Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Continuing on Johnny's Theme

The concept of defining the West is certainly interesting. Constructivists spend plenty of time searching for implicit ways in which leaders define concepts and it is rare for such an explicit statement to be made. However, in the context of a Clash "about" Civilizations, it is really inconsequential.

If the struggle between Islam and the West is about civilization then what is important is how Muslims define the West and vice versa. Westerners can define the West until they are blue in the face without affecting the conflict. If we accept that this clash is about civilizations (which I do not), then the only way to resolve it is for Muslims or the West to change their conception of one another.

Really what this comes down to is power. Each group wants to impose its view of the world on the other for various cultural, economic, and security issues. The current thinking in the West is that if people think alike, they will cooperate with one another. Trade will be increased, moral authority will be established, and military cooperation will increase. The power of one "civilization" will allow them to control the rules of the international system, which in turn will continue to benefit the dominant civilization the most. The idea is simply realist sovereignty on a larger scale.

But the problem arises from the belief that sovereignty may be based on ideas. Ideas are harder to control than territory. They exist in the mysterious area known as the brain and tend to be resistant to change even in the face of force. A sovereignty of this manner would have drastic consequences for the world as we currently imagine it. Paging Mr. Orwell......


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"A Clash About Civilizations" Says Tony Blair

Tony Blair on Tuesday said that the war on terror is a "global war of 'values and ideas'." He said, "that the struggle against terrorism was not a clash of civilizations but "a clash about civilization."

I think it is amazing how powerful Huntington's work has become. It looks like the "Clash of Civilizations" has taken an important position within the cultural lexicon representing conflict among peoples.

Blair, wisely trying to avoid the clash, which I do not think is inevitable unless we make it so, tried to shift the debate beyond conflict between Muslims and the West. Instead, Blair seems to believe that the West needs to change the bad ideology in the Muslim world that makes them fight against the peace-loving West. Blair goes on to say,
This terrorism, in my view, will not be defeated until its ideas — the poison that warps the minds of its adherents — is met head on...
When Blair says "head on", he means by creating democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. So it looks like if the only way to change people's minds is militarily, then they'll use it. Hopefully though, Bush and Blair will find other ways to convince certain others in the Muslim world to change their ways.

One other thing of interest was that Blair spent considerable time defining what the West was. When I read David Campbell's Writing Security he mentioned that it's a lot easier for leaders to define what they are not rather than what they are. Thus, I felt it was important to highlight Blair's rare framing of what the West is. Blair says,
'We' is not the West. 'We' are as much Muslim as Christian or Jew or Hindu. We are those who believe in religious tolerance, openness to others, to democracy, liberty and human rights administered by secular courts...

Anyone who wants a mono-religious society based on Sharia law (or other religious law) might not be so happy with such a society.