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Civilizations: Clash Or Alliance

By Ram Puniyani

06 December, 2006

During last two decades World has seen the rise of politics based on religious identity. Particularly after the 9/11 2001 WTC disaster there is a widespread feeling that Samuel Huntington's thesis, that after the end of cold war the current time is the one of Clash of Civilizations (Clash), is true. One has witnessed many a controversies where religion has been dragged into the murky world of politics. Osama bin Laden talked of Jihad and George Bush responded to the WTC attack by uttering that it is going to be Crusade for him. He and his associate Blair both gave divine reasons for attack on Iraq. Multitude of controversies veered around Danish cartoons, Pope's statement about Islam, the banning of burqa in some Western countries, the rise of acts of terror in the name of Islam with the epithet coming that all terrorists are Muslims, has become popular in the social thinking at broad layers. Superficially it is projected as if it is the clash between the Islamic culture and the Western civilization. Here in India also attempts were made and are underway to project Islam as a religion of violence and Muslims being fanatics out to stick to the medieval social norms. The overall impact of the events and acceptance of this Clash thesis by Huntington has worsened the problem and is widening the intercommunity rifts.

As such the term clash of civilization was put forward by Bernard Lewis and later on converted into a thesis by Samuel Huntington, whose essay in a journal, Foreign Affairs 1993, became more popular after the 9/11 2001. At the end of cold war Francis Fukuyama postulated 'End of History', which stood for "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." (quoted from "The End of History?", 1989) This was in response to the philosophy of Karl Marx, whose Historical materialism propounded that the struggle between the classes is the cause of progress of society, leading to the classless society and end of History, i.e. beginning of classless, commune based society, communism

In the backdrop of Fukoyama's 'End of History', Huntington postulated that while the age of ideology (Marxism, classless society) has ended with the collapse of Soviet system, the World has only reverted to the state of cultural conflicts. As per him the primary axis of conflict will be along cultural religious lines. The principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilization will dominate global politics and fault lines between civilizations are the battle lines of future. As per him, "It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new World will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict, will be that the cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world Affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between Nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future."

Many did approve of this thesis and the accompanying classification, whose main criterion is religion. This thesis did create an anxiety and confusion adding to the problems of the nations all around. It is in this context that Kofi Annan, Secretary General of UN launched an initiative co-sponsored by Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey for an Alliance of Civilization in August 2005. This initiative nominated a high level group cutting across different religions and nations to come up with an understanding of the world today and to recommend the measures to restore the amity of civilizations, cultures and people of the of the World. The report has been recently (Mid Nov2006) submitted to the Secretary -General (http://www.unaoc.org/repository/report.htm)and it's a landmark in more ways than one.

It debunks the Clash thesis to bring our attention to the alliance between different cultures, nations and people at all the levels, social, political and economic. It is not only in current times but since the times people started migrating and interacting that the alliance has been the undercurrent of the societal life. The report points out that Clash theory has distorted the terms of discourse on the real nature of predicament the World is facing. The history of relations between cultures is not only one of wars and confrontations; it is also based on centuries of constructive exchanges, cross fertilizations and peaceful co-existence. One is reminded here that India's ex-president, Dr. K.R.Narayanan, in response to the Clash thesis, said that Civilizations don't clash, it is barbarisms which clash. In Clash thesis, Cultures and religions are identified with the religions of the kings and their wars are presented as clash between religions or civilizations. The Hate ideology spread by communal group's right here in South Asia also bases itself on the wars between Kings of different religions and these kings are presented as symbols of that religion. The whole aspect of cultural interaction is missing in this discourse. For example in India while the atrocities of Aurangzeb are the core of building the Hate ideology, the confluence articulated by Dara Shikoh as one can glean through his book Majma Ul Bahrain, India being a confluence of different cultures, is missing in this mindset. Similarly the rule of Muslim Kings in the subcontinent is taken as the point for legitimization of Islamic nation.

The worst part of this Clash thesis is that by propagating that cultures are set on collision course, it helps in turning the negotiable disputes into seemingly intractable, identity based conflicts and this is what has taken control of popular imagination. The report is based on the multipolar perspective and the UN Charter of Human rights. Significantly it points out that there is no hierarchy amongst cultures as each of them has contributed to the evolution of mankind. While the core problem remains poverty and deprivation of vast sections of mankind the rising trend of terrorism cannot be dealt with by seeing it as a mere law and order problem or having its roots in religion. On the contrary terrorism itself is a product of political circumstances, which need to be solved on urgent basis. In societies if some groups are discriminated against the violent repercussions come up and are perceived as libratory by a section of people while the same is seen as anti national by the state and other set of people. The durable solution to the causes of terrorism does not lie in attacking some countries or increasing the role of armed personnel in that area but in addressing the roots of resentment.

It traces the roots of current violent responses in the partition of Palestine and formation of Israel, and latter's occupation of part of Palestine and other Arab territories, which has come to be seen as a sort of colonialism by vast mass of people. While Jerusalem remains Holy for Jews, Christians and Muslims, the support of Western powers to Israel's highhandedness is perceived as the collusion of West with the expansionism of Israel. The committee is very clear on the point that no cause can justify the killing of civilians, non combatants. It does call for freedom of religions and takes a strong stand against desecration of holy places, irrespective of the majority minority religions. The report does recommend several measures in the arena of education, youth programs, community actions aimed to promote alliance, peaking it with the recommendation that a forum of alliance of civilization under the auspices of UN should be established and this should be promoted at all the levels, national, societal and what have you.

The humane spirit of the repot is visible all through. However the point is, in current times when the very authority of UN has been undermined by the powers that are arrogant, can we look forward to the era of Alliance and Amity so that the real problems gnawing the vast numbers of human kinds are properly addressed to, i.e. march in the direction of better world, i.e. struggle for human rights. To put it in another way, is it possible to think positively, to think that 'Another World is possible', a World where Human rights of all of us are adhered to.

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