Nora Ashmawi's Blog

Ignorance of Civilizations

Posted on: November 11, 2009

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” – William Shakespeare.

This poignant quote by Shakespeare illustrates the prominence and presence of racism and disputes between people of varied colors, religions, and cultures. This problem still exists today…

The Clash of Ignorance is an article in The Nation written by Edward W. Said on October 22, 2001. Said is a renowned professional both in the Arab and the Western world. He was a professor of English and Comparative Literature in the University of Columbia who writes for many American and Arabic newspapers worldwide. The great writer passed away on September 2003.

Edward W. Said

Dr. Said

Dr. Huntington

Said began his article by referring to Samuel Huntington’s 1993 article titled The Clash of Civilizations? which attracted much attention and reaction and attacked policy-makers. Huntington asserts that conflicts amongst countries will turn from ideological to cultural. Said reiterated the fact that the clash between Islam and the West earn the greatest, or “lion’s share” of the attention of “civilization identity.” It is said that the West fears and tries very hard to fend off Islam. Much of the West has persisted Islam and increased doing so because of the greater appearance of Muslims in Europe and the US. What these Westerns percieve is that the great Arab/Islamic conquests and power of the seventh century will repeat.

Most of the West and most probably its media has a distorted view of Islam. Said quoted one of Pakistan’s great writers, the late Eqbal Ahmad as claiming in a 1999 article in Dawn weekly, that it is near impossible to study and recognize modern Muslims as an ideal sample of how the are supposed to be and act. Today’s Muslims (as well as Chritians and Jews), Ahmad argues, are concerned mainly with power and mobilizing people for political purposes, as opposed to empowerment through the soul,  and alleviating aspirations for a higher truth and peace. Therefore to attack modern day Islam because of the modern extremeists and atypical examples of Muslims, such as Osama Bin Laden, is a terrible error and would lead to a very muddy view of proper Islam.

There were weaknesses and strengths prevalent in Said’s article. One weakness was his beginning. Said started his fiery article with a quite bland or rather typical opening line. He opened with a sentence about the name and year of Huntington’s article and which magazine it is found it, concluding that it has claimed much attention and reaction. I feel that since Said has many interesting, relevant and insightful points, he shouldn’t have began with “Samuel Huntington’s article “The Clash of Civilzations?” appeared in the Summer 1993…” His article should begin strong so readers would be engaged and continue to read on.

Secondly, Said openly criticized Huntington for being an “ideologist” who “wants to make ‘civilizations’ and ‘identities’ into what they are not…” Although it is good that Said is able to recognize flaws in Huntington’s article, it is perhaps too honest or severe for Said to attack the writer with strong labels.

Another weakness I found in the article was that of biases. To illustrate, I will quote a part of Said’s article: “Huntington tried to give his argument a little more subtlety and many, many more footnotes; all he did, however, was confuse himself and demonstrate what a clumsy writer and inelegant thinker he was.” In my opinion this is an outright insult. It was too blunt for Said to defame Huntington and there are many other subtle ways to hint at readers that Huntington’s article is unreliable. Further, when Said openly portrays his biases, he loses credibility as a writer. Readers may now how suspicions as to whether all points made in the previous part of the article are also tainted with biases…

Having described the weaknesses, there are also many strengths that deserve mentioning. First, the title of Said’s article is a spoof or smart pun of Huntington’s article. Said names his article The Clash of Ignorance which mirrors the ignorance that Huntington and other generalizers have of Islam and the West.

Another strength that Said has in his article is that he uses a variety of sources. For example he uses sources from Pakistani writers, such as Eqbal Ahmad, as well as sources from Western writers such as Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington. This makes his article well-rounded and impartial. On a similar note, Said notices the flaw of Huntington’s sample because it consists of a minor number of some Muslim populations. Said points out that a all-encompassing and reminiscent of the entire population, something he asserts is near-impossible to do. Said says that doing this would confuse the mind induce stereotypes and generalizations.

Said concluded by thrashing Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations claiming that it is “better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time.” In Said’s eyes, the matter of Islam, the West and the clashes they have are too complex to be understood at such a surface level. One must be careful not to generalize Islam and the West, this is one thing Said never forgot.


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  • norashmawi: Hey Yasmin! I am on both! On Twitter I'm @norashm and on LinkendIn.. I'm just there too! Hope you're doing well!!
  • Yasmin Helal: Where are you old friend? Can't find you on Twitter or LinkedIn!!
  • nazgolhrh: Good job on your blog... great word choice and creative as always.


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