The farce called 'The Clash of Civilisations'

The farce called 'The Clash of Civilisations'

The pictures of three British Muslim schoolgirls who left home to join the IS tell a harrowing tale of estrangement, heartbreak, lost control, indoctrination and abandonment.

Shamima Begum, Amira Abase (both 15) and Kadiza Sultana (16) led their families to believe that they had some local engagement, stole their jewellery to cover the travel cost and flew to Turkey to cross the Syrian border in order to be Jihadi brides for the Islamic state.

As CCTV footage of their travel later emerged, it was plain that timely action could have stopped them before they disappeared inside Syria.

Imagine the agony of the parents who helplessly watched their daughters going through a well-documented path to self-destruction.

But the bigger question is, how did they end up here?

To an estimate, there are well over 20,000 foreign volunteers fighting alongside the IS in Syria and Iraq.

A lion's share of this number comes from Europe. Interestingly enough, the relative number of volunteers from the United States is not much.

Muslim communities in non-Muslim countries put a lot of emphasis on family values and the family as a unit.

Hence it is not that easy for a young member to leave everything behind; the message that lures them out of their cosy environment must be potent enough to desert everything and go.

It is now believed that the IS recruiters employ a mix of the assumed victimhood of minorities: fear of the cultural other, peer pressure, greed and the 'end-ism' propaganda to attract new recruits.

The three missing girls are said to have been in contact with Aqsa Maqsood, their academy fellow who left for Syria last year.

But had it not been for the vulnerabilities of the Muslim communities in these countries, such recruitment would never been so easy.

Amira, Shamima, Kadiza and Aqsa are all wearing the hijab or headscarf in the pictures.

Is it possible that the Muslim communities' newfound emphasis on piety in western countries has something to do with the failure of assimilation?

Europe's failure of assimilation

European societies are known today to be multicultural and pluralistic, but they were not always like that.

Only until a century ago, Europe was home to some of world's most predominant colonial powers. Rudyard Kipling in his poem "White Man's Burden" in 1899 called the people of colonies, "your new-caught, sullen peoples, half devil and half child".

So when some of these people migrated to Europe, they were not immediately accepted or absorbed.

Human zoos could still be found in Europe till the late 1950s. In a separate part of Europe, Hitler showed the world what could be done to minorities.

Discrimination at that time too was alive, many Muslims who migrated to Europe tried to transform their identity to fit in.

Salman became Solomon, Zakaria chose to be called Zak. But that too was to no avail.

Europe at that time was simply not ready to assimilate the immigrants; rejection led to reactions worldwide.

One generation's failure led the next to emphasise their roots, identity and culture of origin.

Then came the Jihadist propaganda and the Muslim communities in Europe kept mutating to form a global cultural 'other', giving strength to the misplaced notion of the clash of civilisations.

An unfortunate binary

The end of the Cold War sparked speculations about the future of the human civilisation. Unipolarity led many to dream of a future free of conflict. Was it possible to conclude that Western values had finally and irreversibly triumphed?

It was at this time that one of the best political minds of our time, Francis Fukuyama, borrowed Hegel's dialectics to conclude that the western ideal had won and this marked the end of man's intellectual history.

His paper "The End of History" (later expanded into a book) remains a beautiful assessment of western universalism; it did not get the friendly reception that it deserved.

A sceptical audience given to the mental Cold War straitjacket did not take kindly to the ambitious pronouncement. At the end of this piece we will see if Dr Fukuyama's pronouncement was actually as premature as was declared at the time, but let us first focus on the unintended consequences.

In the September 1990 edition of the monthly Atlantic, Bernard Lewis, the renowned British-American historian and Orientalist, used the phrase 'clash of civilisations' in an essay titled "Roots of Muslim Rage."

But, while he had used the phrase in passing, it was Samuel Huntington - the well-known conservative scholar who is known more for political machinations than scholarly work - who put it to naked utilitarian use.

Sadly, while the works of Dr Fukuyama manifest great virtues of intellect, Dr Huntington's work displays all the characteristics of premeditated spinning to give a specific direction to the historic causation.

Before we look into his 'clash of civilisations' thesis, let us take a closer look at the man.

So who was Samuel Huntington?

In her book "Songs of Blood and Sword", Fatima Bhutto describes him as a 'frail old man' who 'wore a woolly navy sweater in April and drank Coca-Cola from a Starbucks espresso cup'.

She also recollects how her father, as an undergraduate associate at Harvard's Centre for International Affairs, came across Huntington's reputation of being the 'butcher of Vietnam'. Apparently, the man had 'advocated the herding of villagers into clusters', which instead of saving them, actually turned them into easy targets and collateral damage.

That was a bit of South Asian perspective, but there is more: The man could not get into the National Academy of Sciences in 1986, owing to the bitter opposition of one Dr Serge Lang, a Yale mathematician who accused Huntington of using 'a type of language which gives the illusion of science without any of its substance'.

Lang accused him of employing pseudo-mathematical arguments in his 1968 book "Political Order in Changing Societies" to reach the conclusion that in that decade, apartheid-afflicted South Africa was a 'satisfied society'.

Dr Lang dedicated 222 pages of his 816 page book, titled "Challenges" (published in 1998) to this controversy.

Whatever the validity of his challenge, it was strong enough to twice reject Huntington's bid for member of the academy, despite his incredibly powerful knack for public relations.

I have narrated this episode to highlight that many believed that the author of "The Clash Of Civilisation" did not mind manipulating - even cooking up - facts to reach his favoured conclusions.

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