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The End of Civilization is Not So Bad (1993 MESA Presidential Address) 1

  • John Obert Voll

Extract

The sounds and activities of an increasingly globalized human world often drown out the noises of the debates in scholarly journals and intellectual magazines about the coming wars among civilizations. This globalized theater of life is paradoxical, conflictridden and often destructive of many human values, but it is fundamentally an increasingly one-world context. Its struggles and conflicts cannot be best understood by viewing them as if they were wars between essentially different and separated entities.

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1

This text is based on the MESA presidential address given at the annual meeting in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina on November 12, 1993. The address was conceived of as a presentation to a particular gathering and was not intended simply to be the reading of a generic paper which could be read at any gathering of scholars. The particular and “occasional” characteristics of the address have been preserved in this text because it is addressed to the same community: the members of the Middle East Studies Association.

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Notes

2 The presidential address began with the loud playing of the song “Inshallah” from the CD “Sahara Electric” by the group called the Dissidenten, while, at the same time, the speaker read short selections from an article in Foreign Affairs. It is difficult to reproduce that part of the text in print media.

3 The CD is produced by Shanachie Records Corp., and is identified as Shanachie 64005.

4 Huntington, Samuel P., “The Clash of Civilizations?Foreign Affairs 72, No. 3 (Summer 1993).

5 Mitchell, Richard P., The Society of the Muslim Brothers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969; reprinted 1993), and Hodgson, Marshall G.S., Rethinking World History, Burke, Edmund III, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

6 Korn, David A., Assassination in Khartoum (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).

7 Daniel, Norman, Islam and the West: The Making of an Image, revised ed. (Oxford: Oneworld, 1993). See, for example, his concluding comments, pp. 336-337.

8 I am grateful to Helen Langley of the Department of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for providing me with this information from the Toynbee Papers.

9 These exact words do not come from a text of the talk but from Toynbee’s later account of the African trip as a whole, which appeared in Toynbee, Arnold J., Between Niger and Nile (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 37. However, I attended the lecture and I remember that his observations in the book reflect at least the tone of his lecture.

10 Huntington, Samuel P., “If Not Civilizations, What?Foreign Affairs 72, No. 5 (November/December 1993): 191.

11 Toynbee, Arnold J., A Study of History, abridgement by Somervell, D.C. 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947, 1957), 1:11.

12 Ibid., 2:145-146.

13 Note, for example, the subtitle of his major work: Hodgson, Marshall G.S., The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, 3 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).

14 Hodgson/Burke, p. 81.

15 See, for example, the organization of his world history text, McNeill, William H., A History of the Human Community (4th edition; Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993).

16 Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” p. 25.

17 Ibid.

18 Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” p. 30.

19 See, for example, the suggestive analysis in Erwin, Robert, “Civilization as a Phase of World History,” American Historical Review 81, No. 4 (July 1966): 11811198.

20 “Looking Back From 2992,” The Economist (December 26, 1992-January 3, 1993).

21 See, for example, the analysis in Esposito, John L., The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), especially chapter 6.

22 All of the following quotes come from Geyer, Michael, “Multiculturalism and the Politics of General Education,” Critical Inquiry 19, No. 3 (Spring 1993): 529.

23 Huntington, “If Not Civilization, What?,” p. 191.

24 Cavafy, C.P., Selected Poems, Keeley, Edmund and Sherrard, Philip, trans. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 7.

1 This text is based on the MESA presidential address given at the annual meeting in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina on November 12, 1993. The address was conceived of as a presentation to a particular gathering and was not intended simply to be the reading of a generic paper which could be read at any gathering of scholars. The particular and “occasional” characteristics of the address have been preserved in this text because it is addressed to the same community: the members of the Middle East Studies Association.

The End of Civilization is Not So Bad (1993 MESA Presidential Address) 1

  • John Obert Voll

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