Saturday, September 22, 2012

Our Globalized, Systemic Conflict

Nathan Gardels, writing "In violence over anti-Muslim video, a new world disorder" for the Christian Science Monitor (September 14, 2012), says some things that fill in what I alluded to in a recent comment, as we see in the following quotes from his article:
Welcome to our new world, where no one is in control -- neither the West of its social media nor Arab rulers of their liberated subjects. This is a combustible mix that goes beyond the recent anti-Muslim video to the overall message of Western-shaped globalization.
Gardels reminds us that the scholar Akbar S. Ahmed, already in the decade before 9/11, foresaw the stakes in the increasing conflict between the West and Islam and realized this conflict's existential character:
Years before Osama bin Laden conceived of the assault on the Twin Towers in New York, Akbar Ahmed, a Pakistani scholar and former ambassador to Great Britain, grasped the mentality of siege gripping the Islamic world. After an extended trip through the remote villages of the Afghan-Pakistan border where the Taliban got its start, he reported that pious Muslims sense "there is no escape now, no retreat, no hiding place, from the demon" of the Western media, which he called "storm troopers" of the West. They feel, he wrote, "the more traditional a religious culture in our age of the media, the greater the pressure on it to yield" to the faithlessness and secularism of global civilization emanating from the West.

Mr. Akbar imagined that "it must have been something like this in 1258 when the Mongols were gathering outside Baghdad to shatter forever the greatest Arab empire in history. But, this time, the decision will be final. If Islam is conquered, there will be no coming back."
That may go quite a ways toward explaining the rigidity of the battle lines that have been drawn. Gardels himself -- perhaps channeling Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" theory -- considers the conflicts cultural and acted out on a global stage:
The conflicts of the future are thus going to be as much about the abundant cultural flows of the global information economy as about the scarcity of resources or the breach of territory. This is because contending values have been crowded into a common public square created by freer trade, the spread of technology, and the planetary reach of the media.

Only in such a world could a provocative Danish cartoon or a truly lame YouTube video on Muhammad inflame the pious and mobilize the militant across the vast and distant stretches of the Islamic world.
This is precisely what was on my mind in my recent comment noted above in my opening line. Gardels expects these cultural conflicts to be unavoidable because fundamental:
No military retaliation, or further violent attacks on diplomatic outposts, can erase the reality that what is sacred for America (freedom of expression, including sacrilege) and what is sacred for the Muslim world (their faith) are clashing values now contending on the same virtual terrain.
Not just America, of course, but the West more generally, which in its most secular heart believes sacrilege sacred -- an irony perhaps worthy of being reflected upon. Still, Gardels hopes for the best . . . sort of:
Managing some semblance of stability in this new, out-of-control world is going to take some deft statesmanship. The West is not about to give up its defense of freedom of expression -- whether Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" or the "Innocence of Muslims" YouTube video. Muslims, militant or mainstream, are not about to give up the defense of their faith and its messenger.
That's the best he can hope for, "deft statesmanship," and it isn't much hope, for he sees our reality clearly:
Along with the advent of democracy in the Arab world, this is a new reality we will all have to live with. Let's not pretend that this conflict isn't real.
I've been living almost entirely without that pretense since 9/11, and I had a strong inkling of it ten years before that attack when I was living in Germany and saw up close the increasing piety of Muslims studying and living in Europe.

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At 6:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best antidote to Islamic fundamentalism for Muslims living in the West is tolerance of everything but intolerance. In Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Muslim population in the US, girl athletes wear hijab , long-sleeved shirts under jerseys and pants under shorts with permission from the Michigan High School Atheletic Association, while the chadors favored by some Muslim women and girls in Europe are very rarely seen. My impression of Muslim families I knew in Michigan is that they felt at home here and appreciated the righs and opportunities all Americans and legal immigrants enjoy. There are the occasional turncoats like the three Flushing high school classmates prosecuted for plotting to bomb the NYC subway, but overall, I think the respectful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims in the US discourages the growth of terrorist elements.


At 6:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But I wonder how tolerant their attitudes are on insults to their prophet.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read here for an answer to your question. Free speech is a Constitutional right that most Americans hold sacred. We Americans are obligated to abide by the law, yet at the same time we have the right to seek changes in the law, including the Constitution, through non-violent means. Muslims who think there should be restrictions on free speech are much less of a threat, IMO, than Teabaggers who espouse a right to bear arms to defend the Constitution against a president they accuse of violating it. I've actually seen this sentiment expressed a numer of times on rightwingnut websites, I also feel more threatened by other infringements of our rights, particularly those violated in the 3-decade-old war on drugs, which has helped propel our imprisoned population to the top in global rankings, any attempt to restrict free speech to protect religion has a snowball's chance in h-e-double toothpick of being passed. There is no support for this idea outside of the 5% of the US population who are Muslims and their handful of sympathizers.


At 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might be interested in this collection of statements in response to the recent violence. The first, from Islamic Networks Group, and another further down from Muslims for Progressive Values, a group that lives up to its name, both unequivocally expressed support for free speech.


At 8:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the links, Sonagi. Most of this sounds good.

(Excluding this sort of thing: "Rev. Ed Rowe of Central United Methodist, a historic church in Detroit, spoke out against the people who created the anti-Islam film. 'They are responsible and blood is on their hands,' said Rev. Rowe. He said people like the filmmakers should be locked up for instigating violence.")

The big problem is that a lot of fundamental, orthodox Islamic texts do exhort violence against those who insult Mohammad.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm aware of the conflict between the Quran and free speech, Jeffery, which makes statements in support of free speech by those two Muslim organizations and the many statements by other Muslims condemning th violence all the more remarkable. Just now I read a news item in the WaPo about young Libyans attacking and expelling militants from a stronghold in Benghazi with support from the police. American Jews established the Reform and Conservative movements to reconcile their religious beliefs and practices with modern Western values, creating a schism with Israeli rabbinical authorities, who do not recognize the legitimacy of these movements. Perhaps American Muslims will likewise establish a new movement to make Islam compatible with our values.


At 11:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's actually more than the Qur'an -- it's the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sunnah, all three of which serve as the basis for Shariah.

I hope for reform, but that will require more reinterpretation than did Judaism and Christianity, for Islam has from its early years served as a set of rules for goverment, society, and religion.

Jeffery Hodges

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