The war on terror has provoked a clash of civilisations, agreed a majority of the 600-odd people taking part in the closing debate of the five-day Jaipur Literature Festival on the sprawling lawns of the Diggy Palace in Jaipur.
The debate on the motion The War on Terror Has Provoked a Clash of Civilisations was anchored by television presenter and journalist Barkha Dutt on Sunday night.
The panellists included journalist-commentator MJ Akbar, political analyst Swapan Dasgupta, Pakistan-based author Mohammed Hanif, commentator Ashish Nandy, historian-writer Simon Schama, journalist and political activist Tarun Vijay, Paris-based political commentator and India expert Christophe Jaffrelot and author Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
MJ Akbar, while disagreeing with the motion, struck a patriotic note in keeping with the spirit of the Republic Day on Monday. "I will defend the human rights enshrined in the constitution till death, but those rights apply only to those citizens of the country who swear by the constitution and not to terrorists," the columnist-political commentator and editor said, denouncing terrorism and its perpetrators.
According to Akbar, the war on terror or "rather war on terrorists", as he corrected the house, could tie the Muslim world with one ribbon.
"But Islam is singular and Muslims are multiple. People have different dynamic intent and the war on terror, which was coined by former US president George W. Bush, is a clash against civilisation. One must remember that Islam, as a religion, is 1,400 years old, whereas Fascism, which came to the world with Mussolini, is only 90 years old. Why do you blame Islam for the sins of the Muslims?" he argued. <b1>
Emotions scaled a high when Tarun Vijay, former editor of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mouthpiece Panchajanya and director of the Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, switched to a rigid pro-Hindu mode to agree with the motion, saying the war on terror had opened up a clash of civilisations.
"I am and will remain a Hindu. A Hindu civilisation versus the barbarism of the Wahhabis is not a clash, but a defence of the civilisation by one country against fundamentalism. It is an internal clash of the other kind. The war on terror has provoked an introspection in the Hindu society on why we are being killed," he said.
Wahhabism is a conservative form of Sunni Islam, attributed to Muhammed ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, an 18th century scholar from Saudi Arabia, who advocated that Muslims across the world return to the practices of the first three generations of Islamic practitioners.
Swapan Dasgupta said the war on terror needed to be modified and made more effective so that it does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy because "there is a civilisational schism that already exists".
Noted historian and writer Simon Schama, the author of the book The American Future: A History, felt that the war on terror was a colluded war of convenience and "an empty sententious platitude" coined by Bush.
"It is like a crass B-grade movie that has its roots in the ancient western history which begins with accounts of hatred between the Persians and the Greeks - an irreconcilable detestation between one group of god believers against the other."
The debate was hosted by Intelligence Squared, a Britain-based public debating society founded six years ago. It also operates in New York and Sydney.
The society attracts high-profile speakers to debates and discourses on current geopolitical and global issues, which are usually broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The motion on War on Terror... in Jaipur was filmed for NDTV.
The concept of the 'Clash of Civilisations' was propounded by American political scientist Samuel J Hungtinton, whose work Clash of Civilizations, a thesis of the post-cold war geopolitical order, changed the way the world looked upon terror. He died onDecember 24, 2008.