The Reasons of Islamic-Western Conflicts in the Past 20 Years, Essay Example
While both parties; the West and Islamic countries seem to accuse each other with being aggressive and intolerant, the debate is never going to be decided. Indeed, the purpose of the current study is not to reveal who is to blame, but to research the different theories to be applied when examining the conflict between Western and Islamic countries. While some authors claim that it is the “clash of civilizations”, (Huntington, 2009), others conclude that the answers lie in the different approaches to culture. (Nayak and Malone, 2009)
Despite an act of terror that killed Fahkrul Islam, the United States claims that Pakistan’s quest for democracy will move forward. Fahkrul was a candidate in the United National Movement (MQM), which is one of several political parties being represented in Pakistan’s upcoming election. As a result of his death, the Taliban is receiving a lot of negative energy from the United States and other countries that make up the Western World. Although the Taliban is recognized as being one of the more violent groups in the Middle East, many political conflicts between Islam and the West are based off predicated beliefs and not the facts. Despite Western claims of anarchy being the root cause of its conflict with Islam, variations in civilizations stemming from cultural differences have led to the intense power struggle between the two worlds which has spanned across two decades.
Indeed, the sources of conflict have been examined by several constructivist authors with more or less success. The research will cover the most significant approaches, as well as the historical and cultural backgrounds of the countries.
Thesis: The main thesis the research is looking to prove is that intolerance based on social values is the main source of all international conflict. However, the authors would like to examine the cultural, religious and ethnic aspects of the conflict at the same time to fully reveal the most important motivators of the countries.
HISTORY: FROM THE GULF WAR TO IRAQ
Approaches to War and Peace. Before reviewing the time-line of the conflict between Islamic and Western countries in the past twenty years, it is important to note some of the ideological and cultural differences and the two different cultures’ approaches to war and peace. Said et al. conclude that there are differences in approaches to peace and conflict resolution.
According to Western thinking, a peace is nothing else but the absence of war and violence. Institutions have a great impact on maintaining peace in the West. In Islamic philosophy, peace is almost equivalent to justice. Peace, according to Islam begins with God. While conflict resolution in the Islamic world is usually perceived as an agreement based on religion and traditions, the West is looking at solutions that create win-win situations or create rules to suppress conflict. (Said et al. 1998)
It is clearly visible that examining the Islamic-Western conflict from one or the other perspective would not bring effective results. There is a need to review social theories to understand the elements, sources and motivations of conflicts in order to develop a complete understanding of the struggle of the two worlds.
Development of Iraqi-Western Relations Reviewed. According to Hafez and Kenny (204), Iraq as a state has been put through different stages of development and westernization in the past centuries. Iraq as a national framework was created by the Western world. Likewise, the independence wars were a result of this interference in the state politics of the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates. While the West had a great role in creating Iraq as a state, they applied Western values, policies and structures on an Eastern type country, and that is why the attempt to westernize the state was unsuccessful. After the British influence in the region weakened, the urge to become independent became stronger. From the beginning of the reign of Saddam Hussein in 1979, a new era started. Aggression against Iran begun and the 8 years of struggle resulting in violence and the death of more than 200.000 citizens was the result.
Over the past two decades, the world has experienced a growing intensity in the conflict between the Islamic and western nations. Such conflict became more evident during the Gulf wars in the 1990’s and the Iraq war of 2003. These two instances represented the peak of conflict between the two parties. Over these two decades, stakeholders have propagated various theories and ideologies suggested to be the root causes of the conflict. Distant perspective on the issue proposes rational causes like the clash in civilization, power vacuum and varied cosmopolitan views on human rights between the fighting parties (Huntington 57). Interested parties in the conflict, especially western nations and the US adopt realist theory as a mechanism of developing a coherent understanding on the justification behind their engagement.
Troubles between the West and Middle East began in 1990 with the Gulf War when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait of starting an economic war with his country. According to Saddam, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates were overproducing and then stealing oil that should have been contributed towards Iraq’s economy. Hussein deployed thousands of troops to the Gulf to make war with Kuwait in hopes of overtaking the small nation and recovering losses suffered as a result of oil being stolen.
After being victorious in the battle, Saddam declared Kuwait as the 19th province of Iraq and changed the name of Kuwait City to al-Kadhima. It was then that the Western World began to focus its attention towards Iraq’s actions and deploy troops to surrounding countries. Both the United Kingdom and France announced their decision to deploy troops to Saudi Arabia on November 29, 1990, and the United States eventually followed suit in deploying troops to Iraq and Kuwait the next year. For the United States, the Gulf War officially began on February 24, 1991, and ended on March 3, 1991 when Saddam Hussein, along with the rest of his country, accepted a ceasefire from the United Nations that required Iraq to respect the boundaries between Kuwait and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction.
Although the charge of respecting Kuwait was honored by Iraq, some began to question whether or not the country was harboring weapons of mass destruction despite promising to rid itself of such violent mechanisms years before. Questioning reached an all-time high after the United States was attacked by a terrorist group out of Afghanistan that destroyed the World Trade Centers in New York City on September 11, 2001. The war against Afghanistan moved to Iraq on March 19, 2003 when the United States initiated its Operation Iraqi Freedom invasion. In a statement supporting the invasion, the Bush Administration cited Iraq’s failure to remove weapons of mass destruction as a basis for its decision to begin war with the Islamic nation. Within a matter of months, rumors of Iraq harboring nuclear weapons turned into basis for war. It was later revealed that President Bush along with his administration made 935 false statements in the two years after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and leading up to the war with Iraq in 2003. Saddam Hussein was overthrown and lynched in front of thousands as the result of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction were never discovered in the country and it was later proven that Saddam Hussein had no connection with the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001, as the Bush Administration had previously stated.
The Western World’s Defense. While the average person would deem rumors and lies that led to war as corrupt, the Western World views its actions as justifiable based on its belief that Islamic nations are inherently violent. In his tell-all book about the political sphere, John Brady Kiesling, former political counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, deemed the Bush Administration as one that allowed itself to be brainwashed by the propaganda of the nation that characterized Saddam Hussein and Islam as a demonic force that was set out to destroy the West. Kiesling writes,
“The Saddam Hussein who emerged blinking from his spider hole in December 2003 was not the madman that George W. Bush had fantasized on the basis of his briefing books. As one might have expected from America’s long history of doing business with the dictator, Saddam turned out to have been a rational politician. He was the comprehensible product of a brutal, dysfunctional, but comprehensible state and society. In his early days he did much to modernize Iraqi society. He was savage in suppressing the chronic tribal strife that has plagued Iraq throughout its history” (261).
It was not until after the wheels that set the war with Iraq in motion were rolling that President Bush, along with his cabinet, realized that their perceptions of Saddam Hussein were tainted by personal opinions.
Such opinions are what Samuel Huntington discussed in The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order. According to Huntington the concept of realism is the driving force behind conflict because of the refusal of one person to accept the differences of another. As Huntington explains,
“Differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion. The people of different civilizations have different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views of the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes. Differences do not necessarily mean violence. Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts” (Huntington 4).
Although one’s difference of opinions or culture do not automatically signal conflict, it is another person’s unwillingness to tolerate the beliefs of someone else that creates chaos.
Such case of intolerance is clear when it comes to the Western World’s refusal to accept and work around Islam’s cultural differences on the political platform. Instead of searching out the facts through research and making informed decisions based on truth, countries like the United States choose to deem Islamic civilizations as being oppressed by and authoritarian ruler. Although congressmen and other government officials have expressed their support of the Iraqi people as of late, such support comes at the high price of the country abandoning its way of selecting a political ruler for the more democratic way of the West, which gives all citizens the opportunity to vote for a leader. While there is nothing wrong with citizens having a say in who leads them, there is something detrimentally wrong with one civilization forcing another to adopt its way of conducting business.
In many respects, the United States’ relationship with Iraq and other Islamic nations resembles that of America’s invasion of Native American tribes. As with Native Americans, inhabitants of Islamic nations have been characterized as uncivilized people because their cultural practices are not in alignment with traditions of the First World. Islam, like Native America, is also viewed as an enemy to the West because of its refusal to conform to the norm of the United States and other super power nations.
While the state propaganda of Iraq has always been against the West and the internal conflict develops from the fact that the whole station is being held responsible for the actions of Saddam Hussein. (Hafez and Kenny 214) The Iraqi war did not only hurt the relationship between the West and the Rest, but also the Iraqi national unity and common identity. (215)
Still, as Landscheit and Wollny confirm, the celebrations after the death of Saddam Hussein and the end of the war have not turned the Iraqi population to support the new power. The US has never been able to take advantage of the situation and permanent violence followed. While taking away the power, they wanted to westernize a country that was – as a whole – against adapting new values. The intolerance of the US towards religion and culture, traditions led to the violence that followed the Iraqi war.
Clashes in cultural spheres have led to clashes in politics and misleading propaganda.
The Reputation of the Islam in the West, Many in the Middle East believe the West are intruders. While from a Western perspective there is nothing wrong about trying to “democratize” a country, the tradition-based Islamic culture is extremely sensitive to any intervention. The source of conflict is not only cultural but is present on the religious and state level as well. Simply put, the way of thinking in the Middle East is different from the way Western civilizations perceive states, government and peace.
The dominant narratives examined by Belt (6) would help understand the reputation of Islam in the West. He concludes that the discourse of “Islamophobia” generally indicates and presumes that Islam is naturally bad. He examines the media and academic literature to find the traces of this “binary framing schema”. He also states that the schema is present in US reports, and its effect is stronger in articles written after 9/11. He quotes government statements presuming that “Islam is a threat to democracy” and it is a “destructive ideology”. It is evident when examining the reports and publications quoted by the author that the US is extremely judgmental about Islam and the organization of an Islamic State. If this is true, the United States does not fully embrace democracy and liberalism, as it excludes and judges other systems. (Sumer, Web)
Reputation of West in Islamic Countries. West views Islamic nations as beasts. While the West is trying to apply their theories of state, democracy and organization in a country that does not have the same values and views, they are creating conflict within Islamic states and between the country and Western civilization. The fact that the West has always approached Islamic countries with a sense of superiority is a logical explanation of resistance.
Landscheit and Woolny conclude that the fundamentalist Islam philosophy requires all people to “live by the laws of Koran”. That means that they judge the United States on moral basis, instead of political or social. The authors conclude that “cognitive and normative cultures capitalistic governments like the US, who seem to have completely abandoned the norms preached in the Bible, are the “prime Evils” of the Koran.
The US intervention has also not changed nationalist feelings, and there is a general hostility against the new era today. One Iraqi woman says:
“Eight years after the US invasion, life in Iraq is actually getting worse for women and minorities, while journalists and detainees face significant rights violations,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, on 21 February 2011. “The women and girls of Iraq have borne the biggest brunt of this conflict and resulting insecurity,” Stork said. “For Iraqi women, who enjoyed some of the highest levels of rights protection and social participation in the region before 1991, this has been an enormously bitter pill to swallow.” (Iraq: Vulnerable Citizens at Risk. Online.)
Instead of seeing the West as the peace-maker and positive figure, the nation takes a critical approach, and this might be based on intolerance; from the US government trying to establish systems based on Western values and the Iraqi nation’s intolerance toward the new system.
Reasons of Military Conflict. Landscheit and Wollny find the connection between state, Islam and politics problematic. Still, the authors find that the fundamental cultural differences are extremely relevant when examining the conflicts within the states or between Islamic and Western countries. In the recent conflicts, even the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US played the role of the Western World’s representation, while Iraq was playing the role of representing Islam. Still, to degrade the war to a religious conflict would be inappropriate in this case; when looking at the Crusades, it is evident that states and cultures had lower influence on the conflict than in the current situation. The authors state that “The Islam is the combatant for justice ant the US as a fighter for freedom represent the battle between normative and cognitive cultures.” (6) This statement alone confirms the existence of cultural aspect in the conflict.
Landscheit and Wollny ask the straight question: “why Islamic fundamentalists see a reason to attack other cultures in such a drastic way” (7) The focus here should be on “other cultures” and not the word “Islamic”. The authors find that the separation of two worlds is indeed not originated from the Western world alone. The Islam law sees the world as the peace (dar al-islam) and non-believers’ area of war (dar al-harb). While for those who live in Islam states defending their culture and values, moral laws is a responsibility according the Koran, the motivations of the Western world to change the states and cultures is more selfish than that.
Although remnants of the treatment that Native Americans received from their White invaders can be seen in the Western World’s treatment of Iraq and the Islamic world, the root of conflict between the West and Middle East can be traced farther back than the Persian Gulf War of the 1990s or the Native American invasion of the 16th century. As a Christian nation, the United States often stands in opposition to Islam because of its views that date back to the earlier part of the common era. (Al, Hibri 144)
The religion of Islam is said to have begun with the birth of Muhammad. The visionary and leader of the religion had his first vision in a cave near Mecca in 610 C.E. Although not initially accepted as a viable religion, Muhammad eventually gained followers for his belief system who were devoted to Allah.
While Muhammad formed a religion that acknowledges a Supreme Power in the universe, his idea of such power contrasts a few concepts in Christianity. Contrary to Christendom which has several denominations within its religion, Islam is a monotheistic belief that is based on submission. One of the leaders of the AL-Quaeda, Kamel Daoudi says (Quoted in:: Landscheit and Wollny, V.)
“My ideological commitment is total and the reward of glory for this relentless battle is to be called a terrorist. I accept the name of terrorist if it is used to mean that I terrorize a one-sided system of inquisitous power and a perversity that comes in many forms.”
THEORIES AND THEIR APPLICATIONS
Several attempts have been made in the past to explain the conflict between the Western world and Islam. However, the studies all seem to point towards a different theoretical approach and source of conflict. Below the relevancy and adaptability of different theoretical approaches will be reviewed.
Epistemic Approaches. Bokhari (web) created a conceptual framework that is based on epistemic communities. He concludes that the epistemic community is divided into two groups. One group presumes that the Islam state is “anti-western” and belives in the confrontationalist approach based on the assumptions Gerges makes. The other one (he calls this group accommodationist), claiming that political Islam is a genuine mass movement. (19)
Neorealist and Neoliberalist Approaches. Bokhari (web) concludes that while neorealism and neoliberalism are rational approaches to explaining the “clash of cultures”, he criticizes the theorists based on the fact that they do not take into consideration the influence of other actors, such as social forces and NGO-s. He also questions the suitability of the reductionist nature of the approaches. Concluding that all actions are triggered by materialistic egocentricity within the conflict might be simplifying the question too much. The above statement would certainly not be true for the Islamic state or movement, most importantly not the actions of terrorists against the United States. Looking at a state as an instrument of making decisions and not a complex system is one of the weakest features of the theories.
Waltz’s Anarchy Myth
The main assumptions of Waltz’ Anarchy Myth are that:
a, international politics consist of sovereign nation-states
b, the lack of an international “orderer”, no world government
c, all international politics are anarchical (Waltz 169)
The theory also states that wars occur because there is an international anarchy.
Realism vs. Neorealism. There are some main differences between realist and neorealist approaches to international relations. While both realism and neorealism states that survival can only be achieved by increasing power as it is impossible to achieve world government, there are some changes relating to human nature and the definition of anarchy. (Weber 15.) Realism states that the source of conflict is in the flaws of human nature. Neorealism does not necessarily involve human nature in the explanation of conflict. However, the most important difference between the two theories is regarding anarchy. Realism states that anarchy is nothing more than
the environment in which the sovereign states act, while neorealists try to explain anarchy based on the actions of sovereign states.
Examining the statement of the anarchy myth: conflict is caused by social interaction and there are no “natural” causes of conflict. While international relations (not systems, like in realism) remain anarchical, war occurs. According to Waltz (1959), the main root of conflict and war is not human nature, but the organization of social relations. He takes three different factors into consideration when determining the cause of war; these form the three levels of analysis. These are the individual, the state and the state system.
While it is important to examine the state systems, individual factors and the states and it certainly gives researchers a better scope of examination than previous realist theories, the state level examination without social and cultural research might seem to be insufficient to research the current conflict between the West and Islam states. Still, one statement still stands strong today; there is no “supreme authority” in the world, therefore, there is an international anarchy.
Waltz, however, created a structure of domestic and global structure that is worth reviewing. He determines the structures on the domestic level, based on ordering principle, formal differentiation, distribution of power.. He also examines the consequences of political processes, relationships and goals. Table 1 shows the processes and definitions below.
According to the table above, (adapted from: Weber, 21.), the global ordering principle is anarchy and it is decentered. Waltz assumes that oligopoly calls for balancing and results in low interdependence. The main goals of sovereign states, therefore, would be to maximize security.
Constructivism in General Reviewed. Wickasana (Web) reviews the effects of constructivism on the analysis of foreign policy and international relations. The author concludes that constructivism is a different theory from realism and balance of power, as it has some important assumptions the other theories do not own. It “expands the scope of International Relations” (5) and considers some factors and actors the other theories do not cover. The theory does not automatically assume that states are social actors, The main assumption of the theory is that a system is not created based on material forces, more importantly on human ideas. (7) They also state that identity as an actor is extremely important in international relations. And identity is associated with ideas. From this assumption, the view of the state would not be restricted to reviewing the material aspects and organization of each society, but the ideas as well. When talking about “clash of cultures” and “holy war”, this seems to be a better option than building a research framework on the struggle for power or material benefits.
According to Nugroho, “constructivism differs itself from neorealism and neoliberalism by highlighting and illuminating the ontological reality of intersubjective knowledge. It does not mean that constructivism negates the material world.” (88) It is important to note the major difference in examining relations in general. Wendt states: “People act toward object, including other actors, on the basis of the meanings that the objects have for them ” (Wendt 396)
Wendt states that the identity of a state and its interest “socially constructed by knowledgeable practice.” The author took into consideration norms, culture, ideas, behavior and the behavior of the state when creating an approach to examine international relations. While the constructivist approach to research conflict has proved itself to be successful as it focused on social structures in general and norms. Both are extremely important to examine when looking at the relations and Western-Islamic conflict in general.
Tampio (3) suggests that “political constructivism may be the best available metaethical approach for left-liberal political theorists.”, however, he finds some important aspects of the theory that might result in limitations. One of them is the fact that political constructivism is an aspect of “popular moral philosophy”, and as such it only covers the political motives of conflict. Another problem – and here he quotes Taylor (2011) that moral doctrines cannot be applied on the state or international level. Still, he argues that “political constructivism helps us better respond to Muslim constituencies in Europe, North America” (Tampio 6)
Valls, on the other hand, disagrees with some of the statements of Tampio, on the fundamental level regarding Muslims. He finds that creating a duality and a contrast ideologically between the Islam and liberalism is problematic. It is, considering that in recent discussions liberal world has always received a superior status. Valls assumes that liberalism cannot be measured in the way it has been in the past; based on Western values. And here the authors would like to go back to the earlier part of the study, when it was presumed that the source of the conflict was that the US tried to apply western measures in an Islamic society. This might be a tool for westernization, but whether this is the right approach or results in total failure of democratization is questionable.
According to Valls, (12) the political culture of the US is not necessarily more liberal than the majority of Islam states’.
While it is important to see the differences in political structures, values and national identities, the power struggle is not the main source of conflict between Iraq and the US. While (and here we need to agree somewhat with realist approaches) there is a power struggle and material considerations within the conflict, the resistance of Islam states is based on belief and intolerance. It is not only Islam that makes distinction between two worlds; the US does it too. While both of these distinctions conclude that their system is superior to the other, they make assumptions on a different basis. While the judgment of the West in Islamic states is based on moral values and ideology, presuming that the way of living is not “close to God” there, in the West, it is based on political and democratic structures.
While the two worlds are unable to accept each other, there will not be peace. The main source of the conflict is that each type of state is trying to judge the other based on their primary values, and not the other’s. If America accepted that people lived in different political and social structures without conditions and assuming that their structure was “bad” or “conservative”, “illiberal” and looked at some positive aspects of the society, such as the rules, the law and family values, there would never have been a conflict. Likewise, if for Islamic states the main source of comparison was not “moral values”, they would have accepted social and political changes better.
While the above ideological approach assumes that judgment is the main source of conflict, it does not contradict the initial thesis, assuming that intolerance was accountable for poor international relations. If we conclude that judgment results in refusal and exclusion, which is true, according to Nussbam (2004), the thesis is confirmed. According to the author,
According to Nugroho (16), “there is no independent factor that serves itself as a sub-structure.”. The authors of the current study tend to agree with the above statement. While realists see states as non-changing entities that act for power, constructivist approaches seem to forget about power completely and examine social relations, ideology and national identities instead. While both approaches are relevant to the current study, from the case analysis, the publications reviewed and the theoretical approaches examined, it is evident that there is a need for developing a complex system that examines the following factors in international relations:
a, social structures
b, political (state structures)
c, national identity
e, national concepts to war and peace.
Developing a framework to achieve a complex, still easy to use application when examining international relations is a challenge of the future. While it is important to confirm the initial thesis statement that assumed that the main source of conflict is social intolerance and the intolerance towards state identities, the factors of social structure, human nature and approaches to war and peace should not be neglected, either. Therefore, while the initial statement is confirmed and the social constructivism approach seems to be the most relevant to the current study, it is important to review the individual characteristics of the sovereign states when focusing on international relations.
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