Ryszard M. Machnikowski

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Ryszard M. Machnikowski

"War on Terror: the New Clash of Civilizations?”
Islam is the best, but we Muslims are not the best. The West is neither

corrupted nor degenerate. It is strong, well – educated, and organized.

Their schools are better than ours. Their cities are cleaner than ours.

The level of respect for human rights in the West is higher, and the care

for the poor and less capable is better organized. Westerners are usually

responsible and accurate in their words. Instead of hating the West, let us

proclaim cooperation instead of confrontation.


Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and probably the Capitol (this was a relative failure and ended in Pennsylvania) (1) brought to the attention of the world’s public opinion the question of modern (or rather post-modern) terrorism. Before September 11, 2001, the clear and present danger posed by the terrorist groups was obvious only for a bunch of specialist in the counterterrorism field and security officials (with certain exception of the societies of Israel, Sri Lanka, Peru, Colombia and Kashmir) (2). Afterwards, terrorist threat was discussed by mass media across the globe, capturing public attention for some time. This date was adapted by historians, politicians and media commentators as a terminal line for the end of a previous century and the start of a new one – the age of global terrorism (3). This was mainly due to the fact that the world’s only superpower (or even hyperpower in French parlance) designed terrorism, as its primary enemy in the post-Cold War era. Global mass media, dominated by the USA, passed this message to the world public: the United States was at war – at war with terrorism (and as a consequence significantly altered its national security doctrine) (4). That very notion has raised eyebrows of numerous specialists claiming that it was deeply confusing – terrorism should not be treated as a legitimate enemy, cause it is considered to be a method (albeit a cruel one) of warfare used by the enemy rather than the independent phenomenon (5). Consequently, there is no “single terrorism” but there are many conflicts (“terrorisms”) when this tool of “asymmetric warfare” is deliberately used to diminish the overwhelming conventional advantage of one side. So one cannot combat “terrorism” as such but only concrete terrorist groups as well as individuals, organizations or states supporting them. They were obviously right, though it was not the lack of proper expertise but political correctness, deeply rooted in American public life, which effectively prohibited the Bush jr. administration from naming its true enemy correctly. They simply could not too openly declare that America was going to fight militant Islamic radicals, because it would resemble Samuel P. Huntington’s “offensive” thesis of the “clash of civilisations”, widely (and wildly) rejected by the “progressive” owners of the public discourse - one can imagine the media headlines, soon to be abbreviated, especially in the Middle East, as the war with Islam, as it did in fact happen. This was reasonable, as nobody in the U.S. government wanted to fight the whole Muslim civilization but only a loud groups of political and religious extremists who claimed monopoly to speak in its name and held this religion hostage to achieve their wicked political goals.

Hence, the misleading slogan “war on terror” conquered the minds of the public, deepening confusion and misunderstanding. In fact, the U.S. was to continue its lasting at least one decade struggle with militant, anti-American Islamic groups, which were willing to use terrorism as a method of fight against the “Great Satan”. Since 9/11 this war was to be performed with less degree of secrecy and with far more powerful resources and popular support, at least in America. Hidden (and rather reluctant) warfare carried out by the consecutive U.S. administrations, known in details only to “quiet professionals” (7) and responsible policy makers, emerged from the ashes of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and became open to the general public. It was spurred by a potentially devastating attack on the American soil – an event without a historical precedence, even considering Pearl Harbour. The former CIA director James Woolsey neatly described what September 11, 2001 has really changed: “Al Qaeda has been at war with us for the better part of a decade. What’s new is that we finally noticed. ”

“The punch in the face of the American hegemon” (as it was frequently called, especially through the Middle East) has been noticed with shock and awe by the American society, and with declared sympathy towards the victims by the large part of the world. However, there were some places, where these attacks were met with open joy and support, and European solidarity with America quickly vanished and was superseded by the feeling of shadenfreude. “Why do they hate us?” and “what went wrong?” were the most frequent questions in the USA, as ordinary Americans seemed not to know the answers. They finally encountered the fact that even after the end of the Cold War America had an enemy clever and resourceful enough to make a significant harm. However, a large sector of the world’s public opinion (as well as some notorious American authors like Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore or Gore Vidal (8)) did have some hints on the “root causes” of the resentments leading to this savage, anti-American attack. It was the USA itself to be blamed for what happened on 9/11. Its sole power, arrogance, annoying unilateralism, ruthless exploitation of the world’s resources (most notably, Middle Eastern oil) and, last but not least, support of Israel against the Palestinians, had caused resentments leading to this outrageous act of barbaric atrocity. In the eyes of radical (and sometimes even not so radical) thinkers and large sector of the “World’s public opinion” (especially in the Muslim “street”, but also in Western Europe), the perpetrators of these cruel attacks were at least partially validated by the presumed atrocities committed by the “Imperialist” America to the rest of the world. (9). Its greatest current sin was hidden under the banner of “globalization”, which apparently concealed the enormous (and evil) influence exerted by the American civilization. Seemingly, “globalization” was a concept, which was used to present the aggressive spread of essentially Western values and ways of life, trade and government over the globe, as if it was a “natural” and inevitable process, excluding any coercion. America obviously has been considered the main agent of this transformation, as it is the strongest Western state. A critical approach to that concept presumably revealed cultural, economic and political “neocolonialism” and “imperialism” standing behind it as well as a coercive nature of this process – it was perceived as a forceful Westernization of the world, though some preferred the word “Americanization” as a more close to the “truth”.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that soon after 9/11, the U.S. government received advice from engaged intellectuals to turn the other cheek to the masters of the terrorist attacks, and meet their demands based on these “legitimate grievances” (do not attack the Taliban, stop supporting Israel, withdraw from the Middle East, halt globalization etc.). It seemed that nothing short of total and final self-rejection of any political and cultural influence exerted by the U.S.A. on the world, and self-denial of the so called “American values” (what conventionally is called isolationism), could win the sympathy of the pacifist European public opinion, French and German leaders and columnists included (10). Though immediately after 9/11 the governments of Western European countries hurried up to declare verbal support, they did it apparently in order to have a minimal control of the superpower’s prospective actions, and possibly to constrain them. All in vain, as contrary to these voices, Bush administration, led by the neocon desire to change the world rather than to understand it, invaded Afghanistan and quickly ousted the Taliban regime, what left Al Qaeda without a base. U.S. government soon has declared, with outrageous sincerity, that this country no longer be a “benign hegemon” and will actively pursue its security policies. The Americans start to perceive a whole world as a battleground for their fight with the terrorist groups hidden under the banner of Al Qaeda. Bush jr. was clearly following Ronald Reagan, who after a decade of rather shaky foreign policy, successfully achieved democratic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, surprising many experts (so called “sovietologists”), who usually forecasted a longstanding well-being of the USSR. Enormous economic, political and military pressure on the Soviets led to subversion and eventual collapse of the Soviet system. Certainly, it is worth mentioning here that this transformation seemed to be much an easier task in comparison, as large parts of Eastern European public had desperately been longing for American liberation, which is certainly not the case, when we consider the population of the Middle East. While huge sectors of Polish, Czech or Hungarian societies have felt they were actually oppressed by the Soviet domination, a lot of people in the Middle East believe that their real oppressor is the U.S.A. itself, so they do not need more American presence there. Hence, it is not yet clear whether American pressure succeeds with the transformation of the Middle East, an obvious goal of the current American foreign policy.

In Washington D.C., Western European support was considered as insignificant, what was a clear result not only of a unilateral mood, so fashionable today in the U.S. corridors of power, but also of Bosnia and Kosovo lessons. American administration clashed many times with the Europeans over the use of force to stop the atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia, and this experience strengthen their disdain for asking “Europe” or “the World” for their permission for U.S. action in Iraq. The people standing behind the terrorist attacks were labelled “evil doers” and “mad fanatics”, deprived of any popular support, what made the impression that the Bush administration was not interested at all in countering the presumed motives of terrorist actions, and limited itself to targeting the perpetrators and those who supported them. Some of the U.S. officials have even uttered that war on terrorism could be finally and decisively won (by the simple extinction of terrorists) – the clear result of an approach chosen by them to “explain” the terrorists’ actions (11).

Unfortunately, this vision of an isolated enemy of America, lacking any wider support or sympathy is far from being true. The sheer scale of anti-American resentments, so much visible today on every continent, has indicated that many societies are willing to reject, or at least limit, the influence exerted by this country. Even if they did not openly support violent attacks, they felt no constraint to justify these attacks, and at least partially exculpate the perpetrators. Al Qaeda seems to be an extremist and violent vanguard of this wide and growing movement rejecting Western (primarily American) civilization (hidden under the banner of globalization) and its rapid spread over the whole globe. Can we talk about the sudden and unexpected revival of Samuel P. Huntington’s claim that we should expect a violent reaction against this forcible attempt of a civilizational unification called “globalization”? Or is it only a struggle of political actors in which the cultural factors can be disregarded?

Certainly, there is a lot to be said about the importance of the strictly political reasons affecting this problem. Nobody can exclude purely political motives standing behind the actions of numerous actors involved in the “war on terror”. E.g. Iran and Syria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have long been supporting various forms of religious extremism and terrorist activity to increase their influence and preeminence in the Muslim world or to preserve their regimes, as well as to achieve some goals of their internal and foreign policy. Particularly interesting in this respect is a competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran for the ideological leadership in the Muslim world. It was the reason why these countries have supported religious extremism to gain proper leverage on the Muslim societies. In the 80s, America had widely used the religious zeal of the warriors of jihad to subvert the Soviet Union, with a stunning final effect. It seems also clear that all these countries have unleashed forces they are no longer able to control, and which turned the rage against their former generous patrons (with an obvious exempt of Iran, still supporting extremists). Nevertheless, for the purpose of this article, I intend to limit my analysis to the cultural factors affecting this conflict and focus my attention on the global, cultural perspective.

The idea of the clash of civilizations reappeared in the West with an article of the American political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington. This highly controversial and rather short text (12) evoked heated debate and its author decided to present his arguments in a more extended way – hence the appearance of the lengthy book (13). His claim was widely understood as a justification of American imperialism, though it was exactly the opposite – it was a warning cry against the “cultural universalism”, presented earlier by another famous and controversial American thinker – Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama, expressing American optimism of the end of the Cold War and its proclaimed victory over the Soviets, has suggested that after the fall of communism, liberal democracy and free market capitalism have no serious contenders as they meet the desires of any human being in the best possible way. The rest of the history would be a witness to the slow, and perhaps somewhere even violent, process of the subjugation of other civilizations to this new, global liberal culture and economy. Some can call his position as a universalistic liberal fundamentalism or even “cultural imperialism”. Although Western liberal civilization may encounter some local challengers, in a long term they are not fit enough to pose a real threat to the universalistic message of the West. He has even noticed that Islam might be the most serious contender, as it is “ (…) a systematic and coherent ideology (...) with its own code of morality and doctrine of political and social justice. The appeal of Islam [was] potentially universal, reaching out to all men as men (...) And Islam has indeed defeated liberal democracy in many parts of the Islamic world, posing a grave threat to liberal practices even in countries where it has not achieved political power directly (...). Despite the power demonstrated by Islam in its current revival, however, it remains the case that his religion has virtually no appeal outside those areas that were culturally Islamic to begin with. The days of Islam's cultural conquests, it would seem, are over. It can win back lapsed adherents, but has no resonance for the young people of Berlin, Tokyo, or Moscow. And while nearly a billion are culturally Islamic - one-fifth of the world's population - they cannot challenge liberal-democracy on its own territory on the level of ideas. Indeed, the Islamic world would seem more vulnerable to liberal ideas in the long run than the reverse.(14) He perceived militant Islamic fundamentalism as a potential source of troubles, including terrorism as a method of diminishing presumed Western supremacy, but in a long term, even the Muslims would be persuaded by the advantages of the liberal Western culture and finally might accept it. Otherwise, the Muslim world would remain within a realm of a “historical” world, with all its shortcomings and sufferings like war, famine and dictatorship. For Fukuyama, the choice had been pretty simple: either you accepted liberal culture with its passport to peace and welfare, or you would be excluded from these undeniable achievements of this social system and left in a limbo.

It is worth saying that though seemingly naive, Fukuyama’s thesis does not lack an interesting and sophisticated philosophical reasoning. Like Kantian space and time, Western liberal culture gives the basic social freedoms for human development, encompassing any other set of rules. Western liberal-democratic nation–states provide the right and open framework, necessary for the growth of divergent ideologies, which are actively suppressed by the other social systems. Western states accept a huge flow of political dissenters and refugees from the countries, where their ideology has been ruthlessly eradicated. Lively Saudi, Algerian, Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian political opposition is based mainly in London, not in Riyadh, Algiers, Damascus, Amman or Cairo, as these countries have a long tradition of repression and extermination of their political opponents, including Islamic radicals. British authorities have granted considerable margin of liberty even for such radical clerics as Omar Bakri, Abu Hamza or Abu Qatada, who openly wowed to subvert democracy in the United Kingdom and establish the Islamic state based on Sharia there. By September 11, they probably have been considered as a minor nuisance, not a serious threat. Surely, British government’s actions were severely limited by the existing law giving the inhabitants of this country freedom to worship any religion, including the most extremist interpretation of them, the privilege non-existent in some of the harshest Muslim regimes. As Walter Laqueur strikingly observes: ”If a neo-Nazi group had called for killing all the blacks in England, they would have run into difficulties under the Race Relations Act, but the Islamist preachers of hate were considered religious dignitaries and therefore immune to prosecution. (…) [T]he British and French governments were not inclined to interfere in what they considered the internal affairs of religious communities, which enjoyed full freedom under existing laws.“ (15) At the same time, the religious extremists from Algeria, managed to target not only the population of this country, but also France, which granted their fellow-citizens freedoms of expression unavailable in their homeland, in two series of violent terrorist attacks aimed at civilians in 1995 and 1996. It seems that 9/11 plot was refined in Al Qaeda cells not only in Afghanistan, but also in Germany and Spain. Security institutions then did not preoccupy themselves too much with a potential danger posed by the Islamic radicals living and studying in this country long before this deadly attack. To excuse intelligence agencies one should note that at least some of the warriors of jihad seemingly came there undetected, as they received proper training aimed at ensuring they would not be recognized as dangerous people. The same happened when they moved to the U.S.A. They did not express their views openly and behaved like not very religious persons - some of them allegedly gambled, drunk alcohol and visited “go go” bars and night-clubs (16). Despite all that, they despised American culture and were willing to harm this country. The fact that fifteen of them were Saudi citizens, the country recognized then as a loyal ally of America was probably also significant. By September 11, 2001, Usama bin Ladin and his organization were considered by a majority of policy makers as a nasty but not deadly serious danger, despite many of his anti-American fatwas, declaration of war against America (17), August 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, USS Cole destruction and the “millennium plots” disbanded by the Federal agencies. After the end of the Cold War America and the world seemed to be a safe place and nobody wanted to hear about the “clash of civilization thesis”, rejected previously by many serious thinkers. Those few, like Richard Clarke, the head of the CSG, who openly expressed their warnings against Islamic extremists, were labelled “alarmists” and their claims were largely ignored. Hardly anyone then predicted that a Saudi outlaw, living in a Middle Age like “rogue state”, could find a destructive weapon against the world’s only superpower and dare to use it (18). The era of a “state-to-state only” hostilities was finished – the infrastructure of the West was effectively used by a non-state actor like Al Qaeda to achieve a deadly end – to humiliate the hegemon, and create an impression that its power was as elusive as the towers destroyed.

Fukuyama has claimed that Western values and methods of resolving social crises are universal in the sense that the rest of the human kind could accept them, regardless the local cultures shaping their mentality and customs. Huntington forcefully rejected Fukuyama’s principal thesis of the universality of the Western culture and predicted that its rapid, due to globalization, spread would inevitably encounter resistance, sometimes extremely violent. He has perceived Western values as necessarily local, and refuted the idea that each alien culture is ready and willing to embrace them and transform itself. If the West insists to impose its ways of existence over the rest of the human population, the result would be likely the clash of civilizations. Therefore Huntington has advocated the preservation of Western forms of life in these localities, where they have been successfully implemented, and being particularly cautious in transferring them to the regions where they have great chance to be rejected. Huntington’s thinking was defensive rather than offensive, conservative rather than liberal and, in a way, though initially only a few were so subtle to grasp it, his position could be considered as a similar to those who advocate moderate anti-globalism. He intended to prevent rather than preach the inevitability of the cultural clashes after the end of the Cold War.

Certainly, his line of thinking has been based on two major (and highly questionable) assumptions: first, that it is reasonable to find some coherent cultural identities called civilizations, which are shaping human behaviour; second, that the major conflicts in a post-Cold War world would be between the most (socially, not geographically) distant of them. In case the West was still pressing with its cultural supremacy and visible presence, he had expected some possible violent responses from the Chinese (through war) and Muslim (through terrorism) civilizations. These close encounters of civilizations were likely to be militant, as they were fundamentally different and they would forcibly defend their cultural identity, presumably assaulted by the West. As Chinese civilization is more likely to defend only its domain of influence, the Muslim civilization, in its most virulent form – Islamic integrism, is more prone to assault the Western core, namely America. According to Huntington, Chinese civilization has limited universalistic inclinations, it is simply too difficult to be properly comprehended, so it should not take any offensive actions, unless not openly assaulted (e.g. over Taiwan). Because Islam, like Christianity, tends to be a highly universalistic religion, it is easy to grasp, and has a long tradition of clashes with the West in the past, the action coming from the extremists there might be more offensive, though the justification for it is purely defensive – it is done to prevent the West from entering the realm of Islam. Obviously, this universalistic message of the Muslim civilization is even stronger among Islamic fundamentalists, who are ready to carry the torch of jihad through all societies their brothers and sisters managed to inhabit. They tend to perceive globalization as a Western plot to deprive the Muslims of their unique identity, and at the same time as a prime competitor to their own ambitions to impose the will of their God on the world. Paul R. Pillar, the author of “Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy”, notes: “The U.S. commercial and cultural presence overseas - although it cannot be linked as directly to U.S. policies as diplomatic or military installations can - has also been the target of terrorism conducted solely for reasons of symbolism and hatred (as distinct from more instrumental uses of terrorism such as hostage taking, in which U.S. business has also figured as a target). (…) The Islamists oppose it violently because to them it is the font of a torrent of dirty water that is polluting the pond where they live. There is so much about American culture for the Islamists to hate, from its overall materialism to the role of women to the more sensual aspects of popular entertainment. And the cultural torrent is not only polluting the pond, it is making waves that are destroying old and fragile structures that were built along it. The American-originated changes in what people throughout the Muslim world are seeing and hearing, on the airwaves and on street corners, is tearing down mores on the obedience of children, the relationship between the sexes, and much else. The Islamists see these changes as wrecking a traditional social fabric without putting anything in its place that offers self-respect and stability, or even-for most Muslims-a more prosperous life. The face of America that much of the world sees through the global mass media is not its best face. It is a face that reinforces some of the worst stereotypes that Islamists hold about the United States. News coverage that naturally focuses on troubles rather than good news can easily leave an impression of an America that is dominated by racism, drug abuse, the breakdown of families, and other societal ills. American popular entertainment, especially some forms of popular music, appalls the Islamists even more. The more debauched parts of this ubiquitous segment of American culture have been targets of social critics in the United States. It should not be surprising that the revulsion an Islamic fundamentalist feels is even greater, to the point in some cases of contributing to a predisposition toward anti-American violence. Many Islamists take the popular entertainment to be truly representative of the United States. A Pakistani fundamentalist group, for example, denounced two stars of American pop music, Michael Jackson and Madonna, as "the torchbearers of American society, their cultural and social values (...) that are destroying humanity. They are ruining the lives of thousands of Muslims and leading them to destruction, away from their religion, ethics, and morality." The group said the two entertainers are "cultural terrorists" who should be brought to trial in Pakistan.(19)

It also seems that the idea of the clash of civilizations is not alien to Islam itself. Pillar observes: “Most of the Islamists' animus toward the United States does not reflect tenets of Islam (even the more fundamentalist interpretations of them) as it does a more general religious self–righteousness confronting secularism. Islamists share with the extremists of other religions a view of themselves as part of a cosmic struggle, with their religious belief giving a moral sanction to violence. It is a common trait of all such extremists that they deem the lives of individuals who may die in the course of battling a cosmic enemy (including ones who die in terrorist attacks) to be of little importance. Certain aspects of the Islamic worldview do, however, lend themselves more than other belief systems to the notion of an inevitable and violent clash with the U.S. -led West. The division of the world in this view between Dar al – Islam (The Realm of Islam) and Dar al – Harb (The Realm of War), the obligation of Muslims to try to expand the faith (the idea of jihad), and the lack of a clear distinction between temporal and spiritual matters all contribute to this. These and other tenets of Islam are subject, to multitudinous interpretations, and for the great majority of Muslims they do not dictate violence, let alone terrorism. Jihad can take many peaceful forms. That is why Huntington's concept of a religiously based clash does not describe the interactions that most Muslims, and most Muslim states and organizations, have with the United States and the West. It does describe, however, the view of the Islamist terrorists. If bin Ladin or someone of his ilk were to read Huntington's work, the reaction would not be surprise or shock but rather acknowledgement that this indeed is the conflict in which they believe themselves engaged. In the terrorists' perception, it is a conflict that is based on religion, involves resistance to cultural intrusion, is inevitable, includes their own terrorist operations as a leading part, and in which the enemy is the West, whose core state is the United States of America.” (20)

The ideology giving legitimacy to these furious attacks directed against the symbols of the Western power has been created in the Middle East and Central Asia in the late 20s and early 30s, refined in the 50s and 60s, widely spread in the 70s along the demise of the secular Arab nationalism, and hardened in battle in the 80s and 90s of the previous century. It was Islamic fundamentalism proposed by the Egyptians Hasan al Banna and Sayid Qutb, the Pakistani Abu al Ala al-Mawdudi and the Iranian Ruhollah Khomeini, who refined intellectual tools of this religiously motivated political ideology aimed at the defence of Islam against modern idolaters, and spread its message, through the export of the Islamic revolution. It’s worth noting that al Banna, (who was killed in 1949), denounced the West as decadent, tyrannical and unjust and wowed to crush it in a jihad more than sixty years ago, even before the age of global, TV oriented, pop culture. Consequently, it is rather hard to prove that these were precisely the unilateral actions of the Bush jr. administration, which could have outraged al Banna, when he wrote his letter to the heads of Muslims states in 1946.

However, without an active support of the Islamic states (especially Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran), these thinkers would have remained to be known only to the scarce group of their followers. It was the House of Saud that supported the global spread of the extremely virulent, Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, with money; gen. Ziaul Haq who decided to introduce the Sharia in Pakistan and support Islamic schools – madrasas – the centres of radical deobandi interpretation of Islam (21). It was Ayatollah Khomeini’ s Iran and his idea of the export of the Islamic revolution, which backed various terrorist groups in the Middle East and Central Asia. With a notable exception of Iran, the two countries were actively supported by the U.S.A, and used to forward its anti-Soviet policy during the Cold War.

Warriors of Jihad are willing to impose the ideology of Islamism, first on the Muslim societies, and second on the rest of the world, which seems to be even more difficult to achieve. They, quite rightly, perceive the global civilizational and military presence of the USA, as a primarily obstacle to this (over)ambitious idea, and that is why they are fiercely attacking the U.S. targets as well as countries they associate with the “Great Satan”, like recently Spain. They do it in the name of the defence of the Muslim civilization from the presumed Western assault, though it is clear that their vision of their own civilization is not shared by the large segments of Muslim populations - otherwise they would have already taken firm control of them. Afghanis were severely exhausted by the religious regime imposed in the name of God by the Taliban, backed with money and military support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, so they welcomed American assistance with open arms. Dar al Islam, in Taliban’s interpretation, appeared to be the country of gross human rights violation, cultural terror, tribal war and oppression aimed at women, who were locked in their homes, excluded from their society and subjected to the almost total male control. In Iran, young population of this country frequently protests against the ruling caste of religious clerics, though it is still too weak to subvert their regime. In Algeria, ten years of the civil war between the Islamic warriors and the ruling military junta, caused at least 100 000 deaths in numerous barbaric slaughters of its tired population. In Sudan, the main ideologue of the Holy War, educated at Sorbonne and London University, Hassan al Turabi, was finally brought from power by his former military accomplice, gen. Omar al Bashir, as his policy caused international isolation of this country. The Islamic government of Sudan widely used human slavery and trafficking as a method of war against its non-Muslim south. (22) As British conservative thinker, Roger Scruton notes: “Islamism is not a nationalist movement, still less a bid to establish a new kind of secular state. It rejects the modern state and its secular law in the name of a "brotherhood" that reaches secretly to all Muslim hearts, uniting them against the infidel. And because its purpose is religious rather than political, the goal is incapable of realization. The Muslim Brotherhood failed even to change the political order of Egypt, let alone to establish itself as a model of Koranic government throughout the Muslim world. Where Islamists succeed in gaining power - as in Iran, Sudan, and Afghanistan - the result is not the reign of peace and piety promised by the Prophet, but murder and persecution on a scale matched in our time only by the Nazis and the Communists. The Islamist, like the Russian nihilist, is an exile in this world; and when he succeeds in obtaining power over his fellow human beings, it is in order to punish them for being human.” (23)

This leads Gilles Kepel, widely known French specialist in the Middle East studies to assert that the religious ideology of Islamism was about to fail, and 9/11 attacks were designed to revive it and gain new backers and followers. (24) As we can see, so far Al Qaeda essentially has succeeded, and attracted new recruits for its fight against America, especially in Iraq. U.S. military response to 9/11, toppling regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq seems to be, for those who strongly believe it, the confirmation of Western imperialism and its anti-Muslim stance. Usama bin Ladin managed to gain sympathy as a lone warrior against the infidels (Jews and Crusaders in his parlance (25)) fighting for the liberation of the Holy Land, being almost a new, Islamist incarnation of Che Guevara. His prophecy gained self-confirmation – making American administration attack Muslim regimes, he apparently proved to his fellows anti-Muslim intentions of the West. But if we consider Kepel’s hypothesis true, it undermines Huntington’s second claim, that of the primacy of clashes between civilizations in the contemporary world. It seems that what we really observe today are deep crises inside civilizations, which are extended behind their borders, and involving others to respond. Civilizations are definitely less coherent and they generate internal tensions, which are shattering and tormenting them. If the Muslim society were so coherent, we should expect recently a unified reaction there - an overwhelming support for Al Qaeda - which is certainly not the case. Michael Scott Doran claims that the 9/11 attack on the U.S.A. was ultimately aimed at Saudi Arabia as an attempt to shift the relations of power there (26). Though hardly unsympathetic towards Usama’s aims, the Muslims did not uniformly back him, though the level of support for him may be enigmatic for the Westerners. Many Muslim regimes have not had any other option but to support U.S. military efforts and started to combat their own militant groups. Perhaps Usama has managed to make his name and face a world famous icon of resistance to the influence of America, but it is hard to say that he gained uniform support and solidarity even in his own cultural “sphere of influence”. After all, few American soldiers ousted the Taliban regime – there were fellow Muslims, the soldiers of the Northern Alliance, backed with American money and technological support, and Russian weapons, who entered Kabul after a pretty short military campaign. Therefore, it is difficult to claim that Muslim civilization, even if such exists, is coherent and unified in its desire to clash with the West. It is exactly the opposite – it is deeply divided, entangled in many internal crises and weak. Probably this overarching feeling of weakness is the reason for both the restraint in hostilities by the majority of the Muslims, and the outburst of militancy directed against the U.S.A. by those few of them, joining the ranks of Al Qaeda.

Moreover, it should be noticed that a crucial in this respect notion of “the Western civilization” is nowadays thoroughly questioned (27), as large parts of Western Europe, most notably France and Germany, have openly joined anti-American camp, widening Transatlantic gulf already existing there since the end of the Cold War. French intellectuals, long before 9/11, perceived Americanization as a clear threat for the French superior culture. Many French and German commentators have claimed that it is the U.S.A. and its imperial zeal, not Al Qaeda, which posed the greatest and real danger for the world’s stability. German governing elites cleverly utilised pacifism and growing anti-Americanism of its population to prevail in the upcoming parliamentary elections. In these two countries numerous books predicting the inevitable fall of the “American Empire” (28), as well as suggesting that the C.I.A (and surely Israeli Mosad) were the true, deeply hidden puppet masters of the attacks, designed to justify future acts of aggression to be committed by the U.S.A. (or even that the whole “9/11 affair” had been fabricated, became bestsellers (29). Franco-German efforts were soon joined by Russia, dreaming about the “multipolar” world, where the influence of the sole superpower was effectively constrained by the coalition of the local powers and, albeit with some reluctance, by China. Any remaining sympathy towards America finally ended, when the Bush administration had decided to wage a war against Saddam Hussein and his oppressive regime, in order to start a radical transformation of the whole region towards some form of a participatory political system, providing a minimum of freedom for its inhabitants. Ironically, the idea that democracy may be brought to the Middle East on American tanks, has been rejected by the leading European intellectuals, like Daniel “Red Danny” Cohn-Bendit, as the Neo-Bolshevism. They eagerly used this opportunity to de(con)struct it and reveal the “real” motives of the American aggressors – primarily their greed for oil and the will to conquer the world. (30) This war has provided a perfect opportunity for all “peace lovers” to justify the thesis that the real oppressors are usually the Americans, driven by the murky interests of the corrupted administration, and ready to subject all other countries to their neo-colonial will. In comparison with George W. Bush, Islamic terrorists, like Usama bin Ladin, and tyrants like Saddam Hussein and Kim Dzong Il seemed to be a group of (a little flawed) idealists and possible harm being done by them looked rather limited. After all, the latter two have usually massacred their own populations, or their close neighbours, distant from the European continent. Objecting West European political elites received huge support from their citizens, taking part in many loud and widely broadcasted protest marches, organized along Western Europe. Ultimately, after a decade of hidden but growing tensions, the “Old” Europeans managed to detach themselves from an alliance with the country, which successfully guarded their territorial integrity against the Soviet Union since 1945 (through NATO), and supported the slow process of economic and political unification with money (Marshall’s Plan) and tacit political support. What has been impossible during the Cold War, when the political leaders of the European societies firmly attached themselves to the leadership of America, is clearly possible now, when they tend to limit American presence in Europe. The clear result of this message, so widespread in the European media is that today, according to a recent EU public opinion poll, the Europeans deeply believes that only Israel outstrips the U.S.A. as a country posing the greatest threat to world’s peace.

It seems that French political elites prefer to suggest that actions mounted by the ideologues of jihad and their followers are now directed solely against America, its power and culture, and they try to forget this country bloody experience with Islamic terrorism from the middle 90s. They also think that ideas and practices forwarded by America are significantly different from those originated from the Old Continent. This view received a powerful support from an American neoconservative, Robert Kagan who claimed that “the Americans are from Mars and the Europeans are from Venus” (31). Influential intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic have started to believe that growing Transatlantic tensions over Iraq allow them to bury the concept of the “West”, traditionally consisting of (Western) Europe and (Northern) America, based on social practices and institutions coming from a long, common cultural history. So far, the most visible tensions were to be observed in the UN Security Council, where U.S. administration clashed not only with China and Russia, but primarily with France and Germany, over the UN resolution allowing America to use force to oust Saddam. As we know now, ultimately U.S. officials failed to persuade their opponents to accept such a resolution (32). Only recently, with a new round of hostilities, U.S. Department of Defence rejected the possibility of granting French and German firms the privilege to participate in the development programs in Iraq under the DoD’s management and financed by the American taxpayers’ money.

The rift between the two sides of the Atlantic is an obvious and inevitable result of the end of the global rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union more than a decade ago (due to the demise of the latter). Potential Soviet threat firmly kept both sides of the Atlantic united in their resistance, what gave them a ground for common political actions, when necessary. It cannot come as a surprise: lack of a common enemy is a frequent cause for disenchantment in human societies. Now, when this uniting threat has long been gone, both sides are prone to perceive each other as potential competitors in the global economic struggle, which superseded former ideological and military conflict, framing the globe during the Cold War. Integrational processes in Western Europe, which now include Central Europe, are providing the European Union an unique opportunity to make itself independent of the American protection. Soviet Empire no longer endangers the security of Western Europe, so it does not need American military help anymore. This continent has to strive with its own power and weakness (particularly with the newly reunited Germany, this continent’s colossus, being in the past frequently a European troublemaker). Current U.S. administration is no longer willing to support the further integration of this continent, as it may create a serious challenger to the “new American century”. Hence, it is trying to use some “Old” and some “New” European countries, widely known for their unconditional support for U.S. actions, to slow this process and diminish the closeness of the economic and political bounds. On the other side of the Atlantic, some are willing to build a new European identity on the anti-American fundament, following advice of the two famous European philosophers: Jacques Derrida and Jurgen Habermas (accidentally being the French and the German). As Dominique Moisi recently has observed: “It is as if, divided over its institutional and geographic future, Europe feels that it must exist as an alternative to the United States - a different and better West. European intellectuals, such as J. Habermas and Jacques Derrida, see in the recent antiwar demonstrations the emergence of a European civil society that chooses to define itself negatively against the United States. It is unfortunate that Europeans have not chosen to define themselves positively in the name of a clear project from Europe. Unlike anti-American sentiments in the past, this breed of anti-Americanism is not so much a reaction to what the United States does as a reaction to what it represents. Although French President Jacques Chirac was clearly not speaking in the name of most European governments when he spectacularly opposed the United States over the war in Iraq, he was in tune with European public opinion.” (33)

As a result of these actions, the division on the European “core” (led, obviously, by the Franco-German alliance joined by the coalition of willing) and “peripheral” states, consisted of those who are not happy with the aforementioned leadership in Europe and less economically capable, may finally emerge. The revival of the concept of Europe of “concentric circles” or “multi speeds”, especially after the failure of the recent EU summit in Brussels, incapable of accepting EU constitution, is particularly significant. This summit shows that Europe is deeply divided over the Franco-German leadership and its project for this continent’s prospective role and functions. While these Transatlantic and intereuropean divisions grow much wider, we may expect the disappearance of the “Western” civilization and be witnesses to the reappearance of (Western) European and American civilizations (34). What sort of contacts between them would eventually prevail – open hostility, reluctant co-operation or, not very likely, true friendship based on common interests - today remains a mystery. Let us hope that it would not lead to the “renationalization” of the European politics, with its consequences known well from the early beginning of the previous century.

Certainly, all these changes have been spurred by the complex process of globalization. Though it was born in a specific locality - the West - due to its technological and economic primacy, it deeply affects and transforms all places in the world today, including its place of birth, causing different crises and evoking resistance. Roger Scruton notes that: “Globalization does not mean merely the expansion of communications, contacts, and trade around the globe. It means the transfer of social, economic, political, and juridical power to global organizations, by which I mean organizations that are located in no particular sovereign jurisdiction, and governed by no particular territorial law. (…) Whether in the form of multinational corporations, international courts, or transnational legislatures, these organizations pose a new kind of threat to the only form of sovereignty that has brought lasting (albeit local) peace to Our planet. And when terrorism too becomes globalized, the threat is amplified a hundred – fold. With al-Qa'eda, therefore, we encounter the real impact of globalization on the Islamic revival. To belong to this "base" is to accept no territory as home, and no human law as authoritative. It is to commit oneself to a state of permanent exile, while at the same time resolving to carry out God's work of punishment. But the techniques and infrastructure on which al-Qa'eda depends are the gifts of the new global institutions. It is Wall Street and Zurich that produced the network of international finance that enables Osama bin Laden to conceal his wealth and to deploy it anywhere in the world. It is Western enterprise with its multinational outreach that produced the technology that bin Laden has exploited so effectively against us. And it is Western science that developed the weapons of mass destruction he would dearly like to obtain. His wealth, too, would be inconceivable without the vast oil revenues brought to Saudi Arabia from the West, to precipitate the building boom there from which his father profited. And this very building boom, fueled by a population explosion that is itself the result of global trade, is a symbol of the West and its outreach.”(35)

Scruton argues that although the processes of globalization transform each civilization (Western included), they are perceived by the rest of the globe, and most notably by the Muslims, as a direct attack from the West at their dearest social and cultural institutions. On the one hand, globalization endangers sovereign, “personal” nation-states developed by the West, on the other it threatens the cultural values of other civilizations by exposing them to the pressure of an individualistic, secular, tolerant and excessively libertarian Western pop culture, with its fixation on sexual freedom and deprivation of the religious life. That stands in clear opposition to the tradition of Islam, concentrated on the submission to God, not the freedom of an individual, as God’s will is (supposedly) clearly declared in the Koran. They feel that their sacred heritage is undermined by so a radically different cultural offensive coming to them via global media from the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, Muslim conservative scholars, following contemporary Western radical left, think that globalization is forwarded and directed by the transnational organizations, which are controlled primarily by America. But, Scruton suggests, militant attacks on an unprecedented scale, were enabled only by that very same process of globalization, making possible to travel freely, communicate instantly and use the complex infrastructure of the American state against its authorities and inhabitants (36). Al Qaeda is spreading its message using global mass media and the Internet, created by Western science and technology. Without all that, Usama bin Laden would have still been sitting in some Afghan cave and hardly anybody could even be aware of his existence.

It seems that anti-Americanism of radical Islamists is not far from anti-Americanism of so called anti-globalization movements, as they all perceive American influence as a primary threat for the cultural identity of their local societies. However, it would be a gross oversimplification to put Western European pacifist movement on the same footing as a militant Islamic radicalism, cause they are totally different forms of resistance against presumed American assault. Western anti-globalization movement so far significantly varies from global, Islamist terrorism, not only, what is the most obvious, when we consider the methods of action, but also the presumed aims and results. Islamic radicals intend to create a State of God, ruled by the Sharia everywhere their umma is present. Anti-globalists do not have a single, coherent vision of a perfect, new society. They quite well know what they do not want, but still they do not know what they want instead. Consequently, the majority of them strongly reject extreme violence, used by the Islamic extremist groups, as a method of achieving their goals. Though the rhetoric used by their spokespersons sometimes resembles those of Islamic radicals, it is totally deprived of the religious language, as European activists want to keep the secular and strengthen the tolerant, multicultural character of Western society, while the Islamists intend to unify it along their raw interpretation of Islam, what makes a significant difference.

So, what we observe today, are various forms of local, culturally unique resistance against the impact of globalization, and we should be very careful before we try to link them. In modern world it has been a fashionable truism that everything is linked and connected, but different populations have divergent and largely unconnected forms of opposition towards the emerging global culture, which is derived from their local traditions. Global media, showing them altogether, are creating delusive impressions that they present a single movement of protest and dissent, which is certainly not the case.

It is also rather hard to claim today that the most important clashes are taking place between coherent Muslim and Western civilizations. It seems that they both are full of internal tensions and fierce struggles. The war we observe today between liberal American interventionism (37) on the one side, and Islamic extremism on the other, is certainly cross-cultural. Both sides of this conflict deeply believe that their sets of social rules are universal and may be accepted, with the use of violence if necessary, by the rest. It should be stressed, however, that there is indeed a huge difference between them. The former do bring (in a long term) the hope for political and religious freedom, while the latter results in indiscriminate killing, oppression and violation of the most basic human rights, so let us hope that the latter will never prevail. But when these two sides collide, which is certainly the case as far as “the war on terror” is concerned, it resembles a bit Huntington’s thesis, but certainly does not reflect the attitude of all Muslims and Westerners who, I still wish to believe, prefer to co-operate and live in peace.
Tekst ten zostanie zamieszczony w nowej publikacji Wyższej Szkoły Stosunków Międzynarodowych w Łodzi pod redakcją Mariana Wilka p.t. „USA we współczesnym świecie”.


George Mascolo, Holger Stark, Operation Holy Tuesday, Der Spiegel, no. 44/2003

Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, Victor Gollancz, London 1998, particularly last chapter

Walter Laqueur, No End to War: Terrorism in the 21st Century, Continuum, New York 2003

John Lewis Gaddis, A Grand Strategy of Transformation, Foreign Policy, November/ December 2002

Paul Pillar, Terrorism and US Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution, Washington 2001

Elizabeth Drew, The Neocons in Power, The New York Review of Books, vol. 50, no. 10 (June 12, 2003)

See: Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, Penguin, london 2004; Anonymous, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes. Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America, Brassey’s, Washington 2003; the undisclosed author is a senior intelligence official working in Central and South Asia.

Noam Chomsky (an interview by David Barsamian), The United States is a Leading

Terrorist State, The Monthly Review, November 2001; or recent: Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (The American Empire Project), Metropolitan Books, 2003; Gore Vidal, Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002

Phil Scraton (ed.), Beyond September 11. An Antology of Dissent, Pluto Press, London 2002; Letter from United States Citizens to Friends in Europe, at: _letter_to_europeans.html

Jean-Marie Colombani, the author of the famous article Nous Sommes Tous Américains published in Le Monde next day after 911, has soon written a book showing a little bit different attitude towards the USA: Tous Américains? Le monde après le 11 septembre 2001, Fayard, Paris 2002

David Frum, Richard Perle, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, Random House, New York 2003

Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations?, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993 (vol. 72/3)

Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon and Schuster, New York 1996

Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Hamish Hamilton, London 1992, pp. 45-6

Walter Laqueur, No End to War: Terrorism in the 21st Century, Continuum, New York 2003, p. 61

John Miller, Michael Stone, Chris Mitchell, The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, and Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It, Hyperion, New York 2002

See these documents in: Yonah Alexander, Michael S. Swetnam, Usama bin Laden’s al-Qaida: Profile of a Terrorist Network, Trasnational Publishers, Ardsley 2001;

Gerald Posner, Why America Slept: the Failure to Prevent 9/11, Random House, New York 2003

Paul R. Pillar, Terrorism and US Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution, Washington 2001, pp. 62-4

Ibidem, p. 65

Husain Haqqani, Islam’s Medieval Outposts, Foreign Policy, November/December 2002

Randolph Martin, Sudan's Perfect War, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2002

Roger Scruton, The West and the Rest. Globalization and the Terrorist Threat, Continuum, London 2002, pp. 126-7

Gilles Kepel, Jihad. Expansion et declin de l’islamisme, Editions Gallimard, Paris 2000

Appendix 1B in: Yonah Alexander, Michael S. Swetnam: Usama bin Laden’s al-Qaida: Profile of a Terrorist Network, Trasnational Publishers, Ardsley 2001

Michael Scott Doran, The Saudi Paradox, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2004

Dominique Moisi, Reinventing the West, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2003 at: www.foreignaffairs.org/20031101faessay82607/dominique-moisi/reinventing-the-west.html

Emmanuel Todd, Apres l’empire. Essai sur la decomposition du systeme americain, Editions Gallimard, Paris 2002;

Thierry Meyssan, La Terrible Impostura, El Ateneo 2002; (English ed. 9/11: The Big Lie, Carnot USA Books 2002); Gerhardt Wisnewski, Operation 9/11. Angriff auf den Globus, Droemer/Knaur 2003

Tzvetan Todorov, Le nouveau desordre mondial. Reflexions d’un Europeen, Robert Laffont, Paris 2003

Robert Kagan, Power and Weakness, Policy Review, June/July 2002 at: www.policyreview.org/JUN02/kagan_print.html; Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power. America and Europe in the New World Order, Random House, New York 2003;

Michael J. Glennon, Why the Security Council Failed, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2003; James P. Rubin, Stumbling Into War, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2003

Dominique Moisi, Reinventing the West, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2003 at: www.foreignaffairs.org/20031101faessay82607/dominique-moisi/reinventing-the-west.html

Will Hutton, The World We’re In, Abacus, London 2003; Andre Glucksmann, Ouest contre Ouest, Plon, Paris 2003; Charles Kupchan, The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century, Knopf, 2002

Roger Scruton, op. cit., pp. 127 – 128

Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Rise of Complex Terrorism, Foreign Policy, January/February 2002

Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism, W.W. Norton & Co., New York 2003

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