Scholars such as Samuel Huntington have theorized the perennial unrest between nations across the East-West divide as well as the North-South divide. Huntington famously proposed an underlying “clash of civilizations” to account for some of the recurrent conflicts in international history. He attributes this situation to the inherent incompatibility between the cultures of modern Europe and traditional Islam. The author cites many examples from the last century to illustrate the nature of this incompatibility. Starting from the British occupation of Egypt way back in 1882, to subsequent decline of the Ottoman Empire, to Iraqi Independence in 1932; followed by first Israel-Arab war in 1948, the Suez crisis in 1956 and the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the list seems almost endless. But this theory needs to be seen with a touch of scepticism, for the strong ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia is in complete contradiction to it. So are also some of the opportunistic alliances that the western powers have made with Islamic nations such as Pakistan. So, international relations are often complex and international conflicts cannot always be seen in a good/evil dichotomy. There is plenty of grey areas to be explored and understood and simplistic theorizing as that of Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” is at best of academic interest.
The neo-liberal economic globalization, which has come to define the last decade of international commerce and its entailing western lifestyles and consumption preferences are consolidating as never before. These cultural changes are popularly referred to as “McDonaldization” and “CocaCola-ization” of the globe. It implies that economic globalization leads to a “global homogenous consumer culture in which Western models increasingly displace alternative cultural traditions” (Jef Huysmans, p.311). This apprehension is not a entirely the result of changing economic models; the equations of political power is at the heart of this trend. The aspect of worldwide propagation of sets of norms and values brings with it some crucial questions about the merits of cultural globalization. It implies that
“cultural globalization cannot be reduced to consumption patterns and lifestyles. But more importantly, it indicates that cultural globalization cannot be reduced to a side effect of economic globalization. It is a development in its own right that is (partly) independent of economic processes. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, has to be understood against the background of the catastrophic experience of totalitarianism in the first half of the twentieth century in Europe”. (Jef Huysmans, p.313)
The globalization of rights, which was kick started by the universal declaration, has of late included property rights. This has given rise to disagreements within the international community about the cultural content of rights. Again, the questions being asked were related to the Western centric origins of some of these rights. The individualistic culture of the west, it is complained, does not heed to the family-centric cultural norms of the East, where the community and society are placed ahead of the individual. Even in the contentious issue of women empowerment, the opinions of women in Islamic societies about their status in the community is not as bleak as western commentators would have us believe.
The global propagation of rights and values inevitably leads to cultural homogenization. Similarly, the world is witnessing an escalating tension between modern European culture and conservative Islamic way of life. It is important to realize that the conflict between global rights and national/regional cultures is not a struggle for supremacy between cultures. Instead, it should be analyzed and debated in wider contexts of values, traditions and universal human qualities.
Ordering the International:History, Change and Transformation (2004) by Brown, Bromley and Athreye, Open University Press in association with Pluto Press.