If the term ‘clash of civilizations’ is deceiving, it’s not because there wouldn’t also be (apart from varied mutual influences) frictions or incompatibilities between Western culture and Islamic culture – both treated in the general sense – but because it hides the main fault line which in fact divides contemporary Islam right at its heart.
The war is not primarily one between the secular and liberal West and traditional Islam with its specific political theology. The main conflict is between various forms of Islam. We are witnessing, and not just recently but for over a century now, a civil war in the Islamic world. Because of globalization and of the complicated post-colonial backdrops, the West is not safe from the spillover of this war. But the main goal of those whom we dub Islamists is the “Islamization” of Muslims. Of those who do not share their view on Islam, of those who reject decisive conflict against non-Muslims, of those who look with sympathy upon certain dominant values in non-Muslim worlds. The situation is the more so complicated given the fact that the sides involved in the conflict are not clearly delineated. Because, almost naturally, the interpretation of Islam, as of any other religion, gives birth not only to a beneficial concurrence of values, but also to plenty of confusion. Which is the “correct” interpretation? – everyone ponders. So that most Muslims are not immune to the temptation to give credit, even vaguely, deep down within their conscience, to the interpretation we now call “fundamentalist.” This term is not specific to Islam but comes from the description of a certain Christian Protestantism. It designates a certain religious fallback on so-called “fundamentals,” in fact simple principles selected from many others.
However, the thing that is specific to all “fundamentalisms,” whatever religion they come from, is the fear of the dilution of own values through too much contact with a corrupting environment. Christianity, for instance, spread in the old pagan world not just by isolating itself, but also by tenaciously combating “the dissolution of mores.” From this standpoint, they looked upon migratory barbarians more sympathetically than upon the “depraved” Greeks and Romans. Let us not delude ourselves: if someone were to enter an Orthodox church in Romania today, on a random Sunday, he would have all chances to hear a sermon harshly criticizing the “dissolving” values of the West that lacks faith and morality. Consequently, mosques are not the only place where these ideas are present. The young people who choose to “sacrifice” themselves unscrupulously killing innocents – with Muslims often being among them – need a powerful ideological drug to do so. Violence itself, exacerbated and uncensored, is a drug in itself, as plenty of historical moments prove. The French themselves proved it when they methodically slaughtered their compatriots in anti-revolutionary Vendeea. A veritable “university” of extreme cruelty operates in today’s Islamic State, a university where some enrol in temporary terms as if it was a “summer school.” As the Holocaust or the Gulag proved more recently, a human’s dark side is sometimes very dark. However, apart from these abysmal impulses, which can, in the right conditions, burst out to the surface, one should not neglect the other drug, the theological-ideological one. The theological imagery of the apocalyptic war can easily be ideologically orchestrated in the direction of ruthless Jihad. In the minds of some Islamist terrorists, those killed so cowardly are not humans but Satan’s representatives. While Carlos and his ilk sought to provoke panic and to exercise precise political pressure through terror, in the case of today’s Islamists the victims are not selected really randomly.
The massacre at Bataclan (photo) – a venue already threatened in recent years for anti-Semitic reasons – targeted a rock concert. Moreover, rock is one of the constant targets of the rhetoric of various circles, whether we are talking about American Protestants, Orthodox (Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Bulgarians), or Muslims from various countries. The problem of all these religions is the dangerous identification of the “army of Satan” with all kinds of contemporary cultural currents deemed demonical and morally dissolvent. In fact, instead of undergoing a serious inner examination of conscience in what concerns their moral principles, religions easily find enemies of “the faith.” The consequence is not only a lot of hypocrisy but also a nefarious lack of illuminated moral sensitiveness. Moreover, many end up “defending” their own religion by leaving behind piles of dead bodies and unending hatred.
However, what can the West do to encourage the other Islam, the one more tolerant and open to the values of modernity, the one capable of beneficial renewal? The truth is that because of debatable geopolitical reasons, the West has supported throughout time regimes that practice a more or less fundamentalist Islam. Only an idealist Swedish Foreign Minister at one point had the courage to defy Saudi policy, even at the cost of a diplomatic scandal. Other, more influential Western powers do not. It is not enough to decry the excess of capital punishments, the serious discrimination of women, the lack of real freedom of opinion or the banning of religious competition – communiqués that frighten no one. Unfortunately, Realpolitik-based diplomacy has ended up being the only veritably decisive one. The West risks ending up in the situation of Israel – country that suffers from a chronic and widespread terrorist threat. The failure of the attempt to solve the Palestinian problem – the blame is shared and the strategies adopted by various Israeli governments can be considered to be more or less uninspired or the generators of explosive impasses – has resulted in Israel being isolated in the region. The consequences of this conflict have led, alongside the failure of “Arab socialism,” to dramatic regional imbalances. The massive Palestinian emigration laid at the basis of the civil war in Lebanon, which then exacerbated the religious conflict. Today, Islamists have managed to provoke a massive emigration of Christians, which has led, de facto, to the completion of the Islamization of the Middle East, which is almost cleansed of Jewish and Christian minorities. Israel has thus ended up in the situation of a besieged castle. Unlike the small Jewish state, the West chose to stake on integrating Muslims, who, during the decades, started to arrive in ever-increasing numbers. The integration succeeded only partially, because Islam’s ideological instability, along with the social vulnerability of the new generation of immigrants, generated an unexpected effervescence of a terrorist nature.
Likewise, we are talking about a failure of “pure and hardcore” multiculturalism. The state and society cannot permit religious communities to solve their problems alone. They have the right and duty to intervene, in order to prevent dangerous ideological autonomies. What is going on in mosques, synagogues and churches concerns us all, if we are “neighbours.” There is false tolerance that only hides comfortableness, indifference and implicit contempt. Islam’s problem is our problem too.