SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2011
HUNTINGTON’S CONFLICT OF CIVILIZATIONS A FIGMENT OF IMAGINATION?
CONFLICT OF CIVILIZATIONS & REMAKING OF THE WORLD ORDER : by Huntington
Dr. Seshachalam Dutta
Samuel Huntington’s popular book The Clash of Civilizations has been re-released recently with the introduction by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former security advisor to Jimmy Carter. He together with Huntington engineered the strategy to defeat Soviets in Afghanistan, in the process promoting most insidious and fanatical Taliban which is being fought by America at the expense of enormous money and blood of young people. The worst scenario of influence of Soviets would not have resulted in such a disaster. It would have resulted, for better or worse, in a secular or a communist state.
Huntington’s book is a classic document of extreme racism and xenophobia, although well presented for academia with extensive authority, and more importantly to the conservative political groups…
His main thesis is that, with the decline of Soviet Union and defeat of communism, future conflicts would be based on cultural differences and not on nationalism or economic and political self interests. He paints the picture of decline of the West (with his own definition of the “West”), China overtaking the world and we all being forced to speak Chinese Mandarin rather than English. China is likely to become so powerful that America with the help their reluctant allies and Russia will invade that country. Meanwhile India would attack Pakistan to destroy its nuclear installations. The “HINDU” India will face military challenge from Indonesia and Myanmar with the help of Australia. The Europeans will be reluctant to join the Americans and Muslim countries will align with China.
Even if such geopolitical scenario is purely fanciful conjecture of the author, there are several incongruities in the logic of the narrative. The cultures of Muslim Countries including those of Pakistan and others have nothing in common with Chinese. Therefore such alliance would not be cultural. By calling India “HINDU” India, he ignores the fact that India is the home of the second largest Muslim population in the world next to Indonesia. For this scenario in which America invades China, he advances the strategy of including Russia in western alliance since they are no longer communists. Europeans it seems except the Russians would be reluctant to get involved in the “cultural wars”. When all is devastated, Africa, to use his exact words, “disgorges hordes of socially mobilized people to prey on the remains”. This is an expression of naked racism which he could only afford by caricaturing the Africans in Africa who have no political constituency like African-Americans.
This is the book that is being glorified by Brzezinski as the “seminal work that will revolutionize our understanding of international affairs.” Little wonder that young Americans are being sent to killing fields as canon fodder for over a decade on the advice of these political theorists who formulated a semi-self-fulfilling prophesy.
He goes on to say that the burden of maintaining the Western integrity falls on the United States as the Europe weakens economically and becomes demoralized by steady immigration of Muslims with high birth rate in contrast with European low birth rate. In journalistic jargon, the expression “the West” is variously used to refer to European and other countries with population of European origins. But, Huntington has very narrow definition of the West and western identity… It is defined as a group of democratic countries of Western alliance particularly Britain, Germany, France (despite latter being Catholic), and the United States. True West is not only democratic but should be protestant according to him. Thus Greece is not the part of the West. In order to consolidate identity one should not only appreciate “who he is, but who he is not and more importantly who he is against!” Thus the identity of the West is achieved by espousing anti-communism. With the collapse of communism, they now need a new enemy like Muslims. The Europeans show this antagonism to Muslim Turkey by not allowing its entry into NATO and the indifference of them to the Croatian Muslims which is well documented during Bosnian war. Bill Clinton is criticized for recognizing this cultural distinction. The West by itself stands separate from the rest of the world by its identity defined as liberal democracies devoted to protestant ethics and modernism. By this definition Serbians, Greeks, Spanish and South Americans are not considered western. How about Jewish people? They have not only a religious identity but they also have distinct ethnicity. He failed to mention that Hindus also have distinct ethnicity which would not change by proselytizing them. A Hindu may be atheist or he /she may worship Jesus or he may be a Muslim Sufi like Abdullah of Nagapatnam and he still will be a Hindu in his cultural identity as well as ethnicity.
Western Universalism is advocacy of western values including democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights in an attempt to universalize them throughout the world. While some of them who preach such Universalism may be benign, other movements like “religious freedom” disguise propagation of fundamental Christianity through proselytizing people of other religions and cultures, alienating them from their native cultures and also teaching them to berate their native cultures although many may not have even comprehended its values. There is resistance in the world against alienating people from their native cultures and weakening integrity of the races. Colonial Britain tried this in China which prompted Boxer revolution in response to the massacre of Chinese by British. There are present day Western “intellectuals” like Patrick Buchanan who think the West has its ultimate purpose of ‘civilizing and Christianizing’ the world. The notion of “white man’s burden” is rooted in such grandiosity.
It is argued by Huntington that Western movement for Universalism will only lead to confrontation with non-western cultures. They may modernize other cultures, but not Westernize them fully until they become Protestants. Eating Big Mac and listening to Western music is not Westernization. These cultures may be modernized, but not Westernized until they turn Protestant. There is no basis for this argument. Eating Big Mac in preference to ethnic food and listening to Hip-Hop leads to westernization. In a scientific study at University of Michigan, Mehta (1988) found that Asian students who listen to Western Music and do not prefer ethnic food are likely to marry outside their ethnic groups. Food and music are elements of culture. Is that not the reason African Americans (Blacks), when in confrontation with the Jewish in New York a few years ago, pejoratively called them ‘bagel eating Hymees’? Huntington argues even if westernized, the non-westerners when they return to their countries are indigenized and return to their original mold, like Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Here the author is mistaken. Jinnah was modern to the end. He was only fighting a sectarian fight, not religious and cultural. He was fighting, mistakenly, what he considered best for the “power” of his people. The author makes similar simplistic statements that BJP youth in India are a Scruffies-saffron clad yuppies. They are modernized but not westernized. It is also indicated that the West was happy and was relieved that BJP, the Nationalist party in India, was defeated, never mind that the communist supported coalition came into power. Is the West afraid of Hindu Nationalism more than Indian Communism? While there is extensive bibliography, the book is replete with errors; for instance, it is mentioned that English is not the second language of communication even in the extreme South India. Also, that Indians speak English with different accent has no bearing on westernization; after all Georgians and the French speak English differently than New Yorkers.
The main issue with Huntington’s work is his conflating of Christianity with modernity. It goes against the history of church and development of modernism in Europe. Modern advances in sciences and scientific and even industrial development as well as every modern intellectual thought came by resisting the influence of Christianity. Science and Church stand opposite to one another in modernization. This is exemplified by a quotation by him of the papal letter of Cardinal Gibbons of U.S.A (1899) regarding false doctrine of Americans, “Americanism is a path of corruption leading to the worst form of modernism, individualism, materialism and liberalism.” By Authors own account Catholics were discriminated in America in Employment and immigration well into 20th century. Until a few decades ago they were not allowed by law to hold State employment in North Carolina. In 1899 a Catholic Church was burnt down in Massachusetts. So much for the American creed and liberalism! Church is still fighting Evolution theory and characterizes anthropology as artifactual. Every development in modern science came by overcoming the resistance from Christianity. It is therefore absurd to give credit for Western modernism to Christianity and view Christianity as synonymous with modernism.
Quoting Arthur Schlesinger, the author makes a fantastic claim that “ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, rule of law, human rights and cultural freedom are European ideas, not Asian….” We can dismiss this as patently false. Further he claims that the Western Culture embodies “most liberal, most rational, most modern and most civilized world culture.” This is self-serving Jingoism, since one can say in the same breath that world suffered untold misery because of this culture, its practice of colonialism, slavery, ethnic brutality and destruction of the world by two world wars which cannot be dismissed from our recent memory. Also, Nazism, Fascism, and Communist Totalitarianism are undoubtedly the legacy of Western culture.
The suggestion that India would attack Pakistan at an opportune time when America is engaged in the war with China is either a wishful thinking or simplistic assumption. A destroyed nuclear plant can be rebuilt. That both India and Pakistan are nuclear states would preempt such an action as the nuclear weapons actually act as deterrent. When all the religious fervor dies down , very much like Canada and the U.S.A, Pakistan would be a peaceful neighbor to India with its second largest Muslim world population that is larger than the Muslim population of Pakistan, and therefore, waging a war with India is nothing but a demagogic proposition.
Lastly, Huntington exhorts that America should lead the West in keeping at a distance from culture wars and maintain their supremacy; but agonizes that America is trending towards becoming a ‘cleft’ society with enormous Latino immigration that will provide a large latino population that is non-westernized, therefore, unassimilable into American culture. They (the Latinos) would not support the Western Europe in case of confrontation with non-West. America is becoming slowly bilingual as the Latinos keep their identity. He doesn’t discuss much about African Americans (blacks and black Muslims) in America in this context. For this we have go to the followers of his political persuasion and learn where his line of thinking can lead us.
In an article in USA today, Dorothy Rabinowitz (June9,2010) accuses President Obama for being an “Alien in the White House.” He removed the bust of Winston Churchill and gave it away to the visiting former Prime Minister of Britain Tony Blair! Churchill was the hero of the West, but not of majority of the Nations that suffered under colonialism. After all, he once admired the Fascist dictator Mussolini, and called Gandhi a half naked Fakir and Indian National leaders straw men who should not be heeded and insisted that Britain should hold on to Colonial India. Ironicaly Britain could not keep even tiny Israel after the second world war under its thumb. Every Indian has to debrief their children when they come home hearing the admiration of Churchill in the American schools. For Dorothy, Obama is a stranger but not to the rest of non-western Americans so far, as a amatter of fact, the rest of the world. American press may celebrate royal wedding and divorces, but Americans in some time future would not shed their blood to defend the so called West as envisioned by Huntington, because if one of the results of profound demographic changes in America and cultural distancing from Protestant British standing for the “West.”
When he talks about cultural assimilation, the author shows poor appreciation of the complex process of assimilation of immigrants and their children into American culture. It is not a matter of eating Big Mac and abandoning enchiladas. The immigrant suffers first the identity crisis having lost his family and friends in a distant land, and undergoes a period of mourning. Then he reconciles to the fact of his new home, new country and life. His new identity comes from the fact that the new land is his destiny, even if he may be discriminated by the locals. The realization that this is the country of his children and grand children makes him bind to the soil and makes him patriotic American. First Italians, next Irish and the Catholic immigrants and now the Hispanic are going through this same process. Which language they speak and whether they are bilingual or multi-lingual has nothing to do with their love of their adopted land and the home of their future children and grand children. They are essentially assimilated or integrageted more appropriately, whether their men wear sombreros or women wear saris or head scarfs. It is extreme racism to discriminate against them because they do not conform to protestant Christianity and so called protestant ethic.
Psychoanalyst H.C. Sabelli succinctly stated the feelings of modern immigrants to America when he wrote “Only those who hate their own self, family and culture can abandon them to become American; it must be I who become American. My latin spirit must survive”.(Quoted from Immigrants By Salman Akthar). The idea of America as a melting pot, God’s crucible, as popularized in the then famous play by Israel Zangwell in1909 is no longer valid as the notion was re-examined. Nathan Glazer reexamined it in another play in 1960s . Patric Moynihan, an Irish American, endorsed it. Huntington refers to the incident of Jewish Professor Alan Darshowitz’s son’s marriage to a Catholic girl. Dershowitz’s agony resulted in a publication of a book on this subject. The theme is integration , Yes: assimilation, No.
Finally, there is universalism not of the kind advocated by the proselytizers. West touts their form of universalism as the basis of human rights protection through non state organizations, for instance India is accused of abridging or restricting the religious freedom because the evangelist are not allowed to demean Hinduism and convert Hindus to Christianity. There could be as well Islamic universalism if the world accepts Islam as the standard of modern civilization. It is possible to conceive Universalism based on Scientific Humanism and accepting the best of all cultures on a rational basis. This is what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he called himself a Hindu, a Muslim and also a Christian, not that there is such a cult that integrates a composite of all three. What made Man Human is the primordial innate instincts of kindness, tolerance, mutual love and sense of fairness inherent in all human beings, prior to the birth of any of the religions. Religions perhaps only emphasized best of what existed in Man.
This is exactly what was expressed in the words of Rudyard Kipling when he wrote:
“Oh, East is East and West is West and never the twain shall never meet
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at Gods great Judgment Seat;”
The he went on to say: “But there is neither East or West, Border nor Breed, nor birth, when two strong men stand face to face from the ends of the Earth”
More elegantly Hindu Scriptures say:
Ayam Nijah, Iti Paraavrutti Gananaa Laghuchetasanaam
Udaarcharitaanaam tu Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
Small and petty minded regard “these are my people and others don’t count”; yet “for noble minded the world is a family.”
This is not to say there are no differences among cultures and traditions but there is underlying humanity that binds us all. Unless this is recognized, there won’t be real peace in the world .