It may be time to consider this again.
Since we have not spent a great deal of time publicly examining what would happen after the end of the cold war, many people feel the world is falling into chaos-as evidenced by terrorist acts, declining economic systems, a surge of Islamic fundamentalism, a resurgence of mass genocide policies, and a rise in racism and anti-Semitism. The list goes on and on. This sense of disorder runs deep in national and individual psyches, leaving many people with a strong feeling of being left in a state of limbo in an undefined post-cold war climate.
At the same time, without much direction or definition from our politicians, our academics, or our media, we have a positive sense that all the eruptions happening around the world in a seemingly helter-skelter manner contain a clue to what our world will be like over the next hundred years. How we deal with current situations may very well determine whether the new world will be a peaceful or warlike community. It is a natural to seek order, any kind of order; a defining moment which outlines the problems we must deal with or absorb.
Although many terrorist acts have happened, the World Trade Center bombing had great consequences because that bomb was planted by Islamic fundamentalists. Even so, we failed to recognize the World Trade Center bomb was more than our wake-up call to the foreign terrorist threat. It was our wake-up call to a new clash of civilizations.
Samuel P Huntington, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government and Director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, has predicted the next pattern of conflict in a 1993 report, The Changing Security Environment and American National Interests.
According to Huntington, until the Iron Curtain was rent, for all political purposes the world was divided between two Western superpowers with the rest of the countries governed by the needs and demands of these powers which carried with them the ancillary threat of nuclear annihilation. It was the superpowers, and they alone, that determined the world's battle lines.
Now the old battle lines have been obliterated in the disintegration of the Soviet Union and new ones are being redrawn as much more meaningful borderlines. These new parameters are not defined by capitalism versus communism, but instead by the much deeper motivations of religion and culture.
In theory, this should be good news, because every true religion of the world is rooted in the teachings of peace and fellowship. This was the message at the Parliament of the World's Religions, which met in Chicago for nine days in August 1993. (It was the first time the Parliament had convened since its inaugural meeting in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair!). Most "formal" religions were represented, even those professing no belief in any kind of god. Disruptions during the meeting revealed that, even among this non-secular group of representatives, the mix of religion and politics was a volatile combination. And even though each religion was rooted in peace, the varying degrees of fundamentalist and extremist interpretations could be applied in very brittle patterns. Evangelical and Christian fundamentalist groups did not show up at all, though liberal Protestant groups did, but only quietly observed the proceedings. Eastern Orthodox Christians walked out midway through the conference in protest of the presence of neo-pagans and goddess worshipers, as did four Jewish groups when Louis H. Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam took the speaker's platform.
The goal of the gathering had been to create a Declaration of Global Ethics, but the "short"
five-thousand-word document they crafted was indicative of the problems the world faces when religion and politics mix. To placate the diverse assembly, the word "God" (even in its un-capitalized form) was omitted; and, rather than address specific issues, it promoted general goals of nonviolence; environmental responsibility; economic justice; honesty in politics, culture, and the media; and the end of sexual discrimination.
A keynote speaker on the final day, the Dalai Lama, summed up the meeting in the same way he would sum up the world situation: "We will see." But what we are already seeing is not as obscure as it might seem at first glance. As we read world headlines, we are witnessing the globe being divided into eight major civilizations, per Huntington: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and African
The differences among these civilizations are very real and very basic. They have to do with history, language, culture, tradition, and religion. They are the product of centuries of development, and are not soon to disappear.
These differences pose a far greater need for understanding than do the conflicts that existed between the two superpowers. We have long felt that we had a basic understanding of the Soviet Union (which, however, most Americans have considered to be only Russian) because tens of thousands of its people had already immigrated to the United States prior to the cold war. Too, we felt that the people they left behind were also essentially like us, only stuck in a system that did not reward individual achievement.
Most Americans cannot make these same claims of the Islamic, Confucian, Hindu, or other groups. Here many of us cross more than ideologies: we cross civilizations.
This difference in perceptions based on cultural background was made profoundly clear during World War II. Although we were convinced that the German and Italian soldiers were our hated enemies and their unwitting dupes, respectively, we were largely able to separate all that from their fellow citizens. The civilians were people who shared our ancestry and were not (especially in the case of the Italians) to any great extent accountable for the actions of their dictatorial governments.
When it came to Japan, however, we went to war against a foreign culture epitomized by such alien things as samurai warlords and kamikaze suicide missions. It would have been unthinkable to drop the bomb on Germany or Italy, but with Japan it was not only thinkable, but was the practical thing to do because of the millions of U.S. lives it saved due to our demand for unconditional surrender.
Throughout history it has been the cultural differences-not the conflicts between economic ideologies-that have caused the most violent and most prolonged conflicts. And, with the widespread current trend whereby these differences are being promoted even as interaction among civilizations is increasing in this shrinking world, the differences are becoming grossly intensified and magnified. With the confusion of governments and the struggle of economic policies in almost every country, many traditional governments have lost their power to hold their nations together. This includes dictatorial, socialist, and democratic governments alike. Religion has attempted to move in to provide the unifying force in many countries.
In Iran, the goal is to rule the nation through Islamic fundamentalist beliefs, and with a demonstrated anti-Western doctrine. The West views this movement as fanatical and alarming. But it is meaningful that the leaders of this movement are not the poor masses rallying behind a radical rabble-rouser: the leaders are the young, educated, middle-class professionals and businessmen.
This rise of religious fundamentalism to overshadow and direct political authority not only transforms the workings of a nation, it transcends national boundaries and unites the worldwide Diaspora of their respective believers, particularly the extremist element. Signs of this are evident throughout the more moderate Arab lands, where "unenlightened" intellectuals, politicians, writers, and media personalities have been brutally assassinated. Anyone who believes in secularism or simply accommodates secularism is targeted as a nonbeliever, an enemy of the greater cause, who must be killed.
If future threats from Islamic fundamentalists caused the Christian West to respond with a conservative or even a Christian fundamentalist protection, it is frightening to ponder the results of a confrontation. If cultural religious morality is the bottom line, what solution remains other than the annihilation of the enemy? And yet it is not impossible to imagine this.
In the senior President George Bush's reelection campaign, the Republican Party suspected that it was being taken over (or at least manipulated) by a strong coalition of Christian conservatives, with evangelical preachers lining up behind Jerry Falwell to put a Christian conservative policy in the White House. But Americans have long believed in the separation of church and state; most feel it is one of the basic constitutional principles meant to assure freedom of democracy. And the religious aspects of George Bush's campaign, mixed with the issues of abortion and family values, may well have contributed to his downfall, in addition to his lethargic participation.
Americans who believe in strong family values also believe that the subject of family values should not become another government program. But any government drifting toward becoming a social-welfare state tends to intrude on what was once considered personal or religious territory. It becomes involved in such issues as abortion and euthanasia and, as proponents of both sides of the issues run to government to legislate a solution, both sides give over to government the power to make such life-and-death decisions.
This initiates a dangerous progression, to the point where it is not impossible to imagine the predictions of science-fiction writers coming true, whereby government institutes such things as mandatory death at age sixty-five to settle economic or population problems. An extreme example, to be sure, but not as extreme today as it was only a few years back.
When talking about the future of terrorist-sponsoring countries, William Colby, the ex-CIA director, had a message of hope that he tied to economic progress in an interview for this book. He pointed out that if you look at the countries that have isolated themselves from the West (Cuba, North Korea, Libya, and others) you'll see that they are now paying the price of having been left behind while the rest of the world prospered.
This makes sense, from a Western point of view: it assumes that the West will continue to dominate both the politics and the economics of the world. It also assumes that the West will continue to be liberal. Since we in the West have not completed our own "return to the roots" movement, we don't really believe that Muslims want to annihilate us-rather, we assume they would prefer to live beside us in peace and prosperity. But as each nation succeeds in its resurgence of its own definition of acculturalization, the "Keep Japan Asian" movement, the forces of Hinduism in India, the growing Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Middle East, and the split between East and West in the former Soviet states, the cultural differences become more defined and more difficult to compromise.
All this may be hard for most Americans to understand. We live in a nation of immigrants, which now includes sizable numbers from every nation of the world. We eat together in restaurants. We work together. Interracial relationships have become common. And because of our mix of races, we are (for the most part) taught that racism is ignoble and abhorrent. This contrasts greatly with what is going on in many other countries, where racism is a common teaching in most acculturalization programs.
Even in the United States, where it is still common for people whose families have lived here for three hundred years or more to identify themselves as one-tenth German, one-fifth Italian, three-tenths Irish, and so forth, religious fundamentalists insist that it is not possible to say you are part Christian and part Muslim.
The lines of the eight civilizations are self-defining, and such interruptions as the domination of the Soviet Union or of the United States are only that. They do not break the cultural ties that bind peoples (rather than nations) together. But, as we are seeing in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, the fractures along these cultural dividing lines can be opened like unhealed wounds.
Perhaps even more meaningful is the trend to divide the world into economic regions. These also must occur along cultural dividing lines because if they don't, they won't work.
The European Economic Community is a coalition of Western European states made up of people with common religious and cultural backgrounds. Former East-bloc countries that do not fit the predominant Christian description are not allowed into the EEC. Even poor Turkey, which tried to "go West" by cooperating during the Persian Gulf War, and thereby excluded itself from the East, has been rejected by the EEC and now finds itself alone, with only a distant hope of recreating the Turkish Empire up to the borders of Iran. China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Chinese overseas Diaspora will be an economic unit. Iran, Pakistan, perhaps a placated Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan will be an economic unit. The reformed Soviet Empire of Yeltsin's dreams will likely not happen because his plan calls for a joining of cultural civilizations-and this contradicts the people's natural, deeper tendencies.
Latin America and Central America will each be economic units, as will Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
The bottom line is, per Huntington, that people of common cultures will band together, and peaceful interaction across cultural lines will occur only if these moves are in the best interest of both parties. This is a unique concept for the West, which has had the luxury of laying down most of the world's rules for the past three hundred years or more.
It is difficult for the West to suddenly acknowledge the emerging civilizations. We have seen it as our moral duty to promote the properties of democracy and liberal ideologies. We see these as universal values, and anyone who does not agree is perceived as backward, unenlightened, ignorant-even barbaric. These beliefs, rooted in evangelism, were the mainstay behind both the preservation of our military dominance and our justification for promoting our brand of economic interests throughout the world. But we have never quite understood that the hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers" does not play well in Islam. All our most basic beliefs and universal justifications receive a direct counter response from the non-West, which perceives us to be imperialistic.
When the Soviet economy collapsed along with all the communist states of the East bloc, that was hailed as proof of the superiority of democracy and capitalism, and the inferiority of totalitarianism and communism. But the arguments along these lines of inquiry continue, particularly now that most of the Western nations are also struggling to restructure their economies to meet a changed world.
Students of Marxism argue that the communist dictators bastardized the original theory (that Marx predicted socialism would be the natural progression of an open, democratic society), and they point to the United States as an example, not the Soviet Union.
Even more perplexing to Western analysts is the fantastic economic growth occurring inside China under what the West perceives as an oppressive regime. In just the past fifteen years, the level of poverty in China has fallen from 30 percent to 10 percent, and health-care quality is among the highest of all nations, with the chances of a newborn baby surviving in China better than those of a baby born in New York City.
For most Chinese, regardless of China's record on human rights and regardless of our opinion of their standard of living, there has never been a better time to live there than right now. Most people in most other nations cannot make that same claim, including Americans (who certainly are better off than the Chinese, but can easily remember better times).
The West must remember that its half of the world, which lives in relative tranquility, represents just 15 percent of the world's population. The remaining 85 percent lives in relative turmoil. They have different priorities. Most would rather eat than vote.
The Shifting of Cultural Plates
Huntington looks at today's rising turmoil and compares the fracturing among the eight civilizations to a series of deep faults causing violent earthquakes along the cultural battle lines. But aren't these cultural movements rather more comparable to those related to continental drift (the shifting of the upper layers of earth plates) that has been going on for eons? Let us see.
In many ways, a political map of the world today is eerily similar to one from 1900. Eerily, because we remember that the old maps had to be redrawn because of World War I and (more to the point) World War II, the latter of which kicked off the cold war, the Korean War, Vietnam, the isolation of Cuba and North Korea and China, the creation of Israel, and the Mid-East conflicts. Eerily, because we have long been told that history repeats itself and we've found that, in a way, the only difference between then and now, militarily speaking, at least, is in the massive destructive capabilities of our weapons. Eerily, because it seems that after all this turmoil we have simply come full circle again.
In the final analysis, it is the deep faults that better represent the cause of the fracturing that goes on among the eight civilizations: a war between Iran and Iraq, for example, or an economic battle between Sweden and Finland, or Italy and France. These "earthquakes" are short and violent, and do not have the lasting impact of the kind of cataclysm we have represented as continental drift.
When continental plates shift, and collide, they create mountain ranges and cause climatic changes, form deserts and rain forests, and otherwise change the face of the globe forever.
Something like that is true of the shifting cultural "plates," the major difference being that we do have the option of controlling them-or at least of insulating their impact points. And we have good incentive to respond to these options, because the next World War will undoubtedly be a clash between civilizations-a clash of biblical proportions wherein everything that defines cultural and religious beliefs is on the line and pertaining to which there is no compromise or withdrawal.
A Redefinition of Power
The Persian Gulf War was the culmination of a conflict that had been building for sixty years. It began when the West found oil in the Middle East, and then was accentuated when World War II ended Western
colonialism and coincided with the beginning of the growth of Mid-Eastern nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism. This conflict between Islam and the West is likely to keep on growing, particularly if the West continues to rely on oil as its energy mainstay.
Each time the West uses its massive military power or advanced technical weapons, it reminds the non-West countries that they can be humiliated by that power and that they are not yet in control of their own destinies. Even the Arab countries that have moved toward a more democratic reform have ironically found themselves leading a populace with a growing anti-West attitude. Any nation in which people are moving toward new degrees of self-empowerment can expect those same people to reject symbols of authority and superiority-and once again societal divisions move beyond the borders of nations, to the more meaningful divisions of peoples.
The West's knee-jerk reactions to immigration problems only strengthen these divisions. As European borders close to burgeoning populations of the East, the barriers highlight division and exclusion. And there is always a counter-response. The counter-reaction becomes a form of racism, which is reinforced by religious and cultural movements that encourage ethnic separation. And, as we have seen, when the battle is between people of different cultures, ethnic cleansing and persecution are not only severe but in the fevered minds of fundamentalist, wholly justified.
A Redefinition of Responsibility
If we want to avoid conflict between East and West, we must redefine our priorities, understanding that a redefinition is not a show of weakness, but rather of strength.
The non-West civilizations face a near future filled with turmoil, not only along their cultural borders but within them. The West must decide whether it should involve itself with these inner struggles, realizing that with each meddling it increases the danger of escalating a local or regional problem into a cultural war with global consequences.
For years, the United States attempted to balance the powers of Iraq and Iran, to play one against the other, to preserve Mid-East stability, and to off-set Soviet influence in the area. Iran and Iraq squared off against each other in brutal combat which killed tens of thousands of their soldiers and civilians. They used chemical and biological weapons against each other, and wreaked havoc upon their respective economies as they locked in mortal conflict. Today, Iran and Iraq still harbor resentment against each other, but their fundamentalist elements agree on one thing: a hatred of the United States for messing around in their territories.
In theory, if the West weren't interfering in these internal conflicts, it would have the option of sitting back and watching the other civilizations handle their own battles, without becoming the scapegoat for both sides. And it keeps holding up that if both sides of the conflict are of the same culture, then only the foreign interloper will be blamed in the end.
Is it the responsibility of the West to interfere, or is it more responsible to stay out? The answer becomes confused when it includes such issues as human rights, arms proliferation, nuclear and biological weapons proliferation, and the economic needs of the "free world."
The West views as one of its duties the responsibility to impose Western concepts on the rest of the world. But everything the West stands for about individualism, equality, liberty, judicial freedom, democracy, and freedom of religion holds little value in many other cultures. Only the West has had the idea of a universal democracy, or a New World Order. On a global scale, 85 percent of the population has other priorities, and they view this Western doctrine of a kinder, gentler democratic world as just another form of imperialism. If a non-West country does not want to succumb to Western preaching, then it has two options: It can either isolate itself, or it can begin its own version of a cold war and build to balance itself against the West, as China is suspected of doing.
Throughout the non-West, the trend is to institute forms of modernization without succumbing to the doctrines of westernization. The trend is to use their (for example) oil-rich resources to get their own weapons, their own stockpile of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. They are actually more interested in obtaining these items to strengthen their positions in their own regions than they are to reach global dominance, but the West does not trust the trends to stop at regional borders.
If the West does not want internal clashes to lead to cultural battles, then it will have to recognize that the non-West is no longer willing to sit on the sidelines. The non-West will help shape the future of the world's physical, spiritual, and economic characteristics with or without permission.
To accommodate a peaceful future, the West must get over its cold war attitude before it creates another cold war on a variety of fronts. Rather than playing civilizations and countries against each other, as we did in our ploys to counteract Soviet ploys, we should realize that promoting cooperation between countries is in our own best interests.
We should recognize that almost every institution operating today is viewed by the non-West countries as a pawn of the West, and of the United States. This includes the United Nations, NATO, the International Monetary Fund-all representatives of Western interests regardless of how they feel justified "for the common good."
Since neither the globe nor human leanings toward war will change overnight, it is important for the West to maintain military and economic power, but also to recognize that power includes the ability to allow other countries their differences and self-empowerment.