Monday, October 01, 2001

In the wake of the suicide bombing and obliteration of the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Virginia, Samuel P. Huntington's 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations: The Remaking of World Order has suddenly taken on a new relevance. Decried by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times for focusing on intercivilizational order rather than "globalization" (his preferred method of analyzing post-communist world order) the structure of the book seems to be something of a war manual for George W. Bush post-911. Ideologists of the American empire, like Henry Kissinger and Francis Fukuyama praised the book enthusiastically.

Huntington, a former Carter administration National Security Council spook, argues that coming global conflict will not be based on the nation-state, as in World War I, or on ideology, as in World War II, but would instead be a clash of civilizations: essentially a return to the "medieval." He also downplays the importance of economics in global relations, viewing culture as the dominant force at play. Though there are serious flaws, his view is not the typically simplistic dichotomy of East vs. West or North vs. South (they would of course, seem to cancel each other out) but rather it is one of competing civilizations guided by lead states. In the Western world, that is the United States. In the Islamic world it is Saudi Arabia. In the Orthodox world it is Russia. In the Hindu world, it is India. In the African world, it is Nigeria. In the Latin American world it is Brazil. And then there are those countries that are civilizations unto themselves: Sinic (China), and Japanese. Out of these, the West, China and Islam are put forth as the main contenders in global politics today.

In many ways the civilizational approach makes sense; it seems very much to be what is taking place at this moment in global conflict. But that it is taking place is more a matter of the meddling of the West amongt the resources of what Huntington calls "the Rest" than it is some sort of ancient, deep-rooted civilizational conflict. In his defense, Huntington does enlist the opinions of the always keen World Systems Theory crowd: Fernand Braudel and Immanuel Wallerstein make dozens of cameos throughout the book. But as an indication of his tragically flawed logic, he only half-uses their wisdom and discards that which makes World System Theory of such relevance. While embracing the WST concept of core and peripheral states - and of the civilizational fault lines that surround this system, Huntington ironically argues that this arrangement is the result of over-traditionalism. If Islam, Africa, Latin America, China, and Japan would just open their economies to the "invisible fist" of the corporate West, then civilizational conflict would be reduced. Somehow, Hungtington argues that this is not "Westernization" but is merely modernization.

The problem, as Huntington sees it, is that increased global interdependence has brought liberal democracy to the non-Western civilizations, thus increasing the ability of traditionalists, indigenous peoples, Muslims, Confucianists and others to exercise power in favor of their own civilizations rather than Western civilization. This logic strangely seems like a U.S. foreign policy logic that would justify supporting dictatorships such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, so long as they open their economies to Western intervention rather than supporting democracy, which would likely lead to Arabic oil resources being used for Arabic interests.

He does criticize Western universalism - even calling it imperialism at one point. And he points out that the Islamic and Sinic civilizations are rising in influence compared to the West. Certainly, it is true that Islam is now the fastest growing religion in the world: if current growth rates continue there will soon be more Muslims in the United States than Jews. And as he postulates "The twentieth-century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist-Leninism," he says, "is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and Christianity." According to Huntington, the threat faced by the West is not from Islamic Fundamentalism, but from mainstream Islamic civilization. This is a view far more racist than anything George W. Bush could muster in the first week following 911 - yet it rings a bell too. Though Bush called for an end to the attacks on Muslims in the United States (probably because some of our most important resource colonies are predominantly Muslim) the other side of his mouth seemed to be parroting Huntington's thesis exactly: fanning the flames of religious and racial hatred.

Surprisingly, Huntington's reccomendation is that the West learn to live in a multipolar world and steer away from it's longstanding attitude of universalism (read, imperialism). However the other side of this is that there be a recognition within the U.S. that as he puts it "those societies that have culture in common are coming together, and those societies that have cultural difference are coming apart." In other words, he flatly opposes the basis of multiculturalism: that it is desireable to live in a society that supports the autonomy and development, and interdependence of different cultures. The goal of national policy should be "not to attempt to reshape other civilizations in the image of the West, . . . but to preserve, protect, and renew the unique qualities of Western civilization." Huntington points to the moves in the Islamic world to "purify" and to unite as Muslims; if we are to compete we must do the same. This embraces the idea that the West should unify as a civilization in order to secure it's global influence, yet it denies that the non-Western civilizations have greatly influenced the West and will continue to do so, save sort of massive ethnic cleansing.

This is a major oversight in his analysis: no civilization on the face of the earth remains culturally "pure" in the 21st century - especially not the West. To suggest that what is needed is an assault on multiculturalism and a push for greater assimilation (that is to the expectations of the Western elites) amounts to nothing less than white supremacy. If Huntington's reccomendations are the basis for the course the West is charting post-911, we can expect a global race war. Given that the United States is so diverse, we can also expect a race war at home - glimpses of which we have already seen in the wave of racial attacks in the past weeks. What is needed is thoughtful analysis of books such as these, which seem to be the foreign policy bibles of people like Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and then a massive national discussion amongst the citizenry, lest their grim outlook become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thursday, September 27, 2001

This morning I awoke suddenly, to the echoing sound of a foghorn resounding off the natural and man made boundaries surrounding Budd Inlet on the northwest coast where I reside. Squinting at the morning brightness intensified by a very thick layer of fog, I sat in awe of the surreal context into which my usually predictably beautiful view had become immersed.

My first thought was of the little rowboat my landlord had told us all we could use. Tantalized and giddy with the thought of rowing out into the middle of it all, I hurried upstairs to get my sandals on. I then edged my way carefully, groggily down the steep staircase that traverses what is practically a cliff between my home and the shore of Budd Inlet. In minutes I was gliding into the deep waters, the fog quickly enveloping my house, and practically everything within twenty feet of the boat.

In the distance I could hear a seal breathing, popping in and out of the saltwater. I turned to my left and there it was looking at me intently. I stopped paddling and quickly entered a state of deep meditation...the ripples mesmerized me as thousands of thoughts zipped through my mind; mostly thoughts of fear for the future in the wake of the September 11th bombings in New York and Virginia. I could not stop thinking of how different our country would be shortly - indeed how different the world would be. I thought of something my professor had told me, how in times like this there is always the initial storm and how that is usually the most dangerous time because of the sentiments that are whipped up in the public mind. But usually, the war fervor dies down rather shortly, the antiwar movement grows and eventually the bad days end.

I just didn't want to think about what the worst of those bad days would be. I thought of all the amazing things I had seen in my life, then all of the changes the world has been through. I thought of the choices I and others around me are making, what we all are deciding to do with our time here on earth. I thought of my grandma Adams who died recently of breast cancer - of what it must have been like growing up a coal miner's daughter in Eastern Kentucky, of having your husband in jail for 10 years for a crime he maintained throughout his life that he didn't commit. I thought of my dad and his movement away from drugs and towards Christianity - what did he think of all of this that was happening? I thought of my Mom and stepdad, my ex-Fiancee of four years in her new marriage...of my sister working on an organic farm in Twisp, of my cousins in Ohio and Kentucky.

Soon the fog began to give way, in small pockets directly above my head to a bright blue sky. A white-ish "fogbow" formed to my left, and a gaggle of geese emerged out of it flying over my head in every direction. I sat staring at it all and within minutes the shoreline was visible once again the birds were chirping, the trees were still there, the mountains still there, my house still there. I felt very strongly that there was some significance to it all, that the lifting of the fog was some sort of a metaphor, maybe telling me that when the social fog finally lifts from the events of September 11th, we will be in a new world. It won't be right away, and vision may be extremely limited for a long time. But eventually, through struggle and introspection, the fog will lift. And the bad days will end.

Thursday, September 20, 2001

Yesterday, Jerry Falwell blamed the attacks in New York City on feminists, pro-choicers, homosexuals and others who supposedly had caused God to lift his "protective shield" from our country. A few weeks before, the Bush administration had announced that the drive to split up Bill Gates' Microsoft monopoly would be abandoned. Between these two events, dozens of suicide bombers who seem to have been acting on behalf of (and with the funding of) an authoritarian regime of the wealthy Middle Eastern businessmen (the Taliban, being essentially a Middle Eastern combination of Bill Gates and Jerry Falwell) brought down seven major buildings in the center of NYC and also destroyed part of the Pentagon, setting it on fire. What if this attack had been the other way around, and Jerry Falwell and Bill Gates had gotten together to fund some White Power / Christian Identity wingnuts to go suicide bomb the Saudi Arabia dictatorship? As far as I can see this a war between competing factions of the wealthy and the powerful; indeed there are American foreign policy issues that need to be reworked immediately if this type of attack is to be thwarted in the future, but it seems to me that the vast majority of the victims of our foreign policy would never wish such on attack on the working-class majority that suffered under it on September 11. Especially in light of recent press releases denouncing the tyrannical (at one time, U.S. backed) Taliban regime in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Therefore though it is of course important to educate oneself on the situation in the Middle East in order to put it in context, I think it is a grave mistake for anyone to see this event as the exploited peoples of the Middle East fighting back. Actually, I think it is exactly what Bin Laden, Bush, the Taliban, Bill Gates and the Defense Industry want; it is in fact, a small price to pay for the masters of the planet to have an excuse to transition from an already brutal form of capitalism to an even more brutal form; one in which all aspects of society have been militarized, civil liberties have been restricted and the encroachment of Big Brother is more intense than ever before.

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Well I am going to be taking a class on Noam Chomsky, who the New York Times calls the most important intellectual alive today. I am really looking forward to it; I already finished the Writers and Readers CHOMSKY FOR BEGINNERS book. It took about two hours to read and was a very good overview, as usual with the FOR BEGINNERS series. The class is to require us to keep a journal, so I am hoping that this weblog will be an acceptable location for this, so that I can share my learning with the rest of the world as well.
I can't believe what is happening to this country. It seems that it is only a matter of time before we militarize the whole damn thing under this "Operation Noble Eagle" "Homeland Defense" crap. Having just returned to the United States from Mexico, I now know first hand what a militarized country looks like. Everywhere you go, there are machine-gun wielding security gaurding banks, public plazas, the highways, just everywhere. Rather than a sense of security, it creates a sense of insecurity and tension. I hope that this is not the kind of country we are moving towards in "El Norte."