Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The clash of civilizations? — Lim Mun Fah

The Malaysian Insider Jan 20, 2010

JAN 19 — More than 30 years ago, some sociologists predicted that religions would decline in the modern world and they would be replaced by science. Some scholars also predicted that races would eventually dissipate and replaced by individuals.

In the 90s of the last century, after the end of Cold War and the collapse of Soviet Union, some people also suggested the “the end of history” theory, believing that the Western liberal democracy has won and it would be the ultimate form of human history.

However, the then one of the most influential political scientists Samuel Phillips Huntington did not agree with the theory. He proposed the “clash of civilisations” theory in 1994. Two years later, he published it as a book entitled “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” to further elaborate his theory in a more systematic way.

In Huntington’s view, post–Cold War conflict would most frequently and violently occur because of cultural rather than ideological differences. The world would be dominated by “the clash of civilisations”.

He pointed out that there were seven or possibly eight civilisations in the world, namely Sinic (Chinese), Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, Western, Orthodox, Latin American and the African civilisation that might exist. As there were great differences among Chinese, Islamic and Western civilisations, he therefore claimed that the future world conflicts would be inevitably caused by the conflicts between Chinese and Western civilisations, as well as conflicts between Islamic and Western Civilisations.

From a series of terrorist attacks and conflicts around the world over the past 10 years, we have to admit that the religious decline theory, racial dissipation theory and the end of history theory are all wrong.

Today, more people agree that the diversified and conflict-oriented world will never change, and it can never be changed.

However, it does not mean that the “clash of civilisations” theory is 100 per cent accurate. The well-known late Palestinian American professor Edward Said argued in his article “The Clash of Ignorance” that all Huntington’s ideas were based on the clash or conflict between worlds but he did not see interaction, sharing and mutual cultivation. He also criticised that “the clash of civilisations” only reinforced the prejudices of self-defence and it did not help us understand the current scene or that could reconcile the two cultures.

Let’s shift our focus back to the recent “Allah” controversy in Malaysia. We have indeed seen a fact that the recognition of different racial and religious identities is developing towards polarisation, causing it more and more difficult to communicate among groups of different races and religions. It has also made mutual trust harder and harder and thus, they have to strengthen their “self-defence”.

Have we got lost in the concern of “the clash of civilisations” while losing tolerance and the ability to judge in “the clash of ignorance” and thus, neglected interaction, sharing and mutual cultivation, the most important elements in civilisation? — mysinchew.com

* This article is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified

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