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We Have Entered the Era of the Second War of Civilisations




Mahdi Elmandjra

Professor, University of Rabat

TFF associate


March 24, 2003


"There will be another war, a second war of civilisations." It is with those terms that I had predicted the current situation in a declaration that I had made on October 6, 1990 on Radio France International. And today I am stating it again "yes, the second war of civilisations has already begun."

What does a war of civilisations mean? How does one determine the dimensions of such a confrontation and evaluate the mechanisms and means that the belligerents intend to exploit in order to attain their objectives? There are many sayings that history has classified in the proverb category or simply in the category of the imagined words that sum up the wisdom of the Peoples through the expressive strength of popular language and its everlastingness in the collective memory through the different centuries. There is a saying in Morocco that reflects the present situation in the world: "I gave him the skills and the ability; as soon has he had learned the trade, he evicted me and slammed the door on me."

Why had I quoted this particular proverb? It is because Bin Laden is a product of the C.I.A., one of its pupils who received education and financial support during the war between Afghanistan and the ex-Soviet Union. But after that the Americans had obtained what they wanted and did not need Bin Laden anymore, the latter followed the path of another proverb that says: "who brings a whip will get whipped (by that same whip)."

So today we are enduring the effects of the first war of civilisations of which everyone is aware of the main objectives and repercussions. The effects of the current war of civilisations can only be assessed after at least a decade because mutations are generally perceivable after long periods of time. The monopoly of power and its hegemony in the world as we have known it during the first war of civilisations should no longer exist in three or four years.

We will live in a world of plurality due to this paradoxical change from the age of information to the coming age of spying through traditional means just like in the "biaa" era in Morocco when "merchants" (or "indicators" according to the conventional appellation) were selling oral information.

In history, a rumour has never been a basis on which one takes important decisions. But up to now George Walker Bush has not presented any reliable proof that justifies the responsibility of Bin Laden in what happened. The danger that is currently hanging over us and that these events have uncovered does not stem from the term "terrorism" but from the fear that reigns in that climax of suspicion, in a world where decisions are taken arbitrarily without any information, any valuable knowledge and following the "you are on my side or on the opposite one" philosophy. This is where the real danger lies. During the first war of civilisations, what we had was a post-imperialist dictatorship. What we are living in the second stage (the current period) can be considered like a sort of neo-fascism, an international fascist alliance exploited by the governments and state leaders of the Third World who oppress their own People. This explains why certain Arab states characterised by a widening gap between their political elite and their People are so keen to support the Americans.

Now we are allowed to ask ourselves: whatever happened to the million of people who took over the streets of Rabat to denounce the war against Iraq? Whatever happened with that simmer on the Arab boulevard? Where have the associations of civil society gone? It is fear. Like I have written in my latest work "The Intifada of the 'humiliocracy', we are entering a period that I call the 'phobiacracy' era, an era in which fear reigns.

'Phobiacracy' is no longer a feature of the Southern countries. It has become one of the prominent factors in international relations today. In my opinion, one cannot interpret a single fact associated with international relations outside the context of fear, a context that has become the basic reference to evaluate changes from whichever nature.

In Islamic architecture, the saying "Allah is the only victorious" can often be seen indifferently written on the walls of mosques or other sites. For several decades, the United States believed that they were strongly protected and immune from all defeat. The belief that it is impossible to dethrone the giant was engraved in the rather legendary American imaginary. But what happened in a few seconds time cost the Americans the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars: the disintegration of the haughty and tyrannical image of a titan who believed that he was invincible.

I strongly believe that the United States' persistence in accusing Bin Laden is primitive from a military and strategic perspective. The Americans are aware that the best way to condition or perhaps "shape" the public opinion rests in the diagnosis of the matter. If one sets certain ideological or policy guidelines from the starts, one is sure to obtain the results wished for. That is what is somehow called in psychology "the fixation", which consists of putting the objective under the light in a highly concentrated and precise manner. It is an operation in which the media play an essential and perilous role.

In that respect, it is a shame that the Arab media have adopted the American scenario in all its details and considerations. For example, the written press at home, which is already known for its "French orientation", has been subjected to the game of the "new war" with its preconceived attitudes and its prejudices. If one contrasts a newspaper in Arabic with one in French, one will find a difference so pronounced that it is possible to wonder if both daily papers belong to the same political party and if they adopt the same values. This difference is partly due to what I had called "imperialism of civilisation" or post-imperialism. And I would add to that list what I have mentioned earlier "neo-fascism".

The media dimension of an event such as September 11 2001 is very dangerous. Take for example the actions of CNN in this particular context. It played the role of the Ministry of Foreign affairs, of the Pentagon and of the official representative of the White House in addition to its immediate impact on the international press and media in general. It has done so through the information and images that it had drawn according to a scenario created in a way that it could be adopted by the international media discourse (including the Arab media).

It is true audio-visual terrorism. The quick passage of the headline "American under attack" to "America at war" and then to "War against terror" followed by the misleading concept of "justice without frontiers", which was soon abandoned and replaced by the only true and infinite justice of God. Then came the mobilisation of the military arsenal, the departure for Afghanistan, and the fact that Bush junior spoke of "Crusades", a declaration that he tried to rectify later on using the same language as his father, of whom we quote the formulation "American style of life" and that the son turned into "American way of life". This is all to say that if wars in developed countries rest in values the American foreign policy is delimited by a system of clash, of conflicts.

In contrast with Samuel Huntington, famous for his work "The Clash of Civilisations" (I was actually the first to come up with the concept of "first war of civilisation"), my approach is rather one of forecast or prevention. If we want to avoid the clash a dialogue between the North and the South is essential. As Ibn Khaldoun has previously written, the term "war of crusades" as used, although rather temporarily, by George W. Bush in his discourse implies that the victorious imposes his values and very language to the defeated. This currently applies to the countries of the Southern hemisphere and also to the system of the United Nations, which is obviously becoming obsolete.

It is one of the greatest paradoxes that the Security Council unanimously agreed (unusually quickly) to apply article 51 of the UN Charter that authorises the use of force for legitimate self-defence. The same goes for NATO which for the first time in its history made use of article 5 of its Charter that refers to the principle of self-defence. It is as if the decisions of the UN were inspired by those of NATO.

Kofi Anan is in the process of truly burying the United Nations at a time when the United States still have not paid their contribution to the UN (1321 millions at the end of 2000). The general credibility of the United Nations and of the system of international organisations is in constant decline.

The situation is the same in the Arab countries: the representative organisations (governmental or non-governmental) have also lost some of their credibility. This in turn reduces organisations such as the League of Arab States and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to vain speeches and useless tours of tourism in planes and stays in luxury hotels.

All I can say to those organisations is that the Peoples have understood the game and that if things do not change and the situation is not improved what will happen is worse than what is happening now.

Every soul is precious to the Master of the Universe, whether it is the souls of innocent Americans, of victims of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, of the victims of the embargo in Iraq, in Palestine, in Somalia or of the murders of the innocents in Algeria and Vietnam. All the innocent victims will have a place in our memories, not without bitterness and regrets. And the present war will only add up new souls on the list of victims who die in the indifference of the international community.

It is really a shame that all that is happening for mere oil interests or for the undeclared aim of preventing a so-called nuclear balance that would jeopardise eventual interests.

It is also regrettable to associate Islam with terrorism as if the 1500 millions of Muslims in the world were terrorists.

Islam is the religion of the future. It is also the civilisation of the future. If we consider the demographical increase that the Islamic countries are currently experiencing, Muslims will represent 40% of the world's inhabitants at the end of the century.

I am a disciple of Gandhi, strongly attached to the philosophy of non-violence and tolerance in its ethic. As it can be observed in my writings and by the prize that I have established, the "Prize of Cultural Communication North-South", I am a man who has been since a long time calling for a cultural dialogue and for a dialogue between civilisations.

We assume at least two thirds of the responsibility. The fact that we are disinterested in what we call civil society and above all in our Peoples to whom we do not guarantee the context for a decent life, freedom, democracy and human rights. The international community, governmental organisations and non-governmental organisations manifest a total absence in the face of the hegemony of power.

One of the essential characteristics of "prospective" as a science is the predominance of hope when making previsions about the future despite the pessimistic results of the present. Changes can only be assessed in fifty or sixty years. This slice of life is not much in the history of human civilisation. In any case, progress will not be achieved with bombs, war planes and betrayal but with transparency and the convergence of efforts.

The coming victory must find its legitimacy in our faith in the great principles and in good intentions. Actions must be characterised by hard labour and seriousness. As for the so-called "Operation Noble Eagle", it can only be perceived as the beginning of decadence. When a powerful one feels a few weaknesses it tries by all means to hang on to whatever that will help him to stay the strongest. This is exactly what happened when Bush and his government took the decision to go to war and certain European countries let themselves go in the whirlwind of the decision.

We have entered in a stage that marks the beginning of the end of an empire. Only God is eternal.


(Translation of an article published in Arabic in ESSAHIFA September 28 2001, Casablanca)



© TFF & the author 2003  


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