Avoiding a Clash of Civilizations

Sheila Musaji

Posted Nov 1, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Avoiding a Clash of Civilizations

by Sheila Musaji



A double standard in identifying one act as particular to a religion, and not another, or of identifying one act as terrorism and another as a justifiable response is widespread.  I have found that unless the perpetrator was Muslim the religion of the perpetrator was rarely mentioned:  IrishԔ Terror.  The Troubles, Bosnia: Report On Massacre At Srebrenica Condemns Dutch Military ‘Errors’, King David Hotel Bombing(1946), Basque Terrorism in Spain, Israeli Settler Kills Four.

Why Irish and not Christian Terror - although both parties are Christian (Catholic and Protestant)  - why Basque Terrorism when the Basques are solidly Catholic?  Why not Jewish terror?  If World War II era Fascism was not Christian-Fascism, then the current terrorism is not Islamo-Fascism. (The current derogatory term).

We need to agree to stop hyphenating criminal terrorist acts with any religious designation (Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.) and to use any means possible to encourage the press, media, and our political leaders to also stop doing this.

“When extremists from predominantly Moslem countries commit violence, many in the media refer to them as “Islamic terrorists.” Why is no one calling the Oklahoma City bombing suspects “Christian terrorists”? ... The militias being investigated are called simply “right-wing” and “anti-government,” but these hate groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, all have bible-based agendas. Timothy McVeigh is a Catholic. The Oklahoma City bomb was detonated on the anniversary of the raid on David Koresh’s Christian militia in Waco…”Christian Terrorism In Oklahoma City, Dan Barker
“Muslims are often judged because of the actions and words of   extremists hiding behind the name of Islam and judged by extremists hiding behind the facade of other religions.  Daniel Pipes even found the logo of The American Muslim to be a sign of “Militant Islamic Intentions” for the U.S., to which Sheila Musaji and Jeremy Henzell-Thomas both replied.
“One thing is certain, if you tried smearing Judaism in general with the bloody excesses of Israeli settlers or charming figures like the late bloodthirsty Rabbi Kahane and his followers, you’d call down a firestorm of anti-Semitism accusations on your head. Yet this is precisely what Friedman feels perfectly free to do with Islam.” The Dumbest Story Ever Written, John Chuckman
“After September 11, no Muslim writer venturing to articulate absolutely anything about Islam may expect any reprieve from the inquisitorial fury of the reigning orthodoxy. What transpired on that fateful day was not merely evil and ungodly, monstrous and inhuman, it also showed, we are made to believe, the true face of a fanatical faith. Not the evil that is in the souls of men but the hate that is in the hearts of Muslims is what accounts for the unspeakable barbarity of the terrorists. Nothing unfathomable about evil, no mystery to the darkness of the soul, if it shows a Muslim visage! Indeed, there is no Original Sin, only Muslim sinfulness. For all their pride in the discernment of the human conditionђ, the architects of meaning in the West, sadly, did not annunciate anything transcending the wrath and humiliation of their political self. Their strident refrain, the pain and loss is ӑours, the civilized and the noble; the shame and disgrace is ґtheirs, the barbaric and the heartlessҔ, drowned every other requiem. The spiritual and moral insights of the West, it appeared, had neither any relevance for the Muslim nor any cure for his perversity and malice. Only by depriving Muslims of their humanity, it was obvious, could the bereaved West convey its own grief. ... Very few, if any, among the cultural elites entrusted with the decipherment of this indecipherable tragedy realized, let alone conceded, that even Muslim eyes cried, that even Muslim heart felt the pain and that even Muslim soul recoiled in horror over this wanton loss of human life. That the Muslims pain was all the more unbearable because these unholy deeds were justified in the name of his holy faith, found no mention in the litany of sorrows that engulfed a whole world. The ransoming of IslamҒs universality for parochial causes, the sacrifice of its humanity for primal passions, the repudiation of its legal reason for self-endorsing piety, the relinquishing of Divine justice for messianic terror, all of which were the distinguishing marks of these terrorist deeds, have still not entered the public debate. Islam, theres no mistaking, is as much of a victim in this tragedy as any other. If there is an ґIslamic connection to this horror, it is by default: for, no matter what the ґIslamic trappings of these terroristsҒ putative rhetoric, Islam itself has been devoured by the nihilism of modernity. It is modernity, with its rejection of transcendence, its project of immanent utopia, its gospel of political salvation, its idolatry of the collective self, which provides the key to their perverse ideology.”  Against the Nihilism of Terror, S. Parvez Manzoor

For the last thousand years the West treated Islam as the ‘other,’ as ‘over there.’ In the main this is still true: the bulk of the Muslim population lives in Africa and Asia. But today this simple world-view has been complicated by the presence in the West of over ten million Muslims. About five or six million Muslims live in Europe and about four or five million in America; the exact numbers tend to be somewhat unreliable, since immigrants and converts sometimes do not wish to declare their identity or register and are therefore difficult to enumerate. Muslims living in the West are theologically in harmony with the Quranic position. Again and again the Qur’an has emphasized that God’s domain is not restricted by East or West: it is everywhere. “To Allah belongeth the East and the West. Whithersoever ye turn there is Allah’s countenance” (Surah 2: verse 115). So Muslims can practise their religion whether in Cairo or California, in London or Lahore. Muslims in the West, Prof. Akbar S. Ahmed

WHAT IS THE WEST?  We see constant references to the CLASH of Islam and the WestӔ - what does this really mean?  One is a religious designation and one is a geographical or political designation.  Why not call it a clash of Islam and Christianity (which is the dominant westernӔ religious belief system)?  Is the West a Christian territory?  What exactly constitutes the West?  Is it a geographical entity?  Or is it a political, cultural, , religious, or ethnic entity?  How about the European Bosnians and Albanians - are they not part of the West?  How about the millions of Muslims living throughout Europe and in the AmericaҒs?  Is Islam part of the West?  Or part of the East, North, or South?  There are Muslims on every continent.  Muslims come from every race.  Being a Muslim is not defined by any particular race or geographical area.  Is it possible that being a Muslim puts you outside of any geographical considerations.

I have reviewed this geography in order to point out that, despite the fact that all three religions, and particularly Christianity and Islam, are worldwide in scope and claims, we tend to think and to speak of Christianity as the “West” and Islam as the “East.” To be sure, there is no doubt some geographic basis for this shorthand, but less than we assume, and diminishing. Hence, we have a question as to why we insist on using this geographical shorthand. It obviously has more political than geographic meaning.  We have had some answers recently that are well-known to you. Samuel Huntington sees the West and Islam as two antithetical “civilizations ” in long-term geopolitical conflict. Edward Said sees Orientalism as a false construct erected for ideological reasons by the Western world, and both pervasive and pernicious in its effects. I prefer to approach the question another way, and ask the question, why has it been that the Christian world seems to have singled out the Islamic world as its particular demon, and not merely recently but ever since the emergence of Islam? Actually the reverse has probably also been true, that Islam has regarded Christianity as its particular demon, but I do not feel I have the competence to discuss the question of why that is so or the degree to which it is so.Ԕ Islam, the West, and the World, Immanuel Wallerstein

Is the West a Christian entity?  How about the many contributions to science, medicine, art, literature, culture, philosophy made by Muslims to Western civilization?

It is a measure of the intensity of European antagonism that Western civilization has consciously chosen to downplay, even ignore, the immense debt that it owes Islam and the Muslims. In almost every facet of life, from medicine and algebra to law and government, Islam had laid the foundation for the progress of medieval Europe. In the words of the distinguished Irish scholar-diplomat, Erskine Childers, “In every discipline upon which Europe then began to build its epochal advancement, European monarchs, religious leaders and scholars had to turn to Arab sources. When once any Western student of history manages to learn of this vast Arab inheritance buried out of sight and mind in Western historiography, the astonishment that the very facts of it do not appear in Western education is the greater because the proofs are literally in current Western language”. Childers describes the unwillingness of the West to acknowledge the intellectual inheritance of Islam as “a collective amnesia”. Dominant Western Perceptions of Islam and Muslims, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar

We have a great deal in common, and it would seem that those who wish to deny this are simply encouraging a clash rather than a dialogue.

For one thing, these two civilizations have more in common with each other than either has with the Confucian world or the Hindu one, or most of the rest of the Huntington culture collection. Both have their origins in religions that believe in a single God (and any westerner who asks what that has to do with modern life needs to think about what made the West as it is today). Few westerners believe that God dictated the Koran, and no Muslim believes that Jesus was the son of God. Those are important disagreements, but they sit alongside a large number of shared convictions. A Muslim and a westerner both believe, more clearly than most other people, in the idea of individual responsibility. They can exchange opinions about the nature of good and evil, or property rights, or the preservation of the environment, in something like a spirit of brotherhood.Ԕ The Next War They Say
Diplomacy, free trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology, etiquette, fashion, alternative medicine, hospitals, all came from this great city of cities. Mediaeval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians to practice their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West. The surprise, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent to which Islam has been a part of Europe for so long, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and the extent to which it has contributed so much towards the civilization which we all too often think of, wrongly, as entirely Western. Islam is part of our past and present, in all fields of human endeavour. It has helped to create modern Europe. It is part of our own inheritance, not a thing apart.Ԕ Prince Charles of England

We seem to be headed for World War III,  a Clash of Civilizations, an apocalyptic battle between “good and evil”, and there are plenty of people on both sides who appear to be doing everything they can to bring this clash about.

“The “clash of civilizations” approach assumes, in deeply prejudiced fashion, that puritanism and terrorism are somehow authentic expressions of the predominant values of the Islamic tradition, and hence is a dangerous interpretation of the present moment. But the common responses to this interpretation, focusing on either the crisis of identity or acute social frustration in the Muslim world, do not adequately explain the theological positions adopted by radical Islamist groups, or how extreme violence can be legitimated in the modern age. Further, none of these perspectives engage the classical tradition in Islamic thought regarding the employment of political violence, and how contemporary Muslims reconstruct the classical tradition. How might the classical or contemporary doctrines of Islamic theology contribute to the use of terrorism by modern Islamic movements?” Islam and the Theology of Power, Khaled Abou El Fadl
“Islam, a religion I deeply love and which is essential to my identity, is repeatedly bearing the brunt for atrocious acts being carried out in its name the world over. It is perceived as a national security threat in the United States. At the same time, Americaa land I dearly love and whose values I cherishחarouses antagonism in much of the Muslim world. As an American Muslim leader put it recently, “A great mountain has grown between our cultures. Sometimes it seems that all we can do is scratch at the rock.” ... This is the painful place in which many Muslim Americans find themselves. While their American, non-Muslim, friends ask, “What are you Muslims around the world doing to us?” their overseas Muslim colleagues are saying, “What is your country, America, doing to us?” ...  But out of every such position arises an opportunity for change. The Quran states that God does not change the condition of a people until they change themselves. We American Muslims, who have harmonized the seemingly disparate American and Muslim parts of ourselves, are uniquely positioned to bridge the chasm, and to contribute some urgently needed fresh ideas on what needs to be changed on both sides. ... Given the current global flash points and critical mutual interests between the Muslim world and the West, Muslims in America have no greater cause now than to contribute to multi-disciplinary, inter-religious dialogues which strive to usher America into that era predicted by the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah, a time “when nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall learn war any more.” Bridging the Chasm Between Islam and the West, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

To avert a clash, we need to make an effort to understand the root causes of the violence, not to excuse it, but to effectively counteract it.

“Terrorism we must fight, and we must fight with determination and vigor. But for the fight to be effective, it must be carried according to fair rules, and must aim at the real target. An effective war on terrorism requires two elements. First, we must have a clear understanding of the sources of the anger and frustration that lies at the roots of global terrorism, and a clear definition of what constitutes a terrorist act. Second, we must have a clear vision of a global society based on the universal principles of equal freedom and mutual respect. A war on terrorism that employ moral themes but advance the narrow interests of a privileged few can bring more evil than good, as it is likely to result in harming innocent bystanders.”  Islam, World Peace, and the Terrorism Discourse, Louay Safi, PhD

We need more people involved in working to avoid a clash and work instead for a DIALOGUE OF CIVILIZATIONS.

“The true dialogue of civilizations will begin when Muslims with true spiritual understanding address themselves to the hearts of all human beings. In some cases they will instruct; in other cases they may have to learn, especially from certain Westerners who have been deeply involved with the problems of ecology, non-violence, gender equality. Westerners have been living longer with some of the contemporary diseases of materialism, consumerism, and depersonalization, and they may be able to offer some remedies.”  Dialogue of Civilizations and the Globalization of Spirit, Shaykh Kabir Helminski

And, perhaps even more than a dialogue of civilizations, a dialogue within our mutual civilization.

The idea and term clash of civilizations’ first came from the historian Bernard Lewis at Princeton University. Opposed to the idea of a clash of civilizations, President Khattami of Iran proposed a dialogue of civilizations at the United Nations in 1998; he pointed to the strengths of Islam and its great traditions of scholarship, understanding and dialogue. Another religious scholar, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, in his book, The Dignity of Difference (2003), argues that the roots of the clash go much deeper. According to Sacks, the clash is really between Abrahamic values which define Judaic, Christian and Islamic cultures ֖ and our contemporary values which have little time for piety, modesty, humility, compassion and scholarship. He too advocates dialogue and understanding. Promoting Dialogue Among Civilizations, Dr. Akbar Ahmed

The current debate in the EU on whether or not to admit Turkey, and the Pope’s statement that Europe should remain a ԓChristian Europe are troubling aspects of this question.

As a Cardinal, the new pope inserted himself last year into the political debate over allowing Turkey into the European Union, the paper said, quoting him as saying that adding Turkey would dilute the culture of what he considers a Christian continent. New Pope’s Christian Europe Raises Turkish Fears

In order to move forward towards a dialogue of civilizations instead of a clash of civilizations, we will need to bravely discuss all of these issues.

“We are long overdue for an open cultural exchange between Islam and the west in our own neighborhoods. We desperately need a frank discussion with each other about who we are and what we believe - even if neither side likes what they hear. ... even if Bin Laden’s network ceased to exist, we’d still have to confront the fact that two great civilizations, with a long history of conflict, are once again facing off in the global arena. ... Politicians, military commanders and journalists talk about the “Great Game”, a reference to the geopolitical intrigues being played out between Islam and the west in the Afghan war. What we need is “The Great Conversation” between Islam and the west so we can figure out how to accommodate each other. Until we do, our world will continue to be a dangerous and precarious place.” Dialogue Is a Necessity, Jeremy Rifkin

“Now is the time for re-union. We must emerge from the prison of solipsism, and from the confinement of an autistic mentality which is nothing more than the death rattle of an outmoded form of consciousness incapable of recognising and converging with the otherӔ. I have faith that this is where humankind is heading, for, in the words of an Egyptian proverb, the camel has his plans; the Camel Driver has his.Ӕ   The War of Barbarisms: Solipsism, Autism and the Death Throes of the Old Order,  Jeremy Henzell-Thomas

We need to do whatever is possible to avert a possible clash of civilizations because

“The ‘clash of civilizations’ via a global war can only mean the destruction of the entire human civilization and not the promotion of one culture over another. The only alternative available to mankind is dialogue in a framework of contact, communication and the free exchange of ideas. It is only through search, debate and dialogue that different moral, social and cultural alternatives can be presented in the world of today and appropriate choices made.” (Khurshid Ahmad, “Islam and the West: Confrontation or Cooperation?” The Muslim World, Jan- April 1995, p.71)

The Qur’an lays the foundation for the attitude that is needed:

“O Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and nations so that you might come to know each other. The best among you in God’s sight is that one of you who best performs his duty. God is All-knowing, All-Aware. “(Qur’an, 49:13)

This article is part of a 5 part series entitled “A Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism”
Part I http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_i/
Part II http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_ii/
Part III http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_iii/
Part IV http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_iv/
Part V http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_v/


by courtesy &  2005 The American Muslim  republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.