Table of Contents

I. Prospectus
II. Circles of Antagonism: Popular Culture
III. Circles of Antagonism: The Intellectual Idiom
IV. Causes of Antagonism
V. Constructive Attitudinal Change
VI. Structure of the Islamic World
Afterword by Javeed Akhter
About the Author

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Circles of Antagonism:
The Intellectual Idiom

The demonization of Islam is also a significant theme in more serious intellectual circles. Headlines of prestigious newspapers, magazine covers, the design of the book dustcovers as well as the substance of journal and news articles contributed to this distortion. A sample of such treatment is suggestive. As early as 1979 Peregine Worsethorne wrote in the Sunday Telegraph of London:

Until this new threat from resurgent Islam is first understood in the context of the implacable motives behind it, which transcend reason and materialism and encompass religion, revenge and rage, can the proper and appropriate answers be found. Among those answers must be the possible use of armed force. For to encourage resurgent Islam to assume that it can get away with what amounts to a new style jihad, without its militancy being met by ours, this would condemn Christendom to an ignoble fate, as much invited as deserved. [Sic]

In 1984, Amos Perlmutter who teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. and is editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies warned of "a general Islamic war waged against the West, Christianity, modern capitalism, Zionism and communism all at once…[O]ur [the West's] war against Moslem populism is of the utmost priority, not the long term struggle against the Soviet Union." Another influential analysis was the Atlantic Monthly article by the well-known historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis. The word "rage" in the title of Lewis' article, "The Roots of Muslim Rage" had also been used earlier by the Los Angeles Times journalist, Robin Wright in her book, Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam. The evocative connotation of the term "rage" is self-evident. The eminent Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn similarly warned of the dangers to the West of a resurgent Islam.

The covers of upscale periodicals have been another source of distortion. Two rather dramatic examples are illustrative. The November 19, 1990 issue of The National Review featured in bold half-inch headline type: "The Muslims Are Coming. The Muslims Are Coming." Thus there is evoked the slogan ingrained in American history and allegedly shouted by Paul Revere: "The British Are Coming." No less suggestive is the imagery of the popular movie "The Russians Are Coming." It cannot be lost on the reader that the British and Russians were enemies of Americans and, by association, so must be the Muslims. Accompanying the headlines is a picture of an Arab camel race, which can easily be construed as Arab warriors advancing in line of battle. Ironically the article in the magazine, by Daniel Pipes, is moderate in tone and does not reflect the imagery of the cover. In a similar vein is the cover of the July 26, 1993 issue of The New Yorker, which shows an Arab terrorist, destroying a children's sand castle version of the World Trade Center in New York.

By far the most influential analysis of Islam as a probable enemy of the West is the seminal and provocative article, "The Clash of Civilizations?" which appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs. The author, Samuel P. Huntington, is Eaton Professor of the Science of Government and Director of the John M. Olin Center for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. The significance of the article, sometimes compared to George F. Kennan's influential essay on containment of the Soviet Union, signed as "X" and published in a 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, was emphasized by an unusual publishing tactic. The September/October 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs included a 22-page commentary on the essay by well-known analysts. It was followed in the November/December 1993 issue with a response by Huntington. This three-installment compilation continues to be available as a 57–page reprint. There are plans for publication of an expanded book version of this essay.

While the paradigm (a term not found in the original article but used in his subsequent response) constructed by Huntington embraced all civilizations, it emphasized Islam. Competition of political units in the world, Huntington said, will no longer be among nations, but between civilizations embracing groups of nations. These major civilizations include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and "possibly" African civilization. The most provocative assertion is his characterization of the "Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge Western interests, values and power." The danger of this nexus, he continues, is its reliance on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles and "other electronic capabilities" for delivering such systems. Specifically, he means North Korea and China (Confucian) and Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Algeria. Although Huntington does not end his essay on an apocalyptic note, his policy suggestions clearly reveal a basic fear of the Confucian-Islamic nexus. He cautions that European, North American, Eastern European, Latin American and Russian civilizations must cooperate and must maintain military superiority. They must exploit differences and conflicts among Confucian and Islamic states and must limit the increase in their military strength. He moderates this Machiavellian stance by concluding that the West must understand the religious and philosophical underpinnings of these civilizations and must identify "elements of commonality" between them and the West.

The Huntington article was widely read, discussed and written about. The Muslim world was particularly upset by the assertion that the "Confucian-Islamic connection" poses serious security problems for the West. The extent of its influence can be suggested by several Western references, some in accord and others in disagreement with the Huntington thesis. Robert D. Kaplan, in his apocalyptic essay "The Coming Anarchy," modifying Huntington's analysis, reinforces the possibility of an Islamic clash with the West. Kaplan admits that there are fissures within the Muslim world, particularly in the Fertile Crescent and the Caucasus. But environmental and demographic stress, added to Islamic militancy, cancels the effects of these fissures so that the Islamic threat to the West becomes more probable.

In the only footnote in his book, Out of Control, Zbigniew Brzezinski acknowledges reading the unpublished manuscript of Huntington's essay while his book was in press. He agrees with the fault lines and with the geographic element of the Huntington thesis in his own analysis of the "oblong of violence." He arrives at a much less pessimistic conclusion when he asserts that the "diversified Moslem world" is not ready to embark on with the West and for America to act on that assumption would be "to run the risk of engaging in a self-fulfilling prophesy." Former President Richard Nixon relates the Huntington thesis to current conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovia and in Azerbaijan. He warns against ignoring conflicts in which the Muslim world is victimized. In a sagacious comment he asserts that had Sarajevo been Christian or Jewish, the West "would have acted quickly and would have been right in doing so." Our failure to revoke the arms embargo against Bosnia "contributed to an image promoted by extreme Muslim fundamentalists that the West is callous to the fate of Muslim nations but protective of Jewish and Christian nations." While the Huntington prognosis may not be inevitable, Western (and especially American) policy may well result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One of the most carefully reasoned analyses of the alleged Muslim threat using Huntington as a point of departure is the feature article by Associated Editor Brian Beedham in The Economist. After criticizing Huntington's categories of civilization for being too rigid, Beedham denies the inevitability of a Muslim-West civilizational clash. The Muslim world can move confidently into the 21st century if it can solve three problems: coping with a modern economy, accepting the idea of sexual equality, and absorbing the principles of democracy. He makes a case for constructive mutual influence of Islam and the West to recover its cultures, Islam can influence the West to recover its belief in the "invisible life" and the West can help Islam to modernize. The two civilizations, he concludes, will not converge but they need "no longer regard each other as, respectively, amoral and fanatic."

The commentary on Huntington's essay appearing in the Foreign Affairs issue following that of the original piece was uniformly a dissent. Civilizations are not watertight; states are more powerful than civilizations and indeed control civilizations, tradition weakens in the face of modernity. Other themes questioned Huntington's classification of civilizations, characterized Islamic "hegemony" as a myth, marked the powerful global force of democracy and the inevitability of the mixing and melding rather than the separation of civilizations.

My own analysis is in general agreement wit this commentary, but some of the themes warrant further explanation. The formidable task of classifying, tracking and forecasting the future of civilizations had challenged scholars for centuries. In modern ties the 995-page magnum opus of Oswald Spenglerf: Decline of the West, first published in German in 1918 and in English eight years later, is a defining intellectual event. Though the two terms are now used interchangeably, Spengler distinguished between "culture" and "civilization." Culture is the soul and civilization the intellect. Civilization emerges from culture; it is the destiny and structure of cultures. This point is essential in understanding the changing nature of civilizations, which is my main criticism of the Huntington thesis. Spengler's schema embraces seven cultures: Faustian, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, Classical Arabian and Mexican. Like other analysts of civilization who follow him, Spengler pays special attention, in three chapters totaling 138 pages, to Islamic culture. Its culture is the most self-contained, the most clearly defined, in which the "soul" is coterminous with the intellect, sentiment with structure; hence culture with its structural outgrowth: civilization. Spengler is the most influential philosopher of civilizations who makes this important distinction. The stimulating Russian thinker, Nicolas Birdie, in the Epilogue to this book, The Meaning of History, asserts, "great Russian thinkers of the past had already drawn the distinction between culture an civilization" and makes a brilliant, clear exposition of this distinction. Arnold J. Toynbee, who refers to Spengler briefly by criticizing his organismic analogy to culture, uses the term "society". F.S.C. Northrop, making no reference to either Spengler or Toynbee, uses the term "society" generously and exclusively.

Toynbee's monumental A Study of History divides the world into 233 societies only five of which he found to exist at the time of his writing: Western Christendom, Orthodox Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Far Eastern. The contribution which Toynbee makes to the study of civilizations is to direct attention to the kaleidoscopic quality of change stunningly demonstrated by the reduction of 23 societies to five. The transformation of civilization is further explained by this complex matrix of "culture radiation and reception," which establishes the concept that change in civilization is not unidirectional but is reciprocal and circular.

The seminal studies of Northrop are unfortunately much less widely known than those of Spengler and Toynbee. Northrop's aim, especially in his The Meeting of East and West, is somewhat less metaphysically obscure than that of either Spengler or Toynbee. He seeks to overcome ideological conflicts by tracing global problems to their roots and resolving them "in theory, within the calmness of the study." This is understandable when we consider that the book was published in 1946, at the end of World War II, and at the beginning of the Cold War with its threat of nuclear annihilation. Northrop's catalog of civilizations is more precise and clearer than that of Spengler and Toynbee. It is free of the Teutonic and mystical underpinnings of the former and the rich, deep historical context of the latter. The Northrop analysis is profoundly grounded not only in philosophic understanding of the other cultures, but on intuitive comprehension of what he calls the all-embracing, aesthetic continuum. He divides the contemporary world into seven cultures: Islamic, Hindu, Latin American, Anglo-American, Mexican, Western and Eastern (Oriental). Like Spengler and Toynbee before him, especially like Spengler, Northrop emphasizes the intuitive artistic and religious components of culture. Northrop carries the earlier concepts of Spengler and Toynbee to a new threshold by emphasizing the mutability of cultures and the intricacies of their interrelationships. Acknowledging this, he seeks to find the ideological bases for their compatibility. He groups the seven cultures into two categories: East and West (hence the title of his book) by identifying religious and aesthetic complementarities. "It should be eventually possible," he concludes, "to achieve a society for mankind generally in which the higher standard of living of the most scientifically advanced a theoretically guided Western nations is combined with the compassion, the universal sensitivity to the beautiful, and the abiding equanimity and calm joy of the spirit which characterizes the sages and many of the humblest people of the Orient." This may appear to be an excessively optimistic view of civilizational change. Since it was written, there is evidence of both its validity and its weakness. The critical factor relating to the Huntington thesis is the inevitability of civilizational change so dramatic as to raise the possibility not of the clash but rather the accommodation.

Pitirim A. Sorokin, in his comparative analysis of the work of Spengler, Toynbee, Berdyaev, Northrop and others, finds concordance in their rejection of the linear concept of civilizational change. In the evolution of civilizations there are oscillating variations, spiralling and branching development. This is further substantiation of the permeability of civilizational boundaries, a permeability that has phenomenally increased in the nearly half century since these works were written. Sorokin also distinguishes between culture and civilization: "civilizations…have shown a succession of cultural systems which cannot be described by the same label throughout their history as 'Greek civilization' or 'Western European civilization' without grave risk of misunderstanding and error."

Other analysts confirm the difficulties in classifying civilizations and tracking their mutations. Studying West African societies as an anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski notes the circular change in cultures. Norman Daniel, an historian using Islam as a case, distinguishes between culture and civilization. The latter he describes as the "achievement of civic skills." Daniel refuses to attempt taxonomy of cultures, maintaining that there are too many interconnections and that different generations are different cultures.

In sum, change is directed by the diffusion of norms and institutions and by conditions of receptivity in the receiving culture. When diffusion is reinforced by colonial rule and receptivity is enhanced by fragmentation and bewilderment of the receiving culture, the pace and depth of change are accelerated. This analysis can be applied to the contemporary civilizations, which Huntington describes. The diffusion of colonialism has been replaced by the dynamic of the technetronic and now cybertronic prowess of radiating societies. Recipient cultures have been bewildered by this unprecedented impact. Some, certainly Islamic cultures, try valiantly to resist such cultural intrusion, by re-asserting religious roots of the pre-technetronic age. Extremist minority groups sometimes resort to violence in a desperate attempt to stay the infiltration of norms deemed abhorrent.

Civilizational change cannot aptly be described by the geological metaphors of fault lines or plate tectonics. Civilizations are delineated by highly permeable membranes, which filet norms and institutions circularly. The quality and rate of filtration depend on the viscosity of the substance being filtered, the force of radiation and the absorptive quality of receptivity. I have analyzed this process in some detail elsewhere and have illustrated it with a schematic diagram. The distinction made by Spengler and others between culture and civilization is critical in understanding this process. Civilization—-structures, artifacts, institutions, technologies—-are filtered at one rate of speed. The almost immediate diffusion of television, nuclear power and other technologies are examples of this. But culture—-the soul, the inward-dwelling, aesthetic quality of a people—-may lag behind this diffusion. It penetrates the delineating membrane at a different rate of speed and may encounter different qualities of impedance. This is the theoretical explanation of the very real problem faced by Muslim societies. Eager to accept technological innovation, they facilitate its flow through the delineating membrane. But the culture of a radiating society meets resistance. Often the attempts to impede diffusion of culture while facilitating technological diffusion are frantic, even comic. Thus French efforts to keep its language pristine by demonizing "Franglais" and other efforts to control dress, tonsorial style and other "Western behavior" are impedances to contaminating influences. Unfortunately, these values (soul, culture) cannot be completely separated from technology (artifacts, civilization). They may flow through the membrane different rates or may flow together in mixtures indiscernible to the recipient civilization. Every institutional and technological item, indeed every behavioral and attitudinal posture, is encased in a penumbra of epistemological premises from which it cannot be detached.

There is universal agreement among theorists of civilization that there is no static civilization. The immmutable law of change applies to societies as a well as to all units of existence. In our own times such change is especially rapid and dramatic. The civilization of India is no longer dominated by the Gandhian ethic of ahimsa, satyagraha, and brahmacharya which give philosophical underpinning to the Indian independence movement. Within two generations India moved from Gandhian non-violence to the absorption of Kashmir and Sikkim, wars with Pakistan, a war with China, the acquisition of nuclear weapons and refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Similarly, Turkey in two generations changed from the Ottoman nominal leadership of the Muslim world to a secular state under a woman prime minister with an American Ph.D. It would be difficult to find more spectacular examples of rapid civilizational change.

Nor is the civilization of the United States the same as it was a half century ago. Gone is the ethic of Puritanism, religious and family values of a generation ago. The debate, which dominates much of American, and to a lesser extent European, discourse centers on rapid change (some would way deterioration) of values, which bond a society together. Muslim societies are horrified by the spectacle of the new Leviathan of culture, telecommunications, and technotronic imperialism which seems triumphant. Both of these anxieties are compelling proof of the circularity of civilizational change and the permeability of cultural boundaries.