The violent conflicts between Israel and Lebanon and the Gaza Strip as well as the war in Iraq make me question whether a ‘clash of civilizations’ between the East and West is taking place right before our eyes.
I have never ascribed to Samuel Huntington’s famous ‘clash’ theory, which states that the secular and liberal West is on a collision course with the religious and conservative East. I believe that we are all part of one, sometimes, wounded civilization on this earth. I believe that people of different nations, regions, cultures and creeds are more alike than they are different.
But these days, our differences have become more pronounced.
The world has drastically changed in the last several years following the tragic events of September 11th that took the lives of over 3000 innocent people. The Arab and Islamic worlds find themselves engulfed in conflicts from the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan to the Tigris River in Iraq to the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.
While American troops in Iraq continue to battle an ever-increasing insurgency, sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Iraqis. For the past five years, American troops alongside international forces in Afghanistan have been trying to root out the Al-Qaida terrorist organization and capture its leader Osama Bin Laden. Israel, backed by United States weaponry and political support, is engaged in military incursions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank while also battling Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
The continued fighting in all these areas has killed and wounded hundreds of people on all sides. In the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, more than 800,000 Lebanese have become refugees and over 600 civilians have been killed. Nearly 50 Israelis have also died, including nearly 35 soldiers.
Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East are watching as these tragedies unfold on their television sets. There is a growing perception in the region that anything coming from the West, especially America, will only bring death and destruction.
People in the West, too, have a similar view of the Arab and Muslim Middle East. Westerners are asking, ‘Why do they hate us?’ But Arabs in the Middle East do not hate us for our freedoms, as many US officials have repeatedly claimed. They hate our foreign policy, which too often involves using military force against them or supporting authoritarian Arab regimes that use force against their own populations. According to a 2004 University of Maryland/Zogby International poll, a majority of Arabs look to foreign policy when shaping their views of the US.
Respondents were asked whether their attitudes towards the United States were ‘based more on American values or on American policy in the Middle East.’ US policy was cited by 86 per cent of respondents in Saudi Arabia, 80 per cent in Lebanon, 79 per cent in Morocco, 76 per cent in Jordan and 75 per cent in the United Arab Emirates.
So, what does this tell us? It tells me that the more Western nations and their proxies use military might to carry out foreign policies, the more ‘they’ will hate the West and the more our security is threatened.
This should concern every American because these wars are used as recruiting tools for other terrorist groups. In his farewell video, Mohammed Siddique Khan, one of the suicide bombers who perpetrated the 7/7 explosions last year on London’s public transit system, said he wanted to avenge the innocent civilians being killed in Iraq. Terrorists have already begun to exploit the US-backed Israeli war on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, offering yet another reason to exact retribution on innocent people in the West.
Egyptian terrorist Ayman Al Zawahiri did not hesitate to issue his call for Muslims to fight the ‘crusading’ West in his latest video that was aired on the Arabic language Al-Jazeera satellite station. In his speech, Zawahiri did not criticize liberal democracy, freedom or justice-all values shared by Western democracies. Rather, he blasted the wars, death and destruction occurring in the Middle East at the hands, in his view, of America and Israel.
I am the first to admit there are no easy answers to solving the many conflicts of this world. Some are deep and complex, requiring tough decisions and compromises by the parties involved. But the past five years of continued violence in parts of the Islamic world shows that excessive force and ‘shock and awe’ policies do not solve deep-rooted conflicts but exacerbates them. Military might may win wars but in the end it loses hearts and minds.
For the bloodshed in the Middle East to stop, the only superpower in the world, the US, must do more talking and less fighting. America must dialogue with the international community, even with our enemies like Syria and Iran, which the US accuses of supporting terrorist groups in the region.
If we want to avoid a clash of civilizations, then the international community, especially the United Nations, must work harder to eliminate these ‘clashes,’ particularly in the Middle East. We must return to basic moral principles of promoting peace, justice and freedom for all – not just a select few. This can only be achieved by using diplomacy and direct negotiations as the primary tools to resolve disputes. When these many ‘clashes’ are finally eliminated through peaceful conflict resolution, only then will our wounded civilization ever be healed.
Souheila Al-Jadda is a journalist and associate producer of a Peabody award-winning program, Mosaic: World News from the Middle East, on Link TV.