Monday, June 29, 2015

"Guerre de Civilisation"?

After the January terror attacks, Manuel Valls drew praise for his staunch defense of French Jews. His use of the word "apartheid" to describe discrimination against French Muslims was more controversial but still useful as a way of dramatizing one of the besetting ills of French society. But the praise Valls received for his forthrightness seems to have gone to his head. Yesterday he chose to borrow the bellicose rhetoric of the Bush era by asserting that the latest terror incidents indicate that France and the West are engaged in a "war of civilization."

I won't belabor the long history of abuse of the word "civilization." Is it necessary to recall that the mindless slaughter of World War I was cast as a war of German Kultur against French civilisation? Is it necessary to rehearse all the critiques of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis, or to point out that, for all its flaws, Huntington's book was a model of subtlety compared to the crude way in which Valls has distorted its central concept?

What exactly Valls intends to achieve by his use of the war metaphor is unclear. France has already instituted a Patriot Act of its own to tighten its security. No one doubts that radical Islam is a danger that must be confronted, but the secret of how to do so successfully remains unbroken, and verbal excess is not the way to decipher it. Self-restraint is not Valls' long suit, but his job is to formulate policy, not to flail and fulminate.


bernard said...

Valls, like me, like Sarkozy is panicked by how this feeds into gains for the national front. Granted, he does not seem to always master his own language and tried to back pedal his remark later. But, just think what another four or five beheadings in France would produce.

Jhon said...

nice info....thanks.

Mitch Guthman said...

I think Valls’s formulation suffers from the same obvious flaw as Huntington analysis, namely, that the contending civilizations aren’t remotely like the ones that Huntington prophesied. That’s the problem with the right’s rhetoric—it’s basically a call for people who are comfortable with modernity and the Enlightenment to abandon their own identities and submit to one group of extremely conservative Christian and Jewish religious fanatics with whom we share some affinities in their war against Islam. But most secular, Enlightened Westerners such as myself have far more in common with Muslims with similar views and lifestyles than we do with people of the far right whom we consider to be evil and regard with contempt.

For example, my branch of Judaism doesn’t regard Baruch Goldstein as a hero. Those who honor his memory and consider him a martyr repulse us. Why would we make common cause with such people? Unlike many conservatives, my political tribe considers Anders Behring Breivik to be the perpetrator of an unspeakable evil against us; not a man with the right ideas and a pure heart who maybe went a bit too far. Again, why would most Europeans or Americans want to ally with a political factor that is at least as dangerous to us as radical Islam?

My point is that most modern Europeans and Americans don’t want to become the mirror image of radical Islam; we don’t want to join the John Birch Society. As recent events have shown, the extreme right is as dangerous a force as Islamic radicalism and both need to be fought. We look at the majority Muslims in places like France or Tunisia or Turkey and we see not our enemy but ourselves.

In other words, the civilizations that are clashing aren’t the West and Islam. What I think we’re seeing is a fight between two opposing groups of political and religious extremists, one Muslim and the other basically Christian. Neither accepts the Enlightenment or modernity. Each side is using violence to terrorize and to force the vast majority of people to align themselves with their co-religionists even though most Christians, Muslims and Jews have really very little in common with these lunatics and would prefer to see them vanish from the face of the Earth. Until Manuel Valls understands this, it will be impossible for him to be effective in rallying support from most French people in the fight against Islamic radicalism.

But equally, we need to confront the confused and divided loyalties of the political and business elites that are at the root of the West’s inability to respond to Islamic radicalism. The driving force promoting and funding Islamic radicals and terrorists has never bothered to hide. It’s the same force that was behind Sept 11th in the States, 10/10 in London, the attacks in Paris and now the Tunisian attack. It is the force that’s behind ISIS—it is the Gulf States Arabs. If Valls wants to rally the people to fight against radical Islam, he needs point the finger at the true enemy and explain how he proposes to defeat the Gulf Arabs.