By M Zeb KhanAugust 18, 2016Print : Opinion
In logical terms, false dichotomy refers to a situation when one is offered a choice between two extremely different alternatives when in fact there is at least one additional, and probably more reasonable, option available for consideration.
In other words, in a false dichotomy, one tries to exclude grey areas and present complex phenomenon in pure black and white. Extremism of all sorts, as we know it, is the product of this binary thinking and is probably the greatest threat to peace on both micro and macro level in the world.
Terms like ‘the West and the Rest’ in Huntington’s book, ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, ‘Dar-al-Islam’ (abode of Islam) and ‘Darul Harb’ (abode of war) in Muslims’ religious lexicon, and ‘you are with us or with the terrorists’ in the post 9/11 speeches of President Bush, all commit false dichotomy.
It does not require a philosopher to deconstruct such either-or statements and reject them by bringing suppressed evidence to light but the problem is that ordinary people prefer simplicity over complexity and certainty over doubt and this is how ambiguity is squeezed so much that intolerance creeps into social relations.
What Huntington possibly advertently concealed is the fact that conflicts have historically been – and continue to be – more prevalent within civilisations rather than between civilisations. This is particularly true in the Muslim world where countries, sharing the same faith, have gone to deadly wars.
Conflicts today appear to be based more on political and economic considerations than on ethnic or cultural divisions. In other words, cultural identity does not seem to be the primary driver of hostile behaviour. Culture and religion can be exploited by rival groups to camouflage their true motives.
Similarly, the Muslims’ demarcation of the world into Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al-Harb does not resonate with the spirit and teachings of Islam. The Quran refers to the Heaven (paradise) as Dar-us-salam (the abode of peace) but it does not refer to any place on earth as Dar-al-Islam.
Similarly, it mentions dar-ul-bavar (abode of loss) as the place of punishment for the rejecters of truth but it does not refer to any place as dar-ul-kufr (abode of the infidels).
On a practical level, how can one reconcile the two terms in case of the many Muslim majority countries where Islamic Shariah is not in vogue? More importantly, is it not a contradiction in terms when Islam, which means peace, is projected in terms of war?
The false division of Bush into ‘you are with us or with the terrorists’ was not only a disrespectful attitude towards other states, as it denied them the right to stay neutral, but also catastrophic to global peace. Countries like Pakistan, whose strategic interests were not aligned with those of the US, had to play double games.
What else can one expect from a weaker country if it is placed in such an impossible situation? Pakistan could possibly have played a more productive and positive role if it had not been forced to follow the US line in Afghanistan. Pakistan has suffered enormously in the war against terrorism but so has the US due to wrong choices placed on the table.
In order for mutual coexistence to take roots everywhere and for peace to prevail, we have to particularly focus on the grey area between the two contrasting circles. It is this place which should act as a buffer between competing ideologies and distinct identities.
It is a space where all people should come together with multiple identities with one shared soul to make a single humanity. In the long term, it serves no one’s purpose to promote discord and discard harmony.
The writer teaches at the Sarhad University. Email: [email protected]