Ayaan Hirsi Ali: How to Win the Clash of Civilizations
The key advantage of Huntington’s famous model is that it describes the world as it is—not as we wish it to be.
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President Obama, in his own way, is a One Worlder. In his 2009 Cairo speech, he called for a new era of understanding between America and the Muslim world. It would be a world based on “mutual respect, and … upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles.”
The president’s hope was that moderate Muslims would eagerly accept this invitation to be friends. The extremist minority—nonstate actors like al Qaeda—could then be picked off with drones.
Of course, this hasn’t gone according to plan. And a perfect illustration of the futility of this approach, and the superiority of the Huntingtonian model, is the recent behavior of Turkey.
According to the One World view, Turkey is an island of Muslim moderation in a sea of extremism. Successive American presidents have urged the EU to accept Turkey as a member on this assumption. But the illusion of Turkey as the West’s moderate friend in the Muslim world has been shattered.
A year ago Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan congratulated Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his re-election after he blatantly stole the presidency. Then Turkey joined forces with Brazil to try to dilute the American-led effort to tighten U.N. sanctions aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear arms program. Most recently, Turkey sponsored the “aid flotilla” designed to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza and to hand Hamas a public relations victory.
True, there remain secularists in Istanbul who revere the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. But they have no hold over the key government ministries, and their grip over the army is slipping. Today the talk in Istanbul is quite openly about an “Ottoman alternative,” which harks back to the days when the Sultan ruled over an empire that stretched from North Africa to the Caucasus.
If Turkey can no longer be relied on to move towards the West, who in the Muslim world can be? All the Arab countries except Iraq—a precarious democracy created by the United States—are ruled by despots of various stripes. And all the opposition groups that have any meaningful support among the local populations are run by Islamist outfits like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, Islamist movements are demanding the expansion of Shariah law. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak’s time is running out. Should the U.S. support the installation of his son? If so, the rest of the Muslim world will soon be accusing the Obama administration of double standards—if elections for Iraq, why not for Egypt? Analysts have observed that in free and fair elections, a Muslim Brotherhood victory cannot be ruled out.
Algeria? Somalia? Sudan? It is hard to think of a single predominantly Muslim country that is behaving according to the One World script.
The greatest advantage of Huntington’s civilizational model of international relations is that it reflects the world as it is—not as we wish it to be. It allows us to distinguish friends from enemies. And it helps us to identify the internal conflicts within civilizations, particularly the historic rivalries between Arabs, Turks and Persians for leadership of the Islamic world.
But divide and rule cannot be our only policy. We need to recognize the extent to which the advance of radical Islam is the result of an active propaganda campaign. According to a CIA report written in 2003, the Saudis invested at least $2 billion a year over a 30-year period to spread their brand of fundamentalist Islam. The Western response in promoting our own civilization was negligible.
Our civilization is not indestructible: It needs to be actively defended. This was perhaps Huntington’s most important insight. The first step towards winning this clash of civilizations is to understand how the other side is waging it—and to rid ourselves of the One World illusion.