GLOBALISATION - CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS
headlines about a “Clash of Civilisations” prompt an inversion into
the “Clash of Barbarisms”. Yet that antiphon sounds as crude as
George W. Bush’s asserting the goodness of his America, or the
Ayatollah Khomaini’s condemnation of the US as “The Great Satan”.
The best of US civilisation is represented by
Mark Twain and
W. E. B. du Bois, whom both Bush and bin Laden
would regard as devilish.
proponent of the Clash of Civilisations hypothesis, Samuel P Huntington,
is no stranger to barbarism. He promoted the strategic hamlet programs
in Vietnam in the 1960s. Under that policy, peasants were bombed into
urban areas to deprive the guerillas of an ocean in which to swim.
The bombing of
civilians has been happening somewhere every year since the
militarisation of aircraft, spreading terror from Abyssinia in 1935
across to London in the Blitz. Between 1940 and 1945, all sides
abandoned the rule that attacking civilians was wrong, a drift into
barbarism which culminated in the fire-storms over Dresden and Tokyo,
and ultimately the live nuclear test on Hiroshima. From seeming to be
unavoidable, making war on civilians became the point, and remains so,
as witnessed in Somalia and Iraq.
The goal of the US
leadership in its war against other peoples’ terrorism is not
atavistic revenge. Their task is to ensure that the coming century will
also be “The American Century”. The prime threats to the US hegemon
remain a united Europe and democracy anywhere.
The top priority is to
keep Europe in line. European trade and finances were brought under US
leadership only after two world wars, through the Marshall Plan and
NATO. Since the 1991 implosion of the Soviet threat, the US has used
Iraq and the Balkan wars to keep other NATO members from running their own army. Globalisation has intensified competition
between European and the US-based capitals. Today, Washington’s task
is to ensure that there are more de Gaulles, and no further disruptions
to World Trade Organisation agreements.
wider challenge to the US imperium is popular sovereignty which, inside
the US itself, is struggling against the plutocracy. The US Right argues
that their system of government was founded as a Republic, not a
democracy. That interpretation is true enough for the 1770s, but hopes
to reverse the changes wrought since then by generations of reformers,
from the suffragette Susan B. Anthony to the Sixties radical Angela
wrote the US section of the Trilateral Commission’s 1973 report on the
governability of democracies. Any notion that democracy should be
self-governing did not suit the Commission’s founder, David
Rockefeller, on whose behalf Huntington recommended more apathy. Not
surprisingly, in The Clash of
Civilisation, (1996), Huntington did not come down on the side of
liberal democracy, but in favour of the supposed Confucian model,
exemplified in authoritarian Singapore.
is not prominent in the oil states that depend on the US for their
weapons. Its condition in those countries was exposed in the offer of
$20m by a Saudi Prince to New York. Why did His Munificence not give his
petty cash to the Palestinian Authority? The answer is connected to that
other Saudi potentate, Osama bin Laden, who has little affection for
radical and secular Palestinians.
The Fundamentalism of
bin Laden’s militants flows from two sources. The first was a
rejection of modernity by Islamic scholars in the nineteenth century.
That strand did not come to the fore until modernising projects had
failed a majority of the Prophet’s followers. Since the 1950s, they
have endured the defeat of Nasserism, Arab Socialism, and OPEC. The
resilience of Zionism and the persistence of the conflict in Kashmir
compounded resentment from those reverses. These ruptures to
expectations are nourishing anger, enflamed by the horrors that Muslims
undergo in Aceh, Bosnia and Chechnya.
the wake of the collapse of their secular hopes, Islamists have tied
their miseries and hopes more tightly to their religion, which, as Marx
said, became “the heart of a heartless world”. Segments within Islam
are now bound to violence, but Islam is not in itself violent every day
of the year. We hear that they were commanded to kill non-believers and
to die for their faith. They were, and some are. But they have done so
on rare occasions across 1400 years, and then only when they would have
killed and died anyway. They have done so no more consistently than
Christians or Buddhists.
From the disappointed
across the Muslim world, volunteers for the Mojahedin and later the
Taliban sped to Afghanistan. More decisive there has been the
disintegration of what passed for the Afghan state. Before the 1970s,
Afghanistan was like two countries – its urban centres and the rest.
The communists extended their reforms, notably women’s rights, into
the tribal areas, provoking resistance. Since then, the balance of
benign neglect between urban and rural has been shattered. The
barbarisms to which Afghans have been subjected in the past twenty years
make a civil government improbable.
The Giant Buddhas in
Afghanistan represented an earlier civilisation; they deserved
preservation as a memorial to the poor who paid for them.
Human labour is still
ill-treated in the Third World. Less obvious is the barbaric
conceptualisation of life and labour from our centres of learning.
According to the market economists who now direct Western civilisation,
every human attribute trades at a price. Hence, on their calculus, the
Indians who died around the Union Carbide plant rate as less valuable
than the US dead on September 11 because the latter owned, owed and
crucial difference, however, between the poor who are murdered every
week and those who died in New York and the Pentagon is that the latter
were killed in the heartland of the one civilisation with the capacity
to extinguish life on our planet. That barbarism pervades our thinking
more than the coverage on CNN.
world did not change for most people on 11 September. The balance
between civility and cruelty has not been improved. The same number of
US children die of malnutrition and disease; the same number US adults
remain illiterate and ill-housed.
Talk of a new Marshall
Plan for the poor of Africa or the Middle East forgets that the US
Department of Commerce tailored the 1948 funds to stimulate the US
economy by reviving Western Europe in order to feed back into US trade.
Today’s basket cases have almost nothing to offer corporations. If
their peoples starve, or die of AIDS, the expansion of capital will not