Clash of civilizations
What is “Clash of Civilizations”?
World politics is entering a new phase, in which the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of international conflict will be cultural. Civilizations-the highest cultural groupings of people-are differentiated from each other by religion, history, language and tradition. These divisions are deep and increasing in importance. From Yugoslavia to the Middle East to Central Asia, the fault lines of civilizations are the battle lines of the future. (Huntington, 1993)
In relation to the topic, I would like to discuss these two mini-video tapings:
The First item that I'd like to discuss is an interview on Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar) with the Arab-American psychiatrist “Wafa Sultan” on February 21, 2006, discussing the Clash of Civilizations during one of Al-Jazeera's weekly 45-minutes discussion program: The Opposite Direction. She spoke from Los Angeles, arguing with host Faisal Al-Qassem and with Ibrahim Al-Khouli (a well-known Islamist scholar at Al-Azhar University and imam at Cairo's main Helwan mosque) about Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations theory. Following is the link to the interview:
It's obvious that the videotaping is a collection of chosen parts of the original interview. I did not have the opportunity to watch the whole interview on TV; therefore I cannot determine the intentions of the editor(s) of this video behind choosing those exact parts from the interview. However, I'm going to concentrate on Dr. Wafa Sultan's way of talking about the “Clash of Civilizations”. The reason I chose this interview is because it has been viewed on the Internet more than a million times and has reached the e-mail of hundreds of thousands around the world, such as myself. It even led to journalists' eagerness to privately interview Dr. Sultan and publish her words in the newspapers. An example of such articles is the one by JOHN M. BRODER “For Muslim Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats” published on March 11, 2006 in The New York Times (Broder, 2006).
The first question that comes to mind is: Who is Dr. Wafa Sultan? She was born on 14 June 1958 in a large traditional Muslim family in Baniyas, Syria. Her father was a grain trader and a devout Muslim, and she followed the faith's strictures into adulthood. But, she said, her life changed in 1979 when she was a medical student at the University of Aleppo, in northern Syria. At that time, the radical Muslim Brotherhood was using terrorism to try to undermine the government of President Hafez al-Assad. Gunmen of the Muslim Brotherhood burst into a classroom at the university and killed her professor as she watched, she said. "They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, 'God is great!' " she said. "At that point, I lost my trust in their god and began to question all our teachings. It was the turning point of my life, and it has led me to this present point. I had to leave. I had to look for another god." She and her husband, who now goes by the Americanized name of David, laid plans to leave for the United States. Their visas finally came in 1989, and the Sultans and their two children (they have since had a third) settled in with friends in Cerritos, Calif., a prosperous bedroom community on the edge of Los Angeles County. After a succession of jobs and struggles with language, Dr. Sultan has completed her American medical licensing, with the exception of a hospital residency program, which she hopes to do within a year. David operates an automotive-smog-check station. They bought a home in the Los Angeles area and put their children through local public schools. All are now American citizens. BUT even as she settled into a comfortable middle-class American life, Dr. Sultan's anger burned within. She took to writing, first for herself, then for an Islamic reform Web site called Annaqed (The Critic), run by a Syrian expatriate in Phoenix (Broder, 2006).
The reason I'm interested in who is she is because we often don't see things as they are but as we are. If we know who she is, we can get a glimpse of why she sees things in that particular way. What I noted from her speech is the following:
She starts saying: “The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations.” Ok that's great, then what is it that we are witnessing? She continues and answers my question: “It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It's a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive”This brought up the question on my mind: What is Civilization to her?! And who is to determine who is civilized and who is back warded and who is primitive? Who is to determine if civilized is good or primitive is bad? Aren't good and bad, civilized and primitive relative words? Then what is she comparing it to? What is her base of measures? And yet she continues: “between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights on the one hand, and the violation of these rights on the other. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat her like human beings. She is grouping the features and culture of one society and comparing it to another. Not only that, but she is implicating that the second is inferior to the first and the first is supreme. But please notice, isn't that the same reason why the clash of civilizations will start? And she continues: “What we see today is not clash of civilizations; civilizations do not clash, but compete.” Compete? To what aim? During the competing process the competing civilizations will vary in advancement, sometimes one civilization will advance more, other times the other civilization will become more advanced. And if competing is healthy as she's suggesting, then isn't having one civilized culture and another primitive is a healthy phase of the competing process? So where is the dilemma?! Everything's as healthy as can be!
She also answered the host Faisal Al-Qassem when requiring her approval on whether what he comprehended from her words (and that was thatwhat is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims) was correct or not, by approving: “Yes this is what I mean”. Her answer proves that we are at a crucial stage of clash of civilizations. This is a live proof of what Samuel Huntington predicted. It's this kind of thinking that will cause the clash of civilizations to rise to unknown ends.
She raised an interesting issue when she suggested that:“The Muslims are the ones who began using this expression. The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The prophet of Islam said: I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger. When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash and began this war.”First, she said that what we are witnessing isn't clash of civilizations, because she thought that Muslims do not deserve even to be called a civilization. Now she is stating that Muslims started the clash of civilizations! So is there or isn't there a clash of civilizations? Does she have the right to state that Muslims and Islam is not a civilization? On the other hand, she quoted the prophet and commented on the ideology of Islam that the divide people into Muslims and non-Muslims. This concept by itself is dangerous because it does not plant in its followers the important fact that we are all human beings deserving the same rights and respect. Not only so but the ideology of Islam demands that Muslims should fight non-Muslims until they become Muslims. This is frightening, not only are you telling people that others are different than you are, but also demanding their demolishing or conversion! Here we see that the other civilization has also attitudes that lead to clash of civilizations.
She continues with suggestions on how the other civilization should stop clashing and conform with hers:“In order to stop this war, they must reexamine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels.”I believe that every person must reexamine his own actions and believes everyday. I can't agree more with her in that. But where does she say that she and her civilization should reexamine their actions and beliefs? She doesn't, because her civilization is the supreme. This widespread Western belief in the “universality” of the West's values and political systems is naïve and that continued insistence on democratization and such "universal" norms will only further antagonize other civilizations, and stimulates the war among civilizations.
She criticizes Ibrahim Al-Khouli:“My colleague has said that he never offends other people's beliefs. What civilization on the face of this earth allows him to call other people by names they did not choose for themselves?”True that is not ethical and lacks respect. But didn't she just do the same when she denied Islam the right to be called a civilization and described it with all the inferiority she did?
She compliments the West:“They are not the people of the book, they are people of many books. All the useful scientific books that you have today are theirs, the fruit of their free and creative thinking.” It is true, the West has contributes so much to humanity. No one can deny that. On the other hand, what about the age when Islamic scientists wrote so many useful scientific books and generated theories on which current sciences are based upon? Couldn't all this be just a phase in the competing of civilizations? One time one civilization advances, another advances some other time? Shouldn't both civilizations get credit for their fruits at all times?
She states:“Brother you can believe in stones, as long as you don't throw them at me”.I believe if all people abide by that rule, disasters can be evaded.
The Second item that I'd like to discuss is this video. I have no idea who these women are, their backgrounds, and the context in which this movie was made. However, please watch it using the following link:
These women are expressing their views from their daily interaction with the Western culture. In they try to show how the Western belief in the “universality” of the West's values negatively affects other
civilizations and cultures. I do think that there are many proofs on how ideologies, personal beliefs, religious beliefs, prejudice and even language and history are stimulating clashes of civilization. Has it started yet? Is it erupting? Where will it lead? Those are the questions people's responses may vary about. I hope we learn how to respect each other despite our differences in time, as that is the only solution to the Clash of Civilizations.