There has been much talk, especially since 9/11, of a “clash of civilizations”. Osama bin Laden said that it was his intention to stoke division between the West and the Islamic world, and spark a great conflict. In this post I am going to examine this idea and ask whether such a clash is likely and what form it might take. Could it in fact be more ideological than actually physically violent?
Many, almost all in fact, of the leaders of Western countries have hastened to claim in the wake of terrorist attacks, that these attacks are “Nothing to do with Islam”. Publicly at least, it seems that they are worried their own non-Muslim populations may become hostile to the Muslims within their own countries, and such a violent “clash of civilizations” might begin. Privately perhaps their concerns may be rather different.
Of course George W Bush and his accomplice Tony Blair did appear to react in a knee-jerk fashion when they launched the ill thought-out invasion of Iraq in 2003. In reality it may be more likely that foolish world leaders would start such a clash, rather than ordinary people.
Those readers who have visited my blog before may have noticed that I put a lot of words in quotation marks. In putting the word “civilization” in quotes in the title I am pointing to the fact that this is hardly a clash of civilizations, but rather a clash of modernity and medieval-ism. For example, the stoning to death of adulterers, life threatening punishments for those who merely dare to question the Islamic religion, legalized wife beating (Koran 4:34), none of these things are the marks of a civilization at all. Since the very phrase therefore irks me, I will refer to the idea of a “clash of cultures” instead.
COULD MERELY CRITICIZING OR MOCKING ISLAM LEAD TO A VIOLENT CLASH OF CULTURES?
I think the answer to this question may depend somewhat on who is doing the criticizing. If leaders of non-Muslim countries were to begin loudly and publicly criticizing the religion, then I suppose that could lead to a clash, perhaps even full-scale wars, especially if they spoke in a derogatory or unduly offensive fashion. My suggestion therefore is that the world leaders behave in a diplomatic way, and leave the criticisms of religions to other people who have more time to think about those religions in depth.
I firmly believe however that the current practice of these leaders of pretending that any violent behaviour of Muslims has nothing to do with Islam is a *very* bad idea, and they should completely desist from doing that. These denials are just making the work of explaining the true nature of the religion to the majority more difficult. They are also emboldening the jihadists who conclude from it (with justification), that the Western leaders are very foolish. In this way the current leaders are actually increasing the risk of violent conflict rather than reducing it. The best hope of reducing the risk of a violent clash is in fact to allow the citizens to peacefully encourage as many as possible to reject/renounce the religion by revealing its many contradictions and faults. No Islam, no problem.
If ordinary citizens of “Western” countries can no longer criticize Islam without risking violent conflict either in their own countries or abroad, then freedom of speech is in very grave danger. If Western leaders resort to silencing such criticisms then they are really betraying freedom in their own countries to appease Muslims at home and abroad. I feel very strongly that it is essential that Westerners must continue to exercise free speech by criticizing Islam regardless of the consequences. If we fail to do this we are effectively allowing ourselves to be ruled by a foreign culture, we are effectively taking the first step towards submitting to Islam.
We cannot know if our criticisms will lead to a violent reaction from Muslims or not, we cannot predict the behaviour of others, but we must take the risk in order to preserve our own culture. I do not believe that an ideological clash will necessarily lead to violent confrontation. If Muslims do feel compelled to react to mere vocal criticism of their religion with violence, then that violent behaviour is their fault, not the fault of those that merely criticize. The Muslims in that case would be the ones initiating the violence. Western leaders MUST STOP blaming the non-Muslims who dare to merely criticize Islam for the violent actions of Muslims.
The publication of a book by Salman Rushdie called “The Satanic Verses” was possibly the first major polarizing event in recent times. The decision of Western countries to provide sanctuary and protection to Mr. Rushdie no doubt had some impact.
After the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s cartoonists, there was a great outpouring of sympathy in the West for those killed and a great show of solidarity with even the leaders of France, Germany, the UK (among many others) appearing at a march in Paris. Some numbers of Muslims in the West protested against this show of solidarity. For example there was a sizable protest in Whitehall (1).
Clearly the Hebdo event has done something to increase tension between the cultures. Other attempts to kill cartoonists who mocked Islam in the West seem only to have increased the resolve of some to continue drawing such cartoons. A group hosted a cartoon drawing competition in Garland, Texas for example, and they were violently attacked although fortunately their security team managed to kill the assailants before they could get inside the building. All these events could doubtless be seen as evidence of increasing polarization.
A huge atrocity later occurred in Paris when 130 innocent people were massacred quite randomly. Was there a connection between this event and the Hebdo magazine publication? Did the magazine’s publication increase the tension in France particularly or would the later massacre have happened anyway? It is impossible to be sure. However the fact that another atrocity occurred in Belgium not long afterwards, where no such prominent magazine was published, suggests really that these atrocities are much more motivated simply by hatred of “Western” civilization and are an attempt to terrorize non-Muslims into submission or spark violent conflict.
While there can be no doubt that polarization is taking place, the relationship between this and acts of violence is not direct. Acts of violence may also have more political motivations. Terrible though the atrocities so far committed have been, the scale of violence could also scarcely be described as a violent clash of cultures.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH VERSUS BLASPHEMY LAW IN THE INTERNET ERA
Thanks to modern mass communication technology, TV, radio and now the internet, things we say in one country can fly round the world and upset people who are very easily upset on the other side of the world in an instant. Since the Islamic religion cannot survive in a critical environment, this does pose a problem for the Islamic countries that want to remain Islamic. However much they repress their own populations with harsh punishments for speaking against the religion, they cannot currently repress non-Muslims in far away countries. Perhaps then an ideological clash is inevitable in our interconnected modern world. Consequently I suspect that Muslim countries will increasingly try to censor and restrict internet access within their own countries. It is not surprising that the Muslim president of Turkey, Erdogan, said recently at a press conference that ‘I am increasingly against the Internet every day’ (2).
Probably mindful of this increasing inter-connection, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has been trying to pressure the United Nations into enacting a worldwide law preventing the criticism of religion. However in the “West”, we have long regarded freedom of speech as a very fundamental right. The suggestion that we should no longer be able to criticize religions in our own non-Muslim countries is in very real and direct conflict with this right. There is a huge, unavoidable conflict of ideas here. We can expect therefore that there will be more such attempts to destroy our freedoms in future.
If we want to protect our freedoms then we must protest loudly against both existing blasphemy laws and proposed new blasphemy laws. We must be vigilant and prepared for these laws to appear in many guises. An example of such a law that already exists is the law in Austria against “denigration of religious beliefs”. A far worse law, because it could encompass practically any criticism of anything, is the UK government’s proposed “Extremist Banning and Disruption Orders”. We must oppose all laws that increase the limits on freedom of speech.
IS AN IDEOLOGICAL CLASH INEVITABLE EVEN IF WE DO NOT CRITICIZE ISLAM?
Those that have studied Islam in any depth know that it is in fact a supremacist ideology that does not tolerate those with conflicting ideologies, including those who have no faith. Even if everybody in the world were to refrain from criticizing or mocking the religion, the demands from the Islamic world might increase regardless. Islamic leaders might begin to call for laws requiring everybody in the world to convert to the religion. Could there come a point where majorities in “Western” non-Muslim populations begin to object to this? Could a violent clash of cultures come about in this way? The possibility cannot be dismissed lightly.
It is certainly increasingly difficult for the followers of other faiths to openly practice their religion in Islamic countries. If the birth rates in Muslim countries continue to stay significantly higher than replacement level, and the huge migrations from Muslim countries into the “West” are allowed to continue, while the non-Muslim birth rate stays so low, these demands will very likely begin to be heard. Erdogan, for example clearly believes that Islam has a mission to dominate the whole world. (3)
Islamic influence can best be seen as a combination of peer pressure, fear and intimidation. The more Muslims there are in an area, the stronger this influence becomes. As the pressure grows, eventually the choice inevitably becomes one between submission and opposition, and Islam dictates that any opposition, any “mischief” be dealt with very harshly with violence.
In conclusion, I believe that there is in fact a very real ideological clash going on, that it is escalating steadily, and that, thanks to modern communications technology, such an ideological clash is inevitable in the modern world. Human thought is vastly more inter-connected than ever before.
If the leaders of “Western” countries truly believe in freedom of speech and democracy, as they claim to, then they must know they have a duty to stop Muslim immigration. This must continue at least until there is evidence of sufficient numbers of Muslims becoming apostates so that the influence of the religion in the “West” begins to decline dramatically. The leaders also have a duty to reform welfare programs because currently there is every incentive for those on welfare to have large numbers of children, and this is fostering the increase of Islamic influence in the West. If they fail to take these steps it will be them, not the concerned critics of Islam, who are responsible if the ideological clash escalates further into violence. It is simply a numbers game. The more Muslims the more risk some will resort to violence to try to impose their ideology on others.
In short, the best way for the world to avoid the ideological clash escalating into something more dangerous is for the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds to be separated and segregated physically as much as is practical. Of course we can care about what goes on in Islamic countries, but the pressing need today is to stop the increasing influence of Islam in our own countries in the West.