Francis Fukuyama on Islam

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Read the following article by Francis Fukuyama. This guy used to be at Rand Corporation in 79/80 and was deeply involved in arguing for the shape and scope of Pakistan's rearmament back then. Interesting to see what he is saying now.

Ten years ago, Samuel Huntington argued that the fault lines of world politics in the post-Cold War era are mainly cultural — a “clash of civilizations” defined by five or six major cultural zones that can sometimes co-exist but will never converge, because they lack shared values. One implication of this argument is that the September 11th terrorist attacks, and the US-led response, should be viewed as part of a larger civilizational struggle between Islam and the West. Another is that what we in the West regard as universal human rights are simply an outgrowth of European culture, inapplicable to those who do not share this particular tradition.

I believe that Huntington is wrong on both counts. Sir V. S. Naipaul, recently awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, once wrote an article entitled “Our Universal Civilization.” How appropriate. Naipaul is, after all, an author of Indian descent who grew up in Trinidad. He argued not only that Western values are applicable across cultures, but that he owes his literary achievements to precisely that universality afforded by crossing Huntington’s putative civilizational boundaries.

Universality is possible in broader terms as well, because the primary force in human history and world politics is not cultural plurality, but the general progress of modernization, whose institutional expressions are liberal democracy and market-oriented economics. The current conflict is not part of a clash of civilizations in the sense that we are dealing with cultural zones of equal standing; rather, it is symptomatic of a rearguard action by those who are threatened by modernization, and thus by its moral component, respect for human rights.

Virtually any right that is or has been asserted historically relies on one of three authorities: God, man, or nature. The original source of rights, God or religion, has been rejected in the West since the beginning of the Enlightenment. John Locke’s “Second Discourse on Government” begins with a long polemic against Robert Filmer’s argument for the divine right of kings. In other words, the secularism of the Western conception of rights lies at the root of the liberal tradition.

Today, this seems to be the major dividing line between Islam and the West, because many Muslims reject the secular state. But before we endorse the idea of an irreducible clash of civilizations, we should consider why modern secular liberalism arose in the West in the first place. It is no accident that liberal ideas emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries, when bloody sectarian struggles between Christian sects throughout Europe exposed the impossibility of a religious consensus on which to base political rule. Hobbes, Locke, and Montesquieu reacted to such horrors as the Thirty-Year War by arguing that religion and politics must be separated in the interest, first and foremost, of ensuring civil peace.

Islam now confronts a similar dilemma. Efforts to unite politics and religion are dividing Muslims just as they divided Christians in Europe. Our politicians are right (and not merely expedient) to insist that the current conflict is not with Islam — an extremely heterogeneous faith that recognizes no authoritative source of doctrinal interpretation. Intolerance and fundamentalism form one choice for Muslims, but Islam has always had to contend with the question of secularism and the need for religious tolerance, as is evident from the ongoing reformist ferment in theocratic Iran.

The second source of rights — the essentially positivist view that whatever a society declares by some constitutional means to be a right becomes one — likewise provides no guarantee for liberalizing tendencies, for it leads to cultural relativism. If, as Huntington implies, the rights that we claim in the West emerged uniquely from the political crisis of European Christianity after the Protestant Reformation, what is to stop other societies from appealing to their own local traditions to deny these rights? The Chinese government is very adept at wielding this question.

The final source of rights is nature. In fact, the language of natural rights — advanced most emphatically in 18th century America — continues to shape our moral discourse. When we say, for example, that race, ethnicity, wealth, and gender are all non-essential characteristics, this obviously implies that we believe that there is a substrate of “humanness” which entitles us to equal protection against certain types of behavior by other groups or states. This belief is the ultimate reason to reject cultural arguments that would subordinate some — women, for example — within a society. Moreover, the spread of democratic institutions in non-European contexts during the last decades of the 20th century suggests that we in the West are not alone in this belief.

But if human rights are indeed universal, should we demand their implementation everywhere and at all times? Aristotle argues in his Nicomachean Ethics that natural rules of justice exist, but that their application demands flexibility and prudence. That insight remains valid today. We must distinguish between a theoretical belief in the universality of human rights and the actual practice of supporting human rights around the world, for our shared “humanness” is shaped in varying social environments, such that our perception of rights differs.

In many traditional societies, where life choices and opportunities are limited, the Western, individualistic view of rights is very jarring. This is because the Western conception cannot be abstracted from the larger process of modernization. To argue otherwise is to put the cart before the horse. For our commitment to the universality of human rights forms but one part of the complex context of a universal civilization, from which an understanding of the other elements of modern societies — economic justice and political democracy — cannot be excluded.

Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History and the Last Man,” is professor of politics international political economy at Johns Hopkins University

In the bold face above, he is arguing to allow time for evolution. BTW, his book, The End of History and the Last Man, is an interesting poli sci read, for those who are interested in such stuff.

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salaam,

what is the reference for this article?

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Posted · Report post

I picked it from TFT, but it is a syndicated column, so you'll probably find it in other papers also.

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