Islam on the fringes.

Author:Howell, Llewellyn D.

IN 1993, SAMUEL HUNTINGTON, a political science professor at Harvard University, wrote an article in Foreign Affairs magazine entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?" He argued that conflict in the 20th century would be defined by competition among civilizations or cultures instead of among governments and nation-states as it had been in the many centuries before. While many challenged this vision, the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, made most rethink this premise, especially the confrontation between Islam and other cultures.

Huntington envisioned a world with a rapidly growing population as having insufficient nation-state resources to keep the global order. Instead, he saw a trend toward order in a competition among civilizations or cultures. These were built around a common history, religion, race, and traditions, not around a government. Territory would be what it almost always has been, the land that the civilization could hold. Competition among the groups thus based would be for land and resources. As population size exceeded existing control of a culture, it would push out into the territory of another. Thus, the "clash of civilizations."

When he was writing 20 years ago, the West recently had ascended over the Russian civilization (the Soviet Union), but Islam was the expanding and active force in the world. Its tenets were the most resistant to change; its male population was the most aggressive; and its population was growing the fastest. The term "terrorism" already was becoming synonymous with Islamic radicalism, rather than with radicalism in other cultures. After the USSR fell, mostly of its own weight and the inadequacies of the Communist system, the West was content to rest on its laurels.

Sept. 11 changed the equation. Islamic culture (not just Islamic radicals, as many have come to argue) began making advances throughout the world. Across the Middle East, in Sunni (Al Qaeda) and Shia (Persian) cultures, the force of Islam and the West in conflict penetrated every other culture. The idea of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims reverberated, and every one of the other cultures began to adjust--the West first.

The clash was opened by the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The West engaged with the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan. An invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and Western forces was intended to further that engagement, but bad intelligence and poor strategic thinking turned a response to 9/11 into a clear clash of...

To continue reading