Jewish World Review March 23, 2006/ 23 Adar,
The world at civil war
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The contentious and ever more partisan argument over whether Iraq
is finally convulsed in a civil war misses the point, it seems to
me. Maybe it's the entire world that is finally convulsed in a civil
Tony Blair, who is even more embattled at home than George
W. Bush is here, put that proposition in play this week, though not
quite in such expansive terms. "This is not a clash between
civilizations," the British prime minister told a press luncheon in
London. "It is a clash about civilization."
The prime minister was not saying something particularly new
to anyone who has been paying close attention over these many
months, but he said it in a new and more compelling way, and the
implications should have been enough to curdle the cream in
everyone's coffee. Here at home, President Bush was saying familiar
things about a war that is everybody's business, and in a new way,
too, with a bit of humility and modesty of spirit that he doesn't
often show us.
Taken together, and nobody suggested that the juxtaposition
of the prime minister's luncheon remarks and the president's press
conference remarks in Washington was anything more than coincidence,
the events conspired to put a lot of the bickering and jockeying for
partisan advantage on both sides of the Atlantic in
sobering context for anyone trying to make sense of a world in which
a lot of people have gone certifiably mad.
The clash of, by or about civilizations should trouble
everyone who reads a newspaper, watches a television newscast or
imbibes the Internet. Who among us has not been tempted to think
that we in what we loosely call "the West" are under attack by
barbarians, that what we've always considered one of the world's
great religions has become instead a conspiracy of violence,
hijacked by madmen determined to find a bridge back to the 12th
century? Those widely published photographs of the "faithful in
Iraq," cutting great gashes in their heads with long sabers as a
penance of blood, merely inspire many of us to throw up our hands
and wish that more of those faithful would only cut deeper, and let
the rest of us get a little peace.
Tony Blair offers a more hopeful view, however difficult it
may seem in the context of the morning's news. We, he says, must
persuade the world that "we" can include everybody. "'We' are as
much Muslim as Christian or Jew or Hindu," he says. "'We' are those
who believe in religious tolerance, openness to others, to
democracy, liberty and human rights administered by secular courts."
That's a big mouthful of things that the evidence suggests a lot of
barbarians do not share.
Selling the proposition of "religious tolerance, openness to
others, to democracy, liberty and human rights administered by
secular courts" will require an "activist approach" to settling
accounts with the terrorists, and this is what underlies his
government's method of dealing with everything from climate change
to poverty in Africa to terrorism in Iraq. "The terrorists know that
if they are to succeed in Iraq or Afghanistan or indeed Lebanon or
anywhere else wanting to go the democratic route, then the choice of
a modern future for the Arab or Muslim world is dealt a potentially
Back in Washington, George W. Bush might have been offering
contrapuntal notes, trying to organize music of these old allies.
"The terrorists haven't given up," he said. "They're tough-minded.
They like to kill. There will be more tough fighting ahead." This
was the familiar Bush. Then came the unfamiliar note of humility
he intends to win back his once overwhelming public support
by "talking realistically to the people" about the importance of the
war in Iraq. He might have said, if he had the Englishman's gift of
rhetoric in the language of kings, that the foe of American
interests and values is the same foe who wants to eliminate the
liberties of free men everywhere including millions of
Muslims who aspire to the freedoms we in the West take as our due.
"The only way to win is to recognize that this phenomenon is a
global ideology," Mr. Blair said; "to see all areas in which it
operates as linked, and to defeat it by values and ideas set in
opposition to those of the terrorists."
Just so. But the weakness of the West is that a lot of us
want to believe that we can wish the clash about civilization away
if we just wish hard enough. That way lies the catastrophe of global
civil war. This is the message Tony Blair and George W. Bush have to
sell, and it's not a seller's market.
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© 2006, Suzanne Fields, Creators Syndicate