Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the world has been overshadowed by the ominous threat of the Clash of Civilizations predicted by Samuel Huntington (1993). According to this apocalyptic vision China, in search of its place in the sun, will gravitate toward closer co-operation with the Islamic World; namely Iran and Pakistan, in order to guarantee oil for its planned development into superpower-class statehood. His thesis argues that ‘civilizational conflicts’ are more likely between Islam and non-Islamic ideologies, and so identifies as ‘bloody borders’ the frontiers between the Islamic World and the West. The roots of this proposed international conflict date to the Christian Reconquista and the final expulsion of the Islamic rulers of Spain (1492). More recently it might be argued that the halt of Turkish expansion into Europe at Vienna (1592) and the division and the European imperial colonisation of the Islamic World in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have fuelled this modern Titanomachy.
Certainly the events of September 11th 2001 and the following decade of continuing warfare have given credence to this theory. Under the quasi legitimacy of Islamophobia racism and intolerance have been granted an alarmingly influential and acceptable platform in the discourse of the Western World. In Great Britain, for example, Paki (a derogative term for ‘Pakistani’ applied to all South Asians heedless of ethnicity, nationality or religion); the anti-immigration racial slur of the 1980s and 90s has, in the aftermath of the War on Terror, become synonymous with Muslim and Islamist (Islamic terrorist). A media-driven culture of fear in the United States and much of Europe, other than leading to the escalation of racially motivated violence and ad hoc housing estate pogroms, has added fuel to the fire already burning in the Muslim World. One need think only of the attacks on the ancient Christian communities all over the Middle East and the internecine violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. It would appear indeed that we are in the midst of the Huntingtonian Clash, if not, on the fast track to that end.
The trauma of modernity has created within human society a powerful disconnect between the mythic imagination and intellectual progress, resulting in the historically recent phenomenology of religious fundamentalism. The Greek and Latin Patristic Fathers of the Christian Church, along with Saints Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, in their use of the Hebrew Bible as types of the Gospel message, were simply not interested in the factuality of the narrated events. This same use of the texts as types is evinced in the Jewish Rabbinic literature of the Mishna and the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmudim; that, for example, one was not to follow the Canaanite practice of ritualistically ‘boiling a kid (a young goat) in its mothers milk’ was typified in the kosher dietary practice of not eating meat and dairy together. Despite our historical prejudices, these pre-modern scholars were not literalists, and neither were they fundamentalists. The real clash of our time is that of evolved human psychology and unnatural modern modes of living, which has forced a split between texts and traditions, and epistemology. It was this very idea which Eric Hyde touched upon when he wrote:
There exists a deep insecurity in the integrity of one’s religious foundations when one’s beliefs were initially formulated as a quick fix for their internal/emotional pain, or formulated in a reactionary manner “against” someone or something (Dialogue as Healing: With a Brief View of the Orthodox Sacrament of Confession, February 11th 2012).
In this respect the mythos of religion may be understood as a shelter from the trauma of modernity; an ethereal safe-house wherein ancient texts are read as one would read a modern encyclopaedia. The adoption of such a misplaced meme demands the scientific understanding of chronologies, events and commands; leading to the ironic denial of real scientific endeavour. Within such an epistemic schema one must refuse the evidence supporting dinosaurs and the evolution of all living things, and yet be frustrated by the illegality of stoning witches and women who wear men’s cloths. It is an absurdity properly defined, and one which has engendered the most serious conflict within each of the particular religious traditions. While this article began by documenting the Clash between Islam and ‘the West,’ this disconnect is a crisis now facing all religions; the line between fundamentalism and modernity is not one which runs between the religions, but one which runs through them.
So we see in India the culture war between Hindus and fundamentalist Christian evangelists where ancient Greek mythological concepts of Hades are being used as bargaining chips for ‘the salvation of souls.’ Not only is this mythology being read by the Evangelicals as a real geography of the afterlife, but it is a grammar of myth which is fundamentally alien to the religious and mythological language of the Hindu Indians. Quite literally the Christian evangelists are speaking a foreign language, and yet to them this myth is real and must in the interiority of their imagination be accepted as we can accept the Newtonian laws of motion. This concretisation of myth thus robs the myth of its intended meaning; where, at best it loses something in translation, and, at worst, becomes a serious human rights violation. Therefore we must not see this threatened Clash of Civilizations as some visionary inevitability; where it may only become a self-fulfilling prophecy. No, the problem (if such actually exists) is not in the essential difference between one culture and another, but in the psychological sameness of all human beings struggling to overcome the same trauma.
In actual fact, the situation in which we find ourselves today is nothing more than a repetition of countless times in the past where different cultures have collided. There is a wonderful set of accounts from the first interactions between Europeans and native North Americans in the early thirteenth century Grænlendinga Saga and the Eiríks Saga Rauða. When the Norwegian settlers of Iceland and Greenland happed upon the western lands of Helluland, Markland and Vinland (Canada from Labrador to Nova Scotia) they encountered ‘men.’ The oceans of difference in terms of culture, language and traditions sparked the animosities which led ultimately to the failure of the Viking settlements of North America, but there were moments of armistice and great kindness. The Scandinavians who had gone ‘a viking’ discovered that cold, hunger and hardship were universal in the human lexicon, and at times of great leanness and misery the ‘men’ whose language they did not know threw food and provisions over their palisades.
Not all communication is verbal, and nor should it be. We are on the brink of a catastrophe of truly apocalyptic proportions, and this arrival at the precipice of calamity has been more the fault of the failure of imagination and communication than it has been the fictional incompatibility of difference. As the modern secular world attempts to blast its way through to a new Pax Romana by brute force and the silencing of the religious voice, it is discovering at every turn that the human mind resists this negligence of the mythic imagination expressed in the religions of the world it seeks to conquer. Even at the Battle of Gaugamela the young Alexander called upon the furies (goddesses of the underworld) Shock and Awe to speak the language of the Persian he wished to destroy. The failure of the United States’ ideological campaign of shock and awe was that it had no basis for meaning in the Islamic World it wished to subdue. Likewise, we too must reach out to our friends and our enemies in words and actions which carry a meaning which all may understand. There are certain messages which carry significance across cultural and linguistic barriers, and when these are sought and used the result is always that of greater understanding – and understanding always brings peace.
© 2012 homophilosophicus