Clash of Civilizations?

As probably everyone knows by now, one of the biggest news stories in the world for the last couple of weeks has been the great protest among Muslims across the globe over cartoons published in Denmark featuring the prophet Mohammed (whom it is always sacrilegious to depict, according Islam) and picturing him in a negative and mocking fashion.

The worldwide outcry has now turned violent in many places, including the burning of Danish embassies and Christian missions in Middle Eastern Countries. And all over a political cartoon published on the other side of the world that, without modern (Western?) telecommunication, no one in the Middle East would even be aware of.

The furor has some people raising the alarm over an inevitable Clash of Civilizations between the Western/Christian (or perhaps "Post-Christian") Civilization and the Muslim/Sharia Civilization. Others have brought up thorny questions about what to do when there seems to be a clash between “human rights” (whatever that phrase means these days) and freedom of speech or freedom of religion.

I certainly understand that people are upset when others blaspheme their God – my Lord and Savior’s name is used as a cuss word in most every movie I see – but at first I was a bit shocked by the viciousness of the protesting: “Can we not just live and let live – after all, it is on the other side of the world, why do they care so much?”

I am certain that those who published the cartoon may see the worldwide reaction as evidence that their own critiques (even mockery) of Mohammed and Islam were justified. I suspect, however, that they do not understand the particular iconoclastic sensitivity of the Muslim religion.

But to be honest, I doubt that all of this rage is entirely religiously motivated, religion is just a convenient way to differentiate the adversarial “teams.” Let me explain: what we have in the Muslim Middle East is a civilization that was once the most powerful empire the world had yet known. At its height in the Middle-Ages the undivided Ummah (Muslim political community) was larger than the Roman Empire had ever been. It was culturally, intellectually, religiously, and militarily vigorous; and though it failed in the 8th Century to conquer Western Europe, it was able to (eventually) re-conquer the Holy Land after a massive invasion and occupation by Latin Crusaders in the 11th -13th Centuries.

Now fast-forward a few hundred years. The Middle East is now among the poorest parts of the world with some of the highest birthrates and disease rates as well as some of the lowest levels of education. Much of the blame for the failure of Islam as a political power (and the Muslim religion puts an emphasis on political unity and strength in a way that is unknown in Christianity or even Judaism) is placed upon the colonial empires of Western European (Christian) nations and more recently the state of Israel – which is widely seen as a colonial project of the United States, the latest Western Christian Empire that threatens Islamic culture.

This weakness of their civilization has also caused a theological crisis: since the Muslim Ummah is the only people who are completely faithful to God ("Allah," in Arabic) and, as the Muslims say many times in their daily prayers "Allah akbar!" - God is greater, stronger than anything else, then it follows that the Ummah should also be strong. But it is weak. This has led to the rise of various forms of what we might call "puritanism" (purity movements) in Islam since the 19th century.

So, we have a large number of poor, angry, and defensive people who see a powerful (compared to them) Western European nation as mocking the thing that means the most to them as the source of their identity: their religion. And so all that resentment for the decline of a civilization comes pouring out. The reactions we see are not simply about anger over a political cartoon they are about anger over the last 200 years or so of Middle-Eastern History.

Now, this theory I have forwarded here does not really address the issues of whether Islam can hold the same values of freedom of expression that the Western Culture has produced or whether our Civilizations are fundamentally irreconcilable. I really don’t know how to address those questions (I am not even sure if “multi-cultural” Western nations are able any longer to hold the values that Western culture has produced).

The United States Supreme Court once ruled that “fighting words” were not protected as free speech. What do we do if all critiques of Islam are understood by huge numbers of people to be blasphemous and worthy of death? Would it even be possible for both Islamicist Muslims and people (such as myself) who are extremely critical of Islam to abide together in a country that promised to both of us freedom of speech and religion?

Some pretty smart people have said it is impossible. Other pretty smart people have said those first people were driven by anti-Islamic feelings to unwarranted conclusions.

Another VERY important question raised by this controversy is: At what point (if any) does free speech (or free religion??) become 'irresponsible'? And maybe more to the point: Who decides?

These may be some of THE questions for the 21st Century.

I can say two things for certain: 1) if a large number (say, 100%) of Middle Eastern Muslims would accept Jesus Christ as their divine Lord and Savior (whose teachings are inherently pacifist), many of our current problems would evaporate (though, no doubt, new problems would arise); and 2) if the United States were to cut its economic dependence on Middle Eastern oil, we would be much better off, and possibly even better-perceived by Middle Eastern Muslims.

I am really interested to see how all of this plays out. I also wonder what the ever increasing numbers of Muslims living in European countries (and, to a lesser extent, in the US) will mean for the future of these debates. I am hinting at a lot of really complex questions here that I am still trying to articulate at this point. What do you all think?

If you haven't heard about any of this, here are some links to learn a little more:

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This might be your best-written article yet! I never thought about the situation from the economic/ no longer a world power stand point. You've give me a lot of stuff to think about when I should be focusing on writing papers! --Bethany

11:48 PM, February 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I exercise my right to free speech


The Teachings of Julius Streicher (1885-1946)

1. Jews concentrate in certain occupations such as doctors, lawyers, money-lenders, merchants, entertainers, etc. Thus they gain a disproportionate share of the wealth. They control the large monopoly department stores thus putting the independent Gentiles out of business.
2. Jews pay low wages often forcing poor workers into crime and some women into part-time prostitution.
3. Jews are not true creators of wealth. They avoid physical labor and are rarely farmers, masons, factory workers, etc. Their religion teaches that it is shameful.
4. Jews hate Jesus Christ but have turned His birthday int a source of great profits. As Rabbi Jacob Wise said: "It is better to have Christmas than smallpox. Besides, if the crucified one had a brother born in the summertime it would have given us two such profitable holidays."
5. Jews exploit sex for financial gain through their control of the theater and publications.
6. Jews are parasites who secretly gain wealth by exploiting the unwary host people.
7. Jews gain power by first pleading for "tolerance and brotherhood." They coddle political leaders of a nation by making themselves useful - ingratiating themselves until they become the power behind the throne.
8. Jews give to charities in order to gain respectability.
9. Even if a Jew undergoes Christian Baptism he remains a Jew because they are a race.
10. Jews concentrate themselves in the large cities where they promote socialism and decadence.

3:29 AM, February 08, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Dear anonymous #2; I have decided not to delete and censor your anti-Semitic comments at this time (though that was my first inclination) but I think you may have some errors in your thought. If you would like to explain what you mean in more detail, I would like to hear about it: truthquest@juno.com (no junk please)

8:22 AM, February 08, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

(if you don't get back to me somewhat soon however, I probably will delete the original comments since I hope to have dialogue here, not bill-boards)

8:25 AM, February 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my response to you
"He who knows the truth
and does not speak it
is a miserable coward."

Europe: Free Speech for Bashing Muslims, But Not For Bashing Jews
This is not a good way to convince Arab moderates that the West is not out to get them. True free speech is about letting anyone bash anyone else.

An article by Paul Belien ,Belgium

The only trouble with the Europeans’ defence of freedom of speech is the fundamental hypocrisy of secular Western Europe. That is the opinion of Dyab Abu Jahjah, the Brussels-based leader of the Arab-European League. On his website he writes:

“I do not believe in red lines, and I do not believe that anything should be above the freedom of human expression. I know that most Arabs and Muslims would disagree with me on this point, but this is not what bothers me, what bothers me is that most Europeans don’t realize that they also disagree with me.

“Europeans think that freedom of speech is guaranteed in Europe, and that they are defending it against Islamic pressure. This is a view that is widely propagated and defended by groups from across the political spectrum. Reality, however, presents us Muslims living in Europe with another experience… Muslims and other religious people can not express their disgust [with] homosexuality and clearly state that they believe it’s a sickness and a deviation without being persecuted for being homophobic.”

Mr Jahjah certainly has a point here. Not only Muslims are not allowed to voice all their opinions. Only last week the French parliamentarian Christian Vanneste was sentenced in court to a heavy fine because he had stated that “homosexual behaviour endangers the survival of humanity” and that “heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality.” Earlier last month a majority in the European Parliament called for sanctions against Poland and the Baltic states because their governments are said to be “homophobic.” In the Netherlands access to certain jobs in the civil service is effectively denied to anyone religious (be it Christian or Muslim) who refuses to participate in concluding same-sex marriages. And the EU wants to force doctors to perform abortions and euthanasia because, it says, the right to conscientious objection is not “unlimited.”


Yesterday, a Turkish Muslim wrote us:

“I am Muslim and proud of being muslim. Holly Mohammed is one side; and We never never use any bad word against to Holly Jesus Christ. Because of We accept him as a Holly prophet too. So Please look at the Denmark. They shows that Mohammed married many times. This not true. One thing is true and all the world knows that a man can marry with a man in Denmark, Holland and Norway. They lost their heart and mind.”

In their remarks these Muslims (whether they are representative for the majority of Muslims is another matter) are putting their finger on what the American theologian George Weigel calls “Europe’s problem.” Europe is dying because it has lost the cult at the heart of its culture. As a result “a venerable culture is being effaced by a vacuous secularism” (Niall Ferguson) while at the same time the religious vacuum left by the demise, or suicide, of Christianity is being filled by another religion – with religious prohibitions, such as the taboo on depicting Muhammad, that are totally alien to Western civilization.

Americans watch in amazement at what is happening in Europe today, but Western civilization, with its freedom of expression, has long died on the Eastern side of the Atlantic. One of the few freedoms left in Western Europe was the freedom to mock religion. Now that this freedom is under attack from Muslim fanatics we realize that this is not the first barrier that needs defending against totalitarians, but in fact the last remaining one. The other barriers have all been abandoned – without a fight.

In contemporary Germany homeschooling Baptists lose parental authority over their children and are jailed on the basis of a bill introduced by Adolf Hitler in 1938. In the Netherlands Reader’s Digest’s “European of the Year” Ayaan Hirsi Ali wants all religious schools abolished and demands the defunding of a Calvinist party because this party does not put forward women candidates for election. In Finland the government is toying with the idea to no longer issue permits for private schools. In Belgium the country’s largest party was effectively banned by the Supreme Court in November 2004 for publishing texts which, though the court admitted they were not necessarily untrue, were said to have been published with “an intention to contribute to a campaign of hatred.”

The right of parents to educate their own children according to their own beliefs has long disappeared. So has the right to elect the politicians one wants and the right to tell truths when the government has decided that you are telling them with a wrong “intention.” And gone also is the right not to have to participate in actions that are against one’s conscience.

In America people are free to say and think whatever they like, however offensive this may be to others. In Europe this right no longer exists. As Mr Jahjah says:

“People in Europe are not allowed to do…free historical examination of the Second World War and the holocaust and freely express an opinion on it that is different than the dominating dogmatic line. Any attempt to have deviant historical examination of the holocaust will earn you the title of revisionist, anti-Semite and a jail sentence….Yes Arabs and Muslims are uptight when you touch their religious and national symbols, but Europe had made of political correctness and the cult of the Holocaust and Jew-worshiping its alternative religion and is even more uptight when you touch that. Europeans might not respect their flags, and they might laugh [at] Jesus and Mary but if you touch their new religious symbols, they will bombard you with indignation and persecute you in the best European inquisition tradition.

“I am for the absolute freedom of speech everywhere, and that’s why I call upon every free sole among Arabs to use the Danish flag as a substitute for toilet paper. To illustrate every wall with graffiti making fun of everything Europe holds as holy: dancing rabbis on the carcasses of Palestinian children, hoax gas-chambers built in Hollywood in 1946 with Steven Spielberg’s approval stamp, and Aids spreading faggots. Let us defend the absolute freedom of speech altogether, wouldn’t that be a noble cause?”

10:56 AM, February 08, 2006  

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