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The Crash Of Civilizations

By Satya Sagar

15 May, 2004

When it all started out a few years ago the ideologues of the global War on Terror glibly called it the Clash of Civilizations. Between the torture, rape, murder of Iraqi prisoners by the US army and the gruesome beheading of an American hostage by Al Qaeda what we have instead is the very CRASH of Civilizations.

Two sets of despicable racists, one claiming to represent 'freedom' and the other 'faith' but both failing to uphold the basic tenets of either concept. If there is anything at all that marks this clash it is the complete absence of all civilized behavior and the contemptuous disregard for every law, rule and ethic evolved through centuries of accumulated human wisdom. (If the rest of the world allows these jokers to continue like this, the day will come when they make Genghis look like Gandhi)

True, in terms of their culpability one cannot really equate the armed forces of a supposedly responsible and democratic superpower, whose leaders for long have claimed global monopoly over the very idea of human rights, with a bunch of armed, medieval nuts who want to take the Muslim world screaming and kicking back to the 7th Century. The United States is far more culpable of course, with the blame for the breakdown of all norms going all the way up to the Commander-in-Chief and not confined to just minions lower down the pecking order.

On the moral plane though, today one cannot really see much difference between Bin Laden and Bush anymore.

What else can one say looking at the image of that naked, cowering Iraqi prisoner about to be set upon by vicious military dogs with America's 'finest' egging them on? Or those visuals of sexual humiliation and abuse visited upon those long-suffering Iraqis, delivered from the feudal hands of Saddam yesterday straight under the corporate heels of George Bush Jr today ? (And all this coming on top of a year of senseless killings of over 10,000 innocent civilians as part of the illegal US invasion)

Don't those images from the torture chambers of Abu Gharib, each on its own, represent the global crash of that soap opera of a 'morally superior civilization' that US elites have proudly paraded to the world for well over a century now? By stripping its captive, helpless victims of their clothes has not this lonely and very LOST superpower denuded itself of its last vestiges of legitimacy to any special global status?

After all this which child anywhere will ever buy another toy of a uniformed US marine without sending a shudder down his or her entire neighborhood? I bet right now, Burma's murderous generals are sitting in the dark recesses they inhabit laughing their heads off. (Ha, ha, ha, ha Human Rights ha, ha, ha!)

George Bush Jr., I am afraid, has not just allowed the corpses of his countrymen to be mutilated and dragged down the alleys of Fallujah but buried alive the reputation of an entire nation for at least a generation in all the bylanes and bazaars of the world.

The land of freedom, rule of law, respect for individual rights - the land symbolized in popular global folklore by the Statue of Liberty with its arms reached out to welcome the poor, weak and weary. And today, run by rightwing goons and represented abroad by a bunch of jackbooted thugs? Is this not indeed yet another self-styled 'God' that once flew high, flapped around and finally Failed?

But let me say also loud and clear - predatory Western Imperialism is not alone in its sinking to these lows of inhumanity. There is an absence of civilized behavior on all sides of this mean and mindless conflict that is truly frightening.

Beheading civilian hostages in the name of Allah? Carrying out suicide missions without concern for civilian casualties, publicly mutilating bodies of dead opponents? Blowing up scores of ordinary Spanish citizens (most of them probably opposed to the war on Iraq) to 'teach a lesson' to the Spanish government? Are you guys human or horror-movie extras?

For all their prattle about 'fighting the Crusaders' these cowards are surely no successors to the great Saladin who fought a principled war of resistance, saving not just fellow Muslims but also the large population of Jews under his protection. A successful resistance that led to the great renaissance of the Islamic world and the creation of societies superior to that of the invaders at that time. (Read your history carefully Bin)

And not very far from Iraq is that mother of all colonial occupations, in the Gaza and West Bank, where the Israeli regime of Ariel Sharon is bent on putting the Palestinians through every trauma that the Jews themselves underwent at the hands of the Nazis. In turn, a section of Palestinian militants are willing to stoop to the level of gunning down pregnant women and children just because they happen to be Jewish settlers on occupied land or dancing on the streets with body parts of dead Israeli soldiers. Liberation from colonial oppression, yes, but liberation from all basic human values?

I hesitate to call all this 'barbarism', a term that for too long has been abused to describe the 'primitive', 'tribal' people of this world - who despite their own bouts of occasional madness have done nothing as systematically evil as we see in Iraq and Palestine. Indeed, what we are witnessing now is nothing short of a crisis of modern civilization and its various concepts and institutions that have either outlived their utility or corroded to the point of complete collapse. A situation that could either lead to catastrophe or provide a chance to reshape the world depending really on what all of us propose to do about it. (Nothing I hate more than getting shot in the bloody crossfire)

The contours of the multiple crises engulfing our globe and rendering mainstream notions of 'civilization' obsolete are by now well known. And yet they bear repeating simply because they help clarify the momentous tasks ahead of the global movements for peace and justice:

Crisis of Economy: It is not difficult to see the long and dark shadows of the Asian financial crisis, the dotcom boom and bust, the dwindling domination of the US dollar, the ballooning US overseas debt and the decade-long stagnation of the Japanese economy in preparing ground for the ongoing global conflict. Without evoking any wild conspiracy theory but going just by principles of mainstream economic theory (which is all wild conspiracy anyway) one can safely claim that today the world is at war simply because it benefits those who control the current global economic order. Mega-corporations profiteering from rising oil prices, hedge funds speculating on oil futures, the rent-a-death arms dealers, manufacturers and mercenaries, construction giants vying for contracts to rebuild war-torn countries- these are the economic vultures feeding off the dying, decaying carcasses of our global 'civilizations'. It is about time the global peace movement went after the key financial players involved in the Iraq war, maybe even one of them (the Carlyle group of Papa Bush to start with) and simply vaporize the fellows. (I am thinking here of a hot sauna, of course)

Crisis of Ecology: The idea that there is a limit to all economic growth has been around with us for well over three decades now. In this period it has spawned powerful environmental movements, numerous international treaties and pledges, as well as a plethora of institutions that urge an end to the wanton destruction of our planet. And yet the global ecological crisis only deepens with every passing day, propelled by the myth of unstoppable industrial capitalism and a concept of consumption driven 'growth' that has become the cancer at the heart of all our civilizations. Will we have to wait for global catastrophe to change the voracious appetites of our consuming classes or can we collectively shut their mouths from feeding into our very future? How about seizing the assets of Exxon-Mobil and using them to clean up depleted uranium in Iraq ?

Crisis of Democracy: In just the past couple of months several populous Asian nations have gone to the polls, in yet another mass exercise that equates elections with the very idea of democracy. These include India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines.

And yet anyone familiar with realities in these countries can tell you that for a very large number of citizens democracy interpreted as the 'right to vote' every four or five years makes little difference to their day to day lives. The rich don't care who comes to power as they can buy them all, the poor vote with great hopes only to be deeply disappointed while much of the middle-classes chatter endlessly about this and that but don't even bother to vote or participate in any political activity. As for mainstream politicians, we all know why they spend millions of dollars to get elected and become 'servants of the people' in the abstract. (Hey, shine my shoes Mr. Prime 'Servant' Minister, India Shining Indeed!)

It is clear that the world, everywhere, urgently needs to go well beyond the dangerously superficial notion of 'elections = democracy' and build movements, concepts, institutions that restore genuine representation of ordinary people in the political and administrative structures that govern us all. The widespread disillusionment with electoral democracy otherwise will only be a prelude to the return of dictatorships at all levels, everywhere.

Frankly, all so-called democracies should have regular Filipino-style velvet/ pink/ rose/rainbow-colored demonstrations of people's power (Imagine Dubya and Rummy running away from the American people on the lawns of the White House. Sure, I am a Marxist on Marihuana.)

Crisis of Philosophy: Just as in the arena of economics the concept of 'growth' needs serious redefinition there are a variety of other globally influential concepts that are up for a thorough overhaul. One can in fact start with the very notion of what it means to be 'civilized'. For some strange reason the popular idea of civilization is all caught up with archaeology, antiques, monuments, ruins and tombstones - as if it was all about the history of the ancient real estate business. So the Egyptians show off their pyramids as examples of their once wonderful civilization, the Khmers their Angkor Wat and Italians the Colosseum while America seems to have lost its civilizational bearings with the collapse of the WTC towers. Is not civilization really about how we relate and interact with members of our own and other species, as well as the nature around us? What do dead buildings have to do with a concept that should primarily be about living life, here and now?

Here is a proposal, blasphemous as it may sound. Before building yet another inanimate MONUMENT to replace the WTC towers let us build a living MOVEMENT powerful enough to replace the global trust and respect among all people of the world. A trust, respect and solidarity demolished in the clash of the enemies of true civilization and without which living on this planet has no real meaning.

Satya Sagar is a journalist based in Thailand. He can be reached at