ISIS Menace: Military Approach to Civilisational Crisis Won’t Work
Is it ‘Clash of Civilizations’ at play when one talks about Islamic State versus world powers, asks Suresh Bangara.
I was first exposed to the writings of Samuel Huntington four decades ago. The Soldier and the State was the first book on civil-military relations written by the author in 1955. The author went on to serve as Harvard University’s faculty for 54 years before his death on Christmas eve in 2008.
So, it was with some trepidation that I requested a meeting with Huntington in the autumn of 2000 when I was privileged to attend a course at the John F Kennedy School at Harvard. He graciously received me at his apartment and patiently heard my queries on anomalies in civil-military relations. Having completed a full session of discussions, I sought his clarification on the controversial points raised in his seminal work on The Clash of Civilizations.
Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations has been widely read and debated since 1993. It was a bold attempt to encapsulate the emerging trends in post-Cold War politics and how he envisioned conflict between civilisations to be the new evolving global phenomenon. He explained how the fundamental sources of global conflict would neither be ideological nor primarily economic.
While outlining the reasons for the relative decline of the western civilisation, he commented on western domination of the UN Security Council – a point now repeatedly made by India in support of reforms of the UN. In regard to the ‘West vs the Rest’ debate, he dwelled on the fundamental differences between the west and the rest.
Paradoxes in the concepts of western democracies when viewed from the point of view of non-western civilisations, whether Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic or orthodox cultures as outlined in his book, were reasserted.
The Paris Massacre
Vibrant debates in the wake of the Paris massacre cover a wide spectrum of possibilities of addressing issues related to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In the summer of 1993, when he first published his article in Foreign Affairs, Huntington addressed two specific issues which he alluded to during our discussions.
The first was a reference to “bandwagoning”, a term used in international relations to describe non-western nation states adopting the western or American brand of polity. He quotes Boris Yeltsin as one who was attempting to westernise a reluctant Russian elite and the people as a whole.
The news that France and Russia have already agreed to conduct joint air strikes, possibly more, may well be the first signs of increasing cooperation and collaboration between the West and the orthodox Russians who are trying to adopt western goals and objectives.
Complex Civilisational Crisis
- Huntington mentioned possible alignment in goals of Chinese and Islamic states, something manifested by China-Pakistan model of all-weather friendship
- Huntington had recommended that the West must learn to understand the cultural and civilisational roots of those that wish to work with them
- Huntington’s principle applies to the obsession of the West to impose their form of democracy on Islamic states
The other issue which remained incomplete in our discussions that memorable autumn evening in 2000 was the subject of Confucian-Islamic military and political alignment. The clash of civilisation also includes possible alignment in goals and objectives of Chinese and Islamic states. The China-Pakistan model of all-weather friendship is an example in South Asia.
However, even in this seasoned relationship, the Chinese have harshly opposed attempts by their Muslim citizens to propagate their model of achieving religious goals. In this context China would be closely watched for their material, logistical and military support to ISIS and/or any off shoots of extreme fundamentalist forces opposed to western dominance.
Huntington had alluded to the possibility of India becoming a Hindu state mainly due to the paradoxes inherent in western civilisations and the dangers of blindly westernising the Indian approach to development and progress. The only successful model of a nation adopting western goals while retaining its cultural and civilisational strengths is Japan.
The Japanese have remained with the west without compromising their cultural affiliations. Huntington therefore recommended that the West must learn to understand the cultural and civilisational roots of those that wish to work with them.
India and the western powers, it is hoped, have learnt to cooperate without necessarily accepting western concepts being thrust on an old civilisation rich in its resilience, tolerance and traditions.
The same applies to the obsession of the West to impose their form of democracy on Islamic states which are ruled by methods unique to their culture. Iraq and Libya are but two examples of this fallacious approach. Militarily crushing an immediate threat is and will remain a temporary solution to a complex religious, ideological and civilisational crisis.
Fouad Ajami and Kishore Mahbubani had critiqued Huntington’s assertions by September 1993. It would be interesting if they were to comment on the happenings since then in world politics. I have based my observations as a layman who followed the debate and had the good fortune to meet the author of a magnum opus. Keep smiling Samuel! You may still be proved right.
(The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command.)
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