The world is on edge. Tectonic change is occurring before our eyes. While the shifts are profound it will require historical analysis in the future to sort it all out. However, there are things we know, conditions that are transforming global affairs.
For one thing we are witnessing a dramatic difference in civilizational outlooks. The West is inherently optimistic and eager to embrace the future. Islam, or at least significant elements of it, rejects modernity and wants to return to a simpler time when Islam was on the ascendency.
Because of advances in technology, global interactions have intensified. As a consequence, the awareness of differences, what might be described as a “civilizational consciousness” has emerged. One can live in a bubble, but it is a bubble brought about by real-time exchanges and limitless e-mailing.
The search for identity in a turbulent sea of change has led many in the West to fetishisms and cults of various kinds. And in Islam, it has fashioned a militant devotion to the most extreme interpretation of the religion. In the former, identity is fungible like hair color; in the latter, it is immovable and often fanatical with Wahhabism a classic example of the extreme.
A sense that the West has passed Islam economically, perhaps philosophically has engendered an anxiety among many Muslims. The response is a belief and desire to refashion the West, to tear down its “superior” institutions and foment uneasiness about its role in world affairs. This deep seated hostility is embedded in militant Islam – a culture of schadenfreude.
Spokesmen for Islam contend the West is morally perverse and corrupt with a culture that promotes debasement. The openness and pornographic displays are used by imams as an example of Western decay. By contrast, Islam allows for honor killings, stonings and the marginalization of women. Cultural investments are so hard and fast, there isn’t any way to cross the divide.
Hence what Samuel Huntington called the Clash of Civilizations is inevitable. A pulling back, a retreat may occur episodically, but the basic differences are likely to be resolved through conflict.
Religious belief is not easily modified unless leading figures in Islam demand an examination of the Koran and Hadith with the possibility hostile intent is purged or new interpretations are permitted. President al Sisi attempted to unify Islamic thought under a banner of moderation. Yet remarkably his courageous remarks have received scant attention throughout the world.
The signs of increased tension, even war, are scattered throughout Europe. Rather than attempting to integrate immigrants, most western European states said we will turn our collective backs on the issue and let hostile colonies of angry Muslims separate themselves from the rest of society. That this policy has failed is evident with the recent terror attacks in Paris, Brussels, Lahore and elsewhere. Europe is in a clash that will imperil the very cultural foundations of the continent. In fact, the Rubicon has been crossed; there isn’t any turning back.
There are the rationalizers seeking a modus vivendi. There are others who attempt to isolate extremism, which is, of course, the right thing to do. But increasingly, violence is not perceived through the lens of distinction. Fear only encourages extremism and extremism reinforces the clash of civilizations in which we are already immersed.