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Monday, March 31, 2003

ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION

Folly of liberation by force


The Pentagon calls the U.S. military campaign in Iraq "Operation Iraqi Freedom." This is clearly intended to reflect U.S.-British justification of their attempt to overthrow the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and "liberate" Iraq without a United Nations resolution.

Modern Western ideologies such as democracy, freedom and individualism were originally Christian beliefs. In his book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order," Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington says ideological rivalries between capitalism and socialism have ended; therefore, future conflicts will be caused by the clash of civilizations.

Many pundits, taking a hint from Huntington, argue that the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States and the Iraqi war demonstrated a clash between the Christian and Islamic civilizations. I disagree, because no civilization that has ever existed has been so intolerant as to deny the existence of other civilizations.

Civilizations have coexisted for a long time and have occasionally clashed because of external -- not internal -- dynamics. Since the 1990s, two changes in the environment surrounding civilizations led to the terror attacks and the Iraqi war, which are misconstrued as the clash of civilizations.

First, the U.S. emerged as the sole superpower, dominating the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. The Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton established governance in international politics and economics, for example, by helping to end the East Asian currency crisis in 1997-98. The administration was instrumental in stabilizing the world.

Things changed drastically when the Republican administration of President George W. Bush came to power in January 2001. The Bush administration, which stood for new conservatism, abandoned U.S. governance in international politics and economics, and instead adopted policies of unilateralism in international relations.

After building up its military power against the Soviet Union during the Cold War through the end of the 1980s, the U.S. has now turned it against the Islamic world.

Second, economic globalization accelerated in the 1990s. Southeast Asian nations benefited greatly from globalization. Fast industrialization improved their living standards. On the other hand, Arab nations in the Islamic world have never benefited from globalization.

Islamic fundamentalism is incompatible with freedom and democracy. Globalization left the Islamic world behind. The economic gap between industrial and Islamic nations continued to widen, making the 9/11 attacks inevitable.

I believe democracy and freedom are universal values. However, the fact remains that some civilizations refuse to accept them. It is necessary to try to have those civilizations assimilate freedom and democracy, but using force for that purpose is out of the question.

Bush's policies are not dissimilar to those of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who tried to liberate "oppressed and exploited workers" in capitalist countries.

Takamitsu Sawa, professor of economics at Kyoto University, is also the director of the university's Institute of Economic Research.


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