I remember hearing back in the early 1990’s a discussion about Mr. Huntington’s essay in regards to the Gulf War in Kuwait and Iraq. I recall someone making the statement that even as far back as the early 1980’s, that some were warning about the rise of militant Islam, and that if left unchecked – could rise to hurt the West. Of course in the middle of the Cold War and movies like the Day After, our national experience with radical Islam from Khomeni a few years earlier was already lost in our memories as we watched Reagan tackle the Evil Empire of the Soviets. We of course lost 263 marines when Hezbollah blew up our barracks when we were serving the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon in 1983. That massacre quickly faded from our consciences as we retreated our military forces from the region.
Jihadist Islam grew under our noses, quietly. We largely ignored the Palestinian intifada and assumed all Arab/Muslim problems were Israel’s – and we went along with our notions of fairness, even supporting the Muslim’s in Kosovo in ridding them of their hated ethnic cleanser; Milosevich.
We didn’t hear from Jihadist Islam loudly until Al Qaeda hit our embassies in Africa. The seething rage and hatred being stoked by radicals preaching end-time fulfillments of Islam’s domination of the world went ignored by us, and even then – we did nothing about them, unless bombing an asprin factory in the Sudan counts as punishment.
That of course led the the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 Sailors. But like Beirut before in the 1980’s – we did absolutely nothing. Not even the perfunctory finger wave and empty rhetoric that “justice” would be served.
The lack of attention and retribution was seen by all Jihadists and most of Islam as The Sign – the signal that our weakness was complete and that the time to strike the Great Satan and take him down like Gulliver was at hand.
The rest, is now recent history.
Huntington’s thesis from the early 1990’s is virtually prophetic now. When one considers how militant Islam is being forcefully herded into accepting calls among sects for unity – even when listening to Ahmadinejad of Iran discuss the role the entire Muslim Umma will play in establishing a global Caliphate – I have to ponder aloud if the scriptures about the Beast images of Daniel and Revelation pointing to an empire made of iron and clay – mixed, is not speaking of an Islamic confederacy – where perhaps former secular Turkey itself becomes the lynch-pin for unifying Islam against the West. A speculation at best, and it makes as much sense to me as any other possibilities that underpin Christian prophecy circles.
We do live in interesting times, and it is even more interesting to note those who saw where we are now, decades ago.
It would have been unlike Samuel P. Huntington to say “I told you so” after 9/11. He is too austere and serious a man, with a legendary career as arguably the most influential and original political scientist of the last half century — always swimming against the current of prevailing opinion.
In the 1990s, first in an article in the magazine Foreign Affairs, then in a book published in 1996 under the title “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” he had come forth with a thesis that ran counter to the zeitgeist of the era and its euphoria about globalization and a “borderless” world. After the cold war, he wrote, there would be a “clash of civilizations.” Soil and blood and cultural loyalties would claim, and define, the world of states.
Huntington’s cartography was drawn with a sharp pencil. It was “The West and the Rest”: the West standing alone, and eight civilizations dividing the rest — Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist and Japanese. And in this post-cold-war world, Islamic civilization would re-emerge as a nemesis to the West. Huntington put the matter in stark terms: “The relations between Islam and Christianity, both Orthodox and Western, have often been stormy. Each has been the other’s Other. The 20th-century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist-Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and Christianity.”
Those 19 young Arabs who struck America on 9/11 were to give Huntington more of history’s compliance than he could ever have imagined. He had written of a “youth bulge” unsettling Muslim societies, and young Arabs and Muslims were now the shock-troops of a new radicalism. Their rise had overwhelmed the order in their homelands and had spilled into non-Muslim societies along the borders between Muslims and other peoples. Islam had grown assertive and belligerent; the ideologies of Westernization that had dominated the histories of Turkey, Iran and the Arab world, as well as South Asia, had faded; “indigenization” had become the order of the day in societies whose nationalisms once sought to emulate the ways of the West.
…It is not pretty at the frontiers between societies with dwindling populations — Western Europe being one example, Russia another — and those with young people making claims on the world. Huntington saw this gathering storm. Those young people of the densely populated North African states who have been risking all for a journey across the Strait of Gibraltar walk right out of his pages.
…Huntington had written that the Turks — rejecting Mecca, and rejected by Brussels — would head toward Tashkent, choosing a pan-Turkic world. My faith was invested in the official Westernizing creed of Kemalism that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had bequeathed his country. “What, however, if Turkey redefined itself?” Huntington asked. “At some point, Turkey could be ready to give up its frustrating and humiliating role as a beggar pleading for membership in the West and to resume its much more impressive and elevated historical role as the principal Islamic interlocutor and antagonist of the West.”
Nearly 15 years on, Huntington’s thesis about a civilizational clash seems more compelling to me than the critique I provided at that time. In recent years, for example, the edifice of Kemalism has come under assault, and Turkey has now elected an Islamist to the presidency in open defiance of the military-bureaucratic elite. There has come that “redefinition” that Huntington prophesied. To be sure, the verdict may not be quite as straightforward as he foresaw. The Islamists have prevailed, but their desired destination, or so they tell us, is still Brussels: in that European shelter, the Islamists shrewdly hope they can find protection against the power of the military.
…More ominously perhaps, there ran through Huntington’s pages an anxiety about the will and the coherence of the West — openly stated at times, made by allusions throughout. The ramparts of the West are not carefully monitored and defended, Huntington feared. Islam will remain Islam, he worried, but it is “dubious” whether the West will remain true to itself and its mission. Clearly, commerce has not delivered us out of history’s passions, the World Wide Web has not cast aside blood and kin and faith. It is no fault of Samuel Huntington’s that we have not heeded his darker, and possibly truer, vision.
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