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Incompatible civilizational values as catalysts for conflict in the West

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Why do trivial matters such as cartoons lead to disproportionately horrific violence? Why did the perpetrators of violence choose to do what they do in the primitive and medieval ways they prefer to do? In the light of the recent terror attacks in France and Austria, I try to find answers in a concept that originated in the 1990s United States.

‘The clash of civilizations’ is a controversial, yet relevant, concept developed by U.S. political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. In 1993, Foreign Affairs magazine published an article written by him of the same name, which later evolved into a full-fledged book in 1996, titled “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”.

The term implies that cultural and religious identities of peoples and nations of the world could potentially turn out to be primary sources of conflict, and future wars would be fought not between countries, but between cultures, or rather civilizations.

Huntington wrote, “The absence of an Islamic core state is a major contributor to the pervasive internal and external conflicts which characterize Islam. Consciousness without cohesion is a source of weakness to Islam and a source of threat to other civilizations. Is this condition likely to be sustained?”

Well, it seems right, taking recent incidents of terror in Europe into account. Many thought the idea would be too far-stretched. But, 9/11 proved Huntington’s critics wrong when the West had the first encounter with a radical form of a distant ideology hailing from the Middle-East on its own soil – Islamism, the political and sometimes military face of Islam, which was brewing up for a decade since the American involvement in the Gulf War of 1990-91.

Irrespective of geographies, most of the defenders of political Islam are vulnerable to radicalism. But, pure spiritual Islam devoid of political considerations can be less vulnerable, as they focus only on their religious lives, without any gratuitous aspiration to spread their faith or to build a caliphate around the world under Islamic law, for that matter.

Multiplicity of identities and civilizational values

The motivating factor behind all the terror crimes was some ‘identity’ of being exceptional as compared to other fellow beings. The religious identities of the perpetrators of terrorism always superseded their collective national consciousness and sanity of mind in favour of some extremely idealistic world where their ideology alone rules.

It is also true that all Islamic believers aren’t radicals. A majority of them want a peaceful life. But, they will have to pay a heavy price if they are unwilling to adapt to the basic tenets of their respective dominant national cultures with tolerant mind-set, and with periodic checks on radical elements from dominating prevailing religious discourse.

The fact that there is no single core Islamic core state to oversee the faith in its entirety, as noted by Huntington, makes the religion open to interpretations, or rather misinterpretations, suiting different purposes for different groups of people.

The way Kemalist-influenced Turkey (presently going through a rewriting phase by Recep Tayyip Erdogan) does it varies from Wahhabi-influenced Saudi Arabia, the same goes with Shia-influenced Iran. Depending on the vulnerabilities in the mental state of different groups of believers, radicalism makes way for itself in a gradual pace.

In this context, French President Emmanuel Macron’s crackdown on radical Islam is noteworthy, as it needs regulation from a responsible secular state like France, and for ensuring the continued existence of that state in its original form. The same goes with Germany or Nordic states that experience an increasing inflow of potential radicals from Islamic societies, in the past one decade in particular.

George Bush-era ‘War on Terror’ and presently Macron’s moves can be seen as the first responses in lines with the idea of a civilizational clash in this century, a conflict between the Western and Islamic civilizations.

It also meant a conflict between singular-minded, non-questionable devotion and absolute liberty, a conflict between absolute secularism and theocracy, and a conflict between ultra-liberalism and puritanical religiosity.

Exceptionalism and being ‘the other’

Islam, inherently, talks about every aspect of life of a believer – what one should eat and not, how one should dress and not, how genders by birth define one’s position in family and community, and even how one should perceive non-believers. This translates into an extreme form of exceptionalism in real life for practitioners of that faith.

Another key factor to note is that they maintain this exceptionalism with unwillingness for a closer socio-cultural integration to the larger society with a different civilizational heritage they find themselves in, unlike Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism which also have their own exceptionalist traits.

In some cases, their actions post-radicalization have even resulted in misjudged retaliatory terror strikes in completely unrelated and new locations such as the shootings at a mosque that happened in New Zealand last year.

This cycle continues without a foreseeable end, exacerbated in a digital age where caliphates can even exist merely on the internet with the potential for public safety hazards in any location around the world. And, if that happens in a totally unexpected place like Vienna earlier this month, media attention will be high, and peaceful Islamic believers faces the brunt of ‘othering’ from the societies alien to the Islamic civilization they live in.

When the Islamic and Western civilizations met

The Islamic civilization made contacts with the European or Western civilization for the first time in 8th century CE during the Moorish conquests of Andalusia and the southern parts of Spain. These cultural influences can be seen even today. But, in the 15th century Christian monarchs took back Moorish territories in an eight-century-long period of Reconquista.

Fast-forward to the 20th century, the West becomes involved in nationalist struggles in the Middle-East, home to the Islamic and Jewish civilizations. Thus, the Arab states, 22 in number today, and subsequently the world’s only Jewish state of Israel came into being.

Since the formation of the Jewish state was predominantly a project led by European Jews, it retained a certain amount of similarity with the Western civilization. But, the Arabs retained their exceptionalism with Islam as its core.

For fairly a long period of time now, Europe is predominately divided between Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christianity as in Greece and Russia, and atheists. The latter half of the 20th century, however, began witnessing changes in demographic dynamics of the continent with the spread of globalization. But, radicalism still hadn’t made its way.

In this century, the sources of radicalization in Europe varies between factors such as increasing inflow of refugees from conflict zones from across the Mediterranean in the Middle-East, particularly Syria, and North Africa from the early 2010s, and some of these new immigrants who would later go on turning radical.

The countries such as France had historical ties with the Arab Maghreb countries, particularly Algeria and Tunisia, rooted in its colonial past, which would turn out to be an Achilles’ heel in the national security and integrity of the French Republic in this century.

Meanwhile, there were other non-Arab countries, part of the 57-nation Islamic civilization with their own exceptionalist doctrines like Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Rigidity in maintaining an exceptionalist outlook on daily religious practice, including a puritanical form of theism, also acted as a catalyst for a civilizational clash with the West.

An historical example of ‘syncretism’ from India

However, there are good examples of evolution of ‘syncretic’ belief systems as with Sufism elsewhere in India, where I write this essay from, that co-existed with Hinduism for centuries until the British operationalized their ‘divide and rule’ policy for economic exploitation of the Subcontinent.

Sufi-influenced traditions such as Hindustani classical music are global examples for co-existence and peace in the northern parts of India, even with dissimilarities. But, the rise of Hindu nationalism and revivalism from the early 1990s worsened the divide between the Muslims and the Hindus in India, which unfortunately leads to radicalisation on both sides.

Reconciliation of differences in identity is the need of the hour

Increasing polarisations on religio-cultural lines, exasperated by the rise of right-wing populist governments exploiting the fears of native populations across the world makes already-existing fault-lines wide.

Eventually, the Islamic civilization has to come to terms with other civilizations and their respective tenets, particularly with the West, if they wish to co-exist within the geographies of the West characterized by liberal and secular thinking of its native people. The same goes with other civilizations existing in places different from its origin.

A mutual understanding, confidence-building dialogues, and co-existence, with respect for each other’s civilizational values are a must to ensure peace in diverse geographies marked by a multiplicity of identities, cultures, and native nationalities.

And, the steps taken to uproot radicalism have to be covert rather than in an openly proclaimed manner to avoid adding up to the insecurities of the vulnerable, a lesson the French President can derive from the myriad of emotionally strong reactions of the concerned populace from around the world.

Bejoy Sebastian is an independent journalist based in India who regularly writes, tweets, and blogs on issues relating to international affairs and geopolitics, particularly of the Asia-Pacific region. He also has an added interest in documentary photography. Previously, his bylines have appeared in The Diplomat, The Kochi Post, and Delhi Post.

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Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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