LANGUAGE IS POWERFUL. IT IS OFTEN THE CASE THAT THE WORDS one uses to describe or frame an event are more important than the event itself. The examples of this reality abound in our present day. Maybe word choice has never been so provocative as it was when Professor Samuel Huntington penned his seminal essay “The Clash of Civilizations” in 1993. It has spawned countless critiques, both in favor and against, and continues to feature prominently in most discussions of contemporary global politics, especially as they relate to the Muslim world. The essay was intended to present a perspective on international relations that considers the role of culture and religion as a source of cooperation or conflict. For better or worse, the essay became much more than a perspective. In an exclusive interview, we had a chance to ask Professor Huntington about his famous thesis, how it relates to present day politics and whether or not he feels his ideas have been “hijacked” for purposes he did not intend. In this sense, Muslims may feel a sort of kinship with Huntington – how it feels to be misunderstood. Instead of adding to the endless critique of “The Clash,” it is our hope that a conversation with Professor Huntington will serve to clarify his intentions behind the thesis, and at the same time expose the ideologues who use it for personal or political agendas.
Words, however, do have intended and unintended consequences, and this is what makes language so critical in human interaction. Our ability to ignite or to defuse tension depends very much on using language in a responsible manner. The recent crisis in the Middle East, that engulfed Hezbollah, Hamas and Israel, was yet another example where the fusion of rhetoric with ideology led to the killing of many innocent lives. The United States and Israel constantly remind the international community about the threat of Islamic/Muslim “terrorism”, “extremism”, “fundamentalism”, and have used such terms to create a culture of fear that has allowed it to suppress fundamental rights and bypass enshrined codes of conduct agreed between nations. The problems in the Middle East will not be solved with such terminology. Writer Rana Rabbani, and humanitarian activist Manal Omar, give us a glimpse of the utter misery that war has caused to the lives of innocent Lebanese, who now have to look forward to more and more years of frustration as they rebuild their country, economy, and their lives. As our political leaders fretted over the correct wording of the ceasefire, bombs continued to rain down on the population. Perhaps the boy that you see on the cover of this issue may well ask one day if words such as justice and freedom carry any meaning at all if they can be so easily circumvented by those that hold power. Decades of abuse eventually take their toll.
This issue also explores the ideas of another international figure, Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia who remains a possible candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as secretary general of the United Nations. In his essay on freedom and accountability, Ibrahim sets forth a paradigm for governance in the Muslim world that seeks to overturn decades of political stagnation.
We also turn to issues of civil liberties in America, with a probing piece on the culture of demonization by Arsalan Iftikhar, and a timely interview with David Cole, a leading civil rights lawyer and thinker. Mohja Kahf takes the publishing industry to task for its myopic view of Muslim women in an essay on being a female Muslim writer in the west, and Dr. Joel Ibrahim Kreps who tackles the all-complex, yet pervasive, problem of anxiety in modern societies.