How Rethinking Globalization Can Avert the Clash of Civilisations: Case Study of Muslim Brotherhood

How Rethinking Globalization Can Avert the Clash of Civilisations: Case Study of Muslim Brotherhood

Globalization has affected every aspect of international relations, including economic, social and political realms. From the development of new technologies, new ideas and free trade and new ideas, to the spread of democracies and forms of governments, globalization has profoundly transformed the human condition in all of its aspects. On the one hand, Muslim Brotherhood views globalization as a threat to cultural identity and national economy in developing countries and as a new form of American imperialism that is seeking to impose its hegemony and control the world’s economy. On the other hand, the West, driven by realist views and preoccupied by its security dilemma, is equally skeptical of political Islam in which it accuses them of seeking to destroy western values and wage global jihad to conquer Western states and reestablish Islamic Caliphate.

Muslim Brotherhood’s views on globalization are similar to those expressed in the dependency theory, which remains a pervasive force in Third World notions of the international political economy even as Marxist experiments in Russia and Eastern Europe has collapsed. Rethinking globalization through the alternative lenses of international relations can help find a common ground between political Islam and the Western civilization by allowing localization to co-exist with globalization, hence preserve cultural identity and social norms. The concept of Islamic Caliphate can also be redefined in economic and political terms in a way that promote cooperation and mutual dependence. Resolving these two highly contentious issues can avert an imminent clash between Western and Islamic civilizations.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the notion of an Islamic threat to world peace and security has become even more highlighted. Globalization and post-modernization has led to the rise of political Islam in the Muslim world. Therefore, political Islam deserves scholarly attention and not just a threat to regional stability, it deserves to be treated as a probable contender for future political rule over states with which the West must continue relations with. Among movements of political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood (known in Arabic as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) is considered the world’s oldest, largest, and most influential Islamist organization.

Since its establishment in Egypt in 1928 by a school teacher named Hassan el-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has sought to fuse religious revival with anti-imperialism—resistance to foreign domination through the exaltation of Islam. From mid-to late 1940s, the MB began to expand beyond Egypt, and today it is impressively a worldwide movement having many branches in both Muslim countries and none Muslim countries alike.

The MB’s participation in electoral politics has enjoyed some success, particularly in the Indonesian, Egyptian and Palestinian elections—the last through Hamas, which is the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood. The Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), which evolved out of the MB movement, is represented in the current Iraqi government by Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi who is the General Secretary of the IIP. As a result, the Brotherhood has apparently demonstrated considerable popularity. In fact, it is likely to become the leading voice within the Muslim world generally by virtue of its widespread character.

Samuel Huntington in 1993 argued that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. He added that civilization identity will be increasingly important in the future, and that the most critical attributes responsible for this gross division is indeed the undeniable cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from one another.

Huntington defined civilization as the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that, which distinguishes humans from other species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people. He divided world civilizations into two camps—Western civilization, which has two major variants, European and North American, and Islamic, which has its Arab, Turkic and Malay subdivisions.

Mohamed Mahdi Akef, General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, underscored the deepening animosity between the Western and Islamic Civilizations described in Huntington’s theory. In his message titled “Humankind between the slavery of globalization and the glory of Islam”, Mr. Akef sarcastically criticized globalization for transforming the world into a small village whose “mayor” is the master of the White House, and which mainly serve the interests of the American politicians. He then accused globalization of racism by favoring Judeo-Christian faith and depriving humanity of the noble values of the divine laws. He drew an example of how the globalized world is biased against any successful Islamic economic or developmental projects, and targeting of Islamic culture by rejecting of the Turkish and Malaysian models based on allegations of their enmity towards secularization. Akef sees the hope in the glory of Islam and in the Muslims” ability to confront the slavery of globalization and their steadfast in resisting occupation and tyranny.

In the interviews I conducted with six prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, they all rejected globalization if it conflicted with Islamic teachings, rules, and regulations. The six were all professionals (doctors and lawyers), who had decent knowledge of world affairs. They echoed the views of Mr. Akef—equating globalization with Americanization, which they considered a threat to their Islamic identity, beliefs, values, language, and social norms.

Abdel el-Mone’m Abu el-Fotoh leading figure of the MB and member of its Guidance Bureau, the highest decision-making body within the MB and the General Secretary of the Arab Physicians’ Union, described globalization as a form of” modern imperialism “, which uses culture, politics and even military power to impose its hegemony, as in the case of the U.S. In other words, globalization according to Abu el-Fotoh became an “American fascism” depriving the Third World countries from technological advances and controlling its resources for the benefits of the First World countries.

Hamdy Hassan, physician, a parliamentarian, and spokesperson of MB parliamentary bloc, and Osama Naser Uldeen, member of the MB Guidance Bureau, emphasized the same meaning blaming globalization for the condition of inequality in world economy in which the industrialized countries are gaining more power and enjoy more prosperity by exploiting the developing countries which suffer more backwardness and authoritarianism.

Essam el-Erian, physician and chief of MB political bureau, and Sobhi Saleh, member of parliament and prominent attorney, reiterated the same meaning by dismissing the” American concept” of globalization, which forces its culture and values on other nations even through military power. Saleh went further by calling globalization “the U.S. bullying the world to stain it with American culture and norms”.

Gamal Heshmat, prominent MB writer, physician, and former Member of Parliament, asserted that globalization is bad for the Muslim world because it disintegrates its identity. He rejected the notion that civilizations can be “dissolved in one pot” stating “any nation that has respect and appreciation to its culture and values would not submit to the concepts of universal civilization

Furthermore, the MB argues that the failure of both socialism and capitalism to address Egypt”s (and the entire Muslim nation”s) grievances indicates that only a return to Islam at both the individual and collective levels will bring God back to the side of the Muslims.

However, all the Brothers I interviewed agreed that there are positive aspects of globalization which Muslims should benefit from, including the technological advances in communication, science, and informatic, and the ability to exchange ideas of democracy and liberty. The contemporary Brotherhood’s views on globalization among Islamic nations seem to contrast with their views when it involves Western and Islamic civilizations. Abu el-Fotoh and Heshmat favored globalizing the Muslim countries, creating a unified “Ummah” or the Muslim nation, which to them makes sense because these countries share the same culture, religion, and values.

Abo el-Fotoh elaborated further on the idea of the Islamic Caliphate which, according to him, now in light of globalization, can be based on economic and political principles, not religious ones. He compared the Islamic Caliphate to the European Union which is composed of sovereign and powerful states united around economic, security and political agenda.

This fairly progressive view by some in the second MB generation represents a considerable pragmatic deviation from the earlier theocratic concept of the Caliphate by founder Hassan el Banna, who stated that the reestablishment of the Islamic Caliphate is an Islamic duty for all Muslims, in which the Khalifa (the one ruler for all Muslim countries) is entrusted to impose God’s laws. Therefore, el-Banna declared that the MB position their reestablishment of Islamic Caliphate to the top of their agenda.

Some of the criticism of globalization and world relations between developed and developing nations is also expressed by theorists like Theotonio Dos Santos in 1968, in his analysis of the dependency theory, and James Rosenau in 1997, in his alternative views of globalization

Thomas Lynch III described dependency theory, born in the Third World, as variant of Marxism that must be evaluated independently from the Marxist-Leninist communism. Dependency theory was developed over the period from 1950 to the early 1970s, which coincided with the 1952 Free Officers’ Revolution in Egypt and the beginning of Nasserite era, attributed to President Gamal Abdul Nasser who ruled Egypt from 1956-1970. Nasser sought out rapprochement with the Soviet Union; hence Egypt was controlled by Soviet ideas. Although the older generation of the MB underwent fierce repression and persecution during the Nasser’s era, they would still embrace his ideology of anti-imperialism and socialism during that time of Egypt’s history, which have influenced their views till today.

However, since the 1980s, middle-class professionals within the MB have pushed it in a more transparent and flexible direction. Working within labor unions and professional organizations, these reformers have learned to forge coalitions with and provide services to their constituents.

Unlike Marxism which addresses “classes of people”, dependency theory focuses on the relations between “classes of states”. Dos Santos in 1968 defined dependence “as a situation in which the economy of certain countries is conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy to which the former is subjected. The relation of interdependence between two or more economies, and between these and world trade, assumes the form of dependence when some countries (the dominant ones) can expand and can be self-sustained, while other countries (the dependent ones) can do this only as a reflection of that expansion, which can either be a positive or a negative effect on their immediate development

Dos Santos added that to understand what is happening in the underdeveloped countries, we need to put it within the framework of a process of dependent production and reproduction. According to Dos Santos, this system reproduces backwardness, misery, and social marginalization within its borders—it reproduces a productive system whose development is limited by those world relations which necessarily lead to the development of only certain economic sectors, to trade under unequal conditions, to domestic competition with international capital under unequal conditions, to the imposition of relations of super exploitation of the domestic labor force with a view to dividing the economic surplus thus generated between internal and external forces of domination.

Rethinking globalization through alternative lenses of international relations can offer us the opportunity to find one common ground between the Western and Islamic civilizations, represented in the research by political Islam, which we can build on.

James Rosenau (2004) contended that commonly used definitions of `globalization in the literature are elusive and”misleading”, because they are often used by different observers to describe different phenomena, with little overlap among the various usages. Alternatively, Rosenau viewed globalization from a different perspective by describing globalization as the opposite of localization. He attempted to further explain globalization by drawing a comparison between the two, and by arguing that while localization is boundary-heightening, globalization on the other hand is boundary-broadening.

Rosenau in his alternative views of globalization did not underestimate its powerful or negative influence in undermining other people’s culture, values and way of life, which led many across the globe, including the MB, to consider the incursions of globalization a threat to their identity and cultural mores. Rosenau then built on the common ground he established with the critics of globalization to provide a solution based on his alternative view. Rosenau believed that there is no inherent contradiction between localizing and globalizing tendencies, and that both can coexist to a degree which will depend on ethnic and noneconomic factors actively contributing to localization. In other words, localization and globalization need not to be mutually exclusive, and it is possible to reconcile globalization and localization by accepting the boundary-broadening processes and make the best of them by integrating them into local customs and practices

Rosenau offered another solution if the process of integration fails to reconcile both globalization and localization in a given culture or within a state. Rosenau shared Michael Zurn optimistic hypothesis of “uneven fragmegration” which allows for continuing pockets of antagonism between globalization and localizing tendencies hopping that eventually these pockets of fragmentations will be overcome by the opportunities and requirements of interdependence and will conform to globalization. Rosenau based his optimism on the assumption that the failure of the states to solve “pressing problems” will lead to a decline in their capabilities and a loss of legitimacy, which will undermine the people’s loyalty to their states in favor of multiple loyalties to national or transnational organizations that are able fulfill their needs.

Gross in 2004 weighted in on this argument by stating that the social reactions to globalization should be understood at its local level, and when people are denied the choice as how to deal with globalizing forces, protests often erupt. Gross added that “It is important to understand that the protests are not against globalization so much as the tyranny of governments which prevent choices from being made. Conversely, people who freely choose the extent to which they will accept global ideas are less likely to see globalization as a threat”. Gross cited an example of Malaysians, when given free choice; appear to have taken advantage of the economic opportunities without the anticipated concomitant social or political upheavals.

The concept of successful mixing globalization with localization was described by several social scientists as “glocalization”. Gross cited in his article Patrice C. Brodeur’sFrom Postmodernism to Glocalism” in which she advocated the replacement of the term globalization with “glocalism”. The term takes into consideration the complexity of interactions between global and local forces which constantly change our definitions of ourselves and others. In particular, the term can help academics to better understand the world from the perspective of non–Westerners.

Ritzer in 2003 defined glocalization as the interpenetration of the global and the local, resulting in unique outcomes in different geographic areas. This view emphasizes global heterogeneity and tends to reject the idea that forces emanating from the West in general and the United States in particular are leading to economic, political, institutional, and-most importantly-cultural homogeneity. Ritzer added that the above definition of glocalization makes what is local is seen as increasingly insignificant and a marginal player in the dynamics of globalization. Yet, according to Ritzer, glocalization does represent some measure of hope. For one thing, it is the last outpost of most lingering forms of the local.

Robert Keohane (2004) added another dimension to the relations between countries with different interests and set of values by focusing on the possibility to achieve cooperation in the world political economy. Keohane acknowledged that international coordination of policy seems highly beneficial in an interdependent economy, but cooperation in world politics is particularly difficult. He based his theory of cooperation on the premise that nonhegemonic cooperation is possible and it can be facilitated by international regimes. When shared interests are sufficiently important and other key conditions are met, cooperation can emerge and regimes can be created without hegemony. Therefore, the key to Keohane’s cooperation is presence of shared interests among states, and the mutual recognition of their importance.

Keohane argued that cooperation requires the actions of separate individuals or organizations—which are not in pre-existent harmony—be brought into conformity with one another through a process of negotiation, which is often referred to as “policy coordination”. Therefore, cooperation occurs when actors (governmental and nongovernmental) attempts to adjust their behavior to the actual or anticipated preferences of others, through a process of policy coordination, and these attempts succeed in making policies more compatible. He further clarified that “intergovernmental cooperation takes place when the policies actually followed by one government are regarded by its partners as facilitating realization of their own objective, as the result of process of policy coordination” . In other words, and building on Keohane’s theory, both Western and Islamic civilizations should develop a partial, self-interested perspective on their mutual interactions, and engage in negotiation and bargaining designed to induce the other to adjust their policies to one’s own. Each government pursues what it perceives as its self-interest, but looks for bargains that can benefit all parties.

According to Keohane, “cooperation therefore does not imply the absence of conflict. On the contrary, it is typically mixed with conflict and reflects partially successful efforts to overcome conflict, real or potential”.

Samuel Huntington underscored the importance of cooperation among civilizations as a long term strategy to avert the clash of Western and non-Western civilizations. He pointed out that the West will increasingly have to accommodate these non-Western modern civilizations whose power approaches that of the West but whose values and interests differ significantly from those of the West. Huntington added that this will require the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests. It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilizations. For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with one another.

I conclude that both globalization and localization to co-exist with each other. It is essential that we encourage more cooperation and accommodation and “an appreciation of the reality that allows for multiple loyalties and memberships will likely widen the benefits of global economy”. Glocalization can be seen as an alternative to the evil of globalization. Prosperous countries like those in the Persian Gulf in addition to several other Asian countries were able to play a central role in global world economy while to a large extent preserving their cultural identities and were able to integrate their norms and traditions into the globalized world.

Theories of international cooperation and alternative views on globalization can provide a framework within which the Western and Islamic civilizations thus redefining their relationship, which must be based on the mutual recognition of each other’s interest as well as respecting one another’s cultural, religious and social norms. Muslim Brotherhood’s rejection of globalization can be transformed into a desire and willingness to coexist with Western civilization knowing it no longer represents a threat to the Islamic culture and identity. Moreover, the Islamic Caliphate should be viewed, not as threat to Western civilization, but rather an economic and political formula that enables the Muslim world to meet the challenges of globalized world without sacrificing its culture, religious values and social norms.

It is both theoretically and practically important that we engage in an unbiased discourse on the thinking of the more moderate groups of political Islam, in an attempt first and foremost to deal with our own fears of the unknown and unfamiliar, and to determine the possibility of a peaceful coexistence alongside the Islamist movement, and I hope this paper contribute to this necessary discourse.