Clash of Civilizations


American political scientist Samuel Huntington had expressed apprehension way back in 1996 that the twenty-first century would be marked by conflicts between Islam and the West--a throwback to the Crusades of the Middle Ages. This projection was described in Western scholarship as the jihad-versus-McWorld scenario, an eventuality that would test the resilience of the free world against the forces of religious fundamentalism and terrorist insurgency.

But it is rather disturbing that all such doomsday prophecies came true on September 11, 2001, with terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Such mindless acts of violence against the civilian population provoke certain questions.

First, are the basic tenets of Islam incompatible with other world religions? We know it is the religiously assigned duty of Muslims to wage war against non-Muslims in order to transform the world into an acceptable and exclusivist dar-ul-Islam (World of Islam) from an unacceptable dar-ul-harb (World of Infidels). Islam as an organized world religion should come to terms with the realities of the new millennium and should re-socialize itself, so to speak, to cohabit with the emergent ethos of pluralist multicultural societies.

Second, does violence beget violence? It obviously does. But the United States at this time should also appreciate the exact nature of cross-border terrorism in flashpoints like Kashmir in India and help both the other NATO members, as well as willing countries in the developing world (like India), to destroy pockets of insurgency, especially those drawing ideological, military, and financial support from Islam's thoroughly discredited thesis of the jihad (holy war). U.S. citizens should now realize the kind of trauma that Indian Hindu pandits suffer daily in Jammu and Kashmir--this former valley of the gods has now been tragically reduced to a valley of fear and death by Muslim terrorists trained and equipped by rogue states like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even Libya. Pakistan's army-chief-turned-president even had the insufferable audacity to describe these insurgents as freedom fighters on his recent visit to India.

Third, are human rights and democracy Eurocentric constructs? They most certainly aren't, but the United States should stop acting as the moral guardian of a unipolar world and instead effectively build bridges, underpinned by trust and a common agenda of human development, to reach across to potential regional partners in the developing world like India--a country that, despite poverty, malnutrition, and hunger, has sustained its liberal democracy (unlike Pakistan) since its independence from Great Britain in 1947.

U.S. policymakers should realize that it is high time they begin dismantling the United States' strategy of cultural isolation and indifference. It is a disquieting fact that an average urban student of the developing world knows more about the United States than an average U.S. undergraduate knows about other peoples and other cultures. Dissemination of multicultural knowledge should be facilitated both within and without U.S. academia, industry, and social service sectors.

Familiarity can also breed understanding and help expand worldviews of an entire people. The logic of globalization, more often than not, has worked in a one-sided manner, provoking even Western scholars to come up with insightful expressions like McDonaldization and Coca-Colonization and The U.S. is us!

America's war against terror has provoked sharp reactions and animated protests worldwide. It has long been established that the battle to topple Saddam Hussein was fought on the most flimsiest of grounds. No weapon of mass destruction was discovered in Iraq. The military exercise in Afghanistan is another example in this regard. America is almost certain to attack Iran in the near future to destroy the so-called axes of evil. It is as if the powers that be have decided that those who are not with us are against us in accordance with the McCarthy Doctrine.

It does not suit the United States to flaunt ideals such as democracy, human rights, development and peace. Till date America is the only country to have used atomic weapons in war and that too at such a juncture when such an action was not at all tenable in military terms. Japan was already at the receiving end when the nuclear holocausts took place at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even then America decided to go ahead with its atomic bomb project in order to avenge the Pearl Harbor incident.

Democracy and human rights for the United States mean safeguarding American Democracy and American Human Rights. The World is America for all practical purpose now. Even God is an American! So the interpretations of independence, freedom, good governance, social capital and nuclear non-proliferation are essentially American definitions that exclude multicultural or pluralist worldviews. This attitude to global politics has tempted America to make situational friends and long-term enemies worldwide. The search for oil and the boost to domestic weapons and construction industries are overriding concerns that have prompted America now and again to wage war in the Persian Gulf.

This profiteering attitude has also compelled the United States to forge new alliances with India and China in order to expand business and capture markets and utilize cheap but highly skilled labor power trained in the English language and information technology. Even President Bush has recently warned American school children about their Indian and Chinese counterparts whose seniors are bagging lucrative jobs increasingly in the BPO and IT sectors of the American economy. Market, politics, society and culture have all become muddled in the eyes of the isolationist American foreign policy that has to realize that resources need to be shared if these are to be optimally utilized. Mutually assured destruction is the only other conceivable alternative.       


More by :  Dr. Prasenjit Maiti

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