September 11, 2001 altered the global landscape in a manner that has had far reaching and lasting ramifications. However, history did not begin on September 11, 2001. It was an event that marked a new phase in a conflict that has lasted for centuries—simply, a new battle in a greater war. There are many factors that allow for one to realise this reality and, consequently, the historical context that gives rise to the concept of a timeless clash of civilisations between opposing ideologies. When we can appreciate these factors, it allows for us to have a comprehensive view of what has occurred since September 11, 2001 and, thus, place whatever occurs in its correct context.
A Clash of Civilisations?
In order to understand this entire discussion, one must first understand what is implied by a clash of civilisations. In effect, a clash of civilisations refers to the dynamics of engagement and relationship between opposing ideologies. An ideology refers to a comprehensive system that has a singular idea as its basis from which its systems are derived, and it also must have a method by which it seeks to implement and impose itself. Ideologies inherently seek to be implemented, and so, when opposing ideologies exist, they compete for dominance as to seize opportunity.
So, when they come into contact, ideologies will oppose one another. History attests to this reality. When Islam was revealed 1400 years ago, it opposed everything that existed at the time in terms of the system, and for this reason, it was opposed by the Quraish (the dominant Arab tribe of the time). Communism and capitalism were at loggerheads in an effort to dominate during the Cold War period. With the fall of communism, Islam is now the ideology that has the capitalist West concerned. Prior to September 11, this was exhibited in a more covert manner, but following September 11, this has become an overt war between Islam and the capitalist West. This is why we see the global focus on Islam, and the opposition of the West towards all things to do with Islam and against Muslims themselves.
The Current Clash
September 11 served a very particular purpose in this clash; it brought the clash out into the open. As George W. Bush famously stated, “You are either with us or against us.” Although such words were uttered to garner support for America’s “War on Terror”, the phrase itself is accurate in describing that there exists an ongoing ideological conflict between Islam and the capitalist West, and that sides must be chosen in an increasingly polarised world. Neutrality is no longer an option when it is recognised that there exists this clash; for, not choosing to align oneself with one side only serves to strengthen the other.
Today’s clash of civilisations plays out in different ways and they can be broadly classed into two categories: internal and external.
The Western world recognises that Islam is its ideological opponent and thus, Muslims—being those who carry Islam—are a potential (and indeed an existent) threat, especially those within their own borders. The West chooses to deal with this in a number of ways, including:
- Demonising Islam and Muslims: Muslims are labelled “extreme” and Islam labelled “backward” amongst other such descriptions. The purpose of this is to keep general public opinion against Islam so as to justify further the internal and external measures that Western governments choose to take in this clash between Islam and the West.
- Moderating and changing Islam itself: The West has identified the “threatening” portions of Islam, and so seeks to do away with them in order to create a “moderate”, depoliticised, and secular Islam. It wants an Islam that remains within the homes of Muslims, but does not dare to challenge the status quo. It pressures Muslims into accepting Western ideals, such as democracy and nationalism, and abandoning Islamic concepts such as Jihad, Ummah, and Khilafah so that they may be integrated into Western society and abandon their Islamic identities, no longer posing a threat.
- Anti-terror/anti-radicalisation policies: The West, after September 11, has found itself increasingly implementing draconian and oppressive policies that are directly aimed at Muslims. If it is unable to change Islam and have Muslims accept its watered down, Westernised version (as mentioned), the West seeks to silence dissent and have Muslims who exhibit any threatening form of political opposition muted.
When these methods are examined in the broader “clash” context, it is clear that the West seeks only to oppose Islam as an ideology.
In tandem with the internal measures taken by the West, there are external efforts that seek to allow for the West to have a direct hand in the Muslim world with the aim of wrestling the control of the political destiny of the Muslims out of their hands. These include:
- The “War on Terror”: September 11 was used as an expedient excuse to launch a new military assault against the Muslim world. The true reason for the “War on Terror” (not the flimsy excuses pedalled by media and governments, such as WMDs and “Al-Qaeda”) has been neatly summarised in the statement by General Richard Dannatt, the recently retired head of the British army. When asked about Britain’s continued occupation of Afghanistan as part of the “War on Terror”, he said that there is an “Islamist agenda which if we don’t oppose it and face it off in Southern Afghanistan, or Afghanistan, or in South Asia, then frankly that influence will grow. It could well grow, and this is an important point, we could see it moving from South Asia to the Middle East to North Africa, and to the high water mark of the Islamic caliphate in the 14th, 15th century.”
- Supporting despots and their systems: The West has a history of propping up and supporting dictators and tyrants in the Muslim world who will brutally silence all forms of opposition and maintain their interests in the Muslim lands; the names of Mubarak, Ben Ali, King Abdullah, Musharraf, and others come to mind. This proxy form of Western interference gives it the ability to maintain control and keep a close watch from a distance so that the West will appear to have no direct association, washing its hands of any blood.
- Hijacking the Arab Spring: The Arab Spring is a monumental occurrence that has signalled the rise of the Muslims against the shackles of fear and oppression. This is a massive indication that Muslims may soon have the ability to establish themselves in power and herald the rise of Islam as an ideological force once again. This is the greatest fear of the capitalist West as a united, ideological, and powerful Muslim world would end global capitalist hegemony. For this reason, the West is attempting to hijack the uprisings, calling for democracy, and trying desperately to colour them with a secular brush against the clear Islamic sentiments that have been on display for the world to see. If the West cannot turn the tide of the uprisings in a direction that suits them, they will have conceded a massive loss in this clash of civilisations and paved the way for their own demise.
The Future… Where to From Here?
In mapping the future, lessons can be taken from the past. In the post September 11 world, the Muslims are experiencing a time in which their enemies are as antagonistic as the Quraish, as overbearing as the Mongols, and as driven as the Crusaders. Yet, in all these cases, there is a single ideology that triumphed—Islam. The divide between Islam and capitalism, between the Muslims and the capitalist West, is widening day by day. A choice thus needs to be made – a side must be chosen. Will Muslims be seduced by the West and side with them in this clash of civilisations by accepting their terms, their version of Islam, and their foreign policy? Or will they choose to side with Islam itself and stay firm upon their convictions and beliefs, accepting only the ideology of Islam as their complete solution in the face of those who seek to dominate, manipulate and change Islam? There is no option to feign impartiality as now is the time to either stand for Islam alongside the Muslims or stand with the capitalist West in this clash of civilisations.
Hamzah Qureshi is an undergraduate arts student from Sydney, Australia who has completed a major in Islamic studies.