May 21, 2006
Clash of Civilisations
Samuel Huntington's famous book on the "Clash of Civilisations" outlined humanity in our present world as segregated into separate identities: Muslim, Western, Asian. Amartya Sen wrote a book in response to that, called "Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny", which speaks against the Samuel Huntington thesis of "Clash of Civilisations".
Dr. Sen proposes that our present world exists as a "bundle of identities", that liberal democracy is not a cultural phenomenon but a basic human aspiration. There is a certain universality of human nature and all peoples have an inherent ability to transcend their cultures and histories…. the give fruition to a certain declaration of human liberty, or in the case of America and many other countries, the Declaration of Independence.
The argument therefore is summed up simply in the following statement: that liberalism is not in fact a Western phenomenon. Liberalism is something inherent that all humanity should seek after. Now when I say liberalism I do not mean the pagan sort of liberal culture of bra-burning, naked romping so usually thought of in this postmodern era.
Instead, that desire of wanting a democratic process and system running a country. The right to choose. The right to make informed decisions. The right to say no to theocratic power.
Dr. Sen continues to question if really liberalism is a universal phenomenon (or at least, the deepest desire for it), then why is it that there are so few Muslim leaders, intellectuals, opinion leaders pressing for it? A possible explanation is that communities that have broken out of their colonialist rule immediately harbour resentment and distrust of anything they deem Western. This includes any trait practised by Western societies, which so happens to be that of liberalism.
Now this is interesting. I have not myself read these two books in full (my bookmark is stuck somewhere in the middle of Huntington's book I believe), but Dr. Sen's alternative argument is interesting. Because, this means that it is the surrounding cultures that dampen an inherent desire for justice, equality and democracy. Because of poor safety, security and legal structures, the society is forced into practicing the opposite of liberalism. The destruction of such basic structures give birth to the clash of civilisations, not the other way round.
Therefore, while it is true that there exists a clash of civilisations, this does not in any way point towards the fact that some societies should never practise democracy.
This revelation is in itself incredibly liberating!!
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