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The Nuclear Card

Egypt shows ‘clash of civilizations’ was a myth

Posted on 12 February 2011 by Emperor

Egypt shows ‘clash of civilizations’ was a myth

by Arun Kundnani


Since the end of the Cold War, conservatives have argued that the world should be seen through the lens of a clash between civilizations. The world could be divided, they argued, on the basis of different cultures and their distance from Western values.

Countries where the majority of the population is Muslim were grouped together as the ‘Islamic world’ and seen as culturally prone to fanaticism and violence. Revolution there could only mean Islamic revolution along the lines of Iran in 1979. Democracy could only emerge if imposed by force from outside, as disastrously attempted in the Iraq War.

Liberals had their own version of such thinking, particularly after 9/11. Rejecting the necessity of a clash between civilizations, they spoke of a dialogue between civilizations. But they shared with conservatives the assumption that culture was the primary driving force of political conflict.

There was something of this thinking in President Obama’s famous 2009 speech in Cairo, addressed to “the Muslim world.” Liberals like Obama thought it possible that dialogue could allow for the peaceful co-existence of cultural differences between Muslims and the West. Conservatives, on the other hand, feared that no dialogue was possible with Islam, and it was better for the West to ready itself for inevitable conflict.

These have been the terms of debate between liberals and conservatives since 9/11.

Significantly, both sides in the debate assumed that the fundamental divisions in the world were cultural rather than political.

In the case of the Middle East, conflict was seen as rooted in a cultural failure of Islam to adapt itself to modernity, rather than a political aspiration to freedom from regimes the West was backing.

The Egyptian revolution has finally demonstrated in practice that this cultural assumption no longer holds. Popular sovereignty, not God’s sovereignty, has been the basis of the revolution. Muslims and Christians have marched together on the streets. The slogans have been universal demands for rights, dignity and social justice. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood has been one among the many strands of the movement, accommodating themselves to its democratic and pluralist thrust.

All of this confounds the “clash of civilizations” thesis which holds that the ‘Islamic world’ has necessarily “bloody borders.” It also confounds the “dialogue of civilizations” approach, which seeks to address the people of the Middle East as a culturally distinct “Muslim world” rather than as populations whose demands are political and universal.
It is no surprise that the Obama administration’s response to the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt has been muddled; its working assumptions about the ‘Muslim world’ have collapsed as a result of the revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt.

Equally, the confused response of conservatives reflects the fact that their framing of the Middle East as a hotbed of fanaticism has been revealed to be a myth. And they are exposed for backing an autocrat for narrow strategic reasons linked to protecting Israel. For all their rhetoric, the real fear of conservatives is not the “Muslim fanatic” but genuine political freedom for the Arab nations — which is now suddenly imaginable.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arun Kundnani.

  • Anj

    America has no friends or allies, only mutual interests. That seems to be the US foreign policy doctrine. I suppose at a push the 51st state of Israel exerts influence because of their well oiled and funded PR machine within the US system. But to say Europe or the UK exert an in influence on the US is a bit far fetched. Full scale spectral dominance has almost been achieved, ie dominance of space, air, sea, land and energy sources.
    However the BRIC nations will change US policy within the next decade. Only then will anyone influence the US.
    Yes Teflon tony was rejected by the uk public because of his warmongering amonst other things.
    The nice people comment was just personal experience. I aknowledge your point about Germany and how my comment is flawed in that context.
    That’s democracy for you, you get what you vote for.

  • Patriots Question 9/11


    clandestinely, any country can influence another. The same can be said in reverse. Teflon Tony’s party (Labour) lost it’s majority at the ballot box, after he resigned even with Gordon Brown in power. You are misinformed if you think it was about internal politics. His pro American stance and support for the war was the reason he was kicked out. Brown and blair had always had a power struggle, that is politics. The public wanted him out, and he had to go. It was as simple as that.

    “However that being said, I must say that american people are generally pleasant. You gotta hate the policies and not the people.”

    What is your point here? It’s the kind of thing a 4 year old would say, after he sees a kid’s movie which depicts the villain as a wild eyed, nasty ugly, fanatic. A pleasant villain (as murderers and war criminals normally are in real life) would have no credence to someone whose mental age has yet to be formed.

    Do you think you’re talking to a 4 year old?

    We were not talking of the “niceness” of people. It’s an irrelevant line of reasoning, if it is a democracy. You make alliances with a country based on who is leading it, not how pleasant it’s people are, IF he/she is voted in by people.

    For a dictator ship yes you can use the “majority people are pleasant”, but not where the people vote for it’s leader.

    The fact that most Germans were “generally pleasant” and “decent people” doesn’t mean that a genocidal regime was not in power, voted in by them. Does it mean Germany was not an enemy because most of it’s peopel were “generally pleasant?”

    “Bushs presidency may have had judeo-ziono-Christian but they seem mild compared to some of the nutters that are floating about in US politics right now.”

    Your reasoning is contradictory.The Republicans cannot get into power unless people vote them in. The nutters you describe, would need a following to be in power, and they would be considered “pleasant people” by those who voted them in as would the people who voted, or were neutral about them. Of course this majority would be “pleasant people” to you, but it’s irrelevant.

  • Ata

    Most egyptians knew that the bombing of the church was not done by Egyptians. There has always been, at least at the regular egyptian level, plurality and respect amongst the communities. It has always been the government that has repressed and oppressed the religions in Egypt, not the masses of people.

    My crystal ball tells me that anything other than liberty will no longer be tolerated by the Egyptian people. They have achieved what they thought was impossible.

    For those “Con” (servatives) who think that Egypt will turn into an Iran, they are smoking the same pipe Bush did. Bottom line is they do not know the Egyptian people or their culture if they believe themselves, hell they probably can’t even locate Egypt on a map!


  • Anj

    I beg to differ patriot.
    The US exerts a massive influence on Europe but in a clandestine way. See what they are doing to Sweden right now!

    Teflon Tony (war criminal) got ousted in an internal power struggle to the then chancellor Gordon brown. Teflon tony didn’t loose at the ballot box.
    The uk armed forces cannot deploy trident, god forbid. They would need the access codes from the US. What does that say about influence?

    Bushs presidency may have had judeo-ziono-Christian but they seem mild compared to some of the nutters that are floating about in US politics right now. US policy has always been about subversion and deciet. From it’s treatment of the south american continent, to it’s abuse of the Arabs, even it’s own allies are not spared sometimes.

    However that being said, I must say that american people are generally pleasant. You gotta hate the policies and not the people.

  • Patriots Question 9/11


    “The US elections in 2012 will see if the west gets it’s first judeo-ziono-Christian theocracy! If that nightmare unfolds then we are all in trouble.”

    1. The US does not speak for the West. Just ask any British, European, Australian, Russian, East European. Tony Blair was kicked out by the British people, because he was too much of Bush poodle.

    CBN News

    Why Europe Hates America

    Europe can’t even be bothered to hate America any more.


    2. The US has already had the theocracy you described with the last Bush government.

    Atlanta Journal, 9/17/06
    Though he said this session was supposed to be off the record, Gallagher
    described it at some length, including Bush’s observation to the
    right-wing radio jocks that the War on Terror has to be about right versus
    “because if it’s about Christianity versus Islam, we’ll lose.”

  • Anj

    I’m not sure that the facts of this theory matter anymore. It is so ingrained in the west that there IS a clash of civilizations. The US elections in 2012 will see if the west gets it’s first judeo-ziono-Christian theocracy! If that nightmare unfolds then we are all in trouble.

  • RDS

    So I guess this is time for Egyptians’ turn to say ‘YES WE CAN!”?

  • NassirH

    All of this confounds the “clash of civilizations” thesis which holds that the ‘Islamic world’ has necessarily “bloody borders.”

    The “bloody borders” theory is ridiculous because Islam shares it borders with more civilizations than any other civilization. European Christian nations, historically at least, only shared their border with Islam—and few would argue that border hasn’t historically been bloody (although there were times of peace). When Europeans did come in contact with foreign civilizations like in China, India, Japan, and in the Americas, there was violent conflict with all the aforementioned. I doubt right wingers are going to conclude that Western Civilization is intrinsically violent, despite the fact—as Huntington admits—it has caused more deaths than Islamic civilization.

    Also, regarding the periods of peace and stability in the Islamic world, Bernard Lewis writes in his book From Babel to Dragomans that “In the Balkans…the Ottoman Government brought unity and security in the place of previous conflict and disorder”. Another major Muslim empire, the Abbasids, made only minor territorial expansions, and indeed lost territory and influence to increasingly autonomous Muslim provinces. The border between Christian Nubia and Muslim Egypt was peaceful for 600 years because of a peace treaty and relations between the Muslim world and China have generally been peaceful, a fact that Huntington mentions in his book.

  • mindy1

    I meant to say is it wrong to HOPE they choose a leader that likes the U.S. :oops:

  • mindy1

    I wish them well, and I hope they choose their own fate. Is wrong to with they choose a leader that likes the U.S.? They should have the choice, but I hope they choose someone that likes us. P.S. I love the pic of Muslims and Christians celebrating together, it is awesome to see them getting along.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    The power in Egypt is currently lying on the ground; it remains to be seen who will pick it up. This rare chance for an Arab democracy is doubly precious because historically it has been exactly that: rare.

  • Daniel

    @Mosizzle–LOL!! I’m sure nutters like Beck will play THAT up to the hilt.

  • Daniel

    @eslaporte–I believe that the inexcusable nature of an overtly apartheid state, combined with it’s unacknowledged recent ethnic cleansing, will be hard-pressed to justify itself with Arab Democracies. Israel must become increasingly isolated by the civilized world, or change…just like South Africa did. The values of crafting an ethnically or religiously “pure” society must be seen for the fascism that it is.

    This is an opportunity for the United States: embrace the ideals if democracy and liberty and refuse to subsidize any state that does not hold the same values (actually, I’d be in favor of refusing to subsidize ANY state, liberal or not–but stopping the support of dictatorships and apartheid states would be a good first step.)

  • Mosizzle

    Aha! Conclusive evidence that Egypt’s revolution will go Iranian-style:

    Mubarak’s resignation actually coincided with the 32nd Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution (on 11th Feb)!

    Coincidence? I think not!

  • eslaporte

    The effect of liberal democracies in Arab-Muslim nations will bring the hateful myths against Muslims to an end. How could “Islam be incomparable with liberal democracy” and why would Muslims want to “destroy Western civilization” if they want these governmental systems in their own countries?

    I’ve known all along that only crackpots and/or really uneducated and ignorant people believe in “Eurabia.” the Islamisation myth can be shown to be a myth and discredited just by researching demographic, immigration and survey data for the U.S., Netherlands, Europe and the like. It would be impossible for France to “come under control of Muslims by 2025″ – and the belief in this is, well, loony.

    Also – democratic neighbors around Israel will force it to behave, as we will now have publics able to vote, so Tel Aviv now must consider the “Arab Street” views on Middle East peace – and Tel Aviv will have to relate to Arab democracies as equals, not just the friendly dictators nextdoor …

  • Justin

    Good article. Good picture. The Islamophobic doctrines are crumbling. You are losing, Robert Spencer.

  • Observer

    Christians in Egypt are Arabic/African by race, so it is just not clever to cause division as the article was discussing the elaborate divide and conquer tactics certain people in the west use to demonise others.

    What is good/bad for Egypt, is also good/bad for Copts.

  • Daniel

    Good article…however, I would caution anyone to make predictions on exactly what will happen in Egypt now. Conservatives are “certain” that this will lead to a theocratic state, a la Iran. Liberals tend to be “certain” that a liberal democracy will result. The final chapter has not been written…heck, not even the first chapter has been written.

    I have hope and faith that the Egyptians will build a just society. However, I will make no predictions. But I will state that no matter what the result, I hope that it is the Egyptian solution that is found, because it is THEIR country, not anyone else’s. Whether Mubarak was “good” or “evil” is irrelevant–he was propped up by foreign powers. I pray nothing like that results again.

  • Patriots Question 9/11

    Kundnani summed it up nicely, one side of it at least. Though it’s fair to say that not all liberals believed it was a cultural battle, some did, in fact many did understand that it was a myth. In any case, this is certainly one side of the story.


    it would be wonderful if you or someone else at Loon Watch could write something with links and and stats about the Christian support for the revolution in Egypt.

    This is to put to rest the nonsense that the Islamophobic mob are spreading. We know from our friends, relatives, and acquaintances that Christian Copts were part of the revolution, but it would be great to have it in black and white so that you can throw it in their faces as PROOF.

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