14 June, 2024


A History Of Civilisational Conflict

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

“Who rules the world today? Bush? Or us?” Professor Nalin de Silva

Just when you thought tensions between the US and China couldn’t get any worse, Donald Trump did the unthinkable. It’s a mistake, however, to view or rationalise the ban on Huawei, the world’s second most popular smartphone brand and probably the most widely resorted to 5G technology provider, solely in terms of an escalating trade war between two superpowers. In actual fact it’s much more, which is why to consider it as an economic clash would be meaningless; while it’s too early to call it a CIVILISATIONAL clash, it has the makings of one: the West, a liberal rules-based order, clamping down on the East, an enclosed ruler-based order.

When Samuel Huntington published his essay “The Clash of Civilisations” in the US journal Foreign Affairs in the summer of 1993, he created a sensation. Over three years, it stirred more discussion than any other essay published in that journal since George Kennan’s “X Article” that, in July 1947, called for containment with the Soviet Union. Huntington’s essay was written after containment, succeeded by detente and rollback, had led to the collapse of the Union; it was a rebuke to Francis Fukuyama’s thesis that the end of Communism would be followed by the triumph of liberal democracy – the triumph, in other words, of the West over the East.

In stark contrast to Fukuyama’s persistent optimism, Huntington’s view of the post-Communist world order was, to say the least, cynical. The conflict between the communist and capitalist world (outside of which were countries that “claimed to be nonaligned” – an accusation made by the likes of John Foster Dulles that SWRD Bandaranaike would counter) would be followed by conflicts between civilisations. It would not be between developed and developing societies – it would not be a CLASS war –because the latter were not powerful enough to take on the former.

In that respect the West was more unified than the East, while the East, particularly the less developed regions, were fragmented so much that the very point which could underscore their unity – separation from the West – fermented division.

There was a rift between ideology and culture: countries united by ideology could very well be (as they very often were) divided by culture, be it Mexicans protesting against Proposal 187 (which sought to bar illegal immigrants from using public services in the US) waving MEXICAN, and not US, flags, or the systematic genocide of Bosniaks inspiring solidarity from Muslims countries in displays of crescent symbols, or Eelam flags being waved by Tamil Nadu citizens to express solidarity with Sri Lankan Tamils. Cultural commonalities had brought the West together as one whole; the East had no such commonalities to brandish. The dualism was thus no longer “the West and the East.” It was “the West and the rest.”

Huntington made pronouncements on various cultures and civilisations and group philosophies. (In his essay he listed seven or eight of these groups.) He wrote about Sri Lanka and how the rise of ethno-nationalist-populist democracy had dislodged the elite from power in 1956. He wrote about and predicted China’s rise as a superpower, a phenomenon which had been ongoing even at the time of the Sino-Soviet split and Nixon’s visit. And of those pronouncements, the one which seemed to stand out the most was his take on the rise of Islamism.

The modern era began in the 15th century after the Portuguese Reconquista; until then “contacts between civilisations” had been “intermittent or nonexistent”. Thereafter global politics “assumed two dimensions.” On the one hand, there was the world of the coloniser: from Britain to the United States, spanning both sides of the Atlantic; on the other, the world of the colonised: everyone else. There were clashes between Western societies, to be sure, between religious sects on the one hand and between republican and monarchical forces on the other.

But in the end, despite such differences, the West congealed into an international order. This was symbolised by the Treaty of Westphalia in the 17th century and the attempts of Austrian Chancellor Metternich to forge a “Concert of Europe” after Napoleon’s defeat in the 19th. It was to be a strong cosmopolitan order, hardly liberal (the 19th century didn’t breed democrats, it bred Enlightened Despots) but certainly multicultural, at least in its elite figureheads and their families: Metternich’s son spoke French and German as well as Latin and Greek, and once bested Louis Napoléon at a French dictation test organised by a renowned scholar.

That the multicultural fabric didn’t quite hold, that the myth of a united continent fell 30 years after the Concert of Europe was inaugurated, did not demolish what George Steiner referred to as “the idea of Europe.” The myth survived, and it incorporated the US soon afterwards; it was this myth that led someone to call World War I a “war to end all wars” and Roosevelt to call World War II a war that would “end the system of unilateral action.”

But in neither case did the idealists win: World War I led to the Versailles Treaty, which alienated Germany and planted in it the seeds of fascism, while World War II led to the United Nations and the European Union, the former of which the Trump administration thumbs its nose at, and the latter of which Britain is getting away from. However, the idea of Western civilisation still held on.

In the eighties, with the impending fall of the Berlin Wall and Communist Bloc, the two ideologues of the Jathika Chinthanaya, Gunadasa Amarasekara and Nalin de Silva (predicting, and preceding, Huntington), bisected the world into two civilisational halves: Judeo-Christian and non-Judeo-Christian.

Terming “Western civilisation” as “Judeo-Christian” is something that right-wing political commentators in the West engage in almost all the time (as witness Donald Trump’s exhortations to protect Judeo-Christian values). As Kevin Schultz points out in an article in the New Republic, however, the word is something of an anachronism, a catchphrase the Right appropriated to justify their hostility to its opposite – whatever that is non-Judaic and non-Christian, particularly Islam. In other words it was defined NEGATIVELY, in opposition to the Other.

For Amarasekara and de Silva, it is the Judaic-Christianity chinthanaya that drove much of the West towards a post-Westphalian civilisational consensus in the 19th century. Presumably, parts of the West that did not conform to this consensus, because of the limitations of its rulers or because of revolutionary movements that prevented them from participation in a capitalist order, were incorporated to the dominant chinthanaya following the collapse of Communism. This fits in neatly if with Huntington’s central premise: that the fall of the Iron Curtain brought to the fore the civilisational clashes which the Cold War had concealed. 

Except that where Huntington talked about a conflict between Islam and the West, de Silva and Amarasekara rationalised that conflict between not two, but three cultures: Judeo-Christian, Islamic, and (Theravada) Buddhist.

Huntington does not talk about the latter, and in fact doesn’t even list it among the cultures he sees the world as being divided into (he doesn’t as much as conflate it with Hinduism). One can say that de Silva and Amarasekara were overestimating the role played by Buddhist societies in the international order, but at the same time it is clear they were being prescient, if not far ahead of Huntington: as the rise of populist yet unethical evangelism, mass scale conversions, and onslaughts on temples and shrines have shown, Buddhism has become as much of a threat to the Judeo-Christian order as Islam, if only slightly less so (as evidenced by the rise in popularity of Buddhism in Western society). Despite this, it’s clear that rifts between Buddhism and Christianity have been superseded, at present, by those between Islam and Christianity.

In next week’s column the breaking up of Islam into various sects, ranging from the secular to the mystical to the downright fanatical, in response to Western imperialism will be detailed, but what needs to be noted is that rifts between these two, combined with the shift to ideological fanaticism in the Muslim world, did not arise from itself. It was not a suis generis or opa pathika phenomenon.

ISIS is only the latest manifestation of a long line of hostilities. How it came about and whether it will end are questions not even prophets are, I suspect, qualified to answer. The tragedy will keep on unfolding. From our side, we can only watch.

To be continued…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 8

    “Who rules the world today? Bush? Or us?” — Professor Nalin de Silva
    Who are this “us”?
    I think that the author is totally out of depth in his making an achchaaru of what are really racist theories without looking at the social basis of racism.

    • 10

      I expected the worst when I saw a picture of that racist idiot Nalin De Silva at the top. Undue importance is also given to Amarasekera, the screwed up theoretician of racist chauvinism.
      May the gods help SL if young and apparently educated people like Uditha are prepared to give credence to this pair of eccentric fossils.
      On the whole though, not too bad.

      • 1

        Dear Old codger,
        with the very same thought, I myself clicked the article written by one another obsequeous boy of Dayan AKA Rajapakshe Jayathilaka.

        May well be, these boys would not get it, that easily, since entire outfit is reached to all appalling levels. –

        There are so called young ARTISTS of Iraj or OTHERS; that have been giving the due publicity today to any kind of RACISTs. See, how this has been these days than any times in the past with the release of most aggressive monks with a set of high crimes on his records.
        Even if the jail session was focused on the insult made to the judiciary, there are several other high crimes on his list, still to be investigated.
        Balla is balla even if he may have tail waging common nature which one would compare it with that of other good monks.
        I think the release is to abuse the situation directly by Rajapakshe-SIRISENA group, against UNP.
        iF any investigations occured during the recent was connected with UNPrs than SIRISENA led UPFA. However, for some time now, SIRISENA himself has been abusing the power as no other leader elected to his position with the direct backing of former goons for his extension related issues.
        Today, people would even want to see the face of SIRISENA appearing anywhere, … he is the most abusive of all times sofar. No need to even talk about his presidential actions sofar taken for the sake of JUSTICE and any positvity.

    • 0

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

      • 2

        “the most widely resorted to 5G technology provider, solely in terms of an escalating trade war between two superpowers.”

        That is not very accurate …….. there is a genuine fear that spying-software will be embedded in the hardware they supply ….it’s not only the Americans who have sidelined Huawei most other countries as well.

        I think the West is right on that score ……….. the Chinese government/leaders – just like Lankan government/leaders – are the worst abusers of their/our own citizens …….. than any perceived or real “outsiders” ………. Why bother about outsiders when we ourselves are the best at it?

        I’m gobsmack by the grand scope of Uditha’s attempt; right or wrong, bloody marvellous for a Lankan young man of 50 pretending to be 24 and hides behind a beared in plain sight. :))

        I’m not into the ol’ “Humanities” ……….. but one shortcoming I can observe is, we are looking at the world through the rear view mirror ……… we think of “Capitalism” as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Jim Softy et al envisaged it decades if not centuries ago …….. modern “Capitalism” has characteristics that were not present at the time of their “old thinking.”

        “Capitalism” has evolved into “Corporatism” which hold people in bondage with a new form of slavery. ………. Now, the governments “elected” by the people will first save the corporations before they save the people – just not during the GFC but it’s a long-running subterranean shindig far from the day to day conscious of the people.

        Decades long stagnant-wages, low/zero/negative interest-rates, low inflation, casual-work without health-insurance or retirement-benefits are part and parcel of this “happening” ……… A good long-term example is Japan where they have kept interest-rates near zero from 1989 to prevent their banks from going under. Save the few bankers at the expense of millions of savers.

        • 2


          To hell with all these economic mumbo jumbo ………. I’m just fascinated by mundane human behaviour …….. how people who can recite Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama like the scriptures …… fail or pretend not to see things two inches from their noses …… how a serial-killer Gota is wined and dined by the Pope, Cardinal, Bosses of Malwatte and the rest of the chapters …….. and why they wouldn’t afford the same privilege to Marakndura Madusha. How and why is the distinction made in the human mind? Uditha my man, do you want to take up the issue ……. or you want to skirt around the issue as if you didn’t see, uh? And you, like ol’ Don Quote, sits on your high horse and hold forth how the rest of the world behaves ……. a little introspection would do a world of good my dear boy!

          And who can predict human behaviour? ………. It looks like I’m the only one prepared …….. in spite of all the conflicts and spats, if tomorrow Old Codger runs off with Ramona or Native Vedda with Champa ……… I’ll be the only one who wouldn’t be surprised ………. seen them come, seen them go ……… and the mind is open to see things “as is” ……….

          • 1

            nimal fernando

            Are you saying Old Codger is that desperate to run off with Ramona Grandma teresa and me with Champa?

            You must be going (or gone) ga ga.

            • 0

              Geeze man Native, relax and enjoy life a little more.

              Being a Lankan is depressing as it is ……… only way we can break out of it is to laugh at our own predicaments.

          • 0

            I used to think you were Ramona’s long-suffering spouse, being a Fernando.

            • 0


              I hope your assumptions about the Lankan political situation is not as far off as that one. :))
              ……. Sorry to disappoint you, I’m not the lucky guy.

          • 2

            Uditha is not 50. He is an alumnus of Lyceum , a school which was set up not that long ago. What I am surprised at is how a place like that, which is better known for its output of very conformist
            English educated accountants /doctors
            /lawyers produced a Nalin De Silva fan. Maybe , like those Madrasas, there are things we don’t know about Lyceum?

            • 0


              “Uditha is not 50.”

              I was just teasing the little bugger.

              I don’t know any of the international schools in Lanka but I know some of the students who come out of them have very high level of language skills, especially English. Their English is more “contemporary” than that puny little school by the sea which churn out dark short Lankan men with good English and bad accents. Did Native go there? No more tirades Native; we are all entitled to at least one mistake.

              I learned English form Comic Books. ………….There’s hope for everyone.

              • 0

                Dear “nimal”,
                I knew that you were teasing Uditha. He’s in his mid-twenties.
                Uditha, if I say a little more about you, I hope you won’t mind. I’m trying to be constructive.
                You see, “nimal”, I was myself quite fascinated by young Uditha. His usual practice is to give his e-mail address at the end of every article – this one is a tbc. It all ended in my ending up at his own in a place in Piliyandala which I wouldn’t be able to find again on my own, although he’s a nice guy and we could re-establish contact. He was a most gracious host, and we listened to wonderful music while lunching in his private room, and talking about the books that fascinate him. The music, he said, is what soothes and fascinates him – the Brahms violin concerto (am I right in saying that widow Clara Schuman’s toyboy wrote only that one work in that genre?) We human beings are indeed strange fellows.
                I think that Uditha is immensely talented, but a bundle of contradictions. He listens over and over to that particular Brahms opus, and then expects us to start appreciating Jothipala and Nanda Malini, whom we have never been listening to. He had already checked me out with Malinda Seneviratne, and yes, he’s doing his best for Lyceum International.
                I wish Uditha well, and I want to be fair by a guy who’s always been nice to me, but it’s all very strange to me. Much more could be said, if Uditha himself doesn’t mind, and if nimal wants to know.
                Now I have to run off to the Police Station for reasons given in about a dozen comments here:

  • 1

    UDitha: TRUMP needs contraversy right now. Right now he is fighting against the whole world. So others give him space. with respect to 5G technology, USA is not ready with that. TRUMP thought of even taking those companeis to the govt and provide funds. But, USA is not a socialist country. Generally, Indians are the Tech scientists there. Shaymon Jayasinghe ha shsown his biases by not reading the Article. I know sri lanka has a problem, sinhala buddhsits, Sinhala and buddhism are banned, by default, Those very democratic police states have every nation from the world. but, they rally around the Queen, Flag or the Dollat etc., But, Sri lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand are being bullied.All those Trump’s melodrama will be solved just after the elections.

  • 1

    Uditha Devapriya has scored a hit in {“A History Of Civilisational Conflict”}
    ‘Civilisational Conflict’ is an addition to Oxymoron list.
    The first line: “Who rules the world today? Bush? Or us?” — Professor Nalin de Silva
    Uditha, ask Nalin.
    But do not choose a time when Nalin having tea with god ‘Natha’.

  • 2

    Another expert with his opinion giving his views. Ordinary people don’t give a rats behind for these intellectual’s and experts. As of now you look around the world massive number of humane exudes is moving towards in one direction to the West.
    Pundits,intellectuals ideates, Leftist pseudo liberals suffering from post election Trump derange psychosis drench in rotten eggs on there faces waking up every day getting more depressed and more angry and seething with hate knowing 99% of there educated predictions has come to a big fat zero.
    I for one enjoy the way so called intellectual ideates, Pundits & hypocritical liberals squirm every day and hoping for Armageddon so they will be proved right while the ordinary folks are going on with there daily lives with hard ships and all.
    I haven’t had this much fun in long while watching the lefties .

  • 0

    These theories are all bull shit

    If we want to develop as a nation

    Be united and work hard for the nation

    Dont bow down to monetay gain and take bribes

    Be patriotic and do yor duty to the nation

    Without talking bull shit

  • 0

    There was political contradiction which exist so far Island since 15/1/8 and which has been a sources of UNP regime completed instability and inconsistency power of undemocratic govt. led by MS, RW and CBK.
    Since 15/1/8 we had bit of bad news, that regime change initiated by USA+UK +Indian hegemonies has been change either domestic and external forces. Result of sets off New crisis has called sudden stop of development by neoliberalist regime headed center of state rulers combine by MS, RW and CBK of New & Old UNP’s.
    Ongoing regime was Unwelcome by democratic domestic forces , hence the Sri lanka ‘s story an economy and financial market shifted into new crisis. Well place lootes since 15/1/8 of regime at center of administration run by Ranil Wicks and UNP clique, who Rule the nation has overborrowed trillions of Rupees.
    Corrupted regime of incorrigible that UNP’s has looted Central Bank Bond scam by Primer and UNP gangerests.
    By and large regime acting irresponsibility and unaccountability the nation economy looks uncertainties while more risky than under the UNP-regime that politically maneuvering by Wickramasinghe’s clan . Sri lanka Foreign reserves has dried up, interest RATE shoot up. In fact of truth nation currency of rupees has devalued, that collapses companies face a credit crunch by the way domestic within short order nation economy has gone through painful contortions to adjust. Regardless by an application of neoliberalist order of economy that tight fiscal policies aimed at lost of market confidence too late be recovered.
    Sri lanka has created own economic catastrophe by wrong direction from think tank of IMF and World Bankers.
    This has nothing to do with clashes of civilization advocated by Fukuya theory socialism will ever-never appears in this plane!!!@.

  • 0

    Oh Uditha- the misguided wandering,

    Don’t take in (read) more than what you can digest or chew and vomit out the junk that you have taken in as an concoction of incoherent ideas- oh CT editors please spare the readers even though you may have the noble intention of encouraging the young writers!

    Did you know the 11th Commandment “Thou shall not quote Nalin”

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.