Saturday, 21 February 2015

‘A Clash of Civilisations’ …
or ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’?

Is there a looming clash of civilisations? Dark blue: Western ‘Christendom’; sky blue: Orthodox ‘Christendom’; green: Islamic world; dark red: Sinic world; purple: Latin America; brown: Sub-Saharan Africa; orange: Hindu world; yellow: Buddhist world; grey: former British colonies; turquoise: Turkey; blue: Israel; light brown: Ethiopia; light green: Haiti; red: Japan

Patrick Comerford

The term “Clash of Civilisations” first gained prominence, and acquired credibility in the west when it appeared in a paper in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1996 that gave its title to a subsequent book in 1997. At the time, Samuel Huntington spoke of a “clash of civilisations” between the Christian or post-Christian world, and the Islamic world.

Until his death in 2008, Huntington continued to speak in terms of a looming “clash of civilisations between Islam and the West.”

Many politicians and commentators on the far right now claim his predictions are being worked out. But they fail to see that it is the worst sort of “wish fulfilment” on their part. It is almost as if every horror, every murder, by Isis helps to bolster their prejudices.

the apparent outworking of some of his predictions, there are many faults in the theory of an inevitable “clash of civilisations.” Huntington equated a religion with a civilisation, so that Islam is a unitary political, social and definable “civilisation” that depends on a religion for its understanding and explanation, while Christianity is posed as underpinning western civilisation – and from this we are led to the prejudice that Islam made no contribution to Western culture and civilisation.

An outrageous example of this prejudice came last month from an American commentator who claims to be a so-called “terrorism expert.” He told Fox News that Birmingham in England is “totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go.”

I have known Birmingham well for almost 50 years, I have studied on short-term residential courses, including one on Muslim-Christian dialogue, I have written about its sights and delights and I travel through Birmingham countless times each year. So my reaction to this self-styled expert, who has never visited Birmingham, is neither impulsive not uninformed.

A multilingual and multicultural welcome to Birmingham and its cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But while I can dismiss Steve Emerson as an ideological extremist, I still have to worry about what he says. He is the founder of the self-styled “Investigative Project on Terrorism,” and he has been called to testify as an expert witness called to at least one US Congressional committee.

In other words, American politicians form American policy on the foundations laid by this man. And if you build a house on garbage, it is going to fall into the garbage.

Emerson was supposed to be offering Fox News his expertise on the attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Instead, he launched into an amazing “expert” account of dangerous parts of Britain being controlled by Muslims, giving details of “no-go zones” in France, Belgium, Britain and many other parts of Europe.

Some expert. As more than a million people marched through Paris in a show of unity after those attacks in France, he told Fox News that Birmingham is a “country within a country” and he agreed with the Fox News presenter Jeanine Pirro that England’s second city is a “caliphate.”

He told his American viewers that Europe is not doing enough to combat the rise of Islamic extremism. “You basically have zones where sharia courts were set up, where Muslim density is very intense, where the police don’t go in, and where it’s basically a separate country almost, a country within a country,” this self-styled “expert” claimed.

Emerson said these no-go zones are in London and Birmingham, and he claimed police brutality against non-Muslims is common place: “And [in] parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire.”

“So there’s a situation that Western Europe is not dealing with,” he claimed.

But it is even worse in Birmingham, he said. There, he said, is an entire city where non-Muslims are not welcome – an entire city. He states: “And in Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.”

His claims amused, amazed and bewildered people living in Birmingham. Many took to Twitter, starting an hilarious hashtag #FoxNewsFacts.

Emmerson has since apologised, saying he has “made a terrible error for which I am deeply sorry.”

He went on to say: “There was no excuse for making this mistake and I owe an apology to every resident of Birmingham. I am not going to make any excuses. I made an inexcusable error. And I am obligated to openly acknowledge that mistake.”

Deeply sorry, indeed. But this is the sort of “intelligence” and “information” that leads to whole cities being bombed and whole countries being invaded in pursuit of the “clash of civilisations” or the “war on terror” or whatever label these people want to give the military out-workings of their prejudices.

The damage has been down, and what Emerson said is probably believed and being repeated as fact by gullible viewers. He has added fuel to the fire and doubtlessly helped to stoke Islamophobia in America.

His apology after his action can never retrieve the situation, can never redeem the damage he has created. How many viewers saw him, heard him and believed him? What else is Fox News wrong about? And how many of its viewers believe their “experts” and their facts”?

Emerson told us nothing about Birmingham and everything about Fox News, and everything that is wrong about a foreign policy analysis that accepts Huntington’s prediction of a looking “clash of civilisations.”

Even if I only stop for coffee, I am looking forward to passing through Birmingham later this week.

There are fundamental, underlying faults in Huntington’s analysis.

In all religions, and not just Christianity and not just Islam, there is a history of those who have used their beliefs and their prejudices to create violence and foment war. As a Christian, I only have to think about the Crusades and the brutality of the concept of the Christendom or the cruelty of the Inquisition to realise that I cannot point the finger at anyone.

But Huntington also presumes that there are such things as separate civilisations rather than complementary, overlapping and interdependent civilisations, and that it is dangerous to try to delineate them, or self-defeating to separate them.

If there is an Islamic civilisation is it the one that – while we were in the Dark Ages in Europe – preserved in the universities of Cairo and Baghdad Euclidean geometry, developed algebra, revived Hippocratic medicine, continued to read Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, bequeathed the courtyard, the dome and the fountain to architecture, developed astronomy.

Why is that the Jews of the Dodecanese islands, a community with 2,500 years of history, could thrive and prosper under four or five centuries of Islamic rule by the Ottoman caliphs, but were brought close to annihilation and extinction within months of the arrival of the German Nazis in the middle of the last century?

The concept of a “Holy War” is not an Islamic concept. The word jihad has a very different meaning. The concept of a “holy war” develops out of the writings in the fifth century of Saint of Augustine, who wrote The City of God shortly after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410. The descendants of the Barbarians in question have long been rehabilitated as the virtuous capitalist states of the European Union.

It is worth remembering that in the First Crusade (1095-1099), at the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, Orthodox Christians fought alongside Jewish and Muslim residents to defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders, so that many Christians were slaughtered alongside their Muslim neighbours.

Many Muslims sought shelter in al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount area. One Crusader account reports how the Crusaders “were killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles.”

According to Raymond of Aguilers, “in the Temple and porch of Solomon men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.”

Fulcher of Chartres says: “In this temple 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.”

The Anglican theologian Colin Chapman says the Crusades “have left a deep scar on the minds of Muslims all over the world. Although they ended more than 700 years ago, for many Muslims it is as if they happened only yesterday. And recent events such as the Rushdie affair, the Gulf War and the Bosnian conflict have made many [Muslims] feel that the Crusades have never ended.”

“Το παιδομάζωμα” (ή “το σκλαβοπάζαρο”) του Νικολάου Γύζη ... The Levy of Christian Children, by Nicholas Ghyzis

We may cower at the concept of a self-styled “Islamic State. But religion also played too significant a role in defining nationality in the emergence of Europe nation states.

In the creation of the modern Greek state and the modern Turkish state, religion played a key role in the forging of national identities, so that Greek was equated with Orthodox Christian and Turk with Muslim.

As Yugoslavia was breaking up in the 1990s, the labels Catholic and Orthodox were used to distinguish Croat from Serb. When Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo slaughtered, was it because they were Muslims in Bosnia (where they were otherwise like all other Slavs)? Was it because they were Albanians or Muslims in Kosovo?

The challenge in today’s world is to find how we can move from encounter to dialogue and understanding, and avoid what Huntington predicts as a looking “clash of civilisations.”

But we have always used the enemy at the gate as a means of subjugating and oppressing those inside the walls. External enemies, real or imagines, are a gift to oppressive rulers, who behave like bad parents threatening their children with the bogey man rather than helping them to grow and develop in love and to overcome their fears with maturity.

Περιμένοντας τους Bαρβάρους (Waiting for the Barbarians), CP Cavafy:

— Τι περιμένουμε στην αγορά συναθροισμένοι;

Είναι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα.

— Γιατί μέσα στην Σύγκλητο μια τέτοια απραξία;
Τι κάθοντ’ οι Συγκλητικοί και δεν νομοθετούνε;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Τι νόμους πια θα κάμουν οι Συγκλητικοί;
Οι βάρβαροι σαν έλθουν θα νομοθετήσουν.

—Γιατί ο αυτοκράτωρ μας τόσο πρωί σηκώθη,
και κάθεται στης πόλεως την πιο μεγάλη πύλη
στον θρόνο επάνω, επίσημος, φορώντας την κορώνα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Κι ο αυτοκράτωρ περιμένει να δεχθεί
τον αρχηγό τους. Μάλιστα ετοίμασε
για να τον δώσει μια περγαμηνή. Εκεί
τον έγραψε τίτλους πολλούς κι ονόματα.

— Γιατί οι δυο μας ύπατοι κ’ οι πραίτορες εβγήκαν
σήμερα με τες κόκκινες, τες κεντημένες τόγες•
γιατί βραχιόλια φόρεσαν με τόσους αμεθύστους,
και δαχτυλίδια με λαμπρά, γυαλιστερά σμαράγδια•
γιατί να πιάσουν σήμερα πολύτιμα μπαστούνια
μ’ ασήμια και μαλάματα έκτακτα σκαλιγμένα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα•
και τέτοια πράγματα θαμπώνουν τους βαρβάρους.

—Γιατί κ’ οι άξιοι ρήτορες δεν έρχονται σαν πάντα
να βγάλουνε τους λόγους τους, να πούνε τα δικά τους;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα•
κι αυτοί βαρυούντ’ ευφράδειες και δημηγορίες.

— Γιατί ν’ αρχίσει μονομιάς αυτή η ανησυχία
κ’ η σύγχυσις. (Τα πρόσωπα τι σοβαρά που εγίναν).
Γιατί αδειάζουν γρήγορα οι δρόμοι κ’ η πλατέες,
κι όλοι γυρνούν στα σπίτια τους πολύ συλλογισμένοι;

Γιατί ενύχτωσε κ’ οι βάρβαροι δεν ήλθαν.
Και μερικοί έφθασαν απ’ τα σύνορα,
και είπανε πως βάρβαροι πια δεν υπάρχουν.

Και τώρα τι θα γένουμε χωρίς βαρβάρους.
Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μια κάποια λύσις.

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND). He was speaking on a panel at the annual meeting of the Irish Anti-War Movement, “The new ‘War on Terror’ – is there a ‘Clash of Civilisations?’ in the Teachers’ Club, Parnell Square, Dublin, on 21 February 2015.

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