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Clash of civilizations or calculation of interest?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Only 39 years old, the Indonesian scholar Anies Baswedan's thoughts have been considered so influential that Foreign Policy magazine has rated this Rector of Paramadina University 60th on a list of the world's top 100 intellectuals.

Critical of the dominance of a cultural approach to Muslim-Western conflicts, he believes conflict is not triggered by cultural, religious, or civilisational identity, but by a calculation of interests. He (pic) expands on this concept in an interview with Jakarta-based journalist, Wahyuana.

Q: What exactly do you mean by "a calculation of interests" in Muslim-Western conflicts?

Baswedan: The choice to engage in violence or peace isn't the projection of any ideological, cultural or religious factors, but instead, a strategic calculation, or a calculation of interests. A group opts to use violent approaches or peaceful methods depending on each approach's incentives or disincentives. Who is considered the enemy and what confrontational method will be used is often determined more by a calculation of interests than of ideology, religion or culture.

For example, let's consider relations between what we commonly refer to as the Afghan mujahideen and the United States. These various Afghan opposition groups were allies of the United States while fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At that time the United States considered them freedom fighters or heroes. Now, however, some of these same groups are fighting against the United States, the new occupying force, and are therefore indiscriminately called terrorists. It is the perspective of each party, how it sees its challenges, interests and positions, that influences whether it become allies or enemies with the other.

Q: Does this mean the clash of civilizations is nonsense?

Baswedan: I think it's a forced terminology. What really happens is a polarization, and it has occurred in many forms throughout the history of mankind. There are polarizations in culture, ideology, race and religion. Polarisation has become an innate part of life itself. Samuel P. Huntington's clash of civilizations is too forced – as if there is a specific religious/cultural conflict between the Muslim world and the West. There isn't. Throughout history, conflicts pitted as clashes between civilizations weren't solely about religion. For example, the Crusaders also had interests in land and politics.

Q: What about ideological or religious motives behind Muslim-Western conflicts? Do you deny such motives?

Baswedan: I don't deny them. Ideological or religious motives, of course, exist. However, they only occur at the micro, or individual level. Religion or ideology is just a tool that is hijacked to recruit and motivate people and to create solidarity with the perpetrators to whom it gives an air of legitimacy. These conflicts are presented as ideological or religious campaigns in order to inspire followers, legitimate the war as a "just war", and attract allies, etc.

That is why we need to use rational strategic analysis to enable us to acknowledge potentially violent conflict that is about to arise, so we can find a way to prevent it. But if we only employ a cultural framework (an approach that sees the psycho-religious-cultural variables influentially shaping the actions of a person or a group), we would walk in circles, without ever learning how to solve the conflict.

Q: Don't you think that hijacking ideology, culture, or religion for such strategic interests shows that they could be lethal weapons?

Baswedan: Exactly. Ideology, culture and religion are all excellent weapons for creating solidarity because of their transcendental and messianic values. But as weapons, they are used for external interests, not for themselves. When the external interests are achieved, they might be used for other strategic interests, which, in the case of geopolitical change, could turn allies into enemies.

Q: What do you think about the future of Muslim-Western relations?

Baswedan: Today the situation is fascinating. Islam grows and exists in prominent civilizational centers, such as in the capital cities of America and Europe. As a minority, Muslims there have to express their religious nature and negotiate Muslim values through the language and structures of the host country, becoming part of its civilizational treasure. The same thing is also experienced by Westerners that live in the Muslim world. It is in the hands of these ambassadors that the future of Muslim-Western relations lies, for they are in the privileged position of being fully a part of both Muslim and western societies.

* Wahyuana is a Jakarta-based journalist and founder of the Maluku Media Centre (MMC). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)
. (Source: Asia

Book on Prophet Muhammad's wife dropped (Agencies, New York)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Publisher Random House has pulled a novel about Aisha, the wife of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), saying it could "incite acts of violence."

"The Jewel of Medina," a debut novel by journalist Sherry Jones, 46, was due to be published on Aug. 12, as part of a $100,000, two-book deal. An eight-city publicity tour had been scheduled, Jones told Reuters on Thursday.

The novel traces the life of Aisha from her engagement to Prophet Mohammed, when she was six, until his death. Jones, who has never visited the Middle East, spent several years studying Arab history and said the novel was a synthesis of all she had learned.

"They did have a great love story," Jones said of Mohammed and Aisha, who is often referred to as Mohammed's favorite wife. "He died with his head on her breast."

Jones said that she was shocked to learn in May, that publication would be postponed indefinitely.

"I have deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Mohammed ... I envisioned that my book would be a bridge-builder," said Jones.

Fears of violence

A statement from Random House, a division of German media giant Bertelsmann, said the company received "cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

"In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel," deputy publisher Thomas Perry wrote.

Jones, who has just completed a sequel to the novel examining Aisha's later life, is free to sell her book to other publishers, Perry said.

The decision has sparked controversy on Internet blogs and in academic circles. Some compared the controversy to previous cases where portrayals of Islam were met with violence.

Protests and riots erupted in many Muslim countries in 2006 when cartoons, one showing the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban resembling a bomb, appeared in a Danish newspaper. At least 50 people were killed and Danish embassies attacked.

British author Salman Rushdie's 1988 book "The Satanic Verses" was met with riots across the Muslim world. Rushdie was forced into hiding for several years after Iran's then supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, proclaimed a death edict, or fatwa, against him.