Latif Quader

Is Bangladesh Huntington’s cleft country? The identity illusion.

December 2, 2012

extremist-religion-baitul muqarram 11 (2)Huntington’s ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ as theory suffers uncomplicatedness in comprehension, and can generate allurement en mass. For its vertical unpretentiousness, it could be a useful mannequin for foreign policy strategists. It could be misinterpreted which in turn could make world a lesser safe place endangering the human species.

Bangladesh was born in the midst of cold war rivalry, through struggle against colonial rule by freedom loving people. At birth Bangladesh vowed to uphold secularist principle in its constitution but after 40 years it has now lesser people in its minority groups, and has Islam as its State Religion smuggled into its Constitution. Approximately, 2-4% of the voting public regularly subscribes its extreme right wing politics. Reports of violent clashes in mediaeval moulds are regular where religious minorities have been attacked, their properties and places of worships violated by organised extremists, sans provocation or under flimsy pretext. Secularist media claims majority of these can be traced to greed and voracities to frighten people out of their properties in the ever increasingly populated country.

The above development is a strong reason to scrutinise if and any link with Huntington’s contention that civilization clashes are inexorable within cleft (semi) countries, and these incidents are symptomatic of it, juxtaposing the same on Amartya Sen’s ‘Identity & Violence.

Briefly, Huntington proposes that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-cold war world; and will be confounded between Muslims and non-Muslims.

He argues that civilizations forms highest rank of cultural identity. Due to increased proximity and modernisation, people have become civilization conscious, isolated and religion sensitive; and global politics will be dominated by these civilisation oriented conflicts.

Huntington’s civilization categories are Western  (see map); Latin American; Orthodox world of the former Soviet Union; Mixed bag of  Buddhist, Chinese, Hindu, and Japonica civilizations; Islam; the African world except Ethiopia and Haiti (who are no-civilization lone countries); and Israel.

Cleft countries: Countries that contain large groups of people identifying with separate civilizations, for examples India (with Hindu majority and large Muslim minority), and Ukraine (with Catholic-dominated western section and its Orthodox-dominated East).

Critics have pointed to superciliousness in the civilisation classification. It is veiled and aimed to serve West corporate interest, in the uninterrupted oil supply from Muslim world of Greater Middle East and in the sustenance of their arms industry. Incidentally, these countries rely heavily for their security on the West.

Photo: bdnews24.com

Photo: bdnews24.com

Another criticism lies in the sub classification of Cleft countries—the fertile grounds for ethnic clashes that form the bulk arm sales customers—that includes Japan and Russia who may change side as it fits as seen during Chechnya and Iran crises.

If Huntington’s hypothesis is a ‘Doomsayer’s guide to war and conflict; and how not to survive it’ then Amarty Sen’s ‘Identity & Violence’,  may just work as the vaccination toward ideological contagion.

As a young boy, Sen personally witnessed sectarian killing of a Muslim day labourer in Hindu majority section of the city during a Hindu-Muslim riot. The stab-wounded man died on the way to hospital in Sen’s car. This profoundly affected him and made him wonder why a man’s identity is important.

In his book Sen dissects singular identity concept and thoughts, which form the basis of multi-polar world which put the people of different regions in supposedly different parts of the equivalence who are morally or otherwise inferior locus than that of the western part.

He is less evocative that civilizations will conflict because of a cultivated failure to appreciate the true diversity of identities that infuse them. Sen describes the dangers of this undermining of human identity.

Sense of Identity or a Singular Identity can be source of pride and inspiration, strengthening sharing people’s bond. During Bangladesh’s Liberation War this became clear as such a bond united pro-liberation minded people upholding the image of their country. But when an identity is imposed upon someone, they can be deployed to act in such a way that can trigger violence.

There is also a problem where one cannot escape from being seen as one or the other. For example, if a Muslim born Bangladeshi is treated as a Muslim only (say, by Christian fanatic), this assumes that he will uphold all that comes with a Muslim fundamentalism; this is tantamount to externally infusing him with fundamentalist sentimentalism.

Identities are robustly plural, and never mutually obliterating. A person does have a choice, in any context, of any one or multiple identities. A Bangladeshi Muslim freedom fighter could be liberal, westernised, and secular by choice. But singular identity concept could render him to be a Muslim only, an imposed identity not reflecting his true character. He then can be manipulated, with particular assumptions assigned to him, to make him act in a desired way, and subject him to religious prejudices.

Sen asserts that people do not view human beings in inter civilisation relation. He dismisses the prescription of ‘dialogue among civilisations’ for it decimates the century old diversified and rich practices of cultural and shared human interest exchanges. It is a distortion to assume that a Bangladeshi cannot also be liberal, westernised, free thinker and a Muslim, all at the same time.

identity_and_violence_the_illusion_of_destiny_idi626How far can one escape from the reasoning and ethics available to him through his community and culture? Sen points to the ingenuity of mind and its ability to doubt and question, which is uniquely human.

Even if we accept the civilisation classification is clash then inevitable? How does one explain inter-civilisation clashes such as that between Tutsis and Hutus?

Civilisation approach suffers from a sense of sumptuousness which is a sophisticated version of a crude popular belief; singularity is an illusion. People are different in many diverse ways, but are same all over.

Classification of India as Hindu civilisation is flawed, it being the second largest Muslim country in the world with shared history with Shiks, Muslims, Jains and Buddhists. This simplistic notion remains a threat of renewed promotion of sectarian conception that’s often referred to by Hinduvta movement.

Even if we accept India is a religiously divided civilisation, Pakistan’s creation proved to be illusory, when its secular eastern part seceded from its other half. The perceived enemies during the India division then went to fight hand in hand against the friends that were friend only two decades ago proving that the origin of Hindu-Muslim conflict was the product of divide and rule policy of the East India Company.

Sen refutes Huntington claim that, ‘West was west long before it was modern’. Pointing that the tradition of individual rights and liberties were unique among civilised societies all over, only the West is champion of political liberty is a myth. Plato and Aquinas were no less authoritarian than Confucius; and Ashoka and Akbar were liberal rulers in comparison with their western counterparts of their time.

Democracy is also a shared development of the whole world, consisting of voting system and public reasoning, practiced in Iran, India and in Muslim kingdoms. Greek system failed in making an impact on European countries. Same can be said about the so-called Western science, the theoretical roots of its many aspects can be traced in places other than the West.

When the civilization theory ignores the divergence of most civilisations, religion centred view is no plausible alternative. Muslims differ amongst themselves in their beliefs, taste and even of their religiosity but they are not non-compliant with Muslim identity. Arabs cultured Europe during its Dark Age, which re-entered Europe at the advent of its Renaissance.

Global terrorism has created overall confusion giving the impression that being a Muslim or Bangladeshi or both means being confrontational and militant. This, along with militant recruitment in the West, and externally instigated and premeditated skirmishes in Bangladesh undermined the effort of Secular Muslim activist leaders to address civil and social problems. They are end-results of consequences of the war and atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, internal politics of Bangladesh and the forces that want to see or show the country as unstable.

I personally hold, that there is an orchestrated international or regional campaign to portray Bangladesh as a Muslim country where fundamentalist sentiment have been engulfing minds of increasing number of people. Its apparatuses and institutions are failing to the requirement of a modern state, while its population remains blissfully indifferent (Bangladesh’s 11th position in the happiness index) to all these, taking these lapses and failures as the state of the things. The combination of these statistics and incidents are suggestive in that Bangladeshis are a natural unruly people and not yet ready for self-government!

If hating is an art, singular identity concept is a good platform to launch it. The fragmentary logic is – yes the identity is true but it is exclusive and is of preponderance importance of other affiliation and it demands redefinition into a belligerent form.

Sources: Internet, “Identity & Violence The Illusion of Destiny” by Amartya Sen – Penguin Books.

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Latif Quader is a chartered accountant and a businessman.

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17 Responses to “ Is Bangladesh Huntington’s cleft country? The identity illusion. ”

  1. James Cruze on December 6, 2012 at 9:31 am

    I have read Noble laureate Professor Amyarta Sen’s book Identity & Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. It is a truly remarkable book. It is true that we all have more than one identity. It very much depend on us on which of our identity do we really want to focus? By which identity other see us? It is also applicable when we judge people. A rickshaw-puller may not be only a man who is taking you here and there for your comfort, and for earning money. He can be a father of his sons and daughters who are going to school or university. May be he has taken up the menial job for the education of his children. He may be a hospitable man if you go to his village and he may be a broad-minded man. He may also be well known about Quran and Islam. If we all care to find out what is inside a man, then we will be surprised. No body should judge a person by what we see on the surface. ‘What you see is what you get’ (WYSIWYG) not always stand. But, ’seek and you will find’ as written in the Bible is applicable in life.

  2. Ovijit Karmakar on December 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Huntington’s theory can be also be seen as justification for the western aggression. In its core, there is a commitment to western corporate interest in its need for crude energy, and sustenance of their arms industry.

    The Muslim countries hold the known biggest reservoir of oil out side the west. These countries are ruled by Sheiks, kings and autcratic rulars who rely on the west for to keep them in power for ever and set up dynastcal rule. So any democratic uprising in those countries can be crashed by the west.

    Former Soviet Union (oil rich with its stockpile of dangerous nuclear and war caches) and Latin American Countries (oil rich but they are too near) are in the fringe of western civilisation. Therefore, they can be shifted to civilization camps conveniently.

    Huntington says Cleft countries are grounds for ethnic clashes, and have the potential for blow-out. No wonder they are the the bulk of their arm sales customers.

    Swing (fluctuating) civilizations countries include Japan and Russia who may change side as it fits. Russia may clash with the Muslim ethnic groups (Chechnya) but will cooperate with Iran to avoid further Muslim-Orthodox violence in Southern Russia, and to help continue the flow of oil.

    What a farce!!

  3. sony on December 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    What if all the countries adapt western civilization? Will there still be clashes?

    • Latif Quader on December 8, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Allow me to address this issue; we shall see how the west is ruthless in its pursuit of corporate interest.

      Even if a country tried to Westernize itself in the model of western liberalism, imposing western institutions, dress, culture and value, it shall not be taken on fore. Because the very prohibiting entry requirements it imposes, such as:
      a) Its own political and economic elite must support the move. b) Second, its public must accept the redefinition. And lastly c) the ‘elites’ of the admitting civilization must accept the country.

      To date no ‘torn’ country has been able to gain the acceptance of the elites of the ‘host’ civilization. Turkey’s political leadership continued with westernization since the 1920s. Turkey’s history, culture, and traditions are derived from Islamic civilization, but its elite, beginning with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of the Republic of Turkey, imposed western institutions and dress, embraced the Latin alphabet, joined NATO, and is yet to get an entry in the European Union.

  4. abdus selim on December 4, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Not all theories on social and political matters are to be proved right or wrong, for they are mostly hypothesized on possible facts and trends, or the theorists would all become prophets! I like the write-up because perhaps this is for the first time, as far as I have seen and read, someone has endeavoured to juxtapose two very important and contemporary theories on social and political issues to provoke some more thoughtful deliberations on the subject. Like to read more on this!

  5. Sixth Sense on December 4, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    From time immemorial, violent clashes between groups of people practicing different faiths took place for various reasons and therefore it is nothing new. We have no reason to apprehend that Bangladesh is going to be the cleft country of Huntington. His theory does not deserve the importance it is being given. Our young generation would not like to see the country turn into a battleground to prove Huntington’s theory. We must refrain ourselves from spreading such false apprehensions either by delivering speeches or by writing articles for publication in the media. The point raised by Lilly in response to the views expressed in the article may please be seen and scrutinized by the writer if he wishes.

  6. shamim-UK on December 4, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Typical mind of Bangladeshi Muslim. Instead of blaming religion and following the West, try to understand the purpose of life. The truth will rise no matter what the mankind does. There is someone above us who is supreme and most powerful.

    Ask yourself what you are teaching the children at school? Bangladesh needs change and change will only come from teaching the young generation the right knowledge! Secularism-Capitalism is not working even in the West. It is all manmade rules and will always change!

    Shamim
    UK

    • george on May 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      why do you live in the west then if you abhor the western lifestyle so much? you cannot have the best of both worlds. In English, we call it hypocrisy.

  7. mansoor on December 4, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Quote: “Religion teaches one group hating the other groups”

    But Islam doesn’t teach us to hate other religious persons. Example: To respect Musa (A), Issa(A), is obligatory for every Muslim, if they hate those messengers of God they will not be good Muslim, but Jews and Christians don’t want to recognize Mohammad as messenger of Allah !

  8. Nasrin pervin on December 3, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    I think it’s a good write-up. In view of the minority subjugation that goes on in this country, I think Amartya Sen’s prescriptions to view people as a holder of multiple identity will be helpful. We must remember a man or a woman is not necessarily only belongs to a religion but could be a secular person belonging to a literary society and a martial art fanatic. So it would be wrong to treat him or her only with her religious or national identity. I thank the writer for pointing this out.

  9. Shuvro Chakroborty on December 3, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Has Bangladesh ever been a secular state and have secularisms been truly a fundamental part of the national mindset of its people, majority of whom are Muslims? For minority communities like the Hindus, Buddhists and people in the tribal area it has never been a safe haven even after the independence.

    Overall I would say Bangladesh is one of the more tolerant Islamic nations. Better than Saudi Arabia or any Middle Eastern countries and Pakistan. On the other end of the pendulum there are Malaysia and Indonesia, for examples, which are more tolerant in this respect. The incidence of violence against minorities varies to suit games played by the political parties as well as the government in power. For majority of the time after independence, it was a more an Islamic state rather than a secular state.

    Jamaat-e-Islami, despite playing a heinous role in the liberation struggle of Bangladesh, still has a large number of followers and regularly get 4% of popular vote, as pointed out by the writer. So does the ex-autocratic ruler HM Ershad, who made the country an Islamic state, who gets more than 20-25 seats in elections. In fact, they all use Islam to gain an upper hand in the internal politics of the country and to go to power. I think Huntington’s thesis for Bangladesh is not wholly inappropriate. And also International media portrayal of Bangladesh being a Muslim state is also not incorrect. Bangladesh has a long way to go before it can be a truly secular country in mind and deed.

  10. Lilly on December 2, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Interesting. I do think a bit differently though about one point made above. If one looks at BD’s international reputation I would not say that: “Muslim, confrontational and militant” are the words that comes to people’s minds. I live abroad and whenever people get to know my nationality, they often ask me if I am a Hindu or Buddhist. I would therefore say that internationally Bangladesh is still not primarily known as Islamic and fundamentalist country. It makes sense, if you think about media coverage of BD events; they are often about textile workers’ conditions, natural disasters or other social-economic issues. I have rarely read or heard anything about BD, terrorism and religion, compared to the likes of Pakistan or Afghanistan…

  11. Golam Arshad on December 2, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Very confusing!

    • Latif Quader on December 3, 2012 at 7:29 pm

      Mr Arshad, Samuel Huntington’s argument that countries with large ‘civilization’ minorities (like India with majority Hindu population, which is also the second largest Muslim country) will give rise to inter civilisation skirmishes that could escalate beyond its borders. This is rather prescriptive; and there is a sense of fait accompli in it. Amartya Sen rebuts the presumptions used in the definition of civilization by Huntington. Sen argues that a person can have more than one identity, and it is an unworkable fallacy that a single identity could tie down a person in his/her behaviour pattern and mindset.

  12. Abdur Rahman on December 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Huntington’s ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ is a theory which is now being proved that it is not a worthless theory. Religion is an element of civilization, but I think it is a bad element. Religion teaches one group hating the other groups. We see this testimony when civilization begins.

    Now if one asks the question, who are launching terrorist attacks? The answer will be, the Muslims. If this is allowed to continue one day the world will be a place of terrorism. We must not give the opportunity to let it happen. The younger generation should be taught subjects on science and technology. Otherwise darkness will fall upon the world where Bangladesh will be the worst sufferer.

    • shamim on December 4, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      How do you know all terrorist attacks are done by Muslims? Even the 9/11 is not done by Muslims! You need to wake up and see what’s happening globally and why.

      Shamim
      UK

      • george on May 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm

        It is the people’s perception which matters.

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