There’s life beyond Huntington

Published: October 4, 2013 - 13:36 Updated: February 3, 2014 - 02:05

From Kenya to Iraq to Peshawar — streams chilling coverage of hate-induced violence, death and mayhem. And then there is Syria, where bloodlust is acquiring fiendish and gory forms. It seems nothing will stop these wanton killings that feed more spirals of bloody violence. What’s really gone wrong with our world?

A good 20 years after Samuel Huntington’s iconic essay, The Clash of Civilizations, much of what he said is coming true. I remember receiving a copy of Foreign Affairs in 1993 and reading Huntington’s famous opening lines, which seemed to set the tone for what the world would witness in the ensuing years. I was outraged then, for he challenged our core thinking. He wrote: “World politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be — the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation-states, and the decline of the nation-state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others.” Marxist academicians argued that future conflicts would not be ideological or economic, but cultural. Huntington said, “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

Huntington’s forecast was that ideology’s collapse would disclose civilizational fault lines, cultural, religious and ethnic. Erstwhile Yugoslavia, where Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims atavastically avenged historical grievances, and the strife played out in the broader Islamic world, corroborate this much-reviled thesis. In Kosovo, violent memories were used to skew ordinary gullible citizens’ perspectives. Yugoslavia’s division became a template for reordering plural societies.

With variations, the same cycle of violence continues in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Ever since Al Qaeda terrorists blew up the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and the US unleashed global war on terror — actually an attack on radical Islam — the world has changed. The US intervened in Afghanistan to ‘smoke out’ Osama bin Laden and vanquish Al Qaeda, but, for surprising reasons, and after spending billions of dollars, failed to stabilize the small country. Instead, it employed Kiplingesque fables of the mythical prowess of Afghans in fighting foreign invaders to hide defeat and the lack of a ‘larger strategy’. Meanwhile, Afghanistan was brutalized. The war against terror destabilized both Afghanistan and Pakistan and helped sustain the obscurantist Saudi Arabian enterprise to spread Wahabi puritanical Islam in religiously plural societies. Saudi Arabia, from where most of the 9/11 terrorists originated, has played the complex role of sponsoring the same mindset it fights alongside its ally, the US, in the war on terror.


Pakistan, perhaps, suffers most from this global campaign. Saudi funds have sustained Islamist outfits that violently enforce majoritarian Sunni interpretations of Islam that exclude and brutalize minorities like Shias and Ahmediyas from the faith. Hatred and violence against Shias is not just confined to Pakistan; it defines the violence in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and other parts of the Islamic world. This animosity is aggravated by the raging turf battle between Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran. Old-timers recall that the Middle East did not even recognize differences between the two sects previously — they inter-married and lived together in the same localities.

In Pakistan, prejudice extends beyond Shias alone. Radical Islamic groups have targetted Hindus, making their lives in Sindh impossible. Girls are being kidnapped and forcibly married off. Pakistani Hindus, who visit India, don’t want to return to their country. Christians are being attacked, too. The heinous suicide bombing by Pakistani Taliban at a Peshawar church, killing 80-odd people and injuring hundreds, is clear evidence that Pakistani society is imploding. Worse, the government is looking at compromising with the Taliban.

Pakistan’s problem may be of its own making — the country has long hosted and trained jihadi groups that create problems elsewhere, including in India. Afghan President Hamid Karzai never minces words that Taliban terrorists are all Pakistanis and Pakistan-trained jhadis have been active in China and Syria. In Kenya, the mall attack that left over 80 dead, and many injured, was the doing of al-Shabaab — founded after the US attack on Somalia, with allegiance to Al Qaeda, and Pakistani advisors. How does a society fight against the Al Qaeda brand of
Takfiri radicalism?

Huntington may have predicted the nature of conflict, but the way out is being provided by others, who believe that religion cannot provide enduring solutions to issues of governance. There has to be a third way, notes philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who claims that only a more radical agenda of social and economic emancipation can ensure that civil, democratic and secular groups are not side-stepped by religious radicals.   

Editor of Delhi's Hardnews magazine and author of Bad Money Bad Politics- the untold story of Hawala scandal.

Read more stories by Sanjay Kapoor

This story is from print issue of HardNews