Are conservative Islam and Western liberalism fundamentally incompatible?
To understand what is really happening in Europe now, and where it is likely headed, I urge everyone to read two articles: Samuel Huntington’s 1993 article in Foreign Policy, “Clash of Civilizations?“, and Damon Linker’s current piece in The Week, “Can Islam Ever Make Peace With Liberalism?”
Huntington’s article was penned just as the Cold War was fading, the bipolar world was in tatters, and the way ahead was unclear. Huntington’s theory was that future conflicts would fall along “fault lines” between civilizations – which he defines as cultural entities – rather than between nation-states.
“Civilization identity will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization…. differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic.”
While Islam was only one facet of Huntington’s view of the future, it has certainly become one of the biggest and most visible concerns for the West today. And that leads to Damon Linker’s article, penned just last week, which seems to bear out the truth of Huntington’s 1993 vision:
“… certain forms of contemporary Islam are … a threat to the liberal political and social order. The threat isn’t just from bombs, bullets, and butcher’s knives. It’s also, and perhaps more gravely, from ideas that may well be fundamentally unassimilable to a liberal way of life.
Liberalism offers the following deal: … give up the hope of controlling the whole of social life, of using government power (and violence) to enforce your vision of the highest good, and allow the natural pluralism of society to grow and flourish; in return you’ll be granted… a place where you … can also grow and flourish in peace. Tolerate — and you will be tolerated in turn. That’s the liberal bargain. It is one of the finest achievements of Western civilization….
Muslims who admire (let alone who go to fight for) the Islamic State, or who favor a form of sharia law that would make apostasy a crime punishable by death, have effectively rejected the liberal bargain and opted to exile themselves from liberal civilization. And therein lies the challenge confronting the liberal West.”
“Challenge” is putting it lightly. As we wrote last week, ethnic Europeans seem to be swiftly reaching the boiling point after decades of growing frustration with what they see as a creeping, and ever bolder, Islamization of their homelands and culture. While Huntington’s views focused on the geographic borders between global civilizations as the fault lines for conflict, Europe has no such fault line to stand behind; a profoundly alien culture is blossoming in their midst, making and demanding changes that assault the very core of 21st-century European values: freedom of expression, equality, tolerance, openness, and – yes – Christianity as the primary religion, in a population heavily sprinkled with atheists and agnostics. Ethnic Europeans are just as proud and fiercely defensive of their way of life as anyone else. No one should be surprised at the mass turnouts in support of the Charlie Hebdo staff; at the fact that Charlie Hebdo immediately followed the murders of some of their staff with yet another cartoon of the Prophet (more conciliatory than usual, but still seen as blasphemous by Muslims); that European leaders are publicly disagreeing with the Pope’s statement that “one cannot insult other people’s faith”; nor even at the swift rise of groups such as PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), which was founded a mere three months ago but already inspires rallies of some 25,000 participants, probably bolstered by public backlash against the events in Paris.
If Huntington is right that conflicts will occur where different cultures and different civilizations rub up against each other (and he seems to be very, very right lately), then the solution seems to be that incompatible civilizations must live mostly apart.
Small amounts of mixing and small numbers of foreign residents are not an issue. There will always be a few travelers, merchants, diplomats, teachers and others living among those who are starkly different from themselves, but when the numbers are small, the understanding is always that these are the strangers in the strange land, and that they must tolerate the local way of life… even if that includes things they consider offensive.
The cause of conflict in Europe now is the sheer number of residents and even legal citizens who are not, in fact, European… and never will be. As Linker correctly notes in his article, Islam – conservative Islam, at least – is in many ways fundamentally “unassimilable” into the modern European way of life. If people cannot assimilate, then they are always outsiders, no matter what their passport says. And when outsiders impose too much on the locals, the locals will sooner or later push back. It is practically inevitable.