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China hosted a two-day Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC), to boost exchanges and mutual learning among Asian civilizations. The CDAC theme was “Exchanges and Mutual Learning among Asian Civilizations and A Community with A Shared Future.”

It brought together more than 2,000 government officials and representatives of various circles from 47 Asian countries and other nations outside the region.

Among those attending were: King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Singapore President Halimah Yacob, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

In his inaugural address, the President of China, Xi Jinping, underlined that this Conference  “creates a new platform for civilizations in Asia and beyond to engage in dialogue and exchanges on an equal footing to facilitate mutual learning”.

President Xi highlighted the importance of the interactions in Asia, as these interactions between civilizations “have enriched each other and written an epic development”. He elaborated also:

“Our forefathers in Asia have long engaged in inter-civilizational exchanges and mutual learning; the ancient trade routes notably the Silk Road, the tea road and the spice road brought silk, tea, porcelain, spices, paintings and sculpture to all corners of Asia, and they have witnessed inter-civilizational dialogue in the form of trade and cultural interflow.”

“No civilization is superior over others. The thought that one’s own race and civilization are superior and the inclination to remold or replace other civilizations are just stupid,” the Chinese leader said adding:

“All civilizations are rooted in their unique cultural environment. Each embodies the wisdom and vision of a country or nation, and each is valuable for being uniquely its own. Civilizations only vary from each other, just as human beings are different only in terms of skin color and the language used. No civilization is superior over others. The thought that one’s own race and civilization are superior and the inclination to remold or replace other civilizations are just stupid. To act them out will only bring catastrophic consequences…. What we need is to respect each other as equals and say no to hubris and prejudice.”

Pehaps Xi was alluding to Huntington’s theory of Clash of Civilizations. In 1992, American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington proposed the hypothesis of the Clash of Civilizations that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. Huntington later expanded his thesis in a 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Huntington argued: “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 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.”

In short, Huntington suggests that in the future the central axis of world politics tends to be the conflict between Western and non-Western civilizations. Huntington divided the world into the “major civilizations” in his thesis as such:

Western civilization comprising the United States and Canada, Western and Central Europe, Australia and Oceania; Latin American, Includes Central America, South America; The Orthodox world of the former Soviet Union; The Eastern world is the mix of the Buddhist, Chinese, Hindu, and Japonic civilizations; The Muslim world of the Greater Middle East, (the Islamic civilization) and The civilization of Sub-Saharan Africa located in southern Africa, Middle Africa.

Huntington’s hypothesis was criticized by various academic writers. They challenged his claims empirically, historically, logically, or ideologically.

Edward Said

Edward Said, the late University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University,  issued a response to Huntington’s thesis in his 2001 article, “The Clash of Ignorance”. Said argues that Huntington’s categorization of the world’s fixed “civilizations” omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of culture. Edward Said (2004) also argues that the clash of civilizations thesis is an example of “the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims” (p. 293).

According to Edward Said “Huntington is an ideologist, someone who wants to make “civilizations” and “identities” into what they are not: shut-down, sealed-off entities that have been purged of the myriad currents and countercurrents that animate human history, and that over centuries have made it possible for that history not only to contain wars of religion and imperial conquest but also to be one of exchange, cross-fertilization and sharing.

“This far less visible history is ignored in the rush to highlight the ludicrously compressed and constricted warfare that “the clash of civilizations” argues is the reality. When he published his book by the same title in 1996, Huntington tried to give his argument a little more subtlety and many, many more footnotes; all he did, however, was confuse himself and demonstrate what a clumsy writer and inelegant thinker he was.

“These are tense times, but it is better to think in terms of powerful and powerless communities, the secular politics of reason and ignorance, and universal principles of justice and injustice, than to wander off in search of vast abstractions that may give momentary satisfaction but little self-knowledge or informed analysis. “The Clash of Civilizations” thesis is a gimmick like “The War of the Worlds,” better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time.”

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky called it just being a new justification for the United States “for any atrocities that they wanted to carry out”, which was required after the Cold War as the Soviet Union was no longer a viable threat.

“We have to support oppressive states, like Saudi Arabia and others, to make sure that they guarantee that the profits from oil (it’s not so much the oil as the profits from oil) flow to the people who deserve it: rich western energy corporations or the US Treasury Department or Bechtel Construction, and so on. So that’s why we need a huge military budget. Other than that, the story is the same,” Chomsky said in a lecture delivered at the Delhi School of Economics on November 5, 2001.

He went on to say: “What does this have to do with Huntington? Well, he’s a respected intellectual. He can’t say this. He can’t say, look, the method by which the rich run the world is exactly the same as before, and the major confrontation remains what it has always been: small concentrated sectors of wealth and power versus everybody else. You can’t say that. And in fact if you look at those passages on the clash of civilizations, he says that in the future the conflict will not be on economic grounds. So let’s put that out of our minds. You can’t think about rich powers and corporations exploiting people, that can’t be the conflict. It’s got to be something else. So it will be the ‘clash of civilizations’ – the western civilization and Islam and Confucianism.”

Jochen Hipplier

Jochen Hipplier, author of The Next Threat: Western Perception of Islam, has said: By caricaturing different cultures, by arbitrarily and willfully misrepresenting Islamic societies we grant ourselves absolution. Others are fanatical, we are not. Other are irrational, we are not.  Furthermore, it is clearly very important for us in the West to feel superior and to see Western culture as the ‘best’ and ‘most progressive.

The term civilization is usually used in the singular to mean Western civilization which since the eighteenth century has been in the West as the civilization that has set about to destroy and obliterate systematically all other civilizations including the Islamic.

To borrow from Hippler: In a certain sense you could call Huntington’s argument ‘culturally racist’. The Muslims (or Chinese) are different from us and therefore dangerous. Unlike in classic racism, this difference is not generically but culturally-based. There is such a gulf between their values and ways of thinking and ours that understanding or cross-pollination is almost unthinkable. Only military solutions can promise result.

Hippler further elaborates this point very convincingly: Huntington’s image of Islam (or of other Asian cultures) is hardly original. It follows the current stereotypes and clichés of popular literature and some of the media. Yet he manages brilliantly to embellish these repeated fears pseudo-scientifically and elevate them ideologically. His success is in making the old clichés acceptable in foreign policy debate. For Huntington, Islam is ideologically hostile and anti-Western. It is also a military threat in itself due to Chinese (Confucian) arms supplies. Islam is bloody, with a long warring tradition against the West. (The fact that Muslims have often been the victims rather than the perpetrators of violence from Bosnia to India hardly troubles him.)

According to Stephen M. Walt, The Clash of Civilizations is also strangely silent about Israel, which has been a central concern for U.S. foreign policy since its founding in 1948. During the Cold War, U.S. support for Israel could be justified on both ideological and strategic grounds. From a cultural perspective, however, the basis for close ties between Israel and the “West” is unclear. Israel is not a member of the West (at least not by Huntington’s criteria) and is probably becoming less “Western” as religious fundamentalism becomes more salient and as the Sephardic population becomes more influential. His silence on this issue may reflect an awareness that making this conclusion explicit would not enhance the appeal of the book, or Israel may simply be an anomaly that lies outside of his framework. In either case, however, the issue reveals a further limitation of the civilizational paradigm. [Building Up New Bogeyman by Stephen M. Walt- Foreign Policy, Spring 1997]

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com


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