Elements of Applied Cubism found here

Simultaneous Multiple Perspectives

-- Two opposing universalisms: the world order of Nation-states versus Islam-for-All

-- Myriad ethno-religious local cultures emerge from obscurity.

-- Simultaneous cultures: any given local culture may be overlaid by the pseudo-culture of commercial products and services.


-- Cultural fragmentation occurs as nation-state power weakens under the quick and easy flow of information and martial technology, both of which are made possible by globlization. Where the nation-state is a not supported by historically-evolved popular sovreignty, then local ethno-religious conflict will supercede national aspiration.

Cultural Fragmentation, Globalization and International Morality

The arrival of the millennium has brought the world new dramas of international conflict. As the world becomes smaller and we all bump into each other more frequently in the process called globalization, we begin to feel our differences with greater force. Through the haze produced by the dissolution of older world-views, we have the opportunity to see things we have ignored for a long time. And we may begin to see the forms of new orders.

Bassam Tibi is Professor of International Relations at the University of Gottingen, Germany. He is a practicing Muslim. In his book, The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder, he argues that "the major trend in current international politics is the simultaneity of structural globalization and cultural fragmentation."

In this view of what is going on, Tibi sees the unifying practices and products of globalization, from the easily-visible examples of commerce, to less obvious legal/political forms such as the international order of nation-states, as only a thin overlay on the world’s peoples, one which has little interaction with their deep and persistent cultural codes. Eating McDonalds does not make a tribesman a budding American consumer. Using the internet does not make one an individualist advocating the spread of "human rights." The products of the individualistic Commerce Culture can exist side by side with local cultural imperative and not dislodge it.

At the same time the process of globalization has a corrosive effect on the organization and exercise of power. Nation’s have less importance as prime power players in the new world of international commerce. Nations’ hopeful but reactive policies lag behind the gyrations of world economic crises. The nation-state itself, a creation of the the European Enlightenment, subsequently overlaid on the globe as a useful basis for world order, acts as screen for many of us, blocking out the view of what is actually transpiring within the world’s populations.

Our new technologies also empower trans- and supra-national world actors, whether they be currency traders or terrorists, cadres or super-empowered individuals. The wars of nations are less of a problem than the wars waged by these "irregulars." The technologies of war and communication, which the west created, pass readily into the uses of our shrinking world’s many cultures, further eroding the power of states. The western powers have a harder time controlling the international system of states.

The nation-state’s irrelevance for the local culture combines with the power shift provided by weapons and communications technology to create cultural fragmentation. Nations attract weak allegiance. Smaller ethno-cultural groupings hold the hearts.

Into this fray of cultural fragmentation, let us then draw the big lines. Islamic fundamentalism challenges Western universalism with its own universalist claim. The scriptures of the Prophet are not what moral relativists call an "alternative," to be lived only by those who chose to be Muslim. They are a system for all mankind, a replacement for the West’s whole kit of individualism, human rights, commerce and diversity. These are powerful and conflicting diagonals underlying the composition we are looking at: the world picture of cultural fragmentation and structural globalization.

It is Tibi’s thesis that political Islam’s absolutist universalism is a powerful enzyme in the chemistry of world conflict. Its effect is to increase conflict and disorder, multiplying the force of cultural fragmentation. Political Islam does not have the organizational power to create a trans-national Islamic political entity. Relying as it does on interpreted scripture rather than structural systems, it must operate with totalitarian politics deriving from the style and conflicts of local strongmen. Its universalist claim keeps its head in the clouds, but its rejection of both history and popular sovereignty mean that the action on the ground is always tied to local enthno-cultural conflict. And political Islam’s universalist claim is so complementary to the disenfranchisement felt by those local ethno-cultural groups, living in Nations to which they feel little allegiance, that we can expect it to persist for a long time, magnifying the cultural fragmentation, increasing the conflicts, and breeding the "new world disorder."

We may expect that the West will learn from this period of history that the current Western order is not some final answer. After all, the Elightenment ideas that led to the nation-state world order are the same ones that teach us the value of diversity, of self-criticism, and of the decentralized proliferation of ideas. Out of our own self-interest we must clean our lenses and see what is really happening. If the nation-state system so ill serves such a large number of people, we must find a way to fix those parts of it that are such fertile ground for fundamentalism.

And we must also expect that out of the civilization of Islam, there will be increasing movement to escape the claustrophobic future envisioned by the fundamentalists. Tibi imagines the creation of an "international morality" which will allow the world’s civilizations and their various local, cultural groups to live together with commonality but without moral relativism. There are many strains of thought in current and past Islamic civilization that support this kind of trans-cultural international morality. The challenge of our age is for the people of the world to create that code.

(c) 2002 John Boak