - but did not condemn the US response."

Perhaps ironically, the best indication that Huntington doesn't see the world in monolithic terms can be found in the most controversial sentence in his original essay: "Islam has bloody borders." Think of the destruction of the Buddhist statues at Bamiyan by the Taliban, or the local jihads being waged against scores of local Christian and animist communities stretching from Malawi and Nigeria to Pakistan and Central Sulawesi - conflicts which have nothing to do with anger at Western power.

Meanwhile, many Muslim commentators deny that there is a "clash of civilisations", although they often go on to describe the Muslim experience of Western imperialism in exactly these terms. In fact, there is more than a passing resemblance between Huntington's theory and the classical Islamic division of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. Perhaps this kind of binary distinction between "us" and "them" is typical of how all cultures think - Islamic, Jewish, Christian, French, Chinese, Australian ...

Huntington insists that the Islamist resurgence of recent decades really is a revival, and that it is not just anti-Western but also genuinely modern - inspired by such 20th-century thinkers as Egypt's Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, Sayyid Maududi of Pakistan and Ayatollah Khomeini - and was ignited by the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

In this, he appears to disagree with leading Orientalist professor Bernard Lewis, an important influence on Huntington. Lewis coined the term "the clash of civilisations" in a 1990 article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled The Roots of Muslim Rage. The author of What Went Wrong? (Oxford University Press, 2002), he views the Islamic world as backward, paralysed and oblivious to Western developments like the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution - and he suggests that Islam is intrinsically unable to modernise. On this reading, an event like September 11 is an expression of envy at Western success, the impotent fury of a religious civilisation in terminal decline. The really significant clash between Islam and the West seems to have happened in the past.

This leads to what for me is the most interesting question behind the Huntington thesis: what is modernity? Is it just about technology? Or is it also about a state of mind that is only possible because of Western individualism, egalitarianism, freedom of choice and civil institutions and rights? Doesn't America's greatest strength lie in its culture, which enables its economy to work brilliantly? Isn't modernity a quintessentially Western invention which is gradually being exported to the rest of the world? Or is it just another slippery word? We are back to Francis Fukuyama (these days speaking the language of the "clash of civilisations"), who in 2001 wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "It is not an accident that modern liberal democracy emerged first in the Christian West, since the universalism of democratic rights can be seen in many ways as a secular form of Christian universalism."

These murky questions appear to be working themselves out in the Iranian Revolution, which may well be nearing its end. As Ayatollah Khomeini understood, the failure of the revolution would raise unavoidable questions for the entire Islamic world about whether Islam can ever be the basis for an effectively functioning modern state.

Huntington is also haunted by a sense of Western decline - possibly too much so. His suggestion that the world is becoming less Western defies common sense. His concern that "the West no longer has the economic or demographic dynamism required to impose its will on other societies and any effort to do so is also contrary to the Western values of self-determination and democracy" turned out to be an accurate description of Europe, but not the US and its coalition partners.

In fact, the bombing of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq pose many interesting problems for the Huntington thesis: a significant part of the Western public, especially in Europe, was clearly opposed to war under almost any circumstances.

The Iraq war has also driven a wedge between America and Europe, problematising Huntington's idea of a secular West led by the US. Richard Butler, Australia's former UN ambassador, recently suggested that the EU is deeply concerned by US unilateralism, and beginning to respond. He says we may see the present unipolar world give way to a strangely Orwellian "tri-polarity", where superpower status is shared by the US, Europe and an Asian bloc led by China. In this context, it is surely not insignificant in cultural terms that the "coalition of the willing" comprised three Anglo-Saxon nations, while France, Germany and Russia fumed on the sidelines.

Of particular interest in Huntington's book is his brilliant analysis of what he terms "torn" societies - nations striving with difficulty for acceptance into a civilisation where they did not previously belong, such as Russia ("a torn country since Peter the Great"), Turkey, Mexico and Australia. Given that Huntington was writing in the 1990s, he now seems spot on in his prediction that there would be a popular backlash in Australia to Paul Keating's project of moving closer to Asia, and that the ruling elites of Asia would also reject the idea. In Huntington's terms, the Howard Government's policy of strengthening our alliance with the US makes more "civilisational sense". Well, at least in the short term. Presumably what never goes away is the underlying dilemma of our geography - that Australia is a sparsely populated settler society in a non-European part of the globe.

But perhaps Huntington's most confrontational contention for a society like Australia is that culture is not in the end "multicultural". He is an opponent of US multiculturalists, whom he says "wish to create a country not belonging to any civilisation and lacking a cultural core. History shows that no country so constituted can long endure as a coherent society."

But doesn't history shows the very opposite? Multiculturalism is the reason why the Roman Empire lasted so long, and Muslim societies have also been at their most vital when they open to people and ideas from outside. At this point perhaps Huntington's critics are correct and he does reveal how static and monolithic his thinking about civilisations really is. They change constantly, if slowly, and are much more porous than he allows.

These are challenging times for Muslims living in the West. September 11 has brought increased suspicion, police raids and occasionally violence, when we know that the overwhelming majority of Muslim migrants are loyal citizens in their adopted homelands. For Australia, the US and much of Europe, the future is surely multicultural.

Arguably, multiculturalism has always been a more sophisticated process in practice than its opponents usually recognise, or indeed its supporters. Immigrant communities do indeed gradually absorb the core values, and even the underlying cultural myths of the host society. And far from an end to multicultualism, there are already signs, especially in Europe, of an emerging Multiculturalism Mark Two, where shared values are more openly insisted upon.

For example, the Dutch have established a new seminary near Utrecht for the training of imams, who will be expected to speak Dutch and be familiar with Holland's anti-discrimination laws. And France has always staunchly promoted republican values through the education system. A new inquiry there has just been announced to look at whether Muslim girls should be allowed to wear the hijab at school, and earlier this year a national Muslim consultative council was established to encourage more French Muslims into the national mainstream.

However, all this may be more applicable to the surface of society than to the fundamental forces that shape it in the long term. In the end, Huntington provides a very useful and endlessly stimulating diagnosis of the problem at a global level. What he doesn't see so clearly is that the solution doesn't just lie in the consolidation of Western power - but in learning how to live together in local communities.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: clash; clashofcivilizations; september12era
Although perhaps it doesn't explain the recent admission by Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary of Defence, that the main reason behind military action in Iraq was oil.

A month and a half after the Guardian retracted their out-of-context quote, the editorial board of the Sydney Morning Herald continues to push the lie.

A report which was posted on our website on June 4 under the heading "Wolfowitz: Iraq war was about oil" misconstrued remarks made by the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, making it appear that he had said that oil was the main reason for going to war in Iraq. He did not say that... The sense was clearly that the US had no economic options by means of which to achieve its objectives, not that the economic value of the oil motivated the war.
Corrections and clarifications (Offical Guardian Retraction of Wolfowitz "It's All About Oil" Lie)

Either they do not employ fact-checkers, or they deliberately repeat lies to further their agenda.

The truth is that Huntington is an old-fashioned Democrat rather than an ideologue. A former speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson and Jimmy Carter, he is a teacher who shuns interview requests. Ironically, he developed his theory during classes at Harvard to get his students to challenge their triumphalist Western assumptions.

Ironically? That’s all they teach at Harvard.

1 posted on 07/18/2003 8:39:11 AM PDT by dead
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2 posted on 07/18/2003 8:39:53 AM PDT by Support Free Republic (Your support keeps Free Republic going strong!)
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To: dead
This article is utter socialist drivel.

What he doesn't see so clearly is that the solution doesn't just lie in the consolidation of Western power - but in learning how to live together in local communities.

It is IN the local communities that the clash is taking place, and will continue to intensify. The Muslims and Chinese, at least, have made it perfectly clear for years that their aim is the destruction of Western civilization.

I am increasingly amazed at the ability of liberals/socialists to totally ignore reality. They seem to have a weird sort of reversed intelligence. Massive birth defects, maybe?

3 posted on 07/18/2003 10:02:06 AM PDT by DesertWalker
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To: DesertWalker
This article is utter socialist drivel.

I agree that the article is all wet. Soggy, actually. 'It's religious. It's cultural. It's economic.' One thing the article isn't, it isn't socialist. The author is incapable of socialist thought. Totally misses the possibility of historicity. There are no real processes.

4 posted on 07/18/2003 10:13:29 AM PDT by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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To: RightWhale
Totally misses the possibility of historicity. There are no real processes.

That sounds awfully postmodern.  "There is no meaning
in text."  What does "there are no real [historical?] processes" mean?
5 posted on 07/18/2003 11:31:28 AM PDT by gcruse (There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women[.] --Margaret Thatcher)
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To: dead
Although perhaps it doesn't explain the recent admission by Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary of Defence, that the main reason behind military action in Iraq was oil.

This can't be anything but an intentional misrepresentation of the the facts that was refuted months ago with the publication of the whole quote. No matter what they say about Ann Coulter she is right, the left is populated by liars.

6 posted on 07/18/2003 11:39:55 AM PDT by CaptRon
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To: gcruse
The two are indeed postmodern, and are synonymous. The end of history, the negative denied, progress fulfilled, the logical imperative become real. But, we note: that ain't happening, so we need some fresh insight if anyone can spare a little.
7 posted on 07/18/2003 11:44:37 AM PDT by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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To: RightWhale
I'll call Cornel West in for a consultation.
8 posted on 07/18/2003 11:57:48 AM PDT by gcruse (There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women[.] --Margaret Thatcher)
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