The Clash of Civilizations

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Conflicts between nations of different cultures are not new. Professor Samuel P. Huntington called this situation “The Clash of Civilizations”, the title of his famous article written in Foreign Affairs in 1993. His hypothesis was that the differences between the major cultures, namely Western, Islamic, Chinese and Japanese, will dominate global politics for the foreseeable future.

The message that Professor Huntington propounded is that it is extremely difficult to impose a different culture on a country or its population.

Children around the world are inculcated since birth in the habits and traditions of their families and friends and, as they grow up, are usually quite content to live with their heritage. It is readily observed that it is very difficult to push a chain uphill.

However, a chain can be pulled uphill. The Western way of life is enormously attractive to most young people, who love the freedom, music, blue jeans, computers, cars, and other aspects of Western culture. The Western life style has been eagerly imitated in the most rapidly growing nations in the Far East and India. However, the Wahhabi clerics of Saudi Arabia and the Iranian Shi’a theocracy strongly resist the “Western invasion” and what they perceive is the abandonment of the teachings of the Qur’an. These nations have produced and financed the Taliban and other jihadists who have adopted terrorism, suicide bombings and martyrdom to combat the spread of Western culture and to restore Islam to the glory days of the caliphate.

Clash About Civilization
Tony Blair, also writing in Foreign Affairs , stated that “The roots of the current wave of global terrorism and extremism are deep. They reach down through decades of alienation, victimhood, and political oppression in the Arab and Muslim world”. He offered a modification to Professor Huntington’s thesis, suggesting that, “This is not a clash between civilizations, it is a clash about civilizations. It is ultimately a battle about modernity. The terrorists do not want Muslim countries to modernize”. Prime Minister Blair concluded that “We need to construct a global alliance for these global values and act through it”

Freedom of Religion

Most people of strong religious conviction believe that the path to true happiness is best done by joining their faith. Thus, for many years Christian missionaries ventured to far off places to teach, heal and spread the faith. Many of these dedicated individuals became beloved by their adherents, and as a result of their influence, were often considered a threat to the established order. As an example, under the communist regime of Chairman Mao, Christian missionaries and churches were severely repressed.

Freedom of religion is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the separation of church and state is a well established concept. These rights have been a beacon for all peoples. However, these fundamental rights are not reciprocated in Muslim countries, where other religions are banned or severely restricted. Because Muslims are taught by their religious leaders that Islam is only true faith, non-believers, including the followers of the other Muslim sects, are considered infidels. As such, Islam is considered an “Absolutist” religion.

The attack on freedom of religion by Islamic clerics continues. An article in The Economist entitled “The Meaning of Freedom” described a resolution on “religious defamation” passed by the UN’s Human Rights Council on March 26, 2009. The intent behind the resolution can be surmised from its sponsors, Pakistan, Belarus and Venezuela with support from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The resolution states that “defamation of religions is a serious affront to human dignity”. The Arab countries commonly define the word “defamation” essentially the same as the crime of “blasphemy” which is interpreted as any dissent from the official interpretation of Islam. In summary, the resolution is intended to provide legitimacy for the punishment of both Muslims and non-Muslims who disagree with any ruling by the clerics. This is an incredibly bold attack on the freedom of speech which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Rights adopted by the UN in 1948.

Within all religions, not all believers follow all of the teachings of their clergy. Thus, although the Catholic Church forbids the use of contraceptives (presumably because they want more parishioners) many Catholics ignore these edicts. Similarly, when some Islamic clerics issue Fatwa’s calling for a jihad against the infidels, they are ignored by most Muslims outside the Middle East.

Modernization and the World’s Religions

All of the great religions of the world either embrace or accept most aspects of modernization as beneficial to human progress except the Islamic fundamentalists and some sects within the other faiths (e.g. Quakers). Most followers of the great Eastern religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto and Confucianism- have accepted modernization within their societies, and these nations have become more secular. Thus, Islam alone is fighting to go “back to fundamentals”, in this case the rules of the 7th Century. The “Clash of Civilizations” is between the fundamentalist Islam and the secular freedoms of the West and modern countries of the world.

Professor Huntington predicted a clash between the Western societies and the three other great cultures, namely the Islamic, Chinese and Japanese. However, the Asian nations have actively embraced with a vengeance many aspects of Western civilization. Japan, progressing from the total devastation of WWII has become the second largest economy in the world. The free market economic model has been adopted by Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the emerging “tigers” of Southeast Asia. India, the largest democracy in the world with a substantial Muslim population, has made great strides since it abandoned state run economic policies.

Nations with free market economies, even those which retain totalitarian governments, are not a threat to the West. Why attack your best customers? These countries have eagerly adopted some of the finest aspects of Western culture. Many of the world’s great orchestras have large components of brilliant Asian musicians. Sports competitions are a common bond between all peoples of the world.

Those Islamic nations which have adopted free market economies such as Turkey and the Gulf states are prospering. India has a large Islamic minority and a Muslim President. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. But these countries are targets for the Jihadists – “Islamofascists” – who commit acts of terror and seek to replace the secular governments with an Islamic theocracy. Their efforts were successful in Iran. To envision the kind of life the Jihadists have in mind one only need to see the restrictions imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan while they ruled that abject country.

Thus, the real “Clash of Civilization” as perceived by Professor Huntington is no longer the West versus the great Asian civilizations. It is now the Islamic leaders who preach Jihad and their disciples against the rest of the world

Byron K Varme
Byron K. Varme, Executive Director