Saturday, June 19, 2010

Samuel Huntington, Hindutva and Fabindia

I finally became curious enough about Huntington's essay The Clash of Civilizaions? that I downloaded it and read it in one sitting. It is quite provocative, and contains a few paragraphs which are jarring for their insight:
In the past, the elites of non-Western societies were usually the people who were most involved with the West, had been educated at Oxford, the Sorbonne or Sandhurst, and had absorbed Western attitudes and values. At the same time, the populace in non-Western countries often remained deeply imbued with the indigenous culture. Now, however, these relationships are being reversed. A de-Westernization and indigenization of elites is occurring in many non-Western countries at the same time that Western, usually American, cultures, styles and habits become more popular among the mass of the people
Now if Nike and Levis is for the masses, then who all is Fabindia for?
The West, they allege, was using a double standard. A world of clashing civilizations, however, is inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard to their kin-countries and a different standard to others.
I continue to consider immigration barriers (and conversely, visa-free travel for certain nationalities) as the clearest example of cultural and economic bias, globalization notwithstanding.
In an interview on "Good Morning America," Dec. 21, 1990, British Prime Minister John Major referred to the actions "the West" was taking against Saddam Hussein. He quickly corrected himself and subsequently referred to "the world community." He was, however, right when he erred.

... While the elite of Turkey has defined Turkey as a Western society, the elite of the West refuses to accept Turkey and such. Turkey will not become a member of the European Community, and the real reason, as President Ozal said, "is that we are Muslim and they are Christian and they don't say that."

...the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled "fundamentalist." Such movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most religions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, college-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business persons.


In class and ideological conflicts, the key question was "Which side are you on?" and people could and did choose sides and change sides. In conflicts between civilizations, the question is "What are you?" That is a given that cannot be changed. And as we know, from Bosnia to the Caucasus to the Sudan, the wrong answer to that question can mean a bullet in the head.

1 comment:

Lukas said...

"What are you?"

As noted, this question isn't a question, though it may sound like one. Really, it is a statement of: "Let me know how I should hate you". If good intentions were the default, such a question would never be asked.

From previous experience, people asking this species of questions seem to have a precondition for tribal dichotomy and animosity. Meaning any answer given, even—or especially—outside their typical framework of answers, will most likely result in some flavor of hostility, veiled or overt. This hostility can be in the form of continual persistence to push a definition upon someone, or assuming deceit and surreptitious motives and reacting accordingly.

When responding with "human" or "animal" to such a question, for example, the questioner may think it to be cheeky or sarcastic, but, more importantly, not the answer they wanted—being outside their preconceived framework of acceptable answers—and therefore, not on their "side" or "tribe".

"Human" or "animal" are the most inclusive labels, perhaps, and therefore do not allow the same unthinking discrimination that more parochial labels necessarily do. And so, the very act of denying unthinking discrimination is an affront to their ego—identity—making such answers and affirmation of the answerer's "otherness" and being outside their circle (i.e. an enemy).

"Let me label you, so that I shall know how to dislike you; else you will be disliked on principle alone."

My naïveté and cynicism are in constant tension. Just as I think some progress has been made in human relationships, I am just as quick to note that the underlying cause of the issue remains all the same, though its form has shifted into another sphere of visibility. Tribalism, I remind myself, has little to do with tribes, but seems to be a fundamental human characteristic. Of the moment, look no further than the World Cup for culturally acceptable tribal hostility.