Bush is right: this is not a clash of civilizations
This simplistic explanation reduces cultures to stereotypes and disables anti-war resistance- By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
 

07-April-2003

We have heard only one truth from the Bush'n' Blair axis of deceit in the past six months. All else is lies, mangled truths and spin. But when these treacherous leaders claim that this is not a war against Islam, they are right. It is a new crusade, but it is not against the Islamic faith nor only against Muslims, or their culture, whatever that means.

Yet this description of the invasion is gaining currency. Last week, a Muslim woman on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day piously opined that the war is seen as an assault by Westerners on the Muslim way of life. Her evidence? The fact that American evangelicals are at Iraq's borders waiting to go in with food and bibles.

It is true that Christian fanatics among them Franklin Graham, son of Billy, who sees Islam as "evil" do see this as a holy battle. But if the only outcome of this military abomination were to be an influx of sanctimonious Christian missionaries with beaming faces and exhortations, Iraqis would hardly panic. The poor around the world are clever enough to know they sometimes must nod politely and accept bibles in order to get at essential goods.

Last week, the vulpine and diabolical Saddam latched on to the idea of military jihad. He called this a holy war and appealed to Islamists, and to the many Muslims filled with rage who are desperately seeking meaning.

Too many dictators and xenophobes in the world today are Muslims, but it is also indisputable that Muslims are facing injustice and institutionalised prejudice which makes them feel that they are the new Jews. The Rushdie crisis, the Balkan wars, Chechnya, and now Iraq have persuaded them that their lives and beliefs are targeted by the powerful nations, all of which are predominantly Christian. Some of this is simplistic (the US put down Serbs to protect Bosnian Muslims, for example) but the pain and fears are real and justified.

Nevertheless, this explanation of the war in Iraq must be vigorously rejected. It disables the anti-war resistance and perilously underestimates the threat of this new empire. It affirms conservative Americans such as Samuel Huntington, who believes that the West has irreconcilable differences with Islam and that a "clash of civilisations" is inevitable. It reduces culture to essentialist stereotypes, with no permeability between the tribes of the world. Muslims and "Westerners" in this discourse live in enclosures, with malevolence their only messenger.

The reality is that more non-Muslims than Muslims have protested against the war thus far. The Arab nations today the abject leaders and their people watch Iraq turn into a colony without taking to the streets in their millions. Fear of imprisonment, or worse, should not stop them. Why didn't they raise their fury against Saddam for all these years?

In 1998 when the price of onions rose in India, the most wretched of peasants raised hell and shook up their government. In the Middle East most people with wealth, erudition and political acumen sit tight in all this chaos. It is Muslims and others in the West who are having to fight on their behalf. Has any Arab millionaire living in his Park Lane mansion given millions to the anti-war movement? If so, do let me know.

The most incisive critics of this invasion include Muslims like Lord Ahmed and the Iraqi political scientist Kamil Mahdi, and also Arundhati Roy, Martin Amis, Nelson Mandela, Harold Pinter, actors and directors from Hollywood and Britain, our poet laureate Andrew Motion whose new poem is a profound anti-war statement, the singer George Michael, the atheist Oxford don Richard Dawkins, the architect Richard Rogers, the academics Correlli Barnett and Professor Avi Shlaim, many church people, the right-wingers Peter Hitchens and Matthew Parris, and the scholar Patrick Seale.

Millions of black and white Europeans are anti-war. On Thursday, protesting Americans gathered in London a reminder that millions of them are moral anti-imperialists too. People otherwise divided have amassed to reject the manufactured reasons for this invasion and to condemn the perpetrators, who will win this war but will have destroyed the soul of that suffering nation and wounded our democracy and international obligations.

I have just finished reading Civil Society in the Islamic World , edited by Amyn Sajoo, which shows how the quest for modern, democratic citizenship is now emerging in the most dormant of Muslim countries. Professor John Gray argues in his provocative new book, Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern , that new radical Islam is shaped as much by Western ideology as by Islamic traditions. Globalisation makes such promiscuity inevitable. While everybody argues about social cohesion in Britain, lo and behold we see it happening before our eyes in the anti-war movements.

We gather together because we value our values, the ties that bind us justice, democracy, true independence, global parity. Some of these are what Islamists would describe as "Western" and some come out of the long struggles of peoples against foreign rule. How proud I feel to have imbibed both these traditions and that today I fight for principles which are universal, and not only "Islamic".

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

 

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