Mon, Dec 09, 2019 - Page 6 News List

[ LETTER ]

Not a clash of civilizations

This letter is in response to Joseph Tse-hei Lee’s (李榭熙) editorial (“Hong Kong in clash of civilizations,” Dec. 8, page 6). I disagree with the title, and from there that Lee states that the protests in Hong Kong have “become part of the potentially larger clash of civilizations between liberalism and authoritarianism, and between popular demand for openness and autocratic obsession with control.” This is an unwise and mistaken choice of words.

Samuel Huntington’s now-infamous “Clash of Civilizations” thesis stated that conflict in the future would no longer be based on political systems and inclinations, but on clashes between cultures and “civilizations” in the world, including Latin American, Buddhist, Chinese, Hindu, Japanese, African, Orthodox (Russia and satellite states), Muslim and Western.

Huntington’s theory has suffered much since its publication, and many have pointed out its inherent bigotry and bias, and also that what will really happen in the future is a given “Dialogue Among Civilizations.” In a word, all civilizations are in fact comprised of many different peoples in communicative relationships — and often citizens from a supposedly different civilization have somehow transferred their identity into a new civilization. Identity and culture are much more malleable and diverse than this, and these facets are also responsive to political contexts and to some extent manipulation. In a word, our world is not subject to the cultural determinism that Huntington posits. It has also been pointed out that conflict has historically been and continues to be more common within the borders of given civilizations than it has been across and between states of different civilizations. In all of these respects Huntington’s claim that identity and culture are immutable and determined has come under fire. The Nation said that Huntington’s thesis was downright ignorant, and that “labels like ‘Islam’ and ‘the West’ serve only to confuse us about a disorderly reality.”

In terms of Lee’s argument, that anyone can claim that what is happening in Hong Kong is civilizational is also ignorant. After all, Hong Kongers and the Chinese emerge from the same civilization (Sinic, as Huntington puts it, and many would roughly agree). Thus, there is no clash between peoples here in the true sense. In a word, it is a political clash, a clash between governmental/administrative systems and beliefs. Exactly as Lee puts it, the battle is between socialist dictatorship and liberal democracy — and these are categorically not civilizations!

This important categorization vis a vis politics, civility, peoples and to some extent nation-states, must be clearly understood and expressed.

David Pendery

Taipei

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