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Clash of civilizations Featured

The 8 civilizations
Part 1

THIS year marks the 30th year after the Berlin Wall came down. This was the beginning of the dying throes of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In two years, in the autumn of 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, passing on power to Boris Yeltsin of Russia. The Soviet Union was dissolved, the Cold War ended, and the West won. Liberal democracy and capitalism trumped communism. The former was meant to sweep across the world in a new order, with the Western powers led by the United States presiding over a new era of harmony. This did not happen. The euphoria of victory was short-lived.

By the end of WW2, with the ascendancy of America as the lone self-appointed global police, an Iron Curtain descended upon the USSR ,dividing Europe into East and West blocs. The Cold War broke out, delineating the world further into political spheres of influence: the US-led Western liberal capitalist alliance; the Soviet Union-led communist bloc and the non-aligned countries which were the ideological moving targets of the power dynamics between the first two and where conflicts took place. The nuclear arsenal on opposing sides guaranteed total world destruction if ever the Cold War turned into a shooting conflict. Strangely, this paradigm brought about a modicum of stability of “non-war and non-peace” under the threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD). After 1991, this pattern of history, uneasy at best, disappeared.

In 1996, Samuel Huntington, an erudite Harvard professor published his book The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order. His hypothesis is that in the post-Cold War world, future wars would be fought not between ideologies but between cultures. And the primary source of discord will be the people’s cultural and religious identities.

Accordingly, encounters fall along the faultlines of the world’s biggest cultural entities or civilizations. There is no universal civilization. Instead there are these seven or eight, each within its own set of values: a) Western North America and Western Europe with the US, Germany and France as the core states; b) Orthodox, with Russia as the core state; c) Confucian or Sinic with China as core state; d) Islamic but with no core states because of its heterogeneity; e) Latin American also with no core state; f) Hindu, India as core; and g) Japanese, Japan as core; and sub-Saharan Africa with no core state.

Two decades after Huntington’s book, empirical data suggests many nations did indeed align along cultural lines. Countries with similar cultures come together; those historically with different cultures broke up. Yugoslavia split up along cultural lines; Serbia/Bulgaria/Greece formed an Orthodox entente; Catholic parts of Yugoslavia/Slovenia/ Croatia came knocking on NATO’s door; Turkey resumed its role as protector of Muslims in the Balkans, Bosnia and Albania. Greece and Turkey are members of NATO, but with the post-Cold War ideological threat gone, Greece and Turkey are teetering on the edge of violence against each other. Sometimes civilizations go through boundaries of states. The eastern and western parts of Ukraine belong to different civilizations.

Two corollary issues are bones of contention. Western civilizations’ unique values; separation of Church and state; rule of law and rights of individuals; pluralistic nature of Western societies; which has evolved and existed for a thousand years have been imposed on other civilizations even older than itself. Confucian, Japanese and Hindi civilizations have their own unique ethos contradictory to the Western concepts. These attempts, backed up by might and the Cross, did not bode well for these already complex relationships.

Which brings us to the second issue — that of equating westernization with modernization. Under the guise of the globalization mantra as the vehicle for liberal democracy and capitalism, greater interaction with other civilizations was the intent of the Western world, primarily to create and expand world markets. But global capitalism has over-emphasized its impact on the world. In Islam, Chinese and other Eastern cultures, there is resistance to Western values of human rights and democracy.

All societies strive for wealth, welcoming the influx of new technology, availing of the benefits of modern science; adopting some elements of free-markets. But they don’t necessarily want to embody Western values nor take on their religions. Predominantly Shinto and Buddhist Japan is the template which could work. It is thoroughly modern, has significantly adopted elements of Western culture in its drive for economic growth, but it is not Western in character. Japanese don’t think of themselves as Western. They recognize certain fundamental differences in their culture, society and in their way of life which are anathema to other cultures, especially the US and Western Europe.

What is disturbing by far is the emergence of Islam challenging American hegemony framed by the knee-jerk response after the Sept. 11, 2001 Twin Towers attack. America had to re-evaluate its policy on foreign intervention after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The lessons of these debacles resonated on the current Trump administration’s fixation on domestic immigration and the outright use of the label radical Islamic terrorism, which Bush and Obama refused to do, emphasizing that America was at war with violent extremists, not Islam itself.

The predicate of Trump’s racist position on immigration may have been that of Huntington’s proposition that the US needs to partner with its European allies to limit immigration to the US and put a cap from an annual 800K after 1965 to 500K, a needed pause to better concentrate on assimilating the millions who are already in place. President Trump rescinded this recommendation and reconfigured the issue into a massive racist rejection of the inflow of Muslims from the Middle East and countries from which “Islamic terrorists” are sourced.

It is believed, however, that a clash with Islam will not lead to a major war. As a civilization, Islam has no single dominant core Islamic state; but it is so fragmented and occupied primarily with fighting each other.

Islam has sub-civilizations within — Arabic, Malay, Turkic, and they compete for Islamic leadership, posing a destabilizing force in their region and culture. Iran vs Saudi for a time were arming Bosnian Muslims, for example, supporting different Islamic groups fighting non-Islamic ones. Islam used to have the dominant Ottoman Empire which disappeared. The rise of IS is a parody of the Islamic caliphate.

The “clash of civilizations” also presaged the singular rise of the Middle Kingdom. After Deng Xiaoping unleashed its economic dragons, China has become increasingly assertive and if it grows economically at the same rate as in the past decades, it will establish its hegemony over Asia and reclaim its sphere of influence which historically endured hundreds of years until the mid-19th century. Its nine-dash line and expansion in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) does not augur well for the countries on its periphery. China has already declared it is their right. But how will Japan and, more importantly, America react to this? And how will this affect the Philippines?

This article borrows and quotes heavily from Samuel Huntington’s opus; op-ed columnist David Brooks, essayist Emma Ashford and Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy.

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