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New evidence against
the war on civilizations



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

October 30, 2004

War of civilizations? Violence-prone Muslims living out the inheritance of their prophet, Mohammed who, in marked contrast to Jesus Christ, established his creed on earth by vigorous use of the sword. It's all there in Princeton professor Bernard Lewis' new book, "From Babel to Dragomans". Labeled the neo-conservatives' Islamic expert, the Wall Street Journal says, "the Lewis doctrine has become U.S. policy." And if George W. Bush wins re-election it will continue unchallenged. Only last week Attorney General John Ashcroft was claiming that the Bush administration was assisting "the hand of Providence".

Those who read both the future and the past this way still appear to have the intellectual upper hand in the Anglo-Saxon political arena, even if there is a division of opinion on how best to confront it. Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, author of the seminal "The Clash of Civilizations", whose title he borrowed from Lewis, wrote in the book's latest edition, "In the 1990s Muslims have been far more involved in intergroup violence than the people of any other civilization."

Since 9/11 this school of thought has had a field day. Apologists for the argument are found even inside Islam - as with the influential Pakistani, Husain Haqqani, who argued in the International Herald Tribune a week ago that Islamic peoples are beholden to "a cult of the warrior" and the Muslim world has an "obsession with military power".

But what about the largest Muslim state of all, Indonesia, which has just conducted an extraordinarily peaceful general election and where serious violence is now reduced to tiny Aceh? What about Turkey where the military is losing political strength by the day? For all the worries in the EU about Turkish admission, the fact is that despite Turks being by far the single largest Islamic grouping already living inside the EU there hasn't been one arrest of a Turk as a suspected Islamic terrorist. And what about Bangladesh, Nigeria and India? In none of them (Kashmir apart) are Muslims at arms. It is these five countries that have the largest concentrations of the world's Muslim population.

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Now with a new report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute we have well researched evidence to back up the argument. With its annual 14 year rolling study of major armed conflicts, the institute tells us that for each of those years the number of civil wars (the overwhelming majority of present day conflicts are not interstate) in the world has been declining and that of those that still exist most are Marxist-led or are conflicts over territory, of which only a handful have an Islamic ingredient.

Marxist-led, in this day and age? It is so in Colombia, Nepal, Peru and the Philippines. These conflicts are among the worlds most intense in terms of cumulative casualties over the last few years. The second significant group, which can be loosely characterized as conflicts over territory, are in the Indonesian province of Aceh, in Cabinda, the oil rich province of Angola, Myanmar with the separist Karen people and Chechnya in Russia which may now be Islamised but certainly didn't start out that way.

Of the conflicts that resulted in a significant numbers of deaths last year (Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/ Palestine and Chechnya apart) only one, in the Sudan, can be characterized as "Islam at war". The other major ones - Liberia, Burundi, Nepal and Aceh - have absolutely nothing to do with Islam.

The truth is the main cause of war today is not religion but poverty. Once a country has reached Western-levels of per capita income the risk of civil war is negligible. In middle-income countries the risk is quite low. And where wars do occur the history that counts is current history not the history of the fourteenth or seventh centuries.

Wars often occur following economic collapse. This was the trigger in Aceh in Indonesia. Wars once started also are more likely to continue where there are rich mineral resources- rebels capture these and extort the gains from this trade to finance their operations- as diamonds did in Angola and Sierra Leone and timber funded the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

If we want to diminish war we need to look at how the West's own companies and arms traders have helped sustain rebel wars. We need too to find ways to accelerate economic development in the poorer countries. And more UN-type peacekeeping is a sine qua non for achieving stability - contrary to myth it often works, as in the Sinai, Liberia, East Timor, the Congo and Sierra Leone in recent years.

And above all we need to knock over the Aunt Sally of militant Islam on the rampage the world over. More than anything this excludes clear thinking. And more than anything else this is reason for wishing for Bush's defeat.


Copyright © 2004 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:




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