Response to Dominique Moisi

7 Feb

This article is in response to Dominique Moisi’s article, ‘The Clash of Emotions – Fear, Humiliation, Hope, and the New World Order (pdf) in Foreign Affairs.

In 1993, merely a year after Francis Fukuyama, a former student of Huntington, had announced the ‘end of history’, Huntington took to the pages of Foreign Affairs to describe his vision of the world riven with cultural cleavages. He argued that post-ideology- capitalism had already won the battle – culture would prove to be the organizing force within the world.

Huntington’s flawed work has attracted numerous adherents, especially in influential policy making departments of the West – for it fits nicely the racist stereotypes that they hold and works as a wonderful political tool – and spawned a kind of policy making that has turned Huntington’s naive theory into a self fulfilling prophecy.

Dominique Moisi, adds ’emotion’ to Huntington’s idea of culture, and argues that its not really clash of civilizations as much as a ‘clash of emotions’- Asia displays a ‘culture of hope’, West a ‘culture of fear’, and the Arab world a ‘culture of humiliation’. Regardless of the theory itself, Moisi’s essay ends up looking like a product of his self-described West’s ‘culture of fear’.

Moisi’s analysis appears to be old wine in a new bottle. The new terminology Moisi cloaks his arguments in is often nothing more than a rehash of arguments made by Huntington or Bernard Lewis. What Moisi is really arguing about when he talks about Arab ‘culture of humiliation’ is that the Arab culture is stuck in historical paralysis, recounting the glory days of Islam and deeply resentful of West’s rise and yes, the formation of Israel.

Analyzing world by ascribing ’emotional’ charges to entire regions of the world is at best a deeply flawed enterprise and to do so to make an often made point about how the West must work to end Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems like too much unnecessary exertion. Nations, let alone regions, are much more complex organisms. We cannot group together Egypt and Iran, with their significant pre-Islamic histories and large cosmopolitan populations with the largely urbanized Kuwait or Bahrain or Oman. Neither can we straddle Lebanon, with its French occupation and outward looking population, with Saudi Arabia, for little meaningful analysis will result from it. And while it is easy to get carried away with sloganeering, important forces that still shape foreign policy are still the hustle for resources and military supremacy.

If Moisi’s analysis about this ‘culture of humiliation’ is correct, I fail to see why countries in Asia would be so insulated from it. After all, both Indian and Chinese civilizations have seen equally, if not more so, impressive glory days of their respective civilizations. And a majority of Indians and Chinese are equally alienated by the ‘progress’ that has really meant westernization. The rise of Hindu nationalism in India and the associated communal tensions are arguably rooted in the ‘culture of humiliation’. More importantly, Moisi’s assessment of Asia’s culture of hope, seems deeply misplaced given there are more poor people in Asia that anywhere else in the world. It is also important to note that it is terrorists from South Asian country, Pakistan, that were implicated in the bomb blasts in London, and not people from the Arabian peninsula.

The overall point Moisi is interested in making is that the root of Arab ‘culture of humiliation’ is the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course Israel has become a important rallying cry for myriad of Arabs but it has become so because criticizing it is the only authorized form of dissent as they live under authoritarian regimes that outlaw demonstrating about say lack of jobs. Even if we agree that Arab-Israeli conflict is an important emotive conflict, and it is – not only on the Arab street but in rest of the developing world for it is seen as an unabashed display of American Imperialism – it is still left to us to figure out why is it that the Arab world needs the West to solve conflict within the region? Moisi conveniently leaves out how Israel has been unabashedly armed, supplied and supported continuously by US and other western European countries.

Lets devote our energies to test the fundamental assumption that underpins Moisi’s analysis – the threat faced by the West from Arabs. Yes, Western Europe and US have seen some terrorist attacks but in terms of sheer number of casualties or damage, the impact has been minuscule. There is little rationale ground for fear of terrorism in the West, if we just predicate it on past incidences. Yes, Europe will have to face important questions about assimilation of Muslim immigrants and the nature and shape of society but to irrationally magnify those fears and make the basis of indulging in spiritless intellectual gymnastics is inexcusable. So perhaps inadvertently Moisi has stumbled on the key truth about global reality – the West fighting imaginary ghosts. Obviously Moisi only sees problem with the Muslim world – whose problems West needs to solve – so that it can live peacefully.