Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Clash of Civilization: A Racial Discourse

Dr. Hatem Bazian -- Nov 19, 2015

The often-cited clash of civilization thesis promoted by rightwing politicians, religious extremists, and public figures is predicated on extending and reformulating the already discredited notions of “scientific/biological racism” into new categories based on cultural, religious, and ethnic norms--nebulous and difficult to define terms, as the concept of race itself.  In the clash of civilization rhetoric, the theorized cultural, religious, and ethnic differences are given; essentially, fixed, undynamic and ahistorical meanings that are rooted in colonialist, racist, and orientalized epistemologies.  This essentialist clash of civilization conceptualization, then gets promoted by its advocates, into popular political discourses and enacts policies on its basis. 

Samuel P. Huntington popularized usage of the phrase clash of civilization first in a lecture at the neo-conservative den, the American Enterprise Institute, then, eventually, an article and an often-cited 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.  Huntington asserted, “that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic.”  Furthermore, adding: “the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.”  Conveniently, after the Cold War, Huntington posited that the future clash would emerge from the "Sino-Islamic connection" thus, enjoining the fear of Islam and China’s rising economic power.   

The clash of civilization argument was followed by another book, Who Are We?  The Challenges to America’s National Identity, which problematized Mexican and Latino immigration to the US.   Huntington projected Latinos as an emerging threat to the unity and cohesion of the country.  What was threatening to Huntington and his ilk is that the large scale Latino immigration could "divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages."   The assumption is so spurious about America’s unity and the threat posed by Latinos.  This is the sophisticated racism of the upper-crusted dons of academia who use language, books, and articles to burn crosses with white robes and hoods into the collective meadows of our mental imagination. 

The clash of civilization rhetoric has been deployed against Mexican-Americans and Latinos in general, Blacks and Native Americans in the past and present, Muslim and African immigrants in Europe and North America, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese as a byproduct of the current economic instability.  In all these cases, the evidence and data are irrelevant for the clash of civilization warriors and no need to examine the causes and stimuli for what is taking place across many parts of the world, since all are secondary to the real reason-- the inferior cultures, religions and ethnicities under scrutiny.   Trump, Carson and others in the Republican presidential primaries are crudely parroting Huntington’s arguments when speaking of immigration, Islam, minorities and China, for they have internalized the clash of civilization thesis and made it operative as a blueprint for their campaigns.

More alarmingly, cultural and ethnic differences in the present period are intentionally and sophisticatedly amplified by clash of civilization warriors, so as to serve a utilitarian function in empire’s efforts.  These are directed at hegemonic control and consolidation of power across the globe.  Empire needs the made to be feared other to justify its imperial power and militaristic ventures at home and abroad.  By accepting the clash of civilization as a point of departure, the civilizational warriors make it possible for empire to unleash total war on the Global South, which conveniently, is assigned the subhuman inferior epistemic and the made to be feared other.  If the Global South is inferior and is projected as a permanent and unchanging threat, then the natural and only conclusion to prevent the barbarians from storming the metaphorical civilization’s gates, is total war and constant intervention.  

A clash of civilization is a prerequisite for empire’s expansion, rationalization of violence, and constant direct and indirect interventions in the Global South.  The war and intervention by empire serves as a never-ending chemotherapy treating a terminal cancer case called civilizational deficiency syndrome.   A clash of civilization discourse makes it possible to reconfigure and reprogram the biological racial colonial epistemic in the post-colonial period into the vagueness of culture; while affirming a hierarchy of human and races values based on a fictitious assertion of Eurocentric universalism and uniqueness of Whiteness.   A clash of civilization discourse makes it possible for the ahistorical and fictitious to dominate and shape the empirically verifiable historical record.  

I have more questions than answers to conclude this essay, in the hope, it can lead to a deeper examination of the structures that creates and punishes the other.  How to view the immigration and refugee crisis, securitization policies, interventionist wars under the rubric of open-ended war on terrorism, economic and political interventions, as well as, social and educational projects as an extension of clash of civilization discourses?  More importantly, who, when, how, and by what methods will a response and a counter-narrative be constructed that does not only retort with a critique but offer an inclusive, diverse, truly multi-epistemic in approach, that de-center the Eurocentric center while being truly sustainable and non-hegemonic? 

Hatem Bazian, PhD is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley.