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.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:
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."
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.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:
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.
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.