Monday, September 17, 2012

It is a clash of civilisations - it's about time we were proud of our's

Back when I studied international relations at university, Samuel Huntingdon’s “Clash of Civilisations” was not cited as a particularly seminal work.  It was thoroughly criticised, as the prevailing view at the time was that Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis appeared to be more valid.  Bear in mind this was just after the end of the Cold War, and followed what appeared to have been a successful excising of Saddam Hussein’s gangster regime from Kuwait, under UN Security Council sanctions.

The heady days of humanitarian intervention appeared ahead, and with Russia a friend of the West, China focused almost entirely upon economic growth and internal stability and Middle East peace talks focused around pathways towards resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it did not look like there was great international disunity like was seen under the Cold War.

Liberal democracy and basics levels of individual rights and free speech seemed largely universal now that what was the Soviet bloc, seemed to embrace them.  The weeping sores of Israel/Palestine, South Africa, Northern Ireland all seemed to be on pathways to progress.   China, albeit a large country still a long way from any embrace of such rights, appeared to be pointing in the right direction, and was inwardly focused only likely to lash out over Taiwan or Tibet.  Latin America appeared to have rid itself of virtually all of its tyrants.  East Timor was finally liberated from Indonesian military rule.  Saddam Hussein seemed contained.  The Balkans were a disaster and a travesty, but after (finally) intervention against Serbia, it all seemed to come to a halt, and Europe has managed to ringfence and rebuild those lands that were once Yugoslavia.   However,  Rwanda/Burundi and Liberia showed how easy it was for political/military leaders to incite mass extermination campaigns.

It has been clear now, at least for 11 years, that this rosy view of the world has been a mistake.  Most importantly, it is abundantly clear that the values of individual freedom, free speech and freedom of religion, are not embraced by the majority of the world’s population.

Whilst those of us in the “Western” world see differences between the US and Europe, these differences are insignificant between those of other civilisations on the planet.  It is taken for granted in the “West” (by which I mean the EEA countries, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), that women should be equal under the law to men, that racism is unacceptable and barbaric, that free speech including the right to criticise all political views, and to both criticise and mock public figures, is inviolable, and that freedom of religion and from religion are part of a modern society. 

However, whilst many share some of these values, many not only disagree but cannot even comprehend a viewpoint that holds them.

It is fair to say that support or embrace of those values may be slightly weaker in Latin America than in the West, and moreso in the former USSR.   Confucian and Hindu cultures in east and South Asia also carry less tradition and support for such freedoms, but there have been, by and large, positive paths towards that (although racism/sectarianism remains rampant).   Sub-Saharan African countries have also a different view of such freedoms, which are more diverse than Huntingdon could reveal.
However, the big conflict is with the Islamic world, which itself has many diverse strands, but which by and large, with the exception of the likes of Bosnia, Albania and Turkey, is hostile to individualism, secularism and freedoms of speech and religion.

The reaction seen across the Muslim world, and in many Western countries, is a throwback of some centuries, indeed it is a difference that is more profound that than between Marxism-Leninism and Western liberal democracy/mixed capitalist countries during the Cold War.

The flames being fanned by Islamists are ones of values that are completely contrary not only to the post-enlightenment settlement between Christianity, the state and society, but also international law on human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The protestors are predominantly men, promulgating a misogynistic world view, which not only treats women and girls as possessions, but has no tolerance for even engaging in debate or challenge of their religious view.  Freedom of speech is to be burnt at the stake along with all those who they feel have hurt their point of view.  It is as dangerous as it is infantile, as fanatically anti-reason as the anti-semitism of the Nazis, the anti-classism of the Khmer Rouge and every sectarian conflict you can remember. 

They are as incredulous about the relaxed Western view over a film produced privately in the US, as Westerners are over their violence and (literal) sabre rattling.  They live in societies where drawing an image of their prophet can get you executed, and indeed even deciding that you no longer believe in Islam can mean death.    This is accepted as being integral to their entire social system and set of beliefs.   Religion is not an adjunct to life that provides meaning for certain ethical questions or advice on living under difficult circumstances, for reflection at least once a week.  It is central, fundamental and provides a source of guidance on a daily basis.  The closest parallel outside it in modern history is seen in the personality cult laden totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany, the Stalinist world, Maoist China and today in North Korea.   In all of them, the thoughts and words of the personality cults meant everything, their lives, their deeds took up so much time in education and daily life.   For many Muslims, Islam is that special.  The idea anyone would choose to abandon such believes is not only foolish, but dangerous and any such element is likely to bring down their proud culture.
Given they live in states which enforce this society, they find it remarkable that other states do not also reflect their national religions.  The idea that private American citizens can produce a film, without any official endorsement or state oversight, seems improbable and impossible to them.  After all, surely all governments everywhere enforce the religious values of their societies?  Just because the West has corrupt ones, and Christianity has been debased so much (they would say), is not the point.  After all, the Islamists would say, they certainly don’t allow people to poke fun at Christianity (don’t ask about the Jews though).

The seriousness by which they take religion, the state and the offence they feel, is palpably toxic.  Because they fanatically embrace Islam (almost entirely because they were born and raised with it), and because they believe anyone departing from it must be both foolish and evil, they see anyone who dares challenging it to be challenging them personally.  They see it as the devil – like an ancient tribe of animists who see outsiders mocking their totems.   They see it as dangerous and genuinely feel that a challenge or mockery of their faith is an attack on themselves.

Yet people in the West are regularly exposed to mocking, to having either religious or political beliefs challenged.  Few would resort to mass violence to defend their point of view.   You see, Western culture and society has embraced free speech, a diversity of views, open discourse and satire as being healthy.  The amount of mockery and what would be seen as blasphemy against Christianity is significant, and is seen across the Western world (although there are parts of the US where it is a bit scarcer than others).   However, the Christian response is, mostly, to engage, to debate, sometimes to call for new laws, but it isn’t to go out and vandalise or demand beheadings.

That is the response I’d have expected 600 years ago.  That is roughly where many in the Islamic world are.   It is why the invasion of Afghanistan is failing, because barely any effort has gone into changing culture – a culture which is as sexist, racist and religiously intolerant as Western society was in the dark ages, and as economically and scientifically innovative. 

So what does this mean?  The key question is how to respond to such sabre rattling.

There are, logically, five options.

Submit, appease, ignore, engage or fight.

Submitting to such declaration of bigotry or ignorance is not an option, it is surrendering that which literally millions of men and women have died to defend.  No one who even considers such an option deserves to live in a free society.

Appeasement is the worm’s way out, and indeed is the option that more than a few politicians will adopt.  This is to agree with the bigots, and to call for greater “respect and tolerance” of beliefs that themselves embrace little respect and tolerance.  This is the vile sycophantic selling out of more than a few on the left, who are only too quick to want to placate the men who want to continue to treat women as chattels, and execute apostates, rape victims and homosexuals.  No one who speaks the language of appeasement deserves to even be considered to be liberal or respectful of human rights.  It is telling that this is the response of the UN Secretary General.  It is also not the path for victory, for ultimately you will have sold out all of your freedom to placate those who hate the values you say you believe in, but prove by actions that you'll sell for some short term peace.

Ignoring the protests is a viable option, until of course, they start engage in vandalism and violence against the innocent.  In some places, they are on a scale where this appears the only logical option, to “let off steam”, but this simply means steam will build up again.  Nobody who fought for fundamental freedoms would see this as being honourable.

Engaging them, would appear to be the most logical and productive step forward.   Indeed, it is promising that counter-protests have appeared in some cities, such as Tripoli, and that some Muslims fear the approach taken by protestors is to deny the freedom some have fought for.   The message to them all should be very simple:
  • -          Secular states do not control what films private citizens produce;
  • -          Freedom of religion and freedom of speech include freedom to offend, to challenge and to mock;
  • -          The response in a free society to being offended, is to challenge back and mock back, to disarm others through argument, reason and one’s own creativity, not violence;
  • -          Those that advocate violence or vandalism to make arguments for their religion have already lost, as they are incapable of debate.
Finally, the need to fight in self-defence is critical.  Whether it be people or property owners, the application of violence should be resisted by the state and individual victims to the extent necessary to defend themselves.  For let's be clear, 9/11 was undertaken by those willing to destroy our way of life.   People who are not amenable to reason and engage in force, must be fought - there is no peaceful option to deal with those willing to kill you.

In conclusion, it is critical for those in the West, whether they be libertarians, conservatives, socialists, Christians or atheists, to understand that the commonly shared basic Western values of individual autonomy, equality of the sexes and races, and tolerance of different religious beliefs, are not shared by many on the planet (indeed they are inconsistently shared in the West).  For those values to get greater adherence requires patience, it requires leading by example and it requires continuous consistent engagement against those willing to take it on, and the use of force in self-defence for those willing to initiate force.

This has significant implications for a whole range of public policies, including immigration, education, defence, foreign relations, international aid policy, the welfare state and media.

These require politicians who are prepared to embrace a principle, rather than kowtowing to avoid offence.  Politicians who are proud of the freedoms fought for since the Enlightenment.  However, for them to come out, it requires citizens of Western countries to want to articulate loudly to defend the society that so many have, by and large, done little to defend. 

Post-modernist moral relativists have no place in this.  Neither do those wishing to appease.


brian_smaller said...

That was a well thought out post. Thanks.

Richard said...

You've nailed it, Scott.

Islam(ism) is inimical to Western civilisation.

Richard said...

(Not) one of us.