Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Two perspectives on "Who won?"|
|10/11/01 at 21:22:34|
|The west has won |
Radical Islam can't beat democracy and capitalism. We're still at the end of history
Thursday October 11, 2001
A stream of commentators have been asserting that the tragedy of September 11 proves that I was utterly wrong to have said more than a decade ago that we had reached the end of history. It is, on the face of it, insulting to the memory of those who died to declare that this unprecedented attack did not rise to the level of a historical event. But the way in which I used the word history was different: it referred to the progress over the centuries toward modernity, characterised by institutions like democracy and capitalism.
My observation, made in 1989 on the eve of the collapse of communism, was that this evolutionary process did seem to be bringing ever larger parts of the world toward modernity. And if we looked beyond liberal democracy and markets, there was nothing else towards which we could expect to evolve; hence the end of history. While there were retrograde areas that resisted that process, it was hard to find a viable alternative civilisation that people actually wanted to live in after the discrediting of socialism, monarchy, fascism and other types of authoritarianism.
This view has been challenged by many people, and perhaps most articulately by Samuel Huntington. He argued that rather than progressing toward a single global system, the world remained mired in a "clash of civilisations" in which six or seven major cultural groups would co-exist without converging and constitute the new fracture lines of global conflict. Since the successful attack on the centre of global capitalism was evidently perpetrated by Islamic extremists unhappy with the very existence of western civilisation, observers have been handicapping the Huntington "clash" view over my own "end of history" hypothesis.
I believe that in the end I remain right: modernity is a very powerful freight train that will not be derailed by recent events, however painful. Democracy and free markets will continue to expand as the dominant organising principles for much of the world. But it is worthwhile thinking about what the true scope of the present challenge is.
Modernity has a cultural basis. Liberal democracy and free markets do not work everywhere. They work best in societies with certain values whose origins may not be entirely rational. It is not an accident that modern liberal democracy emerged first in the Christian west, since the universalism of democratic rights can be seen as a secular form of Christian universalism.
The central question raised by Huntington is whether institutions of modernity will work only in the west, or whether there is something broader in their appeal that will allow them to make headway elsewhere. I believe there is. The proof lies in the progress that democracy and free markets have made in regions such as east Asia, Latin America, orthodox Europe, south Asia and even Africa. Proof lies also in the millions of developing world immigrants who vote with their feet every year to live in western societies. The flow of people moving in the opposite direction, and the number who want to blow up what they can of the west, is by contrast negligible.
But there does seem to be something about Islam, or at least the fundamentalist versions of Islam that have been dominant in recent years, that makes Muslim societies particularly resistant to modernity. Of all contemporary cultural systems, the Islamic world has the fewest democracies (Turkey alone qualifies), and contains no countries that have made the transition to developed nation status in the manner of South Korea or Singapore.
There are plenty of non-western people who prefer the economic part of modernity and hope to have it without having to accept democracy as well. There are others who like both the economic and political versions of modernity, but just can't figure out how to make it happen. For them, transition to western-style modernity may be long and painful. But there are no insuperable cultural barriers to prevent them from getting there, and they constitute about four-fifths of the world's people.
Islam, by contrast, is the only cultural system that seems regularly to produce people like Osama bin Laden or the Taliban who reject modernity lock, stock and barrel. This raises the question of how representative such people are of the larger Muslim community, and whether this rejection is somehow inherent in Islam. For if the rejectionists are more than a lunatic fringe, then Huntington is right that we are in for a protracted conflict made dangerous by virtue of their technological empowerment.
The answer that politicians east and west have been putting out since September 11 is that those sympathetic with the terrorists are a "tiny minority" of Muslims, and that the vast majority are appalled by what happened. It is important to say this to prevent all Muslims from becoming targets of hatred. The problem is that hatred of America and what it stands for are clearly much more widespread.
Certainly the group of people willing to go on suicide missions against the US is tiny. But sympathy may be manifest in nothing more than initial feelings of schadenfreude at the sight of the collapsing towers, a sense of satisfaction that the US was getting what it deserved, to be followed by pro forma expressions of disapproval. By this standard, sympathy for the terrorists is characteristic of much more than a "tiny minority"of Muslims, extending from the middle classes in countries like Egypt to immigrants in the west.
This broader dislike and hatred would seem to represent something much deeper than mere opposition to American policies like support for Israel or the Iraq embargo, encompassing a hatred of the underlying society. After all, many people around the world, including many Americans, disagree with US policies, but this does not send them into paroxysms of anger and violence. Nor is it necessarily a matter of ignorance about the quality of life in the west. The suicide hijacker Mohamed Atta was a well-educated man from a well-to-do Egyptian family who lived and studied in the US for years. Perhaps the hatred is born out of a resentment of western success and Muslim failure.
But rather than psychologise the Muslim world, it makes more sense to ask whether radical Islam constitutes a serious alternative to western liberal democracy. (Radical Islam has virtually no appeal in the contemporary world apart from those who are culturally Islamic to begin with.) For Muslims themselves, political Islam has proved much more appealing in the abstract than in reality. After 23 years of rule by fundamentalist clerics, most Iranians, especially the young, would like to live in a far more liberal society. Afghans who have experienced Taliban rule feel much the same. Anti-American hatred does not translate into a viable political program for Muslim societies to follow.
We remain at the end of history because there is only one system that will continue to dominate world politics, that of the liberal-democratic west. This does not imply a world free from conflict, nor the disappearance of culture. But the struggle we face is not the clash of several distinct and equal cultures fighting amongst one another like the great powers of 19th-century Europe. The clash consists of a series of rearguard actions from societies whose traditional existence is indeed threatened by modernisation. The strength of the backlash reflects the severity of this threat. But time is on the side of modernity, and I see no lack of US will to prevail.
• Reprinted with permission of the Wall Street Journal, 2001. Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
• Francis Fukuyama is professor of international political economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and author of The End of History and the Last Man
|Two perspectives on "Who won?"|
|10/11/01 at 21:23:17|
|The war Bin Laden has already won |
Wednesday October 10, 2001
Just days into this conflict, a dread thought surfaces: what if Osama bin Laden is winning this war? The television pictures tell the opposite story. He is the frail man relying on a stick, hunted quarry chased into a cave. Ranged against him are the mightiest forces in the world, a superpower wielding multi-billion dollar weaponry, backed by a string of wealthy, well-equipped allies. Surely, as Tony Blair told the world via the Labour party conference last week, "This is a battle with only one outcome: our victory, not theirs."
That would be true if this was an ordinary war, the kind between states. If this were a battle with Iraq or Serbia, the result would be pre-ordained. But this belongs in a category all its own. The differences are obvious: Bin Laden is a leader without a country and his "troops" are disciples scattered and hidden across the globe, making a conventional attack on him impossible. To eradicate al-Qaida through an air assault is like destroying a flu virus with a sledgehammer: it cannot work.
But that is only part of the difference. For this war's defining characteristic is the centrality of propaganda. What are clashing here are not two armies, but two arguments. The US-led coalition's case is that this is not about the west vs. Islam, but the world against terror. The lead rhetorical advocate has been Tony Blair, who this week took his message to the Arab world directly via an interview with the suddenly-hot satellite TV channel, al-Jazeera.
Bin Laden has been no less eloquent, presenting his case via that same TV station on the very night the bombing began. (Spin doctors the world over can only applaud the skill of his media operation: Bin Laden may be an evil terrorist, but he's clearly read the Clinton-Blair book of rapid rebuttal.) His version is the direct opposite of the one pushed by Blair and George Bush. "These events have divided the world into two camps, the camp of the faithful and the camp of infidels," he declared. For him, this is not the world against terror, but Islam against everyone else.
The question immediately becomes: which version is prevailing among the people that matter - the people of the Arab and Muslim world? London and Washington insist that Arab and Muslim governments accept their view that the object of the current onslaught is the Taliban and al-Qaida and no one else. But the people of the Muslim "street" do not seem to see it that way. For all the reassurances supplied by kings and despots, large sections of their peoples - we cannot call them electorates - have sided with Bin Laden. Indeed, they regard the current bombing offensive as utter confirmation of his key message: that America and its allies will always seek to crush poor, Muslim peoples wherever they may be.
Accordingly, they have rioted on his behalf across Pakistan, Indonesia and the Gaza strip. They have brandished his face on placards and hailed him as a champion of "the Islamic nation". So-called moderate Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have refused to grant the US even the military cooperation they provided during the Gulf war, so fearful are they of seeming to collude with the Great Satan. In contrast with the 1991 conflict, the night war on Kabul has been conducted without the military help of a single Muslim country. Even here in Britain, Muslim leaders - despite Blair's insistent pleading that this fight has nothing to do with Islam - have refused to lend their endorsement. Blair personally wooed the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain at Downing Street on Monday, but it made no difference: Yousuf Bhailok still called for an immediate halt to the war.
In other words, few in the Muslim world see an attack on the Afghan regime as a long-overdue assault on a barbaric dictatorship. Many, perhaps most, see it as an attack on them. They do not denounce the Taliban and cheer their probable collapse; they see them as brothers, the newest victims of the western "crusade" to humiliate Islam. On this they agree with Osama bin Laden.
The intensity of street-level reaction has exposed a glaring hole in the western coalition's case, the same hole that lay at the centre of the debate that raged here and in America after September 11 on the "clash of civilisations" theory pushed by Harvard professor Samuel Huntingdon. To trash the idea, Blair and others constantly said the west has no grievance with Islam. But they never paused to wonder how Islam felt about the west. Bin Laden insists there is absolutely a clash of civilisations - and, so far, from Quetta to Gaza, they're cheering him. With typical arrogance, most western thinkers assumed Huntingdon's thesis was all about us; we forgot about them.
Our leaders have filled the gap by making assumptions about the Muslim world. It has been comforting hearing Sheikh Anthony Charles Lynton Blair and Mullah George Walker Bush tell us Bin Laden-ism is a desecration of the peace-loving faith that is true Islam. But it would have been more reassuring if similar verdicts had come from koranic scholars of even greater rank than the British PM and US president. There has been criticism of Bin Laden, to be sure. Yet so far neither the ayatollahs of Iran nor the grand muftis of Cairo and Jerusalem have ostracised him from on-high as an enemy of Islam - there has been no fatwa against him.
It's not difficult to understand why few of Islam's most senior clerics have condemned him as a blasphemer. Most of them are tied to governments that are fearful of sparking an Islamist revolt. But that is hardly any more comforting. For what emerges is a picture of a Muslim world where either vocal and growing minorities idolise Bin Laden or governments fear standing against him. Either position confirms the hopelessness of a western propaganda campaign to isolate him.
This prompts a bleak practical conclusion: this war is truly a no-war situation. To capture and put Bin Laden on trial would be to create a focus for Islamist anger, and to further inflate his legend. Killing him would create a martyr whose death would have to be gruesomely avenged. Alive he would carry on wreaking murderous havoc. Every option is a victory for him and defeat for us.
And so even I, who hold no brief for knee-jerk anti-Americanism or knee-jerk pacifism, am left feeling deeply ambivalent about this war. I wonder if it will pass the basic, Blairite test - what's best is what works - or if it is about to make a grievous problem even worse. I worry that we may have played directly into Bin Laden's hands, following a script he's been dreaming up these last five years - inadvertently proving that America and Islam are locked in an epic clash of civilisations after all. I wonder if it would have been smarter to have taken out the men of the al-Qaida network one by one, quietly and in the dead of night, rather than giving Osama bin Laden this spectacular war he craves.
I wonder if he is not celebrating in that cave of his - celebrating the war he has already won.
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