Clash of Civilizations?
After the event of September 11, 2001, Americans enters into the gripping fear of another attack. This attack was the first attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, more than half a decade prior. Following Pearl Harbor, the United States officially enters into World War II. In a similar event, President Bush at the time declares a war on terror following September 11. This war has not ended. Most people see armed conflict as something with a beginning and an end. Just as WWII had a start date and an end date, the same train of thoughts can connect to this war on terror. The events leading up to September 11 has continued to be an undercurrent that still affects the so call war right now. Recently, there had been an attack in Paris on November 13, 2015. This attack brought international light back on the war and ongoing issues in the Middle East, especially following the historic refugee migration issue. It is the language discourse of wars and armed conflicts that continues to create a uninform public that continues to blanket other factors that continues to contribute to these disasters.
Following the Parris attack on November 13, John Kerry, the current US Secretary of State, rearticulate the words the French newspaper displayed following 9/11. The paper ran a headline that said, “Today, we are all Americans” and John Kerry uses that language, stating, “Today, we are all Parisians”, at the same time, he condemns the attack, saying that it is “not a Clash of Civilizations”, using the anthropological language (Kerry, 2015). Kerry is directly using and reproducing the Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilization theory. On the other hand, the presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, called the attack as a “Clash of Civilization” and “we are involved in a civilizational conflict” (Rubio, 2015), again, invoking the language yet seeing the issue differently than Kerry. Yet, both these men raise the issues of civilization and its role in the war. The social evolutionary thought underscores the clash of civilization ideas. Just as biology believes humans evolve, so does society. In this case, society evolves from simple to complex. The simplest is savages, then barbarians, then civilize. These are the three stages of social evolution. The civilize stage is the stage both Kerry and Rubio believe Americans are in. When Kerry mentions that it is not a clash of civilization, he is invoking this idea and referring to the attackers, as people who are not civilized, but rather, barbaric. In contrast, Rubio elevates the attackers’ status to one of civilize society. Between the two, there is a disparity between their understanding of civilize. However, the problem lies in the actual groupings itself. This creates a hierarchy that alienates different groups of people. The idea that Americans are more civilized implies that Americans are better equipped to deal with wars, and less prone to attacks.
The so-called Western civilization has enjoyed relative peace while some nations in the Middle East are ravaged by wars and destructions. Without living in such environment, people of the western civilization do not see nor understand the conflict as something that can harm them. The rhetoric of war that is present in the media here in the U.S. allows for the development of “a coherent yet simplistic way of thinking about distant wars fought by unknown combatants” (Moran, 2005, 251). By simplifying it, people see these wars as something outside of themselves and they cannot be harmed. The Paris attack ties with terrorism, which, in turn, is tied with the greater war on terror. Nevertheless, instead of calling this attack a product of the war, it is referred to as an event, a singular attempt to cripple the Western Civilization. This event did not randomly showed up; rather, there are historical foundations that lead up to it.
While the US fight the war on Terror, the terrorists are fighting a war against Western civilization. “”Western civilization” has become a kind of shorthand for “Christian civilization”” and thus, Islamic civilization simply implies Islam, so that the war on terror is really “a war against Islam” (Aslan, 2009, 159). The lack of historic understanding leads to these endless conflicts. The political ideologies of these two civilizations are different. The US ideology is one of democracy while historically; the Islamic world was and is a theocracy. Islam’s first leader, Muhammad, was not only a religious leader, but also a political and military leader. This is how leadership was understood in Islamic traditions. Kerry, upon looking at this, will say that this is proof that the US is not fighting a civilization because a civilized society separates the church and the state. The lack of separation implies a lesser form of society, such as barbaric or savages. This need, as well as the defense, for separating dates back for centuries. Thomas Jefferson proposed to establish religious freedom, writing, “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain” (Jefferson, 1786, I) their religion, meaning that the state cannot have a religion and dictate that religion upon the people. This is the US rhetoric that perpetuates Americans understanding of a democracy. The separation of church and state is so important in the understanding of democracy that it becomes part of democratic ideology itself. In contrast, Islam’s political understanding traces back for centuries.
The way the US understands separation and how religion is so prevalent in American society creates an abnormality. The “American combination of a formal separation of religious and public spheres and a culture pervaded by religion is somewhat of an anomaly that produces a periodic eruption of quasi-religious puritanical movements” (Robbins, 1998, 87) that confuses other people viewing it from the outside. In Kerry speech, he mentions that the Paris terrorists killed “in the will of God” and then link them to being “psychopathic monsters and there is nothing civilized about them” (Kerry, 2015). Kerry brings in the relation between religion and a civilize society. They are not civilized because they act in God’s name. This goes back to the understanding that the more separate religion and state are, the more civilize a society. It is a bit of a contrast with the US because Robbins mentions that Americans also sometimes enter into religious movements. However, it is not the same. The American understanding of separation of church and state is not pure separation, rather, the system embrace “three distinct, yet interrelated sets of rules: separation of church and state, integration of religion and politics, and accommodation of civil religion” (Davis, 2001, 5). These three rules allow for the freedom of religion to live in harmony with a democracy so bent on separating the two systems. One might wonder, if that is so, why is religion so prevalent in politics in the US, such as when presidents swear into office with the bible. Jack Goody argues that this event is not a religion, but rather a ritual, “a category of standardized behavior (custom) in which the relationship between the means and the end is not intrinsic” (Goody, 1961, 159). This allows for the separation of the two systems which will continue to allow the US to continue to be a civilize nation, rather than a group of barbarians that Kerry made the ISIS out to be. Due to this distinction, the Westerners allow themselves to relax in the face of these terror attacks, unless it happens directly to them, in which case, all Westerners will band together, to defend the Christian values, as Reza noted.
Once people live in peace, they become lax and when that security is so violent ripped from them, people enter a state of panic and look for the simplest explanation for the pain. Rubio mentions that it is a “wake up call” and “we are now involved in a civilizational conflict” where “they literally want to overthrow our society” (Rubio, 2015). Where did this desire to overthrow the Western society comes from? This is not an event where the terrorist woke up and decided to hate Westerners, but a process long in the making. The US is such a huge exporter of culture that Western society and Americans become synonyms. In this case, it can be seen that an attack on US allies is an attack on the US itself. This anger is “fueled by American foreign policy, not an epochal confrontation of civilizations” (Makdisi, 2002, 538), and thus, it has been fueling for a long time. This statement implies something of revenge. Unlike Rubio, who believe that they want to overthrow the Western civilization, Makdisi state it is not about one civilization dominating each other, instead, the risk and the anger had already been here, it is just people fail to understand the problem. Since the danger is so far away, Westerners do not believe they can be harmed.
The stereotype that perpetuates both Middle East and Americans also contributes to the hate and the confusion that blocks out the truth. Both societies “construct a mythological image that served to “demonized” the other parties” and “parties on both side then fulfilled the worst expectations of the other, playing true to these extreme images” (Beeman, 2005, 1). This continues to fuel that problem that eventually leads to armed conflicts. The common people will see these images and understand exactly what and who it is about, reinforcing the problems. Lakoff mentions that following 9/11, the crime frame changed to “war frame” however, the metaphor does not fit, so Bush constructed the animal frames for the attacker, where “moral is up, immoral is down, and immoral people are animals” (Lakoff, 2004, 56-57). This trace back to the idea and the images of civilize versus barbarians or savages. There is another layer of the complex images, and this layer is one that identifies the attackers as animals, who is so far from intelligence and human values that it actually becomes all right to harm them. This also contributes to the process that leads up to more deadly attacks in the tears following 9/11.
All the armed conflicts culminate and create a worldwide disaster. According to Hoffman and Oliver-Smith, disasters, even so called natural disasters, are all, in one way or another, man-made. These disasters can be avoided, but it “becomes unavoidable in the context of a historically produced pattern of vulnerability” notably evidenced in “ideology of a society” (Oliver-Smith and Hoffman, 2001, 3). The vulnerability in this case, is the lack of knowledge of the problem and the historical context behind these conflicts. It is not as simple as overthrowing the West. However, people get their information from the media and this can creates a barrier for people. It allows for distancing. Additionally, people “tend to avoid information about risks” which allows for “usable ignorance” (Frewer, 1997, 24). This avoidance and distancing permits the continue ignorance of the issue, and it allows for misunderstanding the armed conflicts. People still view it as separate events, connected only by the attacker, but these disasters had been created and it had been a process long in the making.
Following the Paris attack on November 13, 2015, the world banded together, expressing love and support. Kerry and Rubio both made a statement. Kerry claims it is not a clash of civilization, whereas Rubio mentions it is. This social evolutionary idea streams the current armed conflicts that continue to perpetuate the world. This is a man-made disaster whose language discourse can help create better understanding of the issue.