Vol. 3    Issue 17   16-31 January 2009
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The Holy Quran A Pictorial Gallery
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Samuel P. Huntington: A prophet of doom is dead

Samuel P. Huntington, a prominent American political scientist who earned fame as well as notoriety for his well-known but controversial thesis of clash of civilizations, died on December 24, 2008 at the age of 81.

Huntington was born on April 18, 1927 in New York City. He began teaching at Harvard University’s Department of Government at the age of 23 and remained on the faculty for 54 years until his death. He wrote 17 books on a wide variety of subjects, but dealing in the main with the relations between democracy, government and civil and military institutions.

Controversies dogged Huntington for the greater part of his career. In his book Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), he argued, on the basis of mathematical equations which later turned out to be false, that South Africa was a “satisfied society”. Professor Serge Lange, an eminent mathematician at Yale University, was not convinced by Huntington’s arguments and after a close analysis of his exposition found that Huntington had used pseudo-mathematical methodology to buttress his argument. Lange pointed out that Huntington had used “a type of language which gives the illusion of science without any of its substance”. Another mathematician, Neal Koblitz, accused Huntington of misusing mathematics and engaging in pseudo-science.

Huntington was twice nominated for membership to the National Academy of Sciences in the US, but rejected both times.

Clash of civilizations

In 1993 Huntington wrote an article “The Clash of Civilizations” in Foreign Affairs. The article was widely discussed in academic circles around the world and was translated into 26 languages. Huntington later expanded the article into a best-selling book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996). The crux of his argument was the following.

    It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in the world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among mankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future. (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, p. 22).

Huntington identified seven or eight major civilizations: Western, Confucian (or Sinic), Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and possibly African. He particularly focused on the cultural lines of demarcation between Islamic and Western civilizations and saw Islam and Christianity as potentially pitted against each other. He predicted that the next war, if it ever occurred, would be a war between civilizations.

Huntington had a virulent dislike of Islam and Muslims. He argued that “the fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power”. He maintained that the conflict along the fault lines between Western and Islamic civilizations has been going on for 1,300 years and added: “Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders”.

Shortly after the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, Huntington wrote an article “The Age of Muslim Wars” in the Newsweek, in which he described contemporary global scenario as “the age of Muslim wars,” adding that Muslim wars have replaced the cold war as the principal form of international conflict. He argued that “Muslim violence could congeal into one major clash of civilizations between Islam and the West or between Islam and the Rest”.

Questionable hypothesis, sweeping generalisations

Samuel P. Huntington’s controversial thesis of clash of civilizations has evoked a great deal of discussion and controversy in academic and political circles around the world. While it has been endorsed by right-wing intellectuals and politicians, it has been repudiated by some of the world’s leading thinkers and intellectuals, international organisations, diplomats and heads of states.

The thesis of clash of civilizations can be faulted on at least three counts. First, Huntington’s notion of what he calls “civilization identity” is vague, essentialist and fossilised. He takes a monolithic and static view of cultures and civilizations and glosses over the diversities and internal dynamism that characterise all civilizations. Huntington’s arguments are replete with obfuscating statements and sweeping generalisations. Second, he seems to be oblivious of the fact that cultures and civilizations are deeply interrelated and inter-dependent.

Third, the thesis of clash of civilizations is not only myopic and cynical but also fraught with dangerous implications and potential repercussions. It has the horrifying potential of turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Edward Said decried the clash of civilizations thesis as a deplorable attempt to revive the old good versus evil dichotomy prevalent during the Cold War era. The thesis turns negotiable disputes into immutable, inevitable conflicts. Furthermore, it legitimises and reinforces popular stereotypes and misconceptions. Huntington’s ideas have provided fodder for the anti-Muslim rhetoric of far-right politicians in Europe and a legitimation for Western military intervention in Muslim countries.

Eric Wolf has convincingly shown that that the idea of an insulated, culturally isolated and self-sufficient Europe—or for that matter, any civilization—is far removed from reality. He emphasises that it is misleading to regard the world as an “archipelago of cultures” because cultures and civilizations have been, more often than not, in contact (Europe and the People Without History, 1982, p.5).

The United Nations’ report Alliance of Civilizations (2006) emphasises that the history of relations between cultures is not only one of wars and confrontations; it is also one of centuries of constructive exchanges, cross-fertilisation and peaceful coexistence (www.unaoc.org).

Huntington’s view of Western and Islamic civilizations as discrete and fossilised entities betrays his ignorance of the wide-ranging interactions that existed between the West and the Islamic world during the Middle Ages and the deep and enduring contributions of Islam to Western civilization. Muslim scientists and scholars played a pivotal role in transmitting the scientific and philosophical legacy of the ancient world to Europe during the medieval period, which laid the foundations of the Renaissance and paved the way for the flowering of Western civilization. The wide-ranging contributions of Muslims to Western science and medicine, technology and engineering, architecture, arts and crafts and languages have been amply documented and acknowledged by Western historians.

Huntington skated over the fact that many of the deadliest clashes have taken place within civilizations rather than between them. The bloodiest wars in the 20th century were fought among the Europeans. The recent conflict between Russia and Georgia, who share the Orthodox heritage, provides a powerful refutation of Huntington’s ideas.

Huntington was often accused of being a reactionary and an arch conservative. In his last book Who We Are: The Challenges to America’s National Identity (2004), he challenged the reigning view of multiculturalism, arguing that American civilization is the product of Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture, and warning that the huge influx of Latinos threatened to snap its traditional moorings.

Alcohol and cancer

Increasing medical evidence has confirmed the linkage between alcohol intake and various types of cancer. In the past few years, doctors have extolled the benefits of red wine, claiming that it protects a person from heart disease. But this view is now being contested. Rod Jackson, a British specialist who led a recent study on the consequences of even modest consumption of alcohol, points out in an article in the British medical journal Lancet that any benefit from light to moderate drinking is probably small and is unlikely to outweigh the harm caused by alcohol.

Habitual alcohol consumption increases the risk of alcoholic hepatitis as well as the inflammation and destruction of liver cells, which may result in cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. Alcohol abuse increases the risk for cancers of the mouth, lungs, pancreas, intestine, pharynx and oesophagus. It also affects the central nervous system. Alcohol is believed to damage a person’s DNA, making him susceptible to the risk of cancer. Studies show that one in five heavy drinkers develops cirrhosis of the liver.

A new study carried out by Cancer Research UK suggests that even drinking one small glass of wine a day increases the risk of cancer by at least 10 per cent. Almost 480,000 people in 10 European countries were asked questions about how much alcohol they drank and were followed up for six years. In that period, 1,833 people developed bowel cancer. Prof Tim Key, an epidemiologist associated with Cancer Research UK, said: “The research shows quite clearly the more alcohol you drink the greater your risk of bowel cancer”.

Dr Rachel Thompson from the World Cancer Research Fund said just two units of alcohol could significantly increase the chances of cancer. “If you are drinking a pint of lager or a large glass of wine every day then this might not seem like a lot, but the science shows you are increasing your risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent and your risk of liver cancer by 20 per cent,” she said. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, with more than 36,500 people diagnosed each year, and 16,000 deaths. More than 3,000 people in the country are diagnosed with liver cancer each year and a similar number die.

Alcohol and breast cancer

Recent medical evidence shows that alcohol intake increases levels of the hormone oestrogen, thereby increasing the risk of breast cancer. A recent study carried out by the National Cancer Institute in the US has confirmed that women who drink more than a glass of wine a day could be significantly increasing their risk of developing breast cancer. The study points out that not only does a small quantity of alcohol significantly increase the risk of breast cancer, it increases the risk of the most common type of breast cancer, responsible for around 70 per cent of breast cancer cases. Breast cancer kills 12,000 women in Britain every year.

The study found that women who have one alcoholic drink a day have a seven per cent greater chance of developing the most common type of breast cancer than teetotallers. For women who have one to two drinks a day, the risk is 32 per cent greater. The study looked at more than 184,000 post-menopausal women over a period of more than seven years (http://www.telegraph.co.uk, December 27, 2008).

More than fourteen centuries ago, the Holy Quran forbade the drinking of alcohol, even in small quantity, declaring that its harmful effects far outweigh its possible benefits. The celebrated British historian Arnold J. Toynbee once observed that one of the most valuable and enduring gifts of Islam to humanity is the prohibition of alcohol.

Nigeria: Poverty and chaos amidst prosperity

Nigeria, located in western Africa, is Africa’s most populous (148 million) and one of its richest countries. The region came under British control in 1906. After gaining independence in 1960, it became a republic in 1963. Political instability and widespread ethnic strife led to military coups, and military groups ruled the country from 1966 to 1979 and again from 1983 to 1999.

Nigeria is ethnically diverse, with more than 250 ethnic groups, the major ones being Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. The country’s population is divided almost evenly between Muslims and Christians, who have often been at loggerheads. Violence between the two communities has surfaced at regular intervals, in which thousands of people have died.

Religious violence rocked the central Nigerian city of Jos in November 2008, in which hundreds of people were killed and scores of homes, mosques, churches and shops were burned. Human Rights Watch, a New York-based human rights organisation, accused the government security forces of complicity in the violence. The police killed at least 93 people, almost all of them Muslim.

Ethnic violence has often been fuelled by poverty, unemployment, the competition for land and other resources, and political rivalries. The oil-rich Biafra region of the country seceded from Nigeria in 1967, but was reincorporated three years later. The region of Ogoniland, which has rich oil fields, has harboured secessionist movements for several years.

Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil producers. Oil was discovered in the Nigerian Delta about 50 years ago and the country experienced an oil boom in the 1970s. Nigeria has earned about a quarter of a trillion dollars in oil revenues over the past four decades. It earns $42 billion a year from oil exports.

Ironically, despite its oil wealth, Nigeria has some of the poorest people in Africa. The oil wealth has benefited only a handful of people, mainly oil barons and corrupt rulers. The country is faced with widespread poverty, very high unemployment rate, rampant corruption, high foreign debt, political instability, mismanagement, environmental degradation, endemic ethnic and religious violence, and urban decay.

In spite of all the oil, Nigeria’s per capita income declined by over 15 per cent from 1975 to 2000, while the number of people living on less than $ 1 a day quadrupled from 19 million to 84 million. In the Delta region, where the oil is extracted, there is 90% unemployment. More than 50 per cent of the people in the country are living below the poverty line.

By 2005, Nigeria had a debt of some $27 billion, even as some quarter of trillion dollars in oil revenues was being pumped. Much of this debt was due to cumulative interest on borrowings made by the country’s corrupt military dictators. The former dictator General Abacha stacked away millions into Swiss bank accounts. The country’s oil barons live in marble mansions which line the avenues of the capital Abuja.

Elections are routinely rigged by money and guns. The ruling People’s Democratic Party won the elections in 2007, which were marred by widespread vote-rigging. Urban infrastructure is in a terrible state of decay. Foreign investment is hindered by security concerns and corruption. Before the oil boom, Nigeria was a major exporter of agricultural produce. Today it is forced to import food grain. The main commercial city, Lagos, has become a filthy, dangerous place. People are afraid of stepping out of their homes in the night due to rampant crime.

Widespread corruption feeds massive theft and pilferage of oil. Up to 200,000 barrels of oil are stolen a day. There is a well-entrenched nexus between criminal gangs, oil barons, government officials and the army. Criminal gangs break into the pipes in the oil-producing region, siphon off the oil and load it on to tankers. They bribe customs officials and get the oil refined in Europe. Large-scale oil pilferage led to a slump in oil revenues by some 25 per cent last year.

Corruption, crime and mismanagement have contributed to environmental degradation in the country. Oil spills in the bay are routine. As the oil spreads across the bay of sand, large numbers of fishermen lose their livelihood.

The pathetic state of affairs in the country has adversely affected longevity, health and education. Life expectancy is 46 years for men and 47 years for women, one of the lowest in the world. Nearly 24 per cent children die of malaria before the age of five.

In 2007, Human Rights Watch highlighted that most primary healthcare centres in the country have no access to even the most basic medical resources and are in a dilapidated state. Medicines are in short supply and many healthcare centres have no staff, since many of them have not been paid for months and have left in frustration and disgust. Children have to walk five to ten miles in search of medical care only to find a crumbling building and not a doctor in sight.

The horrifying situation in Nigeria shows that the mere abundance of resources and the trappings of democracy are not sufficient to ensure the well-being of people and the progress of society. Wealth may remain concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the masses of people in poverty and misery. Similarly, democratic institutions are susceptible to misuse by corrupt and ruthless rulers. The essential ingredients that ensure the well-being of people include a fair, equitable distribution of resources, a transparent and accountable system of government, the rule of law, political stability, effective management of ethnic diversity, and a vigilant civil society.

France’s Muslim ministers

France has the largest number of Muslims living in Europe—estimated at over five million—who constitute nearly 10 per cent of the country’s population. Islam is France’s second largest religion, after Roman Catholicism.

France swears by the republican ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, but French society in reality is highly differentiated in terms of race, class, religion and ethnicity. Mainstream jobs and positions are almost the exclusive preserve of the white majority. By and large, Muslims have to bear the brunt of widespread discrimination and stigmatisation and are excluded from mainstream society. Most of them live in working-class housing colonies—known as banlieues—which have become virtual ghettos, characterised by poverty, high unemployment rates, crime and drug addiction.

According to the Institut Montaigne, a French think-tank, the unemployment rate among French Muslims is three times the national average and in some housing colonies is as high as 40 per cent. A French sociologist Jean-Francois Amadieu has shown that applicants with Arab or Muslim surnames are five times less likely to receive positive responses for job applications from French employers than those with French names. Faced with this frustrating situation, many young Muslim men and women in the country are forced to change their names or to conceal their addresses for fear that this might jeopardise their chances of getting a job.

Though Muslims constitute nearly a tenth of France’s population, there is not a single Muslim member in the French parliament. Television anchors are almost exclusively white, as is much of the police force. Gay J. McDougall, a United Nations independent expert on minority issues, said in October 2007 that “racism in France is alive, insidious and is clearly targeted at the “visible” minorities of immigrant heritage, the majority of whom are French citizens….The constitutional promise of equality is a vision, but not the reality of modern France”.

A very small section of Muslims in France has managed to break through the shackles of circumstances, has acquired university education and has thereby moved up in society. By and large, such people have cut themselves off from their religious and cultural roots and have assimilated into mainstream society. Many of them have no qualms about drinking alcohol and eating pork. Like many French women, some Muslim women are living with their boy friends. Nearly 30 per cent of Muslim women in France have reportedly married non-Muslims.

Three Muslim women as ministers

When the French President Nicolas Sarkozy picked three Muslim women—Rachida Dati, Fadela Amara and Rama Yade—to join his government in 2007, there was wide appreciation of his bold decision, which symbolised an acknowledgement of the diversity of French society. Rachida Dati, a 42-year-old glamorous woman of North African origin, was given charge of the prestigious ministry of justice, while the 44-year-old Fadela Amara, also of North African descent, was made secretary of state for urban planning. The 31-year-old Rama Yade, daughter of a Senegalese diplomat, was asked to take charge of human rights at the foreign ministry. After eighteen months, Sarkozy is having problems with the three women.

Rachida Dati

Rachida Dati, one of 11 children of Algerian parents, married a boy from her community approved by her parents. But later she had the marriage annulled. As justice minister, she has sought to overhaul France’s judicial system, drawing the wrath of the legal profession. Many of her staff have quit, complaining of her authoritarian ways. Ms Dati is known for her designer tastes and has frequently appeared in French glossy magazines.

A French convert to Islam married a French woman of North African origin in the northern city of Lille on 8 July 2006. He discovered on the wedding night that his wife was not a virgin, contrary to her claim before the marriage ceremony. The man was greatly distressed by this breach of trust, cancelled all the festivities and the next day engaged a lawyer to file a case for the annulment of marriage in the local court.

Under the French civil code, an annulment can be granted “if there was a mistake about the person or the essential qualities of the person”. The local court granted the annulment of marriage on the basis of a breach of the marital contract. “Married life began with a lie, which is contrary to the reciprocal confidence between married parties”, the court observed. The bride, who admitted that she had lied about her virginity, consented to the divorce. Although the divorce was granted on technical grounds and in accordance with French law (which is uniformly applicable to all citizens regardless of ethnic or religious distinctions) and had nothing to do with the religious background of the parties, it stirred a controversy in the country. The critics of the ruling said it was influenced by the religious background of the couple and that religious considerations were discreetly creeping into the legal system.

Ms Dati initially backed the judgement, arguing that it would protect the woman, who seemed to want a quick separation. Following the public uproar, she changed her mind and sent the case back for review. A French appeals court overturned the ruling of the local court on November 17, 2008. The court ruled that “virginity is not an essential quality in that its absence has no repercussion on matrimonial life”.

On January 1, 2009, Ms Dati gave birth to a baby girl, named Zahra, and returned to her office five days later. When asked by journalists about the identity of the child’s father, she refused and said, “My private life is complicated and I’m keeping it off-limits to the press. I won’t say anything about it”.

There was speculation that President Sarkozy’s younger brother Francois, who was seen leaving the hospital the previous day, was the father of the child, but he has denied the child is his. The French billionaire Dominique Desseigne and former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar are also rumoured to have fathered the child.

Being a single mother or having a child out of wedlock carries no social stigma in France and in most European countries. In 2006, more children were born out of wedlock in France than to married couples.

Fadela Amara

Ms Amara, France’s secretary of state for urban planning, is one of 10 children of illiterate Algerian parents. She never went to college and never married. She is a leftist feminist and a self-styled “militant”. Her ideology and views are in complete harmony with France’s republican values. “I claim the heritage of the French Revolution. I believe strongly in the values of the republic—liberty, equality, fraternity—and secularism,” she once said.

Ms Amara has been entrusted with the overall responsibility of improving infrastructure and living conditions in the working-class colonies inhabited by immigrants (where she was born and brought up).

When a local court granted the annulment of marriage of a Muslim couple because the wife had lied to the husband about her virginity, Ms Amara called the verdict “a fatwa against the emancipation of women”.

Rama Yade

Ms Rama Yade, who handles human rights at the foreign office, was born on December 13, 1976 in Dakar, Senegal. She graduated from the Institut d’etudes politiques in 2000 and started out working for Paris Town Hall and the French National Assembly until she became a member of the French Senate. She then became the State Secretary in charge of foreign affairs and human rights. She is married to a politician, Joseph Zimet.

When President Sarkozy invited Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi to Paris, Ms Yade told a newspaper that France was “not a doormat on which a leader, terrorist or not, can come to wipe the blood of his crimes from his feet”. Sarkozy was not pleased with the comment.

Assimilation and acceptability

The examples of the three Muslim ministers in the French government—whose views and lifestyles are in tune with those of mainstream society--suggest that if Muslims wish to be accepted and recognised in Western societies they should abandon their religious and cultural identities and traditions and assimilate into the wider society. An overwhelming majority of Muslims living in Western countries are unwilling to exchange their cherished values and identities for acceptance by the host society. Assimilation has proved to be a failure in the long run. A viable model of societal cohesion is integration which, as the European Council emphasised in its Thessaloniki meeting in June 2003, is a dynamic two-way process of mutual accommodation by immigrants and the wider society.

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