Pargol Hashemnia

November 14, 2009

“The Clash of Ignorance” vs. “The Clash of Civilizations”

Filed under: Uncategorized — pargol444 @ 11:49 am

In “The Clash of Ignorance,” Edward W. Said argues against the popular designation of two distinct entities in current global politics, distinguished as ‘Islam’ and the ‘West.’ The author makes reference to Samuel Huntington’s 1993 article “The Clash of Civilizations,” in which Huntington postulates that the primary cause of conflict in future world politics will occur chiefly between nations and factions of civilizations. Hence, the root of conflicts will be cultural. In his article, Huntington defines two key sources of future conflict: ‘Islam’ and the ‘West.’ Throughout “The Clash of Ignorance,” Said fervently refutes both the classification and the clarity of these hypothesized groups.

Firstly, Said contends Huntington’s utilization of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 as a means of validating the existence of the separate and opposing entities illustrated in “The Clash of Civilizations.” In “The Clash of Ignorance,” Said dismisses Huntington’s exemplification of September 11th as an adequate means of certifying a clear distinction, asserting that the terrorists involved in the attack indicate only a miniscule minority, thus cannot be used as an acceptable representation of Islam. Furthermore, Said reinforces this argument by alluding to the stance put forward by the late Eqbal Ahmad. Ahmad, a practicing Muslim, who maintained that Islamic extremists ought not to be viewed as adequate representations of Muslim people but rather as an extremely distorted facet of the religion.

Moreover, Said contests the support that the Economist granted to Huntington’s standpoint. He opposes their claim that Muslims worldwide are “convinced of their superiority” by questioning the adequacy, or even the possibility, of their ability to research a sufficient sample of the billion plus global population of Muslims. In addition, Said contests the Italian Prime Minister’s, Silvio Berlusconi’s, assertion of “Islam’s inability to be a part of modernity.” Said states that Berlusconi’s claim is rendered invalid by tangible evidence to the contrary, referring to the various ‘western’ technologies that the September 11th attackers utilized and to the perceptible fact that some Muslims adopt Western style clothing.

In “The Clash of Ignorance,” Said endeavors to emphasize the lack of evidence required to confirm a clear-cut divide between ‘Islam’ and the ‘West’ by briefly referring to the numerous plural societies where people from both ‘sides’ live. In addition, he draws attention to the persistence of ‘Anti-Islamic’ perspectives in the ‘West’ and indicates police reports as evidence of the hate speech and actions against Muslims living in Western civilizations. Said contends that this ‘Anti-Islamic’ standpoint, which first manifested itself in 7th century Europe when the Arab-Islamic conquest instigated the destruction of the Christian-Roman Empire and the unity of Europe, has been reignited. However, he maintains that numerous aspects emphasizing the positive relations established in the past are wrongly overlooked; for example, the humanism, science, philosophy and sociology of Islam, which the West gladly embraced. Throughout his article, Said, revisits this notion of a failure to highlight the intricacies of a shared past and present  and speculates that it is easier for people to focus on the vast differences and adopt a ‘them’ and ‘us’ approach rather than attempting to acknowledge or accept the more vague similarities. Said draws further attention to this failure in acknowledging similarities when he criticizes the lack of parallels drawn between the atrocity of September 11th, which was made in the name of Islam, with similar, albeit lesser, atrocities which have been committed in the name of western religions, using examples such as the Branch Davidians and the adherents of the Reverend Jim Jones. In addition, Said attacks the powerful idioms used in magazines and newspapers arguing that the majority of articles fail to acknowledge the complex histories involved and that they fuel a resentful infatuation of being a member of the ’West.’

In drawing evidence from a Muslim source, Said substantiates his claim that Islamic extremists misrepresent Islam. This is effective in disputing the ways that Huntington and others utilized the actions of Islamic extremists to reinforce the alleged gulf between ‘Islam’ and the ‘West.’ Furthermore, Said successfully demonstrates some difficulties in separating ‘Islam’ and the ‘West’ by drawing attention to tangible evidence of integration between the two, such as the existence of plural societies whereby Muslims and Westerners co-exist, in addition to the detail of some Muslims adopting Western clothing and that of extremists accessing and using modern western technology. Finally, Said further engages his readers by avoiding an overt use of inaccessible terminology.

Nevertheless, the article is periodically tainted by Said making peripheral subjective statements which do not serve to strengthen his argument. For example, when discussing Huntington’s 1996 book, ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage,’ it appears that Said criticizes the author on a personal level when he states: “all he did…was confuse himself and demonstrate what a clumsy writer and inelegant thinker he was.”

Overall, the article as a whole is largely persuasive and decidedly effective in convincing its readers to contemplate the ambiguous nature and problematic clarity in reducing vast and complex entities under the labels of ‘Islam’ and the ‘West.’


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