Wednesday, November 22, 2006

 

Why West-Islam Relations Seem a 'Clash of Civilizations'

In my current affairs class today we discussed the clash between Islam and the west. Samuel P.Huntingdon's 'clash of civilizations' thesis has been much criticized but our conclusions seemed to bear out his analysis. We agreed that a Muslim country would resist the 'imposition' of democracy by the west- the prophet provides the ultimate authority; not, as the western Enlightenment laid down, the people- just as we would resist the imposition of Islam upon our own secular, liberal societies. Given this incompatibility, why don't we just agree to disagree and leave each other alone? Two reasons.

Firstly Islam is an evangelising faith which seeks to convert 'infidels'. In its-arguably distorted- fundamentalist form it is also a vengeful ideology which seeks to destroy those- like us in the west- who have been recruited into the armies of 'The Great Satan'. Ahmadinejad (pictured) of Iran, claims he wants to 'wipe Israel off the map' and is not loath to repeat such threats. So even if we leave them alone, they will not return the compliment. And while the communists during the Cold War accepted 'peaceful coextistence', the latter strain of Islam uses the openness of the west to send or order its cohorts of suicidal fanatics to wreak havoc and murder.

Secondly, Islam entails practices which will never be acceptable to the West. Nowhere is this more the case than in its treatment of women. BBC Newsnight recently showed an inmate of an Afghan jail, Fatima, explaining how she went seeking a new family home. She went to see a housing agent who locked the door, said she been 'sent from God' and then raped her. When she reported it she was found guilty of adultery and imprisoned; the only way she could have been found innocent was for her attacker to confess or for four witnesses to the rape to come forward. When such desparate violations of human rights so regularly occur with impunity under Islam, the west will never view it as anything other than a cruel and alien creed which can never be tolerated let alone adopted. So, reluctantly, and not of our making, a 'clash of civilisations' it appears to be.

Comments:
A brave and accurate post Bill. I'm glad these truths are dawning on the left as well and we can stop dismissing them as neo-con fantasies.
 
cassie
Danger is that one is dismissed as islamophobic which i'm not but the left as defined by Norm and his Euston Manifesto, i suppose, have realised these things a long time ago.
 
I agree with your second reason, but am less sure about your first. I wonder whether fundamentalist leaders don't quickly absorb at least a level of pragmatism when confronted with the responsibilities of power. While no-one doubts Ammadinejad's own fundamentalist commitment, his comments about Israel could equally be interpreted as the realisation of a need to play to his religious domestic gallery in order to divert attention away from Iran's deepening social and economic problems. The fundamentalist leader who maintains an absolute adherence to his religious principles in office is, perhaps fortunately, a rarity. Most find compromise is the way they can achieve even a small part of their agenda; thus, 'even if we leave them alone, they will not return the compliment' is right about some Islamic religious leaders, but possibly not about their political masters.
 
Skipper – As you are aware I have been reading and occasionally commenting on your blog for a number of months and during that time your attitude to Islam has definitely moved. This post surely confirms it. I also happen to agree with everything in it.

I think Cassilis is quite correct in his comment. I do not understand how the left can cosy up with Islamists and as I have stated before on your blog and elsewhere: it would not have happened in the 1930s.
 
Dreadnought
yes, we've approached the topic possibly from different starting points and I started trying hard to argue we should extend every effort to understand and to be aware of how we have appeared to be exploitative and menacing. I still feel this this but have come to realise, especially after studying Iran carefully that ultimately probably the west is incimpatible with Islam, or at least the fundamentalist version of it. My briefing on Iran by the way is on my companion site, Polititics Considered the link for which is on the left.
 
GM
Thanks for your comments. The thought had occurred to me that the Iranian president was merely playing to the low paid constituency which put him in power in 2005. And it's true that even the most unreconstructed ideologues compromise when faced with intractable realities
 
“… probably the west is incompatible with Islam, or at least the fundamentalist version of it”.

That’s a bit ambivalent. First, I think you must mean “liberal values” rather than “the west” (I assume you don’t uncritically admire “western values” since the “west”, after all, spawned inter alia a murderous colonialism and Hitler’s fascism). Second, I have no doubt that liberal values are incompatible with “the fundamentalist version” of Islam (I should think the same is true of “fundamentalist Christianity” and “fundamentalist Judaism”). Third, vis-à-vis your truly grim tale of rape, the denigration of women, so far as I can tell, is common to all three of these religions; and e.g. the Catholic Church’s attempt to conceal the sexual abuse of children by priests shows Islam hardly unique in this respect either. But I agree that we should have absolutely zero-tolerance of e.g. female circumcision and forced marriage and I would like to see the law-enforcement agencies become more pro-active in this respect (but these practices are not universal throughout the Muslim world). Fourth, Muslim countries will “resist the ‘imposition’ of democracy…” Of course they will. Exporting democracy at the point of a gun is not going to work. But it does not follow that Muslim countries cannot become democratic (Iran might have stood a chance if the UK had not engineered a bloody coup in 1953). Fifth, I know very little about Islam, but my guess is that it is capable of a variety of interpretations some more congenial to liberal values, or to the growth of liberal values over time, than others, and that – like other religions – it is capable of change and reform (How many Roman Catholics would subscribe to the “Syllabus of Errors” nowadays? Would we have said that Roman Catholicism cannot exist alongside liberal-democracy at that time?). There are millions of Muslims living in dozens of countries, but I would be surprised if they all “think the same thing” any more than the millions of Christians around the world. Standing up to fundamentalist Islam is one (quite proper) thing – a task which might have been easier without the blundering neo-colonialism of Bush/Blair - but polarising the world into “Islam versus the west” is another (foolish and simplistic) thing altogether.
 
P.holic
If I'd had the wit to think and write a bit more carefully I'd have embodied your points as I agree with them all.
 
Can I agree with politaholic- I've had a discussion with dreadnought myself on this issue on my own blog- but I don't think that this is a struggle between Islam and the West. For one point earlier centuries saw considerable development of what we might call liberal values in Muslim countries like India under the Mughals where toleration was practised in a way that would embarrass contemporary Europe.

I do think this is important because your post almost seems to imagine a perpetual war between fundamentalist Islam and teh West- polar opposites- whereas I'm not sure that is the best way to imagine things- there is tension but not neccessary terminal tension between them and not tension between Islam and the West. Iran I agree with you is an awful state- but I think you need to be careful in giving them legitimacy as the representative state within the Islamic world- afterall why not make that Bangladesh, India or Indonesia the three largest Muslim countries in the world. Sorry that this is such a random rambling post, but I think you need to clarify some further issues about how permanent you feel this split is and how sensible taking Iran as a paradigm for Islam is.

Besides of course there are the splits between Shia, Sunnia, Allawite and Sufi schools which impact hugely on all these questions so even the idea of a monolithic Islam- like a monolithic Christianity which neglected to think about the distinctions between Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic- is a bit of a problem.
 
The religion simply has no place in world we want to build. Read the Koran, and then the other religious texts. Extremism is the manifestation of these twisted ideas. AJP Taylor's comment about Hitler rising in Germany being like a river meeting the sea could be applied to Islam and Bin Laden. Didn't the Phophet himself wipe out three Jewish tribes. That would have been before he committed an act of paedophilia by marrying a six year old and consumating the marriage before she was ten.

I am glad Bush and the others brought the war to their back doors in Kabul and Baghdad. To quote Putin: "we will corner the bandits in the shithouse, and wipe them out".
 
I could not disagree more with your blog. You seem to have treated Islam as a monolythic entity, and so have arrived at simple conclusions when trying to answer a highly complex issue. Your blog appears to be full of the knowledgeable ignorance regarding Islam which is causing so much misunderstanding between the West and the wider world today. You talk of Ahmadinejad of Iran as a fundamentalist, yet the political system of which he is part arose from a Revolution inspired by Western ideas of positive liberty, and which was fought against a brutal dictator installed by the West. Huntingdon believe confrontation would inevitably arise between the West an the Islamic states because the islamic world did not share the moern, progressive values of the Reformation, Enlightenment and the French Revolution, yet there are islamic leaders and movement who strive for liberty by Western ideas of freedom, wo have quoted western philosiphers, aswell as their own, when arguing against the crimes being committed by our zealous governments in the Islamic world. Of course, we never hear of their opinions in the West because no one speaks arabic, and so people fall back upon face value perceptions and random, peices of knowlegde when judging the events and people of this current polemics. Similarly, with regards to your second point, human right violations have taken place and continue to take place in the West. Dos that mean our political systems and ideals are "cruel" and must be ended? I am not a Moslim but find your blog irresponsible and dangerous, exemplifying a zealous, secular fundamentalism that has taken root in pockets around the West. You seem to be of the opinion that the West is at odds with the Islamic world, when really we are simply misunderstanding each other.
 
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