Radical Islam vs. Civilization
By Daniel Pipes
February 1, 2007
Text of a talk presented by Daniel Pipes on January 20, 2007, in London in a debate with the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, as transcribed by the 910 Group with the help of others. The original posting of the video can be seen at YouTube; for a single clip version, see the posting at the Global Defense Group. For accounts of the debate, see the bibliography at "My Debate with London Mayor Ken Livingstone."
Thank you so much. I'd like to begin by thanking Mayor Livingstone for his kind invitation to join you today and I thank the Greater London Authority for the hard work it put into what is obviously a successful event. I am delighted by the interest that you, the audience, has shown. And I'm grateful to my supporters who have come from four different countries to be with me today.
The Mayor is an optimistic man. I'm generally invited to bring along some gloom, and I will, true to form, provide some for you. [audience laughter]
Let me start with my position on the question of world civilization or clash of civilizations. One: I am for world civilization, and I reject the ‘clash of civilization' argument. Two: The problem is not so much a clash of civilizations, but a clash of civilization and barbarism.
I'd like to begin by looking at Samuel Huntington's idea. He argued that cultural differences, in his 1993 article, are paramount. "The fundamental source of conflict … will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural." And in all he finds seven or eight set civilizations, namely, "Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African."
My response is that civilization is useful as a cultural concept but not as a political one. There are three problems with seeing civilizations as actors in the way that Huntington suggests. It can't account for tensions within a single civilization, it can't account for agreement across civilizations, and it doesn't account for change over time. Let me give you three quick examples. I'll take them from the area that I have studied, which is the Muslim world.
First, it cannot account for Muslim-on-Muslim violence, of which there is a great deal: We have the civil war in Lebanon, the Iraq-Iran war, the Islamist insurgency in Algeria, the Sunnis vs. Shi‘is in Iraq at present, the near civil war in the Palestinian Authority, the Sudanese government against the people of Darfur. This cannot be accounted for in civilizational terms.
Second, it ignores the agreement across civilizations. I'd like to take a UK-based example, namely the edict of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 against Salman Rushdie, who at that time was living in London. It appeared, at first glance, to be a question of Muslims on one side and Westerners on the other. Muslims were burning The Satanic Verses novel, there was violence in India, etc. But a closer look showed that in fact it was quite something different, it was far more complex. There were plenty of Westerners who were against Rushdie and plenty of Muslims who supported him.
Let me give you just a couple of quotes,. The foreign secretary of Britain at that time, Sir Geoffrey Howe, said "the British government, the British people do not have any affection for Rushdie's book." On the other hand, the Egyptian foreign minister said "Khomeini had no right to sentence Rushdie to death." And another Egyptian minister said "Khomeini is a dog, no, that is too good for him, he is a pig." [audience laughter]
Third point, Huntington in his analysis can't account for change over time. And I can best illustrate this by giving you a quote from his 1993 article, He said "The economic issues between the United States and Europe are no less serious than those between the United States and Japan, but they do not have the same political salience and emotional intensity because the differences between American culture and European culture are so much less than those between American civilization and Japanese civilization."
Well that was true enough in 1993, but it sounds pretty silly in 2007 where there are virtually no tensions between the United States and Japan and I'm sure you are aware there are tensions between the United States and Europe. The vituperation is far more severe across the Atlantic than the Pacific.
What Huntington did was to take an incident of the moment and turn them into something civilizational and it didn't work. In short the clash of civilization idea fails, it does not fit the facts, it is not a good way to understand the world.
What about then a world civilization? Can it exist? If one defines it as Huntington does, as a culture, basically then, no, it can't. As he puts it, correctly, "for the relevant future there will be no universal civilization but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others." I don't think there is anyone who would dispute that.
But yes, there can be a world civilization if one defines it differently. Civilization can be the opposite of barbarism. And civilization in this sense has a long history. In the Bible, there is a passage, "And ye shall… proclaim liberty throughout all the lands and unto all the inhabitants thereof." In the Koran, "you are the best community ever raised among mankind, you advocate righteousness and forbid evil, and believe in God." The American byword is ‘the pursuit of happiness', the French is "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité " Winston Churchill in 1898, writing about the Sudan, said that civilization is "sympathetic, merciful, tolerant, ready to discuss or argue, eager to avoid violence, to submit to law, to effect compromise."
So the question is, can this state of being, of being civilized, can it exist on a world level?
It can, in so far as those who are civilized confront those who are not civilized. The world civilization exists of civilized elements in every culture banding together to protect ethics, liberty and mutual respect. The real clash is between them and the barbarians.
Now what do I mean by barbarians? I do not mean people who are of lower economic stature. What I mean by barbarians – and I think all of us mean by barbarians in the past two centuries – are ideological barbarians. This is what emerged in the French revolution in the late 18th century. And the great examples of ideological barbarism are fascism and Marxist Leninism – they, in their course of their histories have killed tens of millions of people.
But today it's a third, a third totalitarian movement, a third barbarian movement, namely that of radical Islam. It is an extremist utopian version of Islam. I am not speaking of Islam the religion, I am speaking of a very unusual and modern reading of Islam. It has inflicted misery (as I mentioned Algeria and Darfur, before), there is suicide terrorism, tyrannical and brutal governments, there is the oppression of women, and non-Muslims.
It threatens the whole world:. Morocco, Turkey, Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, you name it, Afghanistan, Tunisia, and not just the traditional Muslim world, but also Russia, France, Sweden, and I dare say, the United Kingdom.
The great question of our time is how to prevent this movement, akin to fascism and communism, from growing stronger.
Now, I believe the mayor and I agree on the need to withstand this menace, but we disagree on the means of how to do it. He looks to multiculturalism, and I to winning the war. He wants everyone to get along; I want to defeat a terrible enemy.
The mayor defines multiculturalism as "the right to pursue different cultural values subject only to the restriction that they should not interfere with the similar right for others." And he argues, as you just heard, that it works, that London is a successful city. I won't dispute his specifics, but I do see the multicultural impulse creating disaster by ignoring a dangerous and growing presence of radical Islam in London.
One evocative sign of this danger is that citizens in your country have become a threat for the rest of the world. In 2003, Home Secretary David Blunkett presented a dossier to a Special Immigration Appeals Commission in which he "admits that Britain was a safe haven for supporters of worldwide terrorism" and in which he said Britain remains a "significant base'" for supporting terrorism.
Indeed, British-based terrorists have carried out operations in at least fifteen countries. Going from east to west, they include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Algeria, Morocco, Russia, France, Spain, and the United States. I'll give you one example, from the United States: it was Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, who I am primarily thinking of, but there is also the [End of clip #3; Start of clip #4] British involvement in 9/11 and in the Millennium Plot that did not take place in Los Angeles.
In frustration, Egypt's President Husni Mubarak publicly denounced the UK for "protecting killers." After the August 10th thwarted Heathrow airline mega-plot, of a few months ago, two American authors argued in The New Republic, that from an American point of view, "it can now be argued that the biggest threat to U.S. security emanates not from Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan—but rather from Great Britain."
And I believe this is the tip of the iceberg. I believe it refutes Mr. Livingstone's opposing view.- that there isn't a problem. This is the problem, the problem is radical Islam, also known as fundamentalist Islam, political Islam, Islamism. It is not, again, Islam the religion, it is radical Islam, the ideology.
Let us focus on three aspects of it. The essence of radical Islam is the complete adherence to the Shari'a, to the law of Islam. And it is extending the Shari‘a into areas that never existed before.
Second, it is based very deeply on a clash of civilizations ideology. It divides the world into two parts, the moral and the immoral, the good and the bad. Here is one quote from a British-based Islamist by the name of Abdullah el-Faisal, who was convicted and is now in jail. "There are two religions in the world today - the right one and the wrong one. Islam versus the rest of the world." You don't get a more basic clash-of-civilization orientation than that. There is a hatred of the outside world, of the non-Muslim world, and the West in particular. There is the intent to reject as much as possible of outside influence.
The third feature is that this is totalitarian in nature. It turns Islam from a personal faith into an ideology, into an ism. It is the transformation of a personal faith into a system for ordering power and wealth. Radical Islam derives from Islam but is an anti-modern, millenarian, misanthropic, misogynist, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, triumphalist, jihadistic, terroristic, and suicidal version of it. It is Islamic-flavored totalitarianism.
Like fascism and communism, radical Islam is a compelling way of seeing the world in a way that can absorb an intelligent person – to show him or her a whole new way of seeing life. It is radically utopian and takes the mundane qualities of everyday life and turns them into something grand and glistening.
There is an attempt to take over states. There is the use of the state for coercive purposes, and an attempt to dominate all of life, every aspect of it. It is an aggression against neighbors, and finally it is a cosmic confrontation with the West. As Tony Blair put it in August of 2006, "We are fighting a war, but not just against terrorism but about how the world should govern itself in the early 21st century, about global values."
Now how does one respond to this?
The mayor is a man of the Left, and I am a classical liberal. We can agree that neither of us personally wishes to be subjected to the Shari‘a. I will assume, you [looking at Ken Livingstone] will correct me if I am wrong [short sporadic applause] that neither of us want this as part of our personal life.
But our views diverge sharply as to how to respond to this phenomenon. Those of my political outlook are alarmed by Islamism's advances in the West. Much of the Left approaches the topic in a far more relaxed fashion.
Why this difference? Why generally is the right alarmed, and the left much more sanguine? There are many differences, there are many reasons, but I'd like to focus on two.
One is a sense of shared opponents between the Islamists and those on the left. George Galloway explained in 2005, "the progressive movement around the world and the Muslims have the same enemies," which he then went on to indicate were Israel, the United States, and Great Britain.
And if you listen to the words that are spoken about, say the United States, you can see that this is in fact the case. Howard Pinter has described America as "a country run by a bunch of criminal lunatics." [big applause and shouts] And Osama Bin Laden [stops … ] I'll do what I can to get an applause line. [laughter] And, get ready for this one: Osama Bin Laden called the United States, "unjust, criminal, and tyrannical." [applause]
Noam Chomsky termed America "a leading terrorist state". And Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a leading Pakistani political leader, called it the "biggest terrorist state." [scattered applause]
Such common ground makes it tempting for those on the Left to make common cause with Islamists, and the symbol of this would be the [huge, anti-war in Iraq] demonstrations in Hyde Park, on the 16th of February 2003, called by a coalition of leftist and Islamist organizations.
At other times, the Left feels a kinship with Islamist attacks on the West, forgiving, understanding why these would happen. A couple of notorious quotes make this point. The German composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen termed the 9/11 attacks "the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos," while American novelist Norman Mailer, commented that "the people who did this were brilliant."
Such attitudes tempt the Left not to take seriously the Islamist threat to the West. With John Kerry, a former aspirant to the [U.S.] presidency, they dismiss terrorism as a mere "nuisance."
That is one reason; the bonds between the two camps. The second is that on the Left one finds a tendency to focus on terrorism – not on Islamism, not on radical Islam. Terrorism is blamed on such problems as Western colonialism of the past century, Western "neo-imperialism" of the present day, Western policies—particularly in places like Iraq and the Palestinian Authority. Or from unemployment, poverty, desperation.
I would contend that it actually results in an aggressive ideology. I respect the role of ideas, and I believe that not to respect, to dismiss them, to pay them no attention, is to patronize, and to possibly even to be racist. There is no way to appease this ideology. It is serious, there is no amount of money that can solve it, there is no change of foreign policy that make it can go away.
I would argue to you, ladies and gentlemen, it must be fought and must be defeated as in 1945 and 1991, [applause] as the German and the Soviet threats were defeated. Our goal must be, in this case, the emergence of Islam that is modern, moderate, democratic, humane, liberal, and good neighborly. And that it is respectful of women, homosexuals, atheists, whoever else. One that grants non-Muslims equal rights with Muslims.
In conclusion, Mr. Mayor, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, on the Left or on the Right, I think you will agree with me on the importance of working together to attain such an Islam. I suggest that this can be achieved not via the get-along multiculturalism that you propose, but by standing firm with our civilized allies around the globe. Especially with liberal voices in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with Iranian dissidents, and with reformers in Afghanistan.
I also propose standing with their counterparts in the west, with such individuals as Ayaan Hirsi Ali [applause], … formerly a Dutch legislator and now in exile in the United States; with Irshad Manji, the Canadian author; [applause] with Wafa Sultan, the Syrian in exile in the United States who made her phenomenal appearance on Al-Jazeera. Individuals like Magdi Allam, an Egyptian who is now a leading Italian journalist; Naser Khader, a parliamentarian in Denmark; Salim Mansur, a professor and author in Canada, and Irfan Al-Alawi, here in Britain. [applause]
Conversely, if we do not stand with these individuals, but instead if we stand with those who would torment them, with the Islamists, with, I might say, someone like Yusuf al- Qaradawi [applause] we are then standing with those who justify suicide bombings, who defend the most oppressive forms of Islamic practice, who espouse the clash of civilizations [notion that] we ourselves reject.
To the extent that we all work together, against the barbarism of radical Islam, a world civilization does indeed exist – one that transcends skin colour, poverty, geography, politics, and religion.
I hope that you and I, Mr. Mayor, can agree here and now to cooperate on such a program.
Original article available at: www.danielpipes.org/article/4254