Are they wrong?
According to the columnist, Islam and liberal democracy are indeed compatible, refuting Samuel Huntington's and Osama bin Laden's concept of a great clash. © World Economic Forum/Peter Lauth + photo taken by Abdul Rahman bin Laden and released it to Hamid Mi
Are they wrong?
Lewis Gropp
Last updated: April 29, 2013

The Arab Spring Doubly Refutes the "Clash of Civilizations"

At first sight it looks as though the theory of the Clash of Civilizations is self-evident: Muslim Taliban fiercely fighting the (re)introduction of democracy and civil rights in Afghanistan; the Islamic Republic of Iran brutally suppressing the will of its people and menacing the international community with the nuclear threat; Muslim jihadis and suicide bombers spreading havoc in New York, London and Madrid. But for God's sake (and mankind's, too) – look closer!

Look at, for instance, the Arab Spring. The uprising of the Arab people has proven Huntington wrong, even absurd. Autocrat rulers and dictators who were not only tolerated, but actively supported by western governments, were driven out of office by the will of the Arab people. The West was put to shame as ordinary citizens in Cairo and Tunis risked their lives for freedom and democracy that was withheld from them with the help and scheming of European and American powers. Remember, military aid to the Mubarak regime by the US alone was up at some $1.3 billion a year. Egypt's military elite (and hence its political leadership) has been trained in the US for decades. In return, Mubarak offered the US Navy prioritised access to the Suez canal at any time. And he courteously offered his torture chambers for American use. Hell, US money even paid for Hosni Mubarak's yacht repairs!

And in Tunisia, during popular protests for democracy and reform and against long-time autocrat Ben Ali, the French government simply called for calm. France has maintained traditionally cozy relations with the Ben Ali government, and only in 2008, during his visit to Tunisia, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy unabashedly praised Ben Ali's leadership.

Also, look at what the US has done in Afghanistan: It has armed and rigged up Muslim warriors to kick out the Soviets, and now the American Empire is in return kicked in the shins by the very same jihadi warriors, and – out of intellectual convenience – instead of looking into the history of the conflict, this struggle was interpreted as a 'Clash of civilizations', though it's really a clash of self-invented bad foreign policies.

The most obvious mistake in this respect, the West, or primarily the US's and Britain's cardinal sin was the crushing and ousting of Iran's first democratically-elected Mossadegh government in 1953. With the US-backed Shah in power, civil society and a blossoming democratic culture was crushed. So after the Shah was finally ousted, there was no alternative to authoritarian political leadership – and Ayatollah Khomeini's draconian rule came as the quasi-logical outcome of FBI-directed scheming.

This is not meant to say, of course, that the West's foreign-policy doings are all bad, and entirely hypocritical. Or that radical Islam isn't an issue. Quite the contrary: radical and militant Islam is one of the most serious threats to liberal democracy, first and foremost now in the volatile situation in much of North Africa. But is utterly misleading and detrimental to look at this through a culturalist prism. Take Europe, for example: though subjected to various degrees of discrimination, most of Europe's Muslim population live settled lives, going to their mosques, and to the polls, as citizens of Muslim faith in democratic societies. It is living proof that Islam and liberal democracy are indeed compatible, refuting Samuel Huntington's and Osama bin Laden's concept of a great clash. Apart from the fact that it is pathetically defeatist, it reveals an archaic, almost tribal mindset that defines human identities along ethnic and religious lines. This does not in the least bit reflect the social realities of fragmented, pluralist make-up of societies in Europe and the Middle East (and everywhere else for that matter).

Now, however, with the Arab Spring, the antithesis of the "Clash of Cultures" is being doubly refuted. Muslims are fighting for alleged "Western" values, while Western states have been failing to advance these themselves. Freedom and democracy are claimed by Islamic populations, while they have been withheld from them by allies of the West. For all adherents of the "Clash" thesis – look closer: there's a lesson in that.

Lewis Gropp
Lewis is editor of 'Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic world', literary theorist, and journalist focusing on religious issues and cultural dialogue. His articles have appeared in 'Sueddeutsche Zeitung', 'Neue Zürcher Zeitung', on Al Arabiya, Khaleej Times, the Common Ground News Service, and MideastPosts.com.
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