Clash of civilizations (Part 2) Young Diplomats

Clash of civilizations (Part 2) Featured

Islam, China and the Philippines
Part 2

IN the book, Huntington began forming his hypothesis several decades back by exploring the archetypes of global politics in the post-Cold War period, in an attempt to predict the future world order. The dominant thought surfacing then was that the West won the Cold War, therefore liberal democracy, capitalism and expansion of free markets, with the attendant Western values of human rights were the only remaining alternatives for other nations to adopt.

Western prismatic view of the clash of civilizations followed a logical trajectory of historical development from the struggles between kings and nation states and ideologies. But after 1991, non-Western civilizations, especially those behind the iron curtain and those co-opted by the West, began to shape the new world order.

Further Huntington postulates that historical antecedents produced his so-called “cleft countries” where a country contains two civilizations, example, Sri Lanka comprising Hindu and Buddhist. Conflicts appear in two forms: fault lines and core state conflicts. The former occurs between adjacent states belonging to different civilizations (Egypt-Israel), or within states that are home to populations from different civilizations (Ukraine). The latter are full-blown conflicts between major core states of different civilizations spilling over from expanding local fault-line engagements (India and Pakistan).

He also introduced “swing civilizations,” giving Russia, Japan and India as examples. These countries have the capability of taking sides, upending the power dynamics, dictated by their country’s self-interest. An illustration is Russia absorbing predominantly Muslim Chechnya while cooperating with Shia Muslim Iran to avoid Muslim-Orthodox encroachments in Southern Russia.

But several political scientists debunk Huntington’s take on the Western belief in the exclusive universality of Western values and political systems. Such insistence only further widens the cleavage between civilizations, further exacerbating the already untenable situation.

Critics have attacked Huntington’s position that nationalism, pluralism and democracy are alien to people in Arab lands and Muslim countries. This simplistic view is the biased Western assessment on the long dormant longings of a subjugated people. Countries during or after the Cold War act on the basis of their national interest and they will continue to do so in the new world order; although admittedly (Huntington could be half correct) national interest are likewise defined broadly and increasingly in cultural terms, perforce aligning themselves with countries of similar cultures.

With this insight, nations too are subject to a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome with multiple identities, one appearing when circumstances change. Fear, resulting in political passivity, is largely the stimulus wielded principally by fundamentalist Muslim regimes. But when fear is substituted for hope, as in the post-Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya and post-Mubarak Egypt, a surge of heightened expectations and aspirations appear — which could be equated quite erroneously with an exclusive definition of Western values of freedom and democracy. The eruptions of the “Arab Spring” (Tunisia 2010) give the lie to Huntington’s Western-values premise. Islam in these countries were prepared to surface their own values of pluralism, democracy and freedom in exchange for their lives.

Having said all these, the book’s major corollary controversies are becoming more obvious. First, is the Chinese hegemon replacing America? My take is perhaps today we are still in a flux between the ideological Cold War conflicts towards a full-scale clash of civilizations. This is a slight departure from Huntington’s premises.

The world will not tolerate a power vacuum and a dangerous political vacuity opened up resulting from the withdrawal of the United States from world engagements. The unilateral abrogation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the ominous bilateral trade talks with China and Trump’s naïve posturing towards its protegee, Kim Jong Un, allowed Xi Jinping a degree of confidence to flex his muscles, test the waters and encroach into the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), upsetting the countries in the periphery. This has altered the power equation in Southeast Asia. We can only surmise how the two major civilizations in the area, Japanese and Hindu, will react to the similarly ancient Chinese civilization.

And the impulsive withdrawal of US presence from the conflict in Syria allowed a possible resurgence of the IS and half-abandoning the hapless Kurds to their ancient foe, Turkey; all these despite Trump’s grandstanding and arrogant pronouncements of having won over Islamic terrorism. True, the Islamic civilization has no core states, but Islamic and Chinese are being driven into each other’s arms with the careless actions of America or at the very least, present an entente against the insufferable West.

President Duterte may have deduced certain negative elements of the Huntingtonian premises that propelled him earlier in his administration to pivot away from Mother America to Brother China. Any which way, the Deegong has led his country down an untrodden foreign policy path. We are a country heavily influenced by Western values, but scratch the surface and one finds a proud Malay race, a civilization once dominant in the region but long gone. Huntington in his book, doesn’t even mention such civilization. He erroneously lumps the country as composed of mixed civilizations, with the South (Mindanao) described as Islamic.

Which brings us further to the Christian-Islamic undercurrents — which in Huntington’s thesis designates the Philippines as a “cleft country,”that is, one containing two civilizations. This is where Huntington’s hypothesis is on shaky ground. Added to this cauldron is a large influence of the Chinese and even Japanese civilizations. Would we then categorize ourselves as mongrelized?

The second corollary controversy: is Islam really at war with the West? And what are the implications to our country, particularly Mindanao? Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a critic has this to say: “… (Huntington claims) US, helped by European countries, has repeatedly invaded Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq…Facts! Since WW2 US invaded 30 countries: Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, etc. In South America, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Granada. These are not religious wars. US wanted to steal their resources, extend power and influence and fight against Soviet Union and communism.”

Dr. Hoodbhoy deflates Huntington further: “…why many Muslims want to migrate to the West? And why accept them? If there is war why Muslims born in the US become automatic citizens?

And his clincher: “…Muslims from Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh working years in Saudi Arabia or Gulf Estates can never be citizens nor their children born there. And these countries claim to be protector of Islam and guarantors of their prosperity.”

The notion of a clash of civilizations was not advocated by Islam nor by the Chinese, Hindu or Japanese but by the Westerner Huntington. Today, in all regions, the lives of Muslims are threatened not by the Western, Sinic, Hindu and ther civilizations, but mostly by Muslim themselves: Shite Iran and Sunni Iraq; Syria’s civil war; and Pakistan’s religious extremist violence are just among the few.

And perhaps, at the risk of oversimplification, I might add, these conflicts may be an offshoot of the acts of a uniquely ill-informed leader of an erstwhile “free world” who singlehandedly destroyed the legacy of his forebears and the residues of the Cold War. The current American President.

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