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A clash of civilisations?

Published: 
Monday, November 23, 2015

“An expression of humiliation, this rage, this sense of disenfranchisement that so many hundreds of Muslims feel,” is one reason put forward by Prof Bernard Haykel to explain why those like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (said to be the aspiring Caliph of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, parts of those countries now occupied by the IS) are intent on pursuing a campaign of savage violence against western countries and their citizens.

Others such as Professor Andy Knight, Director of the Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies note that the West has been instrumental in harbouring and cultivating generations of jihadists of one variety or the other.  

A glance at history through the 20th century would find that either to undermine communist regimes in different parts of the world including in the Caribbean and Latin America, Western alliances led by the United States have cultivated the likes of the Duvaliers, Rafael Trujillo, and in the Arab world, from the right wing extremist Shah of Iran to characters such as Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden, the Mujahideen and even supported the rebels against President Assad in Syria.  

Many from those western programmes of strategic support have turned into raging tyrants and resulted in disasters such as the Paris killing of the 129. Not too incidentally, while the Paris massacre has attracted instant worldwide attention of the American and European media, there has been silence and blindness to the brutal killings of 147 in Kenya by the Al-Shabab group, another violence-centred Islamic group in parts of Africa.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Far from being an expert or anything like a devoted researcher on the subject, I have read, listened and reflected upon this phase of uprising (the latter a word appropriated from the Rastafarian movement to indicate a new consciousness amongst the “tribe”) of what is being referred to variously and interchangeably as radical and/or extremist Islam, most recently dramatised and personified by the assault in Paris and the downing of the Russia-bound aircraft, said to have been bombed out of the sky.

Traditional Islamic clerics have been critical of the kind of action that has been taken by the IS and have denounced the group and its leaders as non-Islamic in their interpretation of the sacred teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

However, as scholars such as Haykel have claimed, “the reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. 

But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.” What is certain is that IS has shown itself, its propagandistic methods and strategies to achieve its goal as being ruthless and quite clever when required.  

As to what are the overall objectives of IS, there are also questions here: is it that IS merely wants to establish a caliphate in Syria/Iraq to practise Islam in the way the leaders see fit? Or is the Islamic State working towards hastening a global apocalypse leading to the destruction of the “infidels”? 

A major concern would be whether the attacks of the present continue and whether they increase in numbers and intensity and the likely impact that such a possibility could have on economic and social life in Europe, North America and eventually the rest of the world. If further mass attacks take place, they are sure to generate responses in kind from the West. 

In such circumstances, trade and economic activity of all kinds will suffer the effects of fear, uncertainty, concerns about travelling, about investing, about social life, surely national and international sporting and entertainment events will be dramatically and negatively affected. Sure the industrial economy of the West will go into overdrive to produce the weapons of war. 

However, as IS has shown itself capable, this will not be a war fought only on “enemy territory,” but will be conducted in western lands, even western capitals with daring and effectiveness.

What, however, has come into critical focus is the claim by Japanese/American historian, Francis Fukuyama, that after the Berlin Wall was grounded into the dust (1989-1990), that world ideological history had come to an end: the capitalist ethic and civilisation had triumphed over all else and bar the minor contentions amongst those who live in the one-world paradise, peace and harmony would dominate.  

In the Samuel Huntington post Cold-War vision, “the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. 

Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations. The clash of civilisations will be the battle lines of the future.”

A civilisational clash of the kind envisaged by Huntington would have to include at least a significant portion of the 1.5 billion Muslims now existing in the world. But will non-IS Islam be involved in such a clash?  

Much of this is delving into the unknown, the unpredictable, the unsure as to how this jihad will turn out. Will the present state of conflict fizz out into nothingness as the West mounts military and economic challenges against IS?

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