Do civilisations need to clash?


Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

There are so many people, both here and in the West, who continue to believe that the present impasse engendered by the precipitate ‘war on terror’ represents the aftermath of a Clash of Civilisations. It will be recalled that, when Samuel Huntington initially spun his thesis The Clash of Civilisations, a wide cross-section of people accepted it (albeit with a grain of salt) as a genuine attempt at issue-oriented research. Even those who did not agree with the conclusions drawn by him, did not dispute his right to express his honest opinion. Most thinkers, though, do not appear to have given it the deep consideration that it deserved.
The aforesaid notwithstanding, it must be put on record that several right-thinking people across the globe had expressed serious reservations at the time. It was felt – and not without justification – that the thesis was not only flawed but also, in a way, ill- motivated. With the demise of the Cold War, the so-called Western Civilisation suddenly found itself ‘enemy-less”. People like Huntington were scouting around for a new ‘enemy’ to take the place of the late lamented Soviet Union and its brand of Communism. Islam, let us face it, presented the obvious choice. It has been argued – not without reason – that this is what led to the revival of the erstwhile ‘Crusader Spirit’ in the garb of such offerings as The Clash of Civilisations. One may choose to disagree, but there is no denying that this line of reasoning has a certain zing to it.
The events that unfolded in the wake of nine/eleven served to lend added credence to the fears expressed by skeptics following the unveiling of the Huntington model. The irrational response of the powers that be, i.e. to use the weapon of ‘terror’ to contain terror, added to a transparent attempt to pin the responsibility on one creed or a civilisation further muddied the waters. In fact it can be opined that a more rational and mature reaction could perhaps have saved the world from much of the tribulations that followed. The rest, as they say, is history.
It would appear, by hindsight, that the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ hand has since been overplayed. Let us begin by acknowledging that most of the world’s disputes happen to be ‘political’ in nature. It may be added that most of them have been accentuated due to Man’s inherent inhumanity to Man, based as it is on avarice and greed. Political disputes, per se, should be open to political settlement. All that is needed is political will and a vision un-blurred by prejudice and bias. It is this elusive ‘political will’ that has been conspicuously lacking in the scheme of things. Therein lies the rub.
The state of affairs unfolding in many regions of this blessed planet is hardly reassuring. The recent changes in the world landscape, especially in and around the Muslim world, brought on by the interested powers-that-be, engender cause for serious concern. Rather than pouring oil on troubled waters, leaderships that aught to know better appear to be wantonly indulging in fishing in that murky environment. A sizeable region of the world has, as a result, been plunged into a sorry state of sixes and sevens from which it is finding exceedingly difficult to extricate itself.
It is high time that the powers that be decide to get down from the high horse on which they have perched themselves in the recent past and take a dispassionate look at the real issues facing mankind. If they do that, they may well discover that most of the banes of humanity stem above all from an unjust World Order that has been imposed by the powers-that-be. Most, if not all, of the World’s outstanding issues are crying out for just, equitable and lasting settlement. When – and if – such a settlement is worked out, most problems facing the world – and that includes ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ – would simply melt away.
Rather than weave theories around a prospective ‘Clash of Civilisations’, the ‘civilised’ world should be more concerned with creating an environment of peaceful co-existence and mutual tolerance. The current debate about advisability or otherwise of use of violent means to combat ‘terrorism’ could more profitably have been channeled into efforts to arrive at a precise definition of ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’, as also ‘state terrorism’. Only after this exercise is successfully carried out to its logical conclusion, should the ‘elders’ of the world find it expedient to sit together and devise cogent ways and means to counter the menace.
As for the Huntington thesis aforementioned, there is no evident reason why Civilisations need to ‘clash’ at all. They (civilisations, that is!) and their thinkers and mentors can, and must, learn to co-exist for the common good of humanity as a whole. Each civilisation can not only help but also enrich the others. All that is needed is the spirit of tolerance, justice and forbearance. Needless to add, all these attributes are common to all known civilisations. Humankind has no need to look far. All that it needs to do is to lower its gaze a bit. If it does that, Nature will certainly come to Mankind’s assistance as is its wont!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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