Sunday, 8 April 2007

There's a clash of something(s), but what?

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. says there is a clash within Islam between moderate and extremist factions. Clash about civilizations, as British Prime Minister Tony Blair has argued, between varying viewpoints on what a civilization should stand for. The godfather of the post-Cold War "clash of civilizations" paradigm was Harvard University's Samuel Huntington. Even if the theory is incorrect, elements of it proved true. In the years following the publication of his theory in the Summer 1993 issue Foreign Affairs, there has been ample debate over the definitions of the 'clash' and the 'civilizations'. Huntington's rebuttal was, "if not civilizations, what?"

If one remains unsatisfied — in disagreement or wanting more — with Huntington's simplified 'America versus enemies' theory, a new approach has been proposed. A "clash of emotions" was written about in the January/February edition of Foreign Affairs.

The world today faces not only a clash of civilizations but a clash of emotions as well. The West displays -- and is divided by -- a culture of fear, while the Arab and Muslim worlds are trapped in a culture of humiliation and much of Asia displays a culture of hope.

Instead of being united by their fears, the twin pillars of the West, the United States and Europe, are more often divided by them -- or rather, divided by how best to confront or transcend them. The culture of humiliation, in contrast, helps unite the Muslim world around its most radical forces and has led to a culture of hatred. The chief beneficiaries of the deadly encounter between the forces of fear and the forces of humiliation are the bystanders in the culture of hope, who have been able to concentrate on creating a better future for themselves.

These moods, of course, are not universal within each region, and there are some areas, such as Russia and parts of Latin America, that seem to display all of them simultaneously. But their dynamics and interactions will help shape the world for years to come.

Huntington was correct about the collision between the Muslim world and the West (i.e. 9/11). 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.

The United States should embrace the religious moderates, even if they are not totally on board with US policies in the Mid-East. It is better to pick the lesser of two evils, i.e. the moderates over the radicals. That goes for Israel too. When Israel attacks a village, like Biet Hanoun (in Gaza), and kills civilians or causes other direct anguish, those in Gaza or elsewhere who may have sympathized or even really liked Israel are automatically targets of extremist groups, especially if they are also united by religion. That is, if such people are not recruited by extremists — or at least support anti-Israel causes — they may even become core extremists themselves.

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