The Salon II

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A clash about civilization...

Both leaders of the Iraq war effort - Bush and Blair - spoke to the public recently, in activities around the 3rd anniversary of the war. While Bush was clumsily stating that after 9/11, the US realized that killers could destroy innocent life (I thought that was the definition of a killer), Tony Blair was making arguments of a higher range:
BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Iraq war allies remain in step: "One of the most interesting things in Tony Blair's speech on foreign policy was his disclosure that government advisers had told him never to use the phrase 'Islamic extremism'.

It was advice he resolutely rejected as he laid out his beliefs that such extremism - and especially its ideas - should be 'taken on'.

The phrase in the speech Mr Blair would probably like remembered most is: 'This is not a clash between civilisations. It is a clash about civilisation.'

It is a clever phrase because it gets round the awkwardness of those who use the 'clash of civilisations' approach. They fall into the trap of taking sides between East and West, Christian and Muslim, secular and religious. Mr Blair is trying to run up a flag around which moderates of all faiths and no faith can rally."
Now, I agree with the analyst, that it is a very clever way t go around the notion of East vs. West. And I also agree to some degree with Tony Blair - who I respect and admire, but disagree emphatically with on the war - that these radical islamist views have to be taken on, dead on. My problem is more with the supremacist tendencies that lurk in on that statement: A clash about civilization.

The problem here, is this tendency that Western leaders to infer that the only right way to be, is like them. Yes they pay lip service to the notions that, for instance, Iraqi democracy will not look like the United States. But the pattern of actions and operations on the ground in Iraq, and in stated policies, all work on the premise that the West should be THE model to adopt by all. When the Lula, Chavez, Castro, Morales and Bachelet of this world want to have a slightly different approach, the US... freezes in apprehension. In addition, the people in the West cannot comprehend why everybody would not want to be like them. They do not realize that their countries' track records in staying true to their words when there was no particular economic interest at play, is abismal. They do not realize the deep wounds that their colonial past, and their divide and conquer policies have left, and the utter distrust that creates. And finally, they subconsciously take the arrogant attitude that Western culture is the only one worth being proud of, because - and this was actually said to me here in the US - it is the only tru Civilisation ever to have really existed. Forget Egypt, rabia and Abyssinia. Forget the three times millenary civilization of China.

This is not just a clash about civilization, because one would have to define what one sees as being "civilization". It is a similar issue as with the term "discovery". The Portuguese did not "discover" the Kongo kingdom, at least not in a globalized sense. They encountered the Kongo people, the Zulus or the East Indians, who were there, minding their own business. They were not lost animal species, to be studied and classified. If they were I could understand that it was a species unknown, in lands unknown to humanity as a whole. But these were human beings just like these Europeans, in lands that had been known to humans for quite a while, so discovery? I don't think so.

Just words, you tell me? Well yes. But see, in Congo we say that "the tongue has the same destructive power as the spear". Words, used carelessly, can start a war, and used carefully, can end one. Westerners have yet to get the fact that the pain, frustration and resentment is very real in poorer countries, and that it is often justified. It is this lack of awareness, in the people's - and sometimes the leaders' - minds that make it possible for them to be flabbergasted when some yahoos decide to take that resentment to an insane - and reprehensible - next step, and bomb civilians.

If people were more careful about holding their politicians accountable for such statements Bush's "crusade", "axis of evil", "africa is a beautiful country", etc, maybe we would be going somewhere in terrorism reduction. I mean does that not make sense?

Just wondering...


  • My problem is more with the supremacist tendencies that lurk in on that statement: A clash about civilizations.

    I don't really see supremacist intentions in that statement, in the contest it was delivered (but I see your point of view). I agree it was clever. But it was also devious and manipulating. He is talking about the so-called War on Terror, and beating it up to make it bigger than it is so that people vote for his security solution.

    It was a clever way to get around the Muslim vs Christian thing, but it gives terrorists more power than they warrant. I mean 'civilisation' is not going to be destroyed by these exploding freaks. But a fearful voting public is an easily lead one.

    The trouble I see is if the hyped up WoT get conflated with Iraq (if it isn't already) they would have conjured up their worst fears as the place becomes a training ground for the next generation of international terrorist - just as Afghanistan was the breeding geound for al Qaeda.

    I like Bair too, but I am beginning to wonder whether he is the anti-Christ, and not Dick Cheney

    By Blogger Wadard, at 6:23 AM  

  • Wadard, first of all, I did a typo (that I just corrected): its "a clash about civilization", without "s".

    I guess I even question what 'civilization' is! But I am sure you got that. I agree, a fearful public is easier lead to war. And Blair really has the gravitas to be able to convince a critical mass, that he has taken the only reasonable path...

    But the fact of the matter is: Goevernments in the West viciously disenfranchised Muslims and Middle-Easterners (and Africans, Latin Americans, South Asians, etc) for their own purposes, and some among these people have decided on their own vicious way to inflict retribution. It's not a clash of civilizations, or about civilization. For lack of a better word, it's more a clash of 'uncivil powers'.

    By Blogger TheMalau, at 9:24 AM  

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