Axis of excess
Are we at the edge of a global civil war among civilizations?
March 12, 2002
In 1993, Samuel Huntington predicted a "Clash of Civilizations". In 2001,
a year declared by the United Nations as "The Year of Dialogue of Civilizations",
Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaida terrorist network led a group of suicide bombers
to attack the United States. In the same year, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalated
into dramatic new levels of violence by the election of General Sharon to Israeli
By focusing on a military solution to the conflict, Sharon and the extremists among
the Israelis and Palestinians have been engaged in terrorist attacks against civilians.
They have demonstrated that seeking absolute security leads to absolute and dehumanizing
insecurity for both Israelis and Palestinians.
In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush
declared a war on an alleged "Axis of Evil" defined as Iran, Iraq, and
North Korea. A police action against global terrorists soon began to look like a
permanent war against entire countries and peoples. The three-targeted countries
are demonstrably neither an "axis" nor any more "evil" than some
past or present U. S. allies.
The president of one of the three evils, Mohammad Khatami, extended condolences to
the American on the eve of September 11 and his country materially supported the
U.S. war efforts against the Taliban.
Subsequently, a Pentagon report to the U.S. Congress has revealed that seven countries
are being targeted for the use of nuclear weapons. They include Iran, Iraq, North
Korea, Libya, Syria, China, and Russia. That is, of course, the surest way to motivate
these countries to seek or improve their own weapons of mass destruction.
Following September 11, the United States has had an opportunity to unite the entire
world behind itself in a global struggle against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
By choosing to rattle nuclear weapons against its "enemies", the Bush Administration
has turned itself into an object of disbelief and dismay.
But governments are often part of the problem, not the solution. No wonder that a
recent survey by the Gallop Poll shows that a vast majority of the 1.2 billion Muslims
have a negative view of U. S. government policies.
May I repeat? Are we at the edge of a global civil war among civilizations? Let's
There are many civilized Jews, Christians, and Muslims around the world abhorring
the policies and actions of their extremist governments and groups. A group of some
300 Israeli reservists and retired generals have declared that the current Israeli
government policy is wrong-headed, and that they will not fight in the occupied territories.
A group of Palestinians and Israelis have now formed a peace movement under the name
of SABEEl, an ecumenical liberation theology movement (www.sabeel.org),
seeking a just and peaceful solution to the conflict.
Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has asked for a general peace agreement between
Israel and the Arabs. He is calling for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied
territories and the establishment of an independent Palestine in return for Arab
recognition of Israel and engagement in normal trade and diplomatic relations.
The Arab states are meeting to consider this proposal. U.S. Secretary of State Colin
Powell has welcomed their initiative. Sharon wishes to meet with Abdullah to discuss
Will cooler heads prevail to avert an unfolding tragedy that threatens to drag the
world into a prolonged war of civilizations?
World peace vitally depends on the people, specifically
on the current silent majority. But so long as 80 percent of Americans receive their
news primarily from hyped TV reports portraying a war between cowboys and Indians,
the goodies and the baddies, the silent majority will remain silent.
So long as Israeli and Arab TV also manipulate their audiences in the same fashion,
extremism will reign. The "axis of excess" thrives because of our moral
and political indifference and sometimes-mindless cheer leading.
Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the University
of Hawaii and director of the Toda Institute
for Global Peace and Policy Research.