THOMAS HEGGHAMMER, a Norwegian terrorism specialist, says Anders Behring Breivik is no different from Osama bin Laden, and he describes Breivik’s carnage in Oslo and Utoya Island as “an attempt to mirror Al Qaeda.”
I agree. I would add that both 9/11 and the Norwegian tragedy are part of the fallout of the latest “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West.
There has been continual clashes between the Islamic and Western civilizations, states and empires during the past 14 centuries. But each phase of their antagonism — while unleashing spasms of terror, death and destruction — has also produced salutary social and cultural renewal.
During the 7th-17th centuries, Muslim armies conquered Christian kingdoms and empires in the Levant, North Africa, the Asia Minor and southeastern Europe and built in Spain the most advanced civilization of the time. Islamic conquest of Christian lands, painful as it was to Christian Europe, had its rewards. The spectacular intellectual flowering in the Abbasid and Moorish empires (A.D. 711-1492) — noted Henri Pirenne, Bernard Lewis and other historians — spurred the pursuit of learning among the mostly backward and poor Europeans. Muslim intellectuals had been feasting on the Greek philosophical tradition, banished from Europe by the Byzantines. They now transmitted the Greek rationalist philosophy back to Europe, helping enkindle the European Renaissance.
All the same, Muslim military and cultural thrust into Europe shocked the Christian continent and spurred its military and cultural counter-attack on Muslim countries, marking a high watermark of the clash of civilizations. The European military thrust culminated in the European colonization of the Muslim world, lasting 300 years. Now, as though replaying the European reaction to the earlier Islamic hegemony over parts of Europe, Muslims societies rose up to roll back European colonialism. And by the third quarter of the 20th century, Islamic anti-colonial jihad liberated the entire Islamic civilization from European colonial subjugation.
A byproduct of the European colonialism and post-colonial interaction between the two civilizations has been the enrichment of Muslim societies through the cultivation of Western values of liberty, freedom and democracy. The Arab Spring, a watershed in the renewal of the Islamic civilization, owes much to Islam’s encounter with the West.
For a few post-colonial decades, it seemed that the clash of the two civilizations had come to an end, at least for a while. Unfortunately, it appears to have resumed, mainly because of U.S. and Israeli aggression against, and occupation of, Muslim lands, and the continued Western hegemony over much of the Muslim world. This has fueled widespread Muslim rage and violence against America and the West. This latest clash of civilizations between the two historic, hegemonic contestants is unlikely to diminish much until the U.S., Israeli and European hegemony over Muslim societies is rolled back.
A salutary impact of this round of conflicts has been the rejuvenation of the Islamic campaign for political and cultural reassertion. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and the U.S. drone attacks and covert operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere in the Muslim world have bolstered the global Muslim solidarity and Muslim interest in Islamic cultural symbols and social values.
- Mustafa Malik hosts the blog Islam and the West.