By Khaled Ahmed
May 8, 2015
A Pakistani blogger has taken on Samuel Huntington as Muslims fight what looks like a civilisational war. Under the heading “The farce called ‘The Clash of Civilisations’”, a well-regarded Pakistani journalist says that “a lion’s share” of the foreign jihadists joining the terrorist Islamic State in Syria-Iraq “have come from Europe”, meaning it is the West killing us in the Middle East. And the reason he gives is that “Europe has failed to assimilate them”.
Since 1993, when his article was published, Huntington has been opposed by many, which is understandable. But Europe’s “failure” to “assimilate” Muslims can be debated. Even the assertion that a “lion’s share” of jihadists in Syria-Iraq have come from Europe is hard to accept. (Out of the 20,000 foreign fighters, only 4,000 are from Europe.) The country sending the highest number of warriors to the IS is Tunisia, which is shocking because that’s the only country where the Arab Spring seems to have clicked. Why connect Huntington to the failure of Europe to “assimilate” expat Muslims? Is it because Europe believes in the clash and therefore treats them shabbily?
But our blogger thinks America must be treating Muslims better because not many American jihadists have joined the IS. But if you ask any al-Qaeda loyalist, the war is against America and not so much against Europe, which is nicely persecuting its Jews these days and making them run away to Israel. I dislike the idea of a “clash” a la Huntington because I don’t want this clash, not because I think Huntington cooked up some of his theses. I find him a greatly prescient thinker and don’t want Muslims to make his thesis come true. His vision was based on realpolitik; he was no universal philosopher.
That Huntington wrote more as an advisor to the US government is clear from these sentences: “In this emerging era of cultural conflict, the US must forge alliances with similar cultures and spread its values wherever possible. With alien civilisations the West must be accommodating if possible, but confrontational if necessary. In the final analysis, however, all civilisations will have to learn to tolerate each other”.
Our blogger refers to General Pervez Musharraf’s rejection of Huntington, which can hardly be ranked among the intellectual masterpieces of the world, and then takes account of Fatima Bhutto’s flawed memoir, Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir (2010), in which she is also careless with facts marshalled against her aunt, Benazir Bhutto. Benazir’s own book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West (2008), was a rejection of Huntington. But it was hardly intellectually equal to Huntington’s work. Ironically, when she was killed in Rawalpindi, the al-Qaeda spokesman owning up to her assassination referred to her as “an American asset”. That’s the bitter truth. We opponents of the “clash” are considered “assets” of the civilisation being attacked. That would make Huntington wince.
It is accepted that the burden of “integrating” is primarily on the immigrant and secondarily on the host state. As for the “assimilation” of Muslims, we know from a lot of research on why Muslims — not so much Hindus, Chinese, Vietnamese, and others — fail to integrate in the West. Huntington had imagined the West’s clash with “Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African” civilisations. It seems Muslims have taken him more to heart than the others. Gilles Kepel wrote about why expat Muslims didn’t integrate, a finding confirmed by Ziauddin Sardar. Why have the Hindus, controlling the diamond-cutting markets of Belgium and Holland, not “clashed”, even when a lot of them support the BJP at home, where Christians are being hounded?
The latest news from the UK is how expat Muslims are savaging their women through arbitration councils. Britain has 1.5 million Muslims, the largest chunk of them from Pakistan, and therefore whenever Muslims clash with the state, mostly under Salafi influence, it is Pakistan that gets highlighted as the home of extremism. Most Pakistanis there were “permissive” Sufi-oriented Barelvis from Azad Kashmir in the 1950s, where Deobandism had not yet annihilated Sufism, as it was to do during jihad in the Indian-administered Kashmir. In Britain too, Barelvi dominance gave way to Deobandism before merging with hard Salafism.
Tablighi Jamaat is the big symbol of hard Islam that Muslim Britons have embraced. It built the biggest mosque in Europe in East London, scaring Britons as Islam never had before. The mosque is built over three storeys and is Britain’s largest religious building, capable of holding 40,000 worshippers. This compares with a modest 3,000 for the UK’s largest place of Christian worship, Liverpool Cathedral. The July 7, 2005 attacks, when mainly Pakistani Muslim Brits blew up the underground train and a bus in London, was no doubt inspired by 9/11, but it was nurtured by the 1989 agitation against Salman Rushdie.
With the rise of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the open instigation to acts of violence by Egyptian Abu Hamza al Masri (jailed and deported to America), the “assimilationism” of France began to look benign compared to the “multiculturalism” of Britain. Pakistani Muslims found themselves unemployed three times beyond the national average and jails indicated that crime was also highest among them. A 2007 survey found Muslims to be interested in radical ideas, 12 per cent admiring al-Qaeda, a majority saying women should wear the veil, and 60 per cent blaming the arrogance of the West for world problems. There were 1,600 British-born terrorists in Britain in 2007 claiming to have connections with al-Qaeda.
I was shocked by a cousin in Liverpool when he wrote to say that female circumcision was allowed in Islam, something he would never have said when he used to meet me in Lahore in our younger days. As I write, someone has shot a Christian-American doctor in Karachi in the face the same way the IS is killing Christians in Syria-Iraq and taking women as concubines. And the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Lahore asks: “In Pakistan, 95 per cent Muslim, why are we intolerant of people of other faiths?” My answer is: why leave out the Muslims? The ghost of Huntington is bemused as Muslims clash “within” their own civilisation.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’.