Posted by: Lister | September 13, 2007

The Clash of Civilisations

Another article quoted by Decline and Fall is a Framing the War on Terror by Dalia Mogahed. The main point is that Cold War tactics are not appropriate to the WOT. Treating Islam as a rival ideology is counter-productive.

At the heart of the Cold War analogy is the belief that religious fanaticism fuels extremism and therefore replacing Muslims’ worldview with Western liberalism is the path to victory against terrorism. To begin to understand the danger of this diagnosis, we must first understand the factors that do and do not drive sympathy for violence.

As a starting point, Muslims do not hold a monopoly on extremist views. While 6% of Americans think attacks in which civilians are targets are “completely justified,” in both Lebanon and Iran, this figure is 2%, and in Saudi Arabia, it’s 4%. In Europe, Muslims in Paris and London were no more likely than were their counterparts in the general public to believe attacks on civilians are ever justified and at least as likely to reject violence, even for a “noble cause.”

The article compares the strength of religious views (eg: Mosque attendance) amongst those it classes as radical and moderate. It finds little difference. But when people are asked to support their views, the poll finds that the moderates use religion — the radicals use politics.

Gallup probed respondents further and actually asked both those who condoned and condemned extremist acts why they said what they did. The responses fly in the face of conventional wisdom. For example, in Indonesia, the largest Muslim majority country in the world, many of those who condemned terrorism cited humanitarian or religious justifications to support their response. For example, one woman said, “Killing one life is as sinful as killing the whole world,” paraphrasing verse 5:32 in the Quran.

On the other hand, not a single respondent in Indonesia who condoned the attacks of 9/11 cited the Quran for justification. Instead, this group’s responses were markedly secular and worldly. For example, one Indonesian respondent said, “The U.S. government is too controlling toward other countries, seems like colonizing.”

[…] The Cold War analogy of the war on terror also assumes that Muslim grievances are rooted in a rejection of modernity and Western values, not specific policies. Statistical evidence indicates otherwise.

For instance, while the United States and Great Britain are generally viewed unfavorably, respondents’ opinions of France and Germany are relatively positive, even when compared with respondents’ opinions of other Muslim nations, suggesting negative sentiment is drawn along political, not cultural or religious lines.

Moreover, despite intense political anger at some Western powers, Muslims do not reject Western values wholesale. Citizens of countries from Saudi Arabia to Morocco, from Indonesia to Pakistan, express admiration for Western technology and democratic values such as freedom of the press and government accountability. The politically radicalized are actually more likely than the moderate majority to say greater democracy will help Muslims progress.

There is an alternative to the Cold War analogy: The Civil Rights movement. The reference to the Watts riots paints Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons in a different light.

From many Muslims’ point of view, the conflict with West is about policy, not principles. Through Muslim eyes, it looks like a global civil rights struggle much more than another clash between superpowers. When the conflict is viewed through this lens, seemingly inexplicable crises such as the Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons, come into sharper focus, as does a more effective strategy forward.

Thoughtful observers have drawn a comparison between the Danish cartoon controversy and an incident from America’s own cultural relations struggle: the 1965 Watts riots. Looking at the cartoon controversy through the analogous lens of race relations reveals some insights. In both cases, violent riots broke out in reaction to what seemed to outsiders as a “petty offense.” In the case of the Watts riot, white police officers in a predominantly black neighborhood pulled over two black males whom they believed were driving while intoxicated. In the case of the cartoons, a Danish newspaper, followed by other European newspapers, printed a cartoon depicting Islam’s most venerated figure, the Prophet Muhammad, as a terrorist.

As a result of the Watts riots, 34 people were officially reported killed, more than 1,000 people were injured, and an estimated $35 million in damage was caused (more than $150 million in today’s currency).

The Kerner Commission, set up by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 to study the spate of race riots, pointed to the distinction between the “trigger” (a petty act) and the “cause” — a long list of problems identified by the commission. These included poverty, job and housing discrimination, and unequal education, as well as a deep sense of racism and disrespect on the part of a powerful and affluent white America toward a powerless and poor black America, personified by the white police officers’ treatment of the black men.

Like those who rioted in Watts, and in other American cities during the country’s civil rights struggle, Muslim rioters were not angry because they did not understand the value of free speech in principle — many cite this liberty as among the most admired aspects of the West. Instead, the Danish cartoons were simply the “trigger” igniting the combustible fuel of widespread perceptions of Western injustice and disrespect.

[…] Was the NAACP protesting racist depictions of blacks because they didn’t value free speech? Were rioters angry because they didn’t understand the value of traffic laws? And were the corresponding changes on the part of U.S. media and government “concessions” to violence and intimidation by special interests groups or signs of a weakened American democracy and free speech?

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