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Palestine and the war of civilisations



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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January 6, 2009

LONDON - Just what Barack Obama needs as he prepares to take his oath of office as the 44th president of the USA - another Israeli/Palestinian war inflaming passions anew all over the Arab world and much of the Muslim world outside too, from Iran to Indonesia. What will his middle name ”Hussein” count for in this intense firefight?

Well, maybe something, but only if he moves fast to change the long time American emphasis on supporting, by both word and deed, the Israeli side at the expense of the Palestinian. It is as simple - and as complicated - as that. After the Bush years, during which the ”clash of civilizations” became the de facto interpretation of American, and to some extent European , policy in the region, the West quickly needs to de-escalate its fixation with what it often sees as the rabid policies of the Muslim world and restore a sense of humility in dealing with a great world-wide civilization, albeit one with its share of bad apples.

Let the West not overlook its near take over by the Nazis with their concomitant attempt to eliminate the Jews, that came out of a country that was in many ways the fulcrum of modern Christianity. Or the inroads that atheistic Marxism made in Europe, much less an everyday crime rate that far, far exceeds that in any Muslim country, especially those in the Middle East. Comparison, even in the time of Al Qaeda, does not work in Christendom's favour.

”It is human to hate”, wrote Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington, who died last week, in his too influential book, ”The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.” In this new [post Cold War] world, local politics is the politics of ethnicity; global politics is the politics of civilization. The rivalry of the super powers is replaced by the clash of civilizations.”

Huntington spent mu ch of his book's pages attempting to persuade his audience that ”the underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. IT IS ISLAM, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

It is not surprising that so myopic a conviction led him to see a future where the West would end up in an all out nuclear war with Islam and its apparent ally, another perennial antagonist of the West, so he wrote, Synic civilization.

There is little historical evidence for Huntington's views. Although, as he does, one can argue convincingly that Islam almost from its beginning was a religion of the sword, Christianity, once the Emperor Constantine converted, was absorbed into the militaristic culture of the Roman Empire. In succeeding centuries there was indeed, often and regularly, a clash of civilizations. But there was one spectacular difference between the two religions. Islam, by and large, was a tolerant religion, that respected the ”Peoples of the Book”, giving them always when it ruled over them a great deal of autonomy. (The Ottoman Empire was even more tolerant than the unusually benign Hapsburg Empire.)

The Christians for their part were rarely tolerant, always angling to recapture Jerusalem which they considered part of their heritage and unable to come to terms with Islamic and Jewish minorities in their midst.

Since 1914 the West, now in the ascendancy, has inflicted one grievous blow after another on the Muslim world, particularly on the peoples of the Middle East, but also on Afghanistan. It should have come as no surprise that there was an almighty reaction, even if no-one could have imagined quite the ferocity that Al Qaeda brought to bear. Yet without the equally almighty reaction of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair it is quite possible that with more temperate policies Al Qaeda would have withered away, as have already its Egyptian roots.

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The West lives in a cloud of self deception, and Huntington was only a part of it.

The war with Iraq is now being hailed as close to a victory. But intimidation by continuous superior firepower is no victory, as the Palestinians and Hezbollah in Lebanon demonstrate. The U.S. has found its own kind of Petains in Iraq who, as he did, are trying to preserve their land from further destruction. But we shouldn't mistake them for the true leaders of opinion. Over the long run, the Iraqis will hate the Western world.

All might have been different if the West had remained true to the precepts of its own Greek and Christian founding and the wise notions of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, with their emphasis on the importance of reason and their enthusiasm for human rights and the substitution of dialogue for war with people we disagree with.

Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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