Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ideologization of Contemporary Conflict


Maryam Sakeenah

The rule of thumb, like in Newtonian physics, is the inevitability of reaction. The frequently used label of 'terrorism' needs to be examined at a more insightful level. It is simply a violent expression of reactionary sentiment to victimization. It does not grow out of religious doctrine, but out of the psychology of the 'victim refusing to be victim.' (Arundhati Roy). Tragically, however, the deep-seated root-causes are never inquired into.

A lot is wrong with the way the ongoing conflicts involving religion are perceived and portrayed in the media monopolized by the West. This is important because this lack of sympathy and refusal to understand is what in turn fans religious sensitivities and reinforces the sense of being victimized and stigmatized, making us go farther away from resolution and peacemaking. Eric Brahm writes, "Popular portrayals of religion often reinforce the view of religion being conflictual. The global media has paid significant attention to religion and conflict, but not the ways in which religion has played a powerful peacemaking role. This excessive emphasis on the negative side of religion and the actions of religious extremists generates interfaith fear and hostility. What is more, media portrayals of religious conflict have tended to do so in such a way so as to confuse rather than inform, thereby exacerbating polarization." The tendency to throw around the terms 'fundamentalist' and 'extremist' is reckless and irresponsible. According to Karen Armstrong, "We constantly produce new stereotypes to express our apparently ingrained hatred of 'Islam'. The West must bear some measure of responsibility for why today many people in the Islamic world reject the West as ungodly, unjust, and decadent. . ."

The 'Clash of Civilizations' theory suggests the future larger role of religious conflicts generated by 'a clash between civilizations.' The theory however has been criticized for reasserting differences between civilizations. Edward Said argues that Huntington's categorization of the world's fixed "civilizations" omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of culture based not on harmony but on the clash or conflict between worlds. The presentation of the world in a certain way legitimizes certain politics. Interventionist and aggressive, the concept of civilizational clash is aimed at maintaining a war time status in the minds of the West. Pope John Paul II observed: "A clash ensues only when Islam or Christianity is misconstrued or manipulated for political or ideological ends."

Secularism, especially in the context of contemporary politics, has assumed the form of an extremist 'ism' strongly opposed to religious belief and practice. The relentless imposition of Secularist principles by liberal regimes has often been offensive to religious sensitivities which have continued to live on as prized individual sentiment. According to Kosmin, "the hard secularist considers religious propositions to be illegitimate, warranted by neither rationality nor experience." An example is the banning of all religious expression in Secular France, including the Muslim headscarf. Secular Communism in China has brutally suppressed religious sentiment in Muslim Xinjiang province. The ruthless imposition of Secularism, therefore, has often exacerbated the sense of being unfairly treated by religious communities, fuelling tension and hostility in which lie seeds of conflict.

Today, with the West spearheading the liberal ideology and enjoying its zenith of power and influence, liberalism with its attendant ideologies of secularism and democracy have emerged as the de facto 'standard' ideological premise, de-legitimizing alternative ideologies rooted in Oriental tradition. The zeal with which the West imposes and exports its 'superior' brand of ideology has worked to alienate the Third world and non-Western communities whose indigenous alternative ideologies are undermined and slighted, and prevented from political expression. This is an underlying cause of disaffection and discontent within the non Western world. The West's ideological arrogance and a sort of ideological 'imperialism' that allows it to 'export' secular, liberal democracy all over the world through political interventionism lies at the base of ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and numerous other global crises. According to Joshua Goldstein, "Democracies and non democracies may increasingly find themselves in conflict with each other if this trend continues."

The 'ideologization' of the War on Terror has eclipsed the true ground realities and the actual root causes of the conflict, turning attention away from them. This has made a resolution of the conflict more elusive than ever. Particularly regrettable is the inability to understand terrorism as a desperate reaction by the socially outcast, economically deprived and politically oppressed. Terrorism, in fact, is a tactic used by disaffected individuals and communities, not an ideology. Instead, terrorism is seen as an opposing, challenging, hostile and 'barbaric' 'ideology' opposed to all that the West stands for and believes in. This is extremely misguided and helps divide the world into opposing ideological camps, lending strength to the dangerous 'clash of civilizations' thesis.

George W. Bush expressed the grandiosity of this 'clash of ideologies' in a statement:

"We've entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite." Margie Burns comments on this: "This statement should sound alarm bells for the nation and the world. What does Bush mean by an "ideological conflict"? All previous grandiose Bush pronouncements on global conflict have focused on terrorism and the "war on terror."

Bush is trying to present terrorism as an "ideology," in an us-or-them global conflict, with Terrorism replacing Communism. Every thinking person knows that terrorism is not an "ideology." Terrorist acts are a tactic. We know by now exactly who uses them, too: individuals and small groups use guerrilla tactics when other tactics are not available to them, against a much stronger governmental power or foreign power. So, regardless how much expense is poured into making Terrorism the new Communism, it may not fly.

When Bush mentions our ideological opponents, he is again referring to the "radical Islamists". This is inaccurate and dangerously uninsightful (as well as religiously prejudiced). Bush is referring to all of Islam, at least implicitly. There is enough ill will and bad faith out there for the hot-button buzzwords to produce campaign contributions, to pay lobbyists, and to distract the press from actual governance. This may be the scariest possibility, although admittedly it's a hard call."

All of the conflicts in the world today with a death toll of over a 1000 annually, are either ethnic, religious or ideological in nature.

The statistics are appalling and underscore the urgency of peaceful conflict resolution. For this purpose it is important to be able to reach down into the root causes of conflict. In case of conflicts based on intangible factors, the causes are deep-buried into the recesses of human psychology, beliefs, perceptions and ideas.

The solution is to create awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role of religion. It is important to fight ignorance of the true spirit of the Islamic faith and the ignorance of non Western cultures that leads to stereotyping and prejudices. Interfaith and intercultural dialogue has the potential to build the much-needed bridges of understanding. Learning about other religions, cultures and civilizations would be a powerful step forward. Communicating in a spirit of humility and self-criticism can also be helpful.

Every single human being needs to be recognised as an individual with a unique identity; everyone needs security and the freedom to be themselves. If these rights are withheld, people protest_ be they black, white, Muslim, non Muslim or whatever_ and this discontentment leads to rebellion and violence.

Cultures and values must not be exclusivist, and should not create 'otherness' for those that may be different. The cleavages of 'us and them' and the use of the language of discrimination, intolerance and hate must be rejected. Human beings need to create a society that does not see natural differences and human diversity as problematic but as valuable for social growth. The human race needs to redefine identitiy on the basis of a single, common humanity and universal values we all share as human beings. The focus should be shifted from differences to commonalities.

The Quran gives this necessary insight into conflict resolution through reinstating the singularity of humanity: "O Mankind! We created you from a single male and a female and divided you into nations and tribes so that you may identify one another." The Prophet of Islam (SAW) said in his Last Sermon: "(In the light of this verse), no Arab has a superiority over a non Arab, nor does a non Arab have any superiority over an Arab; and a black does not have any superiority over a white, nor is a white superior to a black, except by one thing: righteousness. Remember, all human beings are the sons and daughters of Adam (A.S), and Adam (A.S) was made from dust."

On the necessity of finding and holding on to the common essence, the Quran says: "And come to common terms, to that which is common between us and you, that is, we worship none but the One God…" (Surah Aal e Imran)

The return to the simplicity of this clear message is the need of the hour. We need to reach for the common essence, to respect the colours and shades of humanity as the Sign of the One Divine Being. This can help erase the false artificial divisions and make the barriers fall. It is only through following these universal directives that men can find the way out of the morass of hostility, hatred, prejudice, injustice, conflict and violence, in order to create a unified human brotherhood on the basis of a single Idea for the benefit of all creatures of the One Master.