|Truth in the prediction
The 'clash of civilizations' theory seems to be gaining ground - which
one reason why the west shouldn't intervene in Darfur.
September 13, 2006 03:45 PM | Guardian
IN THE WAKE OF THE demands by the Sudanese government for African
peacekeepers to leave Darfur and Khartoum's refusal to accept any
deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in their stead, let alone an
American or a Nato deployment, the fear that a new round of slaughter
instigated by Khartoum is about to begin has led many decent people to
call for western intervention.
For activists, Darfur is Rwanda all over again and, they argue with
great passion and seriousness, just as it was a moral imperative to
intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda (and a blot on the world that
such an intervention did not take place), so the slaughter in Darfur
must be stopped by any means necessary.
Perhaps they are right. But one of the many catastrophes that have
resulted from the Anglo-American folly in Iraq, and the proclamation
of a so-called global war on terrorism by both the Bush administration
and the Blair government, is that such an intervention, however
imperative for the people of Darfur, may also have the effect of
pushing the world deeper into a civilization-based crisis that really
might lead to a third world war between the west and the Islamic
When Samuel Huntington's controversial theory about a global "clash of
civilizations", in which he suggested that in the post-Cold War world
such clashes were likely to be "particularly prevalent between Muslims
and non-Muslims", was first published in 1993 there was no particular
reason to suppose that he was right.
To be sure, some of the most savage conflicts of the early 1990s,
above all in Bosnia and Chechnya, could have been interpreted as
pitting Christianity against Islam, but what was actually taking place
on the ground both in the Balkans and the Caucasus largely did not
conform to Huntington's apocalyptic reductionism. There were foreign
jihadist fighters on the Bosnian government side, but they were hardly
representative of the Bosnian government for which they ostensibly
fought, let alone of Bosnian society as a whole. And, in 1993 at
least, the Chechen struggle was largely nationalist - as it had been
since the time of Tolstoy and before.
But in only a little more than a decade, Huntington's prediction has
become fact, at least in the minds of many people both in the west and
in the Islamic world. Jihadists had always been drawn to the
Huntington thesis (I first heard of it in 1994 in Bosnia from the
commander of the Black Swans, an Islamist unit largely made up of
orphans from the Drina Valley).
There is little doubt that the leadership of al-Qaida views the world
in these terms. It is also a view shared by increasing numbers of
people who in no way support terrorism throughout the Islamic world.
Recent polling data suggests that Muslim immigrants in Europe and,
increasingly in North America, view themselves as under attack as
Muslims - that is, civilizationally.
Those who support the so-called global war on terror talk about a
"long war" against radical Islamism. For his part, Tony Blair may
claim that what is taking place is not a clash of civilizations but
rather of values. Both the prime minister and President Bush view
western values as universal and unassailable (no Isaiah-Berlin style
values, pluralism or incommensurability for them!), and their
supporters, as pro-Blair or pro-Bush blogs will confirm, feel strongly
that the west is under attack from radical Islam abroad and its
immigrant fifth column at home. Many Muslims feel that the west has
launched a new crusade against the Ummah. Given all this, it is hard
to see how the view in Downing Street or at the White House does not
amount to pretty much the same thing.
This is the context in which the renewed calls for an American or a
Nato deployment in Darfur has to be situated, much as one might wish
it otherwise. An intervention on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims would
not have been a terrible blow to world peace any more than an
intervention to stop the genocide in Rwanda would have been.
But the deployment of a Christian army in yet another Muslim country,
whatever its humanitarian intentions, will deal just such a blow to
what peace is left at present. A Darfur activist would reply that none
of this matters - that what counts is saving the lives of the
Darfuris. Perhaps they are right. But those who make this case
seriously cannot be allowed to get around the hard question that these
times impose: how many lives in other parts of the world, from Kabul
to London, is such an intervention likely to cost?