Our Choice: Distrust and Hate, or Social Cohesion

It’s now a decade since Samuel P. Huntington expanded on his thesis of global politics by giving us a full version in his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. In its pages, he gave a comprehensive macro-analysis of alignments by the different peoples and cultures in the planet, providing an overview of both casual and conflictual relationships: past, existing and emerging.

For those who might be afraid that Prof. Huntington’s predictions may become, or are becoming, a self-fulfilling prophecy, let’s try to reason out the unlikelihood of such an outcome. Civilizational clash is only likely to occur if instigators of discord are allowed to have free rein without any authority challenging their irrational behavior in culture-bashing. This East meets West confrontation need not exist as the great spectacle, the battle of titans, it’s made out to be. Past chapters of this ongoing struggle should be retrieved from history’s archives and re-read, so that mistakes are heavily underlined, not repeated, if common sense and humanity are to prevail. Jointly, George Santayana and Ibn Khaldun would have admonished us to let history be the pedagogical guide to meaningful dialogue and social cohesion (asabiyah) beyond any one civilization.

Two very recent events, civil unrest in France last December and the still-smoldering Jyllands-Posten cartoons controversy, are significant episodes of confrontation; both however erroneously classified as civilizational issues. In fact, each situation needs to be addressed separately, and distinctly; the response in France being one to a major socio-economic problem, while the outbursts first in Denmark, then world-wide, are ignited by religious tinder. In both cases, the level and length of unrest could have been minimized, perhaps even averted, by assertive government leadership in both France and Denmark, if issues had been addressed in an honest and straightforward manner. For whatever reasons, incompetence always appearing as the most obvious culprit, it was not done… permitting a simmering situation to reach the boiling point.

In France, the problem was one of youth unemployment; one which had been festering for too long. The fact that most youth affected was Muslim gave the situation similar prejudicial overtones to that existing in the United States with its own critical high numbers of unemployed black youth. In both cases, the root of the problem is socio-economic, religion [in France] playing only an intervening, not a causal role.

A more enlightened approach by the Danish authorities to the cartoons issue could have resulted in some acceptable accommodation… to include a deserved timely apology to the Muslim community in Denmark [months ago, at the time the cartoons were first published]. At the same time, they could have availed an explanation on the need for self-restraint by everyone, press included, while abiding by the secular laws that protect freedom of expression, even for those bent on disrespect and blasphemy. By addressing these two things, incongruous but not mutually exclusive, the volatile situation between the irreverent and the pious might have been diffused: a truce, if not a cure, while a way is found to bridge the river that divides spiritual and temporal worlds.

From America we have watched these two Euro-Islamic confrontations in a somewhat detached fashion, perhaps because neither the number, nor the reason for Muslim immigration to the US resembles that of Europe. Nonetheless, anti-Muslim instigators of hate and distrust have shown their ugly, prejudicial and irrational ways.

A minuscule effort, however, when compared to the extensive coming-out party of European agitators who have infested the blogosphere with a level of open-hatred difficult to comprehend. In most cases one can easily identify their socio-political origins, which in my estimation cover a narrow sector of the political spectrum: from center right to ultra right and, from the tone and demeanor, without any religious (Christian) affiliation. This is, indeed, a vociferous minority whose words and deeds needed to be counterbalanced by diplomacy and engendering of good will. Genteel people, such as Javier Solana, Minister “In-Waiting” for Foreign Affairs for the EU, appear to have given a gentle face to Europe, in contrast to the arbitrary and belligerent ways exhibited time and again by the emissary from Bush’s America, Condoleeza Rice.

How representative are these haranguers of hate of the European person-in-the-street? Not very, one would think; but sufficient to warrant the need for a recurring dialogue. A roundtable of dialogue that implies the possibility of concessions… of extracting additional meanings from absolutes; otherwise, it becomes but another venue for futile monologues.

It is not political correctness that will save the day and stop future confrontations, but an effort, strong and relentless, for true understanding and mutual respect. And this effort should start with those yielding the greater power… in this case, the West. Clash of civilizations? Not for thoughtful and prudent men. Not for enlightened people who firmly believe social cohesion (asabiyah) needs to extend beyond any one civilization.