Tuesday, January 09, 2007

In his classic 1993 essay titled "Clash of Civilizations?", Samuel Huntington postulated that future conflicts would less often be between nation states than between cultures and religions. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the former Soviet Union, many of the ethnic and religious conflicts that had been held in check by strong dictators and dueling superpowers boiled over around the world, seeming to prove Huntington's theory of the nature of future conflicts.

In the current (January-February 2007) issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Dominique Moïsi takes Huntington's idea a step farther in an essay titled "The Clash of Emotions: Fear, Humiliation, Hope, and the New World Order." In this fascinating article, Moïsi postulates that current conflicts are fueled by emotions: fear in the US and Europe, humiliation in the Muslim world, and hope in Asia. He writes that fear - of an uncertain future and a loss of fundamental national identity - divides Europe and the US; humiliation unites the Islamic world around its most radical elements and leads to a culture of hatred; and hope drives the growing powers of Asia (notably China and India).

This is a very timely and thought-provoking article, and well worth your time in reading. Much has been written about the culture of humiliation as a driver of passions in the Islamic world, but this is the first time I've seen a cogent analysis of emotions as drivers of the international environment. Particularly interesting is Mr Moïsi's assessment of how it is not fear per se, but the response to it, which drives divisions between the United States and Europe: while Europe deals with its fears through escapism and appeasement, the US attacks perceived problems at their sources abroad (and often, as in Iraq, makes the root problems worse).

You can read a 500-word summary of this article on the Foreign Affairs website (www.foreignaffairs.org), or purchase a .pdf of it (for $5.95) if you don't want to buy the whole magazine. You can also find an extensive collection of articles by Dominique Moïsi and others at www.project-syndicate.org. Take the time to read and think about them, and then make up your own mind about the correct emotional lens through which to view the world.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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