Which West? Which Islam?

Sahin Alpay

Posted Nov 21, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Which West? Which Islam?

The Clash of CivilizationsӔ theory with the clash between the West and Islam at the center, which was first put forward by Bernard Lewis and later publicized by Samuel Huntington, is a theory which is misleading, which distorts reality and which at the same time is quite dangerous.

In order to see this, it suffices to ask the following questions: Which West, which Islam? What is meant by the West? Does it mean the West that gave birth to nationalism, racism, fascism, militarism, colonialism, imperialism or the West that is the cradle of liberalism, human rights, the rule of law, democracy, multiculturalism that envisages respect for different views, faiths and lifestyles? What is meant by the West? The US or the EU? What is meant by the US? Does it mean Red AmericaӔ or Blue AmericaӔ, two Americas wide apart? Does it mean Clintons liberalism or BushҒs militarism? What is meant by the EU? Old EuropeӔ or New EuropeӔ? Monoculturalist Europe, EU as a Christian clubӔ or the multiculturalist EU that is built on universal values? Does the West mean the one that supports Israels domination of Palestinians, Arab dictators, invasion of Iraq or the one that stands for settlement of international conflicts through law, fairness, dialogue and peaceful means?

What is meant by Islam? Is it Sunni or Shiite Islam? Is it the Islam of ulema, religious scholars or of Sufi mystics? Is it the Shiite tradition or the Khomeini interpretation? Is it Islam as a spiritual -moral creed or political Islam? Is it the fundamentalists who oppose modernism or modernists who reinterpret Islam according to the requirements of the contemporary world? Is it the Islam of the Wahhabis and Osama bin Laden or the Islam of Fethullah Gulen and Abdulkarim Soroush? Do we refer to Saudi Arabia, Iran or Turkey when we use the word ғIslam? The truth is that there are many different religions and cultures in the world, but there is just one modern civilization to which they all contribute; and modern civilization is nothing but the principles that stand for respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, respect for diversity of opinion, beliefs and lifestyles and settlement of conflicts not through force but through law, fairness and dialogue.

The conflict between modern civilization and forces that resist it continues today in almost all regions, cultures and countries of the world. Bush militarism in the US challanges both modern civilization and the liberal and pluralist traditions of America. Those who want to build the EU as a ԓChristian club challenge the EU as a project for permanent peace and democracy in Europe which started two disastrous world wars. (Do not the recent riots in France witness to this?) The main struggle in the Muslim world is between those who want to adopt modern civilization and those who resist it. The basic cleavage in Muslim-majority Turkey is certainly not between those who defend secularism and those who want to establish a religious state. It is between those who want to consolidate a liberal and pluralist democracy and the style of settling conflicts through law, fairness, dialogue and peaceful means on the one side, and those who oppose it on the other.

To explain the conflict between BushԒs militarism and al-Qaedas terrorism as ғa clash of civilizations or ԓa clash between the West and Islam is turning reality upside down. What is common to both BushԒs militarism and bin Ladens terrorism is that both are enemies of civilization; one is equally dangerous as the other, and the fight against one of them cannot be won without fighting the other. These were my concluding words of the statement I made at the international conference on ғDialogue among cultures and religions that was organized by Fundacion Atman in Madrid on October 28. The founder of peace studies, Professor Johan Galtung said the following: ԓThere is really no difference between bin Laden and Bush in essence, but the former may be more intelligent than the latter.

Originally published in Zaman online at http://www.zaman.com/ and reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.