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June 5, 2012 

The Global Awakening III:
The Challenge of Disunity and the Response
of a Paradigm Spring

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

During the last half century as a professional long-range global forecaster for government and industry, one of my earliest conclusions as Director of Third World Studies for three years at the Hudson Institute during the Vietnam War was that policy follows agendas and agendas follow paradigms.  The converse necessarily is true that paradigms shape agendas and agendas shape policy.

Leverage over policy does not come from arguing over surges in military commitment to victory in Vietnam or Afghanistan.  It comes from addressing prior agendas, such as how to unite the Vietnamese nationalists in both North and South against all foreign threats to national unity.  Leverage over policy might come today by considering how to help the Taliban marginalize or eliminate the remnants of Al Qa’ida’s leaders, which the Taliban nativists generally have considered a foreign threat, even though they once were exploited as a tactical ally.         

  Even agendas, however, come from prior paradigms, such as the role of military power in America’s global leadership as a moral model for the future.  The classic example was Henry Kissinger’s rationale in his August 12, 2002, op ed article in the Washington Post urging an immediate invasion of Iraq.  He said such an invasion was not needed to eliminate nuclear weapons, nor to secure control of global oil supplies, nor even to bring freedom and democracy to the poor Iraqi people.  The urgent need in a world collapsing into chaos, he argued, was to develop a new international law to legitimize unilateral preemption by the only power capable of restoring order, namely, the United States of America.  The arguments over bombs, oil, and people were tactical feints to hide the real paradigmatic rationale for what turned out to be in some ways an unmitigated disaster that boomeranged against the paradigmatic justification for the war. 

Paradigms are premises of thought that frame one’s outlook on life and one’s interpretation or even one’s recognition of facts.  A paradigm may narrow one’s vision and blind one to changes that have accumulated over time.  Or paradigms may widen one’s global vision so that one can identify facts relevant to a possibly transforming world and thereby more effectively set an agenda for intelligence gathering and policy planning. 

          Today we are witnessing a paradigmatic revolution in the Arab world and potentially in Persia, China, Russia, and even in America.  The revolution is the simple awareness that change is possible and that it does not have to be led by outside forces, especially from America and the former colonial powers. 

          According to chaos theory and Thomas Kuhn’s half-century old theory of paradigm shifts, which apply in all fields of physical science, all truly major change occurs only after the old theory is bankrupt in explaining facts to the point that suddenly new states of nature and of understanding replace the old. 

          The most unchanging fact about any kind of forecasting or planning is that most people are unaware that they have unspoken premises, which is why the parties to a disputed issue speak past each other and never come to grips with their real differences.  Perhaps more often than not, this failure to communicate is based on a deliberate decision to keep their unspoken premises secret for political or other purposes.  Sometimes there is nothing more sensitive than the public revelation of one’s own ultimate reasons for advocating anything. 

          One result of such covert paradigm management is to brand anyone who advocates anything out of higher principle as “a loose cannon on a rolling deck”.  Such people cannot be bribed, which makes them inherently dangerous for people who consider principles of any kind as a dangerous form of baggage.  Even the very concept of a paradigm seems threatening. 

          My study of civilizational collapse and renewal began as an eleven-year-old in 1940, when I wrote the first 125 pages of an intended 1,000 page novel, entitled From Savagery to Civilization.  My father’s losing efforts to help Jews escape from Germany to America came at a time when civilization was reverting to savagery and the future looked dim.  Unfortunately, against my wishes, the characters in my novel gradually reverted to savagery, and that ended the book. 

As the Director of the Qatar Foundation’s new Center for the Study of Contemporary Muslim Societies, my antennas are up to discern whether we are entering a Paradigm Spring, where institutional constraints on the free market of thought are replaced by new perspectives in an era of global vision.   We may even be entering the age of an epistemological revolution, a revolution not merely in what one knows but of knowledge itself.  On May 12-13, 2012, the Qatar Foundation’s Center for the Study of Contemporary Muslim Societies held a two-day conference to discuss this very issue of epistemological transformation in the context of studying the past, present, and future of Sub-Saharan spiritual leaders in marginalizing the exclusivist paradigm of thought emanating from Saudi Arabia over the course of  two centuries. 

The meta-paradigmatic perspective is brilliantly explained by Seyyed Hossein Nasr in Chapter 12, "Islamic Education, Philosophy, and Science: A Survey in Light of Present-Day Challenges", in his new book, Islam in the Modern World: Challenged by the West, Threatened by Fundamentalism, Keeping Faith with Tradition, which I incorporated verbatim in my two-volume, 800-page textbook, Islam and Muslims, prepared from 2008 to 2011 with Dr. Muhammad Ali Chaudry, the President of the Center  for Understanding Islam. 

          Part of such a new ideative revolution is the increasingly sophisticated use of mimetic warfare, which is the use of memes (words and symbols) to subliminally control human thought.  The followers of old paradigms in foreign policy castigate those who disagree with them as conspiracy mongers.  In turn, increasingly these so-called conspiracy mongers cast their critics as the true conspirators.   They both use a boomerang strategy that can reflect back on oneself by using memetic warfare to degrade the very concepts of truth and justice.   Whoever can manipulate an opponent's mind by either subliminal or merely psychological warfare has won half the battle.     

          Recent trends point to the bankruptcy of old paradigms and of their accompanying euphemisms, such as "the clash of civilizations", since the clashes are primarily among paradigms within civilizations not among them.  Another well-known bankruptcy is the NeoCon oxymoron known as “democratic capitalism" and some forms of so-called “Islamic banking”.  Ironically, these concentrate capital ownership rather than broadening access to such ownership and thereby produce an escalating wealth gap that inevitably concentrates political power and in the future can be a major cause of terrorism.  

          New memes or symbols in the growing free market of thought accompany the designation of new paradigms, such as "promiscuous interventionism", once known as unilateralism.  Sometimes a really new paradigm arises based on an ancient paradigm common within all the major world religions, such as "peace, prosperity, and freedom through compassionate justice".   

          The results of the Arab Spring and of perhaps similar awakenings throughout the world and the task of both forecasting and planning the future could result in a new academic discipline entitled Paradigm Management, because facts have meaning only in the context of the paradigms used to understand them.   

          For example, the Washington Post during just a few days in late June, 2011, revealed several examples of paradigm shifts, for either better or worse, as discussed in my article at the time, “Paradigm Spring and the Clash of Civilizational Paradigms”, in my de facto blog,   

          Perhaps the most significant and no doubt the least noticed was the expansion of the term "Islamist" to include all radical and violent movements led by self-declared Muslims.  Previously, the accepted meaning of the term "Islamist" was the specific organization known for half a century as the Ikhwan al Muslimun or Muslim Brotherhood, which originally followed a pacifist strategy of education under Hasan al Banna but metasticized to violent extremism under Syed Qutb. During the past twenty years, however, the Qutbian radicals have left to form new radical groups and movements, like the Jamaat al Islamiyah and its offspring in Al Qa'ida.  To lump such groups into a new generic term, "Islamist", makes it difficult to comprehend the reality of the Arab Spring and leads inevitably to the condemnation of Islam as a religion and as an emerging force. 

          Even Fareed Zakaria, who is one of the best informed pundits in the world on Muslim affairs, in his Washington Post article of June 23, 2011, entitled "Pakistan's Military Crisis", falls into this error.  Even though there still are some "radical activists" among the Islamists throughout the world in opposition to the leadership of so-called “pacifists” like Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi in Tunisia, it is misleading for Zakaria to state that "Radical Islamist ideas - with America as the Great Satan - are now reflexive for many in Pakistan's military".  Zakaria may be right that radicals, who almost by definition are not Islamists, appear to be growing rapidly in Pakistan, especially among the military in response to what George F. Will in his article on June 23rd, 2011, termed America's promiscuous interventionism.    

          George Will was referring to McCain's doctrine that the United States must intervene wherever America's values are affronted.  This required the non-sequitur or logical disconnect in McCain's mind that, "If Qaddafi survives, he will try to harm America".  This catastrophist, hyper-security paradigm requires the accompanying paradigm of promiscuous interventionism.  According to George Will, this means quite simply that, "We must continue fighting because we started fighting", and therefore never stop, even if continuation of the intervention carries blowback worse than the danger we originally foresaw. 

          An excellent example of such memetic disinformation, whether deliberate or merely misguided, and of its impact on global affairs is the demonization of the Talibanic religious nationalists in Central Asia as a threat to America’s vital interests.  Misreading of what motivates most of the Taliban, and in fact of what motivates most of the world, has led to the deteriorating prestige of America as a model society, as shown by Griff Witte in his Washington Post article of June 23, entitled "Pakistan Courts China as U.S. Ties Sour".  In the section entitled  "Geostrategic Importance" he cites the Pew Research Center survey, according to which, "Pakistanis love China just about as much as they dislike the United states: 87% of Pakistanis say they have a favorable view of China, compared with 12% who say the same thing about the United States".   

          Fortunately, even the inveterate supporter of the 1960s paradigm, "Peace through power", Henry Kissinger, for whom on January 20, 1969, I became his Deputy Director for Planning, has joined the paradigmatic revolution.  In his article on June 8th, 2011, entitled "How to exit Afghanistan", he gave credence to the relatively recent paradigm of "Smart Power" by concluding: "After America's withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan and the constraint to our strategic reach produced by the revolution in Egypt, a new definition of American leadership and America's national interest is inescapable”.   

          The process of paradigm genesis and transformation, so remarkably shown in June, 2011, requires its institutionalization in think-tanks, which shape the agendas that control policy.  This institutional shift is introduced by a remarkable full-page article, in the Sunday Washington Post of June 19th, 2011, entitled "Continental Drift", by Richard N. Haass, who has been President of the CFR (Council on Foreign Relations) for almost a decade, prior to which from 2001 to 2003 he was Director of Policy Planning in the U.S. Department of State.  He has long been influential in the efforts of the "Eastern Establishment" to reign in the suicidal ideology known as Neo-Conservatism. 

          Dick Haass advises against trying to mend broken and outdated alliances, with specific reference to NATO.  He notes that, "Intimate ties across the Atlantic were forged at a time when American political and economic power was largely in the hands of Northeastern elites".  This was an era when America could justify its overweaning influence in Europe, to the extent even of trying to control DeGaulle, by pointing to the "evil other" as a mortal threat to everyone.  America in recent decades has changed as the West and the South have gained power in Washington and New York. 

          Most importantly, Haass writes, "The very nature of international relations has also undergone a transformation.  Alliances, whether NATO during the Cold War or the U.S.-South Korean partnership now, do best in settings that are highly inflexible and predictable, where foes and friends are easily identified, potential battlegrounds are obvious, and contingencies can be anticipated".  He concludes, "Almost none of this is true in our current historical moment.  Threats are many and diffuse.  Relationships seem situational, increasingly dependent on evolving and unpredictable circumstances.  Countries can be friends, foes, or both, depending on the day of the week - just look at the United States and Pakistan. Alliances tend to require shared assessments and explicit obligations; they are much more difficult to operate when worldviews [known as paradigms] diverge and commitments are discretionary.  But as the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya all demonstrate, this is precisely the world we inhabit".   

          Haass is saying that countries will follow their own interests, based on their own history and values, and that we are past the era when a superpower can force other countries to submit to its own perceived interests.  This means that the era of unilateralism pioneered by the "realist" Henry Kissinger and by the ideologues of NeoCon infamy is over. 

At stake is the future of civilization, which, in turn, depends on the governing paradigms both within and among nations.  The future of the Arab Spring is much in doubt, but the abandonment of old assumptions and old paradigms of thought is essential to promote the birth of new hope in what we might call a twentieth-first-century "Paradigm Spring" as the essential precursor for a Global Awakening to transcendent justice.  

Read Global-Awakening Part I 

Read Global-Awakening Part II 

Dr. Robert Crane, professor at  Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies