UPDATE December 17, 2005: Certain parties are trying to make use of selected quotes from this article to attempt to discredit Jihad Watch, Mr. Fitzgerald, and me. For a clarification of my — and our — position on these matters, please see here. — Robert Spencer
Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald explores some of the limitations of the increasingly common “clash of civilizations” paradigm.
The phrase “clash of civilizations,” made famous by Samuel Huntington, is misleading. In Huntington’s formulation (he owed an unacknowledged good deal to Adda Bozeman, who taught at Sarah Lawrence in the days when Kurt Rausch taught painting to well-bred young women and Randall Jarrell was taking notes for “Pictures from an Institution”), there are the Sinic, the Orthodox, the Hindu, the Islamic, the Western, and so on. And these are all potentially clashing. But this is nonsense. There is only one clash that counts: that of Islam with all of non-Islam. If, in the future, China and America were to go to war, it would not be because the former is “Sinic” and the latter “Christian” or “Western” or somesuch, but because of perceived Great-Power rivalries — for China and America are now part of the same civilization, the shared, modern, universal civilization, with disagreements at the edges, but nothing like the clash between Islam and all Infidels. In fact, a war between China and America would be about power, and thus no different from, for example, the rivalry, ending in war, between Germany and England in the pre-1914 period.
It is interesting to note, meanwhile, that Arab and Muslim analysts around the world tend to prefer the phrase “clash of civilizations” — because it avoids the truthful description of the conflict as one motivated by a belief-system, the belief-system of Islam. And it also gives the impression that America or “the West” or Western Christian or Western post-Christian civilization are the enemy, while in reality the global Islamic jihad is as much directed at Hindus and Buddhists, and the Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Balkans, and the non-Muslim black Africans, as it is against the much more powerful, and therefore more dangerous, United States of America.
Bassam Tibi epitomizes the confusion caused by clash of civilizations talk, and the difficulties to which it gives rise. Tibi is a Syrian, married to a German, who is Muslim in name only. And he has many virtues. But imagination is not among them. When he posits only two possibilities — Europe becoming thoroughly islamized, or Islam becoming Europeanized — he shows that limited imagination. When he offers the possibility of Islam becoming Europeanized, he fails to discuss what that would mean. Would it mean simply Muslims wearing Western dress? Throwing out the hadith? Throwing out the hadith and the sira (going beyond the Ancient Mariner, would Tibi have them stoppeth two of three)? Throwing out all of the sira, and all of the hadith, and then in addition throwing out traditional conclusions of the interpreters of the Qur’an — in a kind of reverse abrogation, in which all the softer verses are now kept and the harsher ones removed, instead of the other way around as mainstream Muslim Qur’an commentators now have it? Just how is this to be done? Who would do it? A committee? What committee? And how would it acquire sufficient authority to command belief from — Believers?
No, there is another way, or many other ways. And the first way is to put a complete stop to Muslim immigration, and to find creative ways to deport all Muslim non-citizens. These two measures would be accompanied by the creation of an environment where the practice of Islam is made not easy but difficult. Meanwhile, authorities would engage in wholesale efforts to explain, both to the population of Europe and to the Muslims in its midst, the real nature of Islam. They would explain why it is encourages despotism (because allegiance is owed the ruler as long as he is a Muslim), economic paralysis (the fatalism of Islam — just look at the “wake-me-when-it’s-over” attitude of the Iraqis as the American soldiers struggle to rebuild, or build, a country that is populated by people who in the main are innately and immutably hostile to Infidels, but want to be transformed by those Infidels into New York — and in a New York minute), intellectual failure (the cult of authority, the hostility to free and skeptical inquiry) and moral failure (the bland acceptance of the division of the world between Believer and Infidel, and the belief that it is right, it is just, to treat the Infidel, no matter what, as an inferior being and an enemy no matter how generous and open-hearted he may be, for after all he remains an Infidel, and not even to grasp the possibility that Infidel peoples and polities, too, no matter how small, deserve to survive, and to possess rights that do not depend on Muslims).
Then one might engage in efforts to convert the Muslims of Europe — persistent efforts that would either work in some cases, or drive those who were worried or offended to leave Europe for “safer” regions in the dar al-Islam. Both results are desirable. And both would make it clear just what kind of a “clash of civilizations” is now in the offing.