Examining the Clash and Blend of Cultures

Regarding the Opinion page article ``Westerners and Non-Westerners Seek Universal Ties,'' Oct. 22: The author's commentary on Samuel Huntington's ``The Clash of Civilizations'' comes on top of Fouad Ajami's criticism of the same article. All three of them are wrong in different ways.

Mr. Huntington is wrong, as Mr. Ajami points out, in assuming that there is any such monolithic ``culture'' as ``Islamic'' or ``Confucian.'' Even as fanatical as the late Ayatollah was in rejecting Western civilization, he wanted the West's latest military toys and a European heart surgeon. Ajami is right: All of these cultures are mixtures of many elements, old and new.

Where Ajami may be wrong is in his belief that enlightened self-interest plays a large role in such countries, and that the more educated, more Westernized sector will defend its interests against the fanatics. Alas, sweet reasonableness and enlightened self-interest don't play a role in the Realpolitik of economically struggling nations. Lenin and Stalin demonstrated in Russia how a revolution could be stolen by an organized minority from the disorganized majority, as did the Ayatollah Khomeini.

The author of the Monitor article is correct in noting that civilization is the fruit of centuries of development of two melded traditions - the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian. However, the many centuries of that struggle are referred to with good reason as ``the Dark Ages.'' The tradition with clout quite eclipsed the other.

He also notes how puzzled the Japanese are when they are regarded as only honorary Westerners. Yet didn't the Japanese arrive at their Western condition through losing a war to the West?

Huntington underestimates complexity, while Ajami and the author of the Monitor article overestimate reason. However, they are all correct when they note that the outcome of this ``clash of cultures'' is ultimately a global, interdependent civilization. Laina Farhat, San Francisco

Your letters are welcome. For publication they must be signed and include your address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published, and none acknowledged. Letters should be addressed to ``Readers Write,'' and can be sent by Internet E-mail (200 word maximum) to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM, by fax to 617-450-2317, or by mail to One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.