Wednesday, 7 March 2007

'Clash of emotions'

The so-called clash of civilizations, coined by international relations expert Samuel Huntington, is as close to a myth as one can comfortably get, though it is not entirely off base. Huntington was correct about the collision between the Muslim world and the West. It was a good prediction on a bad premise. However, it is not because of conflicting values, but because of politics and, among other things, emotions, that the seeming confrontation between the Muslim world (not Islam itself, i.e. the Arab states) and the West (i.e. the US and Europe) has escalated so visibly.

I lean more to a recent essay in the American foreign policy journal Foreign Affairs, in which the author views it as more of a clash of emotions. The Muslim world is humiliated; N America and Europe are fearful; Asia is hopeful; etc.

The article is written by scholar Dominique Moïsi. (Free version published as op-ed in IHT.)

The United States and Europe are divided by a common culture of fear. On both sides, one encounters, in varying degrees, a fear of the other, a fear of the future and a fundamental anxiety about the loss of identity and control over one's destiny in an increasingly complex world.

In the case of Europe, there is the fear of being invaded by the poor, primarily from the south. Europeans also fear being blown up by radical Islamists or being demographically conquered by them as their continent becomes a "Eurabia." Then there is the fear of being left behind economically.
Some of the same sense of loss of control is present in the United States. ... And of course after 9/11, Americans are obsessed with security.

... behind the Bush administration's forceful and optimistic rhetoric lies the somber reality that the U.S. response to 9/11 has made the United States more unpopular than ever. The U.S. intervention in Iraq, for example, has generated more problems than it has solved.
Muslims saw the creation of the state of Israel in the midst of Arab land as the ultimate proof of their decline. For Jews, the legitimacy of Israel was manifold; it combined the accomplishment of a religious promise, the realization of a national destiny, and compensation by the international community for a unique crime, the Holocaust. For Arabs, by contrast, it was the anachronistic imposition of a Western colonial logic at the very moment decolonization was getting under way.

The unresolved conflict between Israel and its neighbors has helped turn the culture of humiliation into a culture of hatred.
And globalization, with its expansion of the gap between economic winners and losers, has contributed to the problem.
As the West and the Middle East lock horns, confidence in progress has been moving eastward. After two centuries of relative decline, China is recovering its legitimate international status. Its policy of concentrating on economic development while avoiding conflict seems to be earning Beijing both material benefits and international respect. As for India, for the first time in its modern history it has stepped onto the world stage as both an independent and an important power. Difficulties abound for both, but the optimism today is real and seems likely to last as long as growth continues.

Given the global clash of emotions, the first priority for the West must be to recognize the nature of the threat that the Muslim world's culture of humiliation poses to Europe and the United States. Neither appeasement nor force alone will suffice. ... The challenge is not figuring out how to play moderate Islam against the forces of radicalism. It is figuring out how to encourage a sufficient sense of hope and progress in Muslim societies so that despair and anger do not send the masses into the radicals' arms.

In that regard, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears more than ever as a microcosm of what the world is becoming. Israel is the West, surrounded by the culture of humiliation and dreaming of escape from a dangerous region and of re-entry into a culture of hope. But it must find a solution to the Palestinian problem first, or else the escape will not be possible. So, too, Europe and America seek to permanently banish their fears but will be able to do so only by finding a way to help the Muslim world solve its problems.

Multiculturalism will be as key as free markets if globalization — in a general form — is to be more easily taken. We are living in a more global world, which, along with its benefits, brings ample challenges too.

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