Monday 25 November 2002

The Clash of Civilizations (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Our new 21st century is seeing religion-based extremism and authoritarian attempts at hegemony over democratic entities emerge as the twin threats to international stability, the way Japan and Germany challenged the Western democracies in the 1930s. Deeper than politics, even economics, it is civilisational currents that are determining the likely alliances in this conflict. Each of the four broad streams now extant on the planet has its own characteristics.

These four civilisational streams are: first, Euro-Indic; second, Arabian; third, Sinic; and fourth, African. Each is further divided into tributaries. The Euro-Indic has the most offshoots,including those dominant in India, Russia, France, the Spanish Peninsula, Britain, Turkey, Iran and Germany.
Several earlier manifestations,such as the Greek and the Roman, have effectively disappeared, as have those from other streams, such as the Egyptian. Each tributary contains elements of the others, and indeed significant strands of other streams. For example, African culture has gone deep into European music and dance.
Next in importance to the Euro-Indic is the Sinic,which again is divided into tributaries based in China itself. There are at least three major variants based ton the south, north and north-west of China itself: Korea, Vietnam and Japan. Several other countries, such as Cambodia, Thailand and Laos have a fusion of the Euro-Indic with the Sinic, while Malaysia and Indonesia have evolved a separate tributary based substantially on the Euro-Indic, but incorporating elements from the Arabian.
The Arabian civilisation has reached most corners of the globe, though usually in fusion with local tendencies. The main branches of this are the Arabian, the Egyptian and the Syrian. Both the Turkish as well as the Persian versions of the Euro-Indic stream have fused substantially with the Arabic, and vice-versa. These days, that fascinating polyglot fusion of Euro-Indic and African, "American" civilisation, is also entering into the Arabian and the three other streams. The other main stream of human civilisation,the African, has made inroads into the lifestyle and culture of the Euro-Indic, Arabian and Sinic peoples.
The significance of this four-fold division is that each stream has separate characteristics that make more or less effective certain systems. The Euro-Indic peoples adapt best to the freewheeling democracy found in the United States or in Northern Europe, while the Sinic populations react better to a form more diluted with paternalism. It is no coincidence that an increase in Euro-Indic democracy in East Asia has led to a decline in the population growth rates. While Arabian peoples search for a guide-figure, the African populations already believe in experimenting with a succession of such individuals.
It is not an accident that there is an increase in tension between the core of the Euro-Indic civilizations, the United States and the core of both the Sinic as well as the Arabian streams. Should the situation deteriorate into conflict, civilisational factors make it virtually certain that India will side with its fellow Euro-Indic partners. Sensitive geopolitical handling can also ensure that both Turkey and Iran, once the latter is freed of the grip of fanatics, will follow suit. Both cultures have much more elements of the Euro-Indic in their makeup than any other.
Hopefully, growing fusion and exchange of cultural strands between the four streams will render harmless the risk of conflict between "core" elements of different civilizations. Such a struggle would be far more destabilizing than one that pits a peripheral variant into the ring, such as Saudi-based Wahabbism or its Iranian counterpart, Khomeinism. Such peripheral manifestations need to be separated from their cores in order to be speedily defeated. This is much easier in the case of Khomeinism, which will find almost zero support within the Euro-Indic family, than Wahabbism,which -- cancerlike -- has eaten into the core of the Arabian stream and threatens to take it over.
The inherent paternalism in Sinic civilization, expanded to superpower levels by am emergent Communist China, has the potential for leading to tension between itself and major countries within the Euro-Indic band, especially if that paternalism gets oxygenated into authoritarian structures that seek power over surrounding regions. This and the malignant growth of Wahabbism are the twin threats confronting Civilisation in this epoch
-(M. D. Nalapat is Professor of Geopolitics and UNESCO Peace Chair at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India)

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