Clash of interests and hegemonies, not ‘Clash of Civilizations’

Published : 29 Sept 2012, 04:55 AM
Updated : 29 Sept 2012, 04:55 AM

Islamophobic and renowned British-American historian of Islam and Middle East, Professor Bernard Lewis (b.1916) of Princeton University, first coined the hackneyed expression "clash of civilizations". Later brilliant political scientist Professor Samuel Huntington (1927-2008) of Harvard University gave wide circulation to the expression through his controversial essay in Foreign Affairs 1993, which in 1996 came out as a book titled The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Another brilliant political scientist, Professor Francis Fukuyama, revised his 1989 controversial essay "The End of History" and published it as a book, The End of History and the Last Man in 1992.

However, unfortunately both the widely read and controversial essays and books by the brilliant professors – Fukuyama and Huntington – are no longer considered by-products of any brilliance and well-thought-out splendid ideas. As scholars having no bias and prejudice against Muslims, Asians, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians and people in the Afro-Asian countries have trashed both the so-called "clash of civilizations" and "the end of history" theories as hackneyed, prejudiced and at most as sophomoric essays, they are not worth our time and attention. These "theories" represented Western euphoria and prejudice against the East, from East Europe to the Middle East, China, India and Japan at the sudden end of the Cold War. Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), many scholars, analysts and politicians in the West started believing that unbridled capitalism and Western democracy would gradually replace all other ideologies and political and economic systems throughout the World. While Fukuyama's "end of history" has been the epitome of this extravagant optimism in the West, Huntington's "clash of civilizations" smacks of the author's nervous skepticism, that the Western hegemony would not be established so soon without a prolonged wars and conflicts. He thought the process would entail a "clash of civilizations", which he believed had been a continuous process throughout for several centuries.

In 1990, Western leaders in America and Western Europe started translating Huntington's and Fukuyama's theories even before their publication by enticing Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait so that they could start their "clash of civilizations" by invading Iraq (and then other Muslim-majority countries in the region) to "end history" to perpetuate Western hegemony across the globe. Thus the "clash of civilizations" is not about the clash of cultures but simply the clash of interests and hegemonies. The modern phase of the so-called "clash of civilizations" began with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 1991, which Saddam Hussein portrayed as the "mother of all battles".

As the discord between modern and traditional Muslims is ideological by nature, so is the conflict between Islam and the West. And ideology is not only about culture and belief systems but also about power, influence and identity. While Westernized Muslim elites are unwilling to concede power and privileges to the mullahs, the latter are also unwilling to concede any ground to the former. The Iranian Revolution and the Taliban/al-Qaeda experiment in Afghanistan have inspired mullahs and their followers to go the Khomeini or Taliban way. Meanwhile Western duplicities and open support for Islamists during the Cold War had further emboldened Islamists within and beyond the Muslim World. The U.S. support for mullahs in Iran to topple the elected government of Dr Mossadegh in 1953, and American promotion of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to topple anti-American Nasser in Egypt, are well-known facts. Last but not least, America was directly behind the creation of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union; and in connivance with the Pakistani military it was instrumental in the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 1996.

For distancing ourselves from any pseudo-history of Islamism, we need to understand that postcolonial Islamist re-assertion is a legacy of defeats and humiliation for the Ummah. As mentioned above, Arab defeat at the hands of Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 brought Islamism or political Islam to where it is today. It has emerged as an important, if not the most important alternative ideology, for global Muslims. We need an understanding of the Muslim psyche vis-à-vis the Muslim experience in Palestine, Kashmir, Iran, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and among other places, Iraq and Afghanistan. How the Cold War allies – Muslims and the West – turned into adversaries or competitors in uneven "elite conflicts" and asymmetrical wars in the Globalized World for conflicting hegemonies and ideologies demands our attention.

We need to discern the Cold War Islamism from the post-Cold War one. While during the Cold War, Muslims considered the West a "suspect-cum-ally", as a friend against their common enemy, communism. In the wake of the Cold War, Muslims no longer consider the West as a friend but as their main adversary, thanks to Western duplicities and invasions of Muslim-majority countries. Instead of ushering in a new dawn of hope and empowerment for Muslims, the New World Order totally disillusioned them. By 1991, almost all the Muslim-majority countries – barring Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia – had remain autocratic; and by 2003 three of them – Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan – had been invaded by Western troops. In short, the cumulative unpleasant post-Cold War Muslim experience has led to the beginning of another Cold War. "Islam vs. the West" has become the new catchword. Meanwhile, pre-modern ultra-orthodox obscurantist forces had gained upper hand in many Muslim-majority countries. Interestingly, enamoured by the concept of transnational Muslim solidarity, Muslims in postcolonial societies are grabbing the elusive Ummah as their security blanket as weak and marginalized people find security in number.

Then again, radical Islamism is "a modern philosophy, not just a heap of medieval prejudices". Military action cannot destroy any ideology and post-invasion Islamism is much stronger today than before. However, I do not toe the line of Bernard Lewis who assumes that Islamism is an offshoot of yester years' European fascism.# However Lewis is right that: "The struggle between these rival systems [Islamic and Christian] has now lasted for some fourteen centuries"; Islam divides the entire world into the "House of Islam" and "House of Unbelief or the House of War"; Islam "never considers other faiths equal" and Muslims learnt anti-Americanism from German writers and philosophers of the 1930s and 1940s. Muslims are angry with the West for loss of domination and authority in their own countries and for Western induced empowerment of Muslim women and creation of rebellious children. He imputes the rising tide of Muslim rebellion against the West to its long colonial hegemony and to America's support for hated regimes in the Muslim World. He, however, is not critical of European colonialism. It seems, he does not understand Western neo-colonial misadventures and designs in the Muslim World either.# His differentiation of Islam with Islamism at times helps us understand the religion. Nevertheless, what Lewis wrote about Islam-West conflict in 1990 is not wholly relevant today. He saw "no Cuba, no Vietnam in the Muslim World and no place where American forces are involved as combatants or even as 'advisers'." #

Joe Lieberman, a former "Independent Democratic" senator from Connecticut sounds quite reasonable. He affirms this war is not about "defeating a broader political ideology" but about destroying al Qaeda and similar terrorist organizations such as the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.# We, however, have no clues as to how to reach al Qaeda, which is more of a global movement than an organization. Lieberman is right that since the U.S. is not at war with Islam, it must "encourage and empower the non-violent Muslim majority", who understand "better than anyone else the enormous difference between their faith and the terrorist political ideology that has exploited it".# The more radical offshoots of Muslim Brotherhood — who despise the mother organization (MB) for being too soft and constitutional — such as al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and their friends in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere will eventually pose a much bigger threat to American and Israeli interests in the region.

However, despite some attempts to understand the Muslim World and Islamist terror threats to America, American politicians and intellectuals deliberately avoid certain embarrassing issues and do not want to find out the root causes of Islamist threats to their country. One may raise the question if America will ever go against the Israeli Lobby to win over Arab and Muslim heart and mind. While military strategists, war and security analysts know Islamists have no prospects of winning an asymmetrical war against America, those who know the psyche of the proud, ideologically committed and desperate enemy know it quite well that the weaker party can wreak havoc by taking the war to the least expected places by the least expected means and strategies. Nothing is deadlier than an ideologically committed and undeniably wronged and humiliated enemy. America is facing that dreadful enemy in Islamism; which is anything but declining. Islamists in the coming years are likely to adopt new methods, going beyond terrorism. Some of them have already come to power through elections; and there are others in the pipeline.

Last but not least, we cannot understand violent extremism by looking at it only through the prism of religion. We need to understand how race, ethnicity, identity and marginalized people's yearn for recognition and respect and their denial or withdrawal humiliate them and may turn them into violent terrorists.# We may agree with Karen Armstrong that no religion has so far been able to withstand changes over the last four hundred years in science and technology, philosophy and ideas, and socio-political and economic systems and structures. Religious revival is not just retrogressive but an attempt to cope with these changes and challenges of rationalism against myths and superstitions.# Chomsky has aptly called modern wars "Trade Wars": "Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down…, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process."# Trading advantages for colonial and postcolonial powers and the greed of the "Military, Industrial Complex" have been the main factors behind modern war. Woodrow Wilson's following appraisal of causes of war has got wide currency: "Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?"

In sum, it is important that not only the American but also the Pakistani "Military Inc" is a destabilizing factor, both within and beyond the borders of the country. The profit-oriented armed forces of Pakistan, which run industries, banks and virtually the government (even under civilian administration),# have vested interests in keeping the region turbulent to legitimize and further strengthen their position. Thus, Pakistani armed forces are least interested in a durable peace across the "Line of Control" in Kashmir or across the "Durand Line" between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Youth Bulge and Demographic Pressure
Both Malthus and Huntington are helpful in understanding the core of the problem of the ongoing Muslim-West conflict. The Western and Muslim worlds represent people having diametrically opposite identities, ideologies and interests. They represent two different worlds; the West provides better opportunities, freedom, living space, food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and dignity to its people than what the Muslim World offers to the bulk of its people. Malthus believed expanding population without corresponding rise in food supply and jobs would lead to catastrophic wars and conflicts. Huntington has also singled out Youth Bulge as an important factor behind conflicts. Youth Bulge occurs when thirty to forty per cent of the male population in a society belong to the "fighting age", cohorts from 15 to 29 years of age, and are under-employed / unemployed. Demographic pressure in Western Europe led to the Crusades in the 11th and 13th centuries. Pope Urban II on the eve of the First Crusade (1095) wrote: "For this land … is too narrow for your large population …. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher; wrest that land from a wicked race, and subject it to yourselves." The "Wicked Race" Theory is all about undermining other ethnic groups. Friedrich Ratzel (German demographer) in 1897 coined the expression "Lebensraum" (adequate living space) for Germany, which later inspired Hitler's expansionism and war against the "wicked races".

Taking cover of religion, race or nationhood is convenient for the underdogs. Backward, marginalized, "late comers" are too weak to compete with more advanced people in the main stream. They often use religion, Marxism, nationalism, terrorism and anarchy to reach their goals. When non-violent methods fail, they resort to violence. Artificial states based on arbitrarily drawn "lines across the desert" could be breeding grounds for conflicts between neighbours and/or between the colonizers and the original inhabitants. The Palestine problem or the sectarian / communal conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Russia and India are examples in this regard. The Muslim-West conflict is likely to be intensified after the latter's unsuccessful bid for retaining its weakening hegemony over the unwilling Muslim World. At times a multi-ethnic state's unwillingness to recognize the right of self-determination by a section or sections of population leads to conflicts. "Yield to one, lose more" is the Achilles Heel of artificial states. Among others, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Russia, China, Iraq and Turkey are vulnerable to ethno-national separatist threats. Some of these separatist groups use Islam to justify their distinct identities.

In sum, major Western powers' several-century-long exploitation of global resources, colonization of most Afro-Asian countries and annexation of North and South America, Australia and New Zealand are at the roots of the problem. Over-populated and under-developed Muslim and Third Worlds for decades have been craving for their "Lebensraum" or adequate living space. They want the end of the discriminatory and restrictive immigration laws in resource-rich and sparsely populated North America, Europe, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. We see the reflection of this feeling of marginalization of the Third World in the late Algerian President Houari Boumediene's UN General Assembly speech in 1974:

One day, millions of men will leave the Southern Hemisphere to go to the Northern Hemisphere. And they will not go there as friends. Because they will go there to conquer it. And they will conquer it with their sons. The wombs of our women will give us victory [emphasis added].#

The glaring contrast between Muslim backwardness and Western and East Asian advancement is simply mindboggling. While the combined annual GDP of fifty-seven OIC countries is less than $2 trillion, the United States alone has a GDP of around $14 trillion. Each of China, Japan and Germany has higher GDP than the combined GDP of the Muslim World. Other glaring differences that dwarf the Muslim World against the developed West and East are in the realm of knowledge. As for example, while the tiny Jewish community, about fifteen million in total, has so far won almost 200 Nobel Prizes, the corresponding figure for the 1.4-billion-strong Muslim community is half a dozen at most, excluding the Peace Prizes. The reason is not far to seek. While most Christian- and Jewish-majority entities have almost cent per cent literacy rate, on the average, the rate is around forty per cent in the Muslim World. While America alone has more than 5,000 universities, the Muslim World has around 500, none of them being among the top-500 in the world. While Japan has 5,000 and America 4,000 scientists per million people, the corresponding figure is less than 250 per million in the Muslim World. In view of the Muslim backwardness, we may impute it to Muslim clerics, backward-looking Muslims and their governments. One cannot impute Muslim backwardness to foreign occupation and colonialism alone as postcolonial entities like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela and Sri Lanka, among many others, are far more advanced than most Muslim-majority countries in the realms of literacy, development, the rule of law and freedom.

In short, the Muslim World wants democracy, dignity, equal opportunity and freedom. Contrary to George W. Bush's misperception, Muslims do not hate freedom and democracy. Again, the overwhelming majority of Muslim militants and their global supporters do not fight for restoring their so-called golden past, let alone the problematic Shariah codes. Most Islamist terror is about secular issues of good governance, justice and human dignity. The Taliban and bands of obscurantist Islamist militants, represent a miniscule (and fast diminishing) minority of Muslims. The "Arab Spring" and successful holding of democratic elections in two-third of the Muslim World since the beginning of the 21st century belie all trumped up Western allegations about Muslims' contempt for freedom and democracy.

This work is not going to address all the major issues between the Muslim and Western worlds, the role of China, India, Israel and other major and minor powers in the global conflicts in the coming decades. I have tried to elaborate some of the main factors dogging the Muslim-West understanding, mutual trust and respect in global perspective in general, and most importantly, in South Asian perspective in particular. I believe parts of South Asia, Persian Gulf and North Africa have more inflammable matters than elsewhere in the world. These regions have several eyes of the storm and potential Sarajevos to trigger another world war.

Taj Hashmi is a faculty in Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee, USA.

1. Paul Berman, " Why Radical Islam Just Won't Die" New York Times, March 23, 2008.
2. Bernard Lewis, "The Roots of Muslim Rage", The Atlantic, September 1990.
3. Ibid
4. Joseph I. Lieberman, "Who's the Enemey in the War on Terror?", Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2010
5. Ibid
6. Evelin Gerda Lindner, "Humiliation as the Source of Terrorism: A New Paradigm", Peace Studies, 33(2), 2001
7. Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, Ballantine Books, New York 2001, "Introduction"
8. Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology, South End Press, Cambridge, MA 1990 p.14
9. Ayesha Siddiqa, Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy, Pluto Press, London 2007, passim
10., (accessed January 30, 2011)

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher