Bush, On The Way To Philippi
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
September 11. That is a date that has recurred in the speech of the American President thousands of times. According to him, it represents a turning point in history.
One might wish to know a turn from where and to where it is. Officials of the Bush Administration have interpreted the bombing of the twin towers as a symbol of hate which some people harbour against America; nay, against Western civilization as a whole. This hate, they say, arises from the envy of American advancement, and the twin Western values of freedom and democracy.
The envy thesis is not without its premises. First, it may quickly flow from the identity of the bombers and their countries. All the nineteen attackers were Arabs, eighteen of whom came from Saudi Arabia, the origin and heart of Arab culture and Islamic civilization. Agreed, that Kingdom stands at the farthest point a society could be from democracy. Other Arab countries in Middle East and Muslim dominated nations elsewhere are either at the same position as the kingdom or nominally closer than it to democracy. Israel is therefore correct to assert that it is the only nation that represents a democracy – the liberal type of course – in the Middle East. The rest are either despotic regimes like those of Libya, Egypt and Algeria, or combination of monarchy and democracy like in Jordan and Syria, or a blend of theocracy and democracy like Iran. One, Iraq, is now under the occupation and direct imperial rule of America.
The second support for the envy thesis comes from the religious difference between the attackers and America - or the West, as America would like to generalize. The latter claim to be Christian and representing the culmination of the long civilizational journey that started with the Roman Empire. The former were Muslims from societies that claim to derive their values from Islamic scripture.
At any rate, differences between civilizations is not new. My worry here, however, has to do with the response of the Bush administration to September 11 which clearly shows that it perceives such difference to be absolutely insoluble. That is basis for regarding the event as a turning point in its history. According to the stand, American relationship with other civilizations, but particularly with the Middle East, will never be the same, at least as long as Bush is in power. It was friendly, engaging and persuasive, in the view of the Americans, it should now be hard and unilateral in which pre-emptive measures against ‘evil’ becomes the corner stone of the foreign policy that relates to Arab and Muslim countries.
I view September 11 differently and disagree completely with the direction of American response. That direction necessitates violence and war in an effort to subjugate other civilizations. It has only one end in the long run: defeat.
One can almost feel the hate the attackers of September 11 had for America. To think otherwise is to be dishonest because suicide is the farthest contemplation that hopelessness could stimulate. There is also no doubt that Islam does not sanction such an attack. The teachings of Islam regarding warfare are unequivocal and nowhere have they included targeting civilians and civil infrastructure.
However, it is wrong to think that Muslim countries hate freedom and democracy or regard the two as peculiar only to western culture and so deserves envy. Freedom and democracy, they will argue, are not peculiar to Western civilization.
What really breeds the hate from groups like al-Qaeda is American government conspiratorial and hypocritical stand regarding the rest of the world and the Middle East in particular. All participants of September 11 attacks are elite from rich homes of Arab World and have undergone a form of training or another in the West. If anything, to see democracy and freedom rooted in their countries would be their ultimate goal. However, like Osama, they have grown to witness America conspiring with monarchies and despotic regimes of the Middle East to deny citizens of the region individual liberty and choice of government. In addition, to them America is synonymous with Israel because it endeavours to sanction every atrocity of Israel on Palestinians and Arab neighbours. They have correctly understood the American policy regarding their civilization as inhibitory. Yet the same America will turn round to accuse Islamic countries of being stuck by their culture in underdevelopment.
Strong opposition to America is not restricted to the Muslim World. Even Europe is dissociating itself from recent American approach to International law. A European friend once told me how Europeans in a Spanish class openly told an American classmate that they do not like America. The American was deeply surprised because, as she said, Americans are told that they are admired overseas.
This point did not escape the attention of Francis Fukuyama in a paper titled “Has History Restarted Since September 11?” presented last year at John Bonython Lecture in Australia. “With the demonstration of total military dominance that came with the successful rousting of al-Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan, new expressions of anti-Americanism began to pour forth. After President Bush’s denunciation of the ‘axis of evil’… it was not just European intellectuals but European politicians and publics more generally that began to criticise the United States widely on all fronts.”
Where all these arguments lead us to, as regards September 11, is nowhere other than the conclusion of French Sociologist Jean Baudrillard as cited by Fukiyama: “Ultimately, it is they (i.e. the terrorists) who’ve done the deed, but it is we who have worked for it… Terrorism is immoral, and it responds to a globalisation that is itself immoral.”
The Bush administration which has declared a “crusade” is bent on polarizing the world, dragging entire Europe and other nations into a conflict designed to maintain nothing but America’s hegemony. The irony is that its methods are not helping its objectives. September 11 has strengthened America’s unilateralist policy and pitched it against the rest of the world. Its unilateral invasion of Iraq in absence or defiance of UN resolution is a demonstration worth citing. The suspicion of the world that oil was behind the invasion was confirmed by America’s inability to discover Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction or to proof his alleged link with al-Qaeda.
Looking back in history, the present imperialist ambitions of America are not different from those of European empires before it; neither is its militant foreign policy better than those of ancient Rome. Discounting the short-term gains that usually accompany military adventures, in the long run, America would realize that the policies it is pursuing today would undermine its long-term interest. No one is sure whether the consequences of its invasion of Iraq are not already at hand, given the daily killings of American soldiers. At the end, America must succumb to gravity, as did the previous empires, according to the predictions of its scholars.
From the way he is behaving would easily be tempted to think that Bush has not comprehended the message of Samuel P. Huntington in the Clash of Civilization. “Western universalism,” wrote Huntington, “is dangerous to the world because it could lead to a major intercivilizational war between core states and it is dangerous to the West because it could lead to defeat of the West.”
I thought a country like America will not squander the wiser option of dialogue. America should use its power, in my view, to make the world safer by promoting understanding instead of acrimony. It should encourage dialogue between civilizations, as Khatami has proposed, to make peaceful coexistence possible by daunting our inherent differences.
More importantly, America will serve the world best and maintain an enviable respect if it stops its hypocrisy about democracy and freedom. It should assist nations to achieve true democratic status consistent with their heritage and the wishes of their people. If America helps to free people from the bondages of monarchies, dictatorship and despotism, I cannot see how any of them would attack it except with a flood of admiration.
This means breaking the monopoly of the West over democracy, individual liberty, rule of law and the rest. It is not universalism but an adaptation that would further avert “clash of civilizations.” Actually, this goes beyond the preservationist agenda suggested by Huntington which I consider is difficult to achieve. “The principal responsibility of Western leaders,” continued Huntington in the closing chapter of his book, “consequently, is not to attempt to reshape other civilizations in the image of the West, which is beyond their declining power, but to preserve, protect, and renew the unique qualities of Western civilization. Because it is the most powerful Western country, that responsibility falls overwhelmingly on the United States of America.”
The contradiction in Huntington’s thesis is that eight of the properties of this role contain what will inadvertently lead to the “clash of civilization” he is avoiding. While he plainly advocated restraining the military development of Islamic and Sinic countries, Huntington in the same breadth advocated “greater political, economic and military integration with Western Europe Huntington; with Central Europe, incorporation into NATO; with China, accommodation; with Latin America, westernisation; and with Russia, legitimating its control over its southern Muslim neighbours.
Another contradiction is how in the effort to preserve Western values like rule of law, democracy, individual liberty, human rights and cultural freedom, America must “maintain Western technological and military superiority over other civilizations.” This presupposes the employment of force in the attempt to preserve these values.
The most curious suggestion is the last and “most important”, according to Huntington: “to recognize that Western intervention in the affairs of other civilizations is probably the single most dangerous source of instability and potential global conflict in a multicivilizational world.”
I wonder how an America that is armed to teeth, believing in the superiority of its values and committed to their preservation would stand aloof from intracivilizational conflicts. Its military hegemony must strategically be hinged on maintaining allies among members of other civilizations. Whenever such allies are endangered in an intracivilizational conflict, America is morally bound to intervene in support of its allies. This was the reason for invasion of Kuwait and for stationing American troops in Saudi Arabia. If Saddam were to return and invade Kuwait today, in spite of Huntington’s thesis, Bush, like his father or any American President for that matter, will intervene militarily to rescue Kuwait.
Perhaps that is why some of Huntington’s suggestions do not appeal to the Bush administration and September 11 has helped to push America to the logic of Brutus. This logic, which Huntington earlier renounced as leading only the defeat of the West is unfortunately the popular stand of Bush:
“Our legions are brim-full, our cause is ripe
The enemy increaseth every day;
We at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, lead on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and miseries.
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”
Bush believes that America is brim-full; that it is at the height, ready to decline. The enemy – which goes beyond Bin Laden and al-Qaeda – are increasing by the day. Action now will lead to fortune; delay will cause the West to lose all its assets and values. It serves to take the current, nothing else.
“This logic however,” observed Huntington, “produced Brutus’s defeat at Philippi.” Unfortunately, if September 11 is truly a turning point in history, it is to Philippi it has turned Mr. Bush.
Well that is about “clash of civilizations.” Happily, “most major scholars of civilization except Braudel do not recognise Africa as a distinct civilization,” wrote Huntington. That is why Mr Bush is not visiting Africa this week to tell us about September 11 or terrorism, but about trade and AIDS. He is welcome to the passive continent.