Now we know: there need be no clash of civilizations

日期: 2003-04-27
作者:Jonathan Power

LONDON - So far so good, at least on the wider level. While internally Iraq seems on the edge of chaos, the much heralded clash of civilizations between the Muslim and Judaeo-Christian worlds has yet to become apparent. We have anger and despair aplenty in the Arab and Muslim worlds. But very little rushing to the standard and there was no great pilgrimage of warriors to join the fight, as happened when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan twenty years ago, and then, having driven the Red Army out, were left to ferment in that mountainous redoubt. With the armaments supplied by the CIA the mujahidin were transformed into Al Qaeda that became, for a relatively brief moment as these things go, 'the greatest threat to the homeland that America has ever known.'

Nevertheless a 'Cold War' between much of the Muslim world and the West is certainly in full swing. Winston Churchill who coined the phrase 'Iron Curtain'was not the inventor of the 'Cold War'. That, 'La Guerra Fria' was the term used by thirteenth century Spaniards to describe their complicated and uneasy relationship with the Muslims of the Mediterranean.

Islam has been from its inception a warrior nation. In this it is little different from Judaism but different from Christianity that began as a pacifist religion until it was hijacked by the Roman empire and later the more worldly interpretations of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. One can often get the feeling when travelling in the Arab world that once Islam regains the prowess it wielded in the twelfth century there will be voices within demanding to confront the West at every point. We have seen only the beginning of what could come, as economies strengthen, educational achievement spreads and as military hardware is acquired.

This is how many observers read it. I don' share their pessimism. Much of this inflated description of the 'enemy' is based on hunches even bigger than those that thought that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled Iraq to the ceiling with weapons of mass destruction.

There is a process, especially in American political discourse that tends to overstate dangers. The most egregious example was Vietnam with its theology of falling dominoes. Similarly, in retrospect, it is quite clear that the menace of Soviet military strength was overstated almost to the point of ludicrousness. As for the clash of civilizations it should be apparent by now, and the second Gulf war has made it clearer than ever, that the Islamic world is not that homogeneous and is riven by fault lines, even as it shares one important historical experience- the imposition of western culture, first by force of arms and more recently by the twin influences of the market place and economic modernization. Moreover, unlike Western and Sinic civilization, it does not possess a core state of overwhelming influence and power around which the others can rally and identify. Egypt thirty years ago tried that role and was found wanting. Saudi Arabia, rich as it is, at the end of the day is nothing more than a pilgrimage point.

Over the last two years, despite the rhetoric, the bluster, the wishful thinking, the conspiracy theories that linked Israel to the September 11th atrocity, there is no great well of sympathy in the Islamic world for Osama bin Laden or, come to that, Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden, as the war historian Michael Howard wrote in Foreign Affairs, is about as representative of Islam as is the Northern Ireland firebrand, Ian Paisley, representative of Christianity

Yet just as Paisley exerts a profound influence on the politics of his homeland so does bin Laden on his. Now he is perhaps about to win the prime aim of his twenty-year campaign for the removal of American troops from sacred Saudi soil. It would make sense if Saudi Arabia goes ahead with its intention without second thoughts: it will undercut Al Qaeda and it will make the task of keeping a sense of equilibrium at home that much easier.

In his book 'The Clash of Civilizations' Harvard professor Samuel Huntington made a grave error- to see the appeal of the West, which he fears is being rejected by the Islamic world, in terms of modern culture and contemporary financial priorities. What he missed is the impact that spreading notions of human rights are having deep within the Islamic world, as they are everywhere.

Islam, as Christianity before it, is evolving at a rapid pace. St Thomas Aquinas advocated putting heretics to death and the protestant reformer Jean Calvin had one outspoken dissident executed And it is only a generation ago that political observers used to note that the Catholic countries of southern Europe and Latin America were constitutionally and philosophically unable to take to democracy. But Islam is changing very fast. It is more than beginning to think about democracy.

If the Islamic world is as potentially dangerous as is suggested then the best long-term counter weapon is not added security in the western world or war-making but removing the main cause of friction- America's over dependence on Middle Eastern oil, American soldiers based in Saudi Arabia and the lack of a viable homeland for the Palestinians- together with the vigorous and credible pursuit of human rights, the backbone of freedom for people of every religious persuasion


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