The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

October 7, 2001



j,u},{u,l,u,j},{u,u,j,l},{u,u,l,j},{l,j,u,u},{l,u,j, u},{l,u,u,j}}
alan-magic{{a, l, a, n}, {a, l, n, a}, {a, a, l, n}, {a, a, n, l}, {a, n,
l, a}, {a, n, a, l}, {l, a, a, n}, {l, a, n, a}, {l, n, a, a}, {n, a, l,
a}, {n, a, a, l}, {n, l, a, a}}


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 07 Oct 2001 16:40:41 +0400
From: Dr. Salwa Ghaly <>
To: Alan Sondheim <sondheim@PANIX.COM>
Subject: [Fwd: An article by Edward Said]

The Nation
October 22, 2001

The Clash of Ignorance
by Edward W. Said

 Samuel Huntington's article "The Clash of
Civilizations?" appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of
Foreign Affairs, where it immediately attracted a
surprising amount of attention and reaction. Because
the article was intended to supply Americans with an
original thesis about "a new phase" in world politics
after the end of the cold war, Huntington's terms of
argument seemed compellingly large, bold, even
visionary. He very clearly had his eye on rivals in
the policy-making ranks, theorists such as Francis
Fukuyama and his "end of history" ideas, as well as
the legions who had celebrated the onset of globalism,
tribalism and the dissipation of the state. But they,
he allowed, had understood only some aspects of this
new period. He was about to announce the "crucial,
indeed a central, aspect" of what "global politics is
likely to be in the coming years." Unhesitatingly he
pressed on:

"It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of
conflict in this new world will not be primarily
ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions
among humankind and the dominating source of conflict
will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most
powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal
conflicts of global politics will occur between
nations and groups of different civilizations. The
clash of civilizations will dominate global politics.
The fault lines between civilizations will be the
battle lines of the future."

Most of the argument in the pages that followed relied
on a vague notion of something Huntington called
"civilization identity" and "the interactions among
seven or eight [sic] major civilizations," of which
the conflict between two of them, Islam and the West,
gets the lion's share of his attention. In this
belligerent kind of thought, he relies heavily on a
1990 article by the veteran Orientalist Bernard Lewis,
whose ideological colors are manifest in its title,
"The Roots of Muslim Rage." In both articles, the
personification of enormous entities called "the West"
and "Islam" is recklessly affirmed, as if hugely
complicated matters like identity and culture existed
in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Bluto bash
each other mercilessly, with one always more virtuous
pugilist getting the upper hand over his adversary.
Certainly neither Huntington nor Lewis has much time
to spare for the internal dynamics and plurality of
every civilization, or for the fact that the major
contest in most modern cultures concerns the
definition or interpretation of each culture, or for
the unattractive possibility that a great deal of
demagogy and downright ignorance is involved in
presuming to speak for a whole religion or
civilization. No, the West is the West, and Islam

The challenge for Western policy-makers, says
Huntington, is to make sure that the West gets
stronger and fends off all the others, Islam in
particular. More troubling is Huntington's assumption
that his perspective, which is to survey the entire
world from a perch outside all ordinary attachments
and hidden loyalties, is the correct one, as if
everyone else were scurrying around looking for the
answers that he has already found. In fact, Huntington
is an ideologist, someone who wants to make
"civilizations" and "identities" into what they are
not: shut-down, sealed-off entities that have been
purged of the myriad currents and countercurrents that
animate human history, and that over centuries have
made it possible for that history not only to contain
wars of religion and imperial conquest but also to be
one of exchange, cross-fertilization and sharing. This
far less visible history is ignored in the rush to
highlight the ludicrously compressed and constricted
warfare that "the clash of civilizations" argues is
the reality. When he published his book by the same
title in 1996, Huntington tried to give his argument a
little more subtlety and many, many more footnotes;
all he did, however, was confuse himself and
demonstrate what a clumsy writer and inelegant thinker
he was.

The basic paradigm of West versus the rest (the cold
war opposition reformulated) remained untouched, and
this is what has persisted, often insidiously and
implicitly, in discussion since the terrible events of
September 11. The carefully planned and horrendous,
pathologically motivated suicide attack and mass
slaughter by a small group of deranged militants has
been turned into proof of Huntington's thesis. Instead
of seeing it for what it is--the capture of big ideas
(I use the word loosely) by a tiny band of crazed
fanatics for criminal purposes--international
luminaries from former Pakistani Prime Minister
Benazir Bhutto to Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi have pontificated about Islam's troubles,
and in the latter's case have used Huntington's ideas
to rant on about the West's superiority, how "we" have
Mozart and Michelangelo and they don't. (Berlusconi
has since made a halfhearted apology for his insult to

 But why not instead see parallels, admittedly less
spectacular in their destructiveness, for Osama bin
Laden and his followers in cults like the Branch
Davidians or the disciples of the Rev. Jim Jones at
Guyana or the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo? Even the
normally sober British weekly The Economist, in its
issue of September 22-28, can't resist reaching for
the vast generalization, praising Huntington
extravagantly for his "cruel and sweeping, but
nonetheless acute" observations about Islam. "Today,"
the journal says with unseemly solemnity, Huntington
writes that "the world's billion or so Muslims are
'convinced of the superiority of their culture, and
obsessed with the inferiority of their power.'" Did he
canvas 100 Indonesians, 200 Moroccans, 500 Egyptians
and fifty Bosnians? Even if he did, what sort of
sample is that?

Uncountable are the editorials in every American and
European newspaper and magazine of note adding to this
vocabulary of gigantism and apocalypse, each use of
which is plainly designed not to edify but to inflame
the reader's indignant passion as a member of the
"West," and what we need to do. Churchillian rhetoric
is used inappropriately by self-appointed combatants
in the West's, and especially America's, war against
its haters, despoilers, destroyers, with scant
attention to complex histories that defy such
reductiveness and have seeped from one territory into
another, in the process overriding the boundaries that
are supposed to separate us all into divided armed

This is the problem with unedifying labels like Islam
and the West: They mislead and confuse the mind, which
is trying to make sense of a disorderly reality that
won't be pigeonholed or strapped down as easily as all
that. I remember interrupting a man who, after a
lecture I had given at a West Bank university in 1994,
rose from the audience and started to attack my ideas
as "Western," as opposed to the strict Islamic ones he
espoused. "Why are you wearing a suit and tie?" was
the first retort that came to mind. "They're Western
too." He sat down with an embarrassed smile on his
face, but I recalled the incident when information on
the September 11 terrorists started to come in: how
they had mastered all the technical details required
to inflict their homicidal evil on the World Trade
Center, the Pentagon and the aircraft they had
commandeered. Where does one draw the line between
"Western" technology and, as Berlusconi declared,
"Islam's" inability to be a part of "modernity"?

  It was Conrad, more powerfully than any of his
readers at the end of the nineteenth century could
have imagined, who understood that the distinctions
between civilized London and "the heart of darkness"
quickly collapsed in extreme situations, and that the
heights of European civilization could instantaneously
fall into the most barbarous practices without
preparation or transition. And it was Conrad also, in
The Secret Agent (1907), who described terrorism's
affinity for abstractions like "pure science" (and by
extension for "Islam" or "the West"), as well as the
terrorist's ultimate moral degradation.

For there are closer ties between apparently warring
civilizations than most of us would like to believe;
both Freud and Nietzsche showed how the traffic across
carefully maintained, even policed boundaries moves
with often terrifying ease. But then such fluid ideas,
full of ambiguity and skepticism about notions that we
hold on to, scarcely furnish us with suitable,
practical guidelines for situations such as the one we
face now. Hence the altogether more reassuring battle
orders (a crusade, good versus evil, freedom against
fear, etc.) drawn out of Huntington's alleged
opposition between Islam and the West, from which
official discourse drew its vocabulary in the first
days after the September 11 attacks. There's since
been a noticeable de-escalation in that discourse, but
to judge from the steady amount of hate speech and
actions, plus reports of law enforcement efforts
directed against Arabs, Muslims and Indians all over
the country, the paradigm stays on.

One further reason for its persistence is the
increased presence of Muslims all over Europe and the
United States. Think of the populations today of
France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Britain, America, even
Sweden, and you must concede that Islam is no longer
on the fringes of the West but at its center. But what
is so threatening about that presence? Buried in the
collective culture are memories of the first great
Arab-Islamic conquests, which began in the seventh
century and which, as the celebrated Belgian historian
Henri Pirenne wrote in his landmark book Mohammed and
Charlemagne (1939), shattered once and for all the
ancient unity of the Mediterranean, destroyed the
Christian-Roman synthesis and gave rise to a new
civilization dominated by northern powers (Germany and
Carolingian France) whose mission, he seemed to be
saying, is to resume defense of the "West" against its
historical-cultural enemies. What Pirenne left out,
alas, is that in the creation of this new line of
defense the West drew on the humanism, science,
philosophy, sociology and historiography of Islam,
which had already interposed itself between
Charlemagne's world and classical antiquity. Islam is
inside from the start, as even Dante, great enemy of
Mohammed, had to concede when he placed the Prophet at
the very heart of his Inferno.

Then there is the persisting legacy of monotheism
itself, the Abrahamic religions, as Louis Massignon
aptly called them. Beginning with Judaism and
Christianity, each is a successor haunted by what came
before; for Muslims, Islam fulfills and ends the line
of prophecy. There is still no decent history or
demystification of the many-sided contest among these
three followers--not one of them by any means a
monolithic, unified camp--of the most jealous of all
gods, even though the bloody modern convergence on
Palestine furnishes a rich secular instance of what
has been so tragically irreconcilable about them. Not
surprisingly, then, Muslims and Christians speak
readily of crusades and jihads, both of them eliding
the Judaic presence with often sublime insouciance.
Such an agenda, says Eqbal Ahmad, is "very reassuring
to the men and women who are stranded in the middle of
the ford, between the deep waters of tradition and

But we are all swimming in those waters, Westerners
and Muslims and others alike. And since the waters are
part of the ocean of history, trying to plow or divide
them with barriers is futile. These are tense times,
but it is better to think in terms of powerful and
powerless communities, the secular politics of reason
and ignorance, and universal principles of justice and
injustice, than to wander off in search of vast
abstractions that may give momentary satisfaction but
little self-knowledge or informed analysis. "The Clash
of Civilizations" thesis is a gimmick like "The War of
the Worlds," better for reinforcing defensive
self-pride than for critical understanding of the
bewildering interdependence of our time.

One cannot easily do so, of course. How finally
inadequate are the labels, generalizations and
cultural assertions. At some level, for instance,
primitive passions and sophisticated know-how converge
in ways that give the lie to a fortified boundary not
only between "West" and "Islam" but also between past
and present, us and them, to say nothing of the very
concepts of identity and nationality about which there
is unending disagreement and debate. A unilateral
decision made to draw lines in the sand, to undertake
crusades, to oppose their evil with our good, to
extirpate terrorism and, in Paul Wolfowitz's
nihilistic vocabulary, to end nations entirely,
doesn't make the supposed entities any easier to see;
rather, it speaks to how much simpler it is to make
bellicose statements for the purpose of mobilizing
collective passions than to reflect, examine, sort out
what it is we are dealing with in reality, the
interconnectedness of innumerable lives, "ours" as
well as "theirs."

In a remarkable series of three articles published
between January and March 1999 in Dawn, Pakistan's
most respected weekly, the late Eqbal Ahmad, writing
for a Muslim audience, analyzed what he called the
roots of the religious right, coming down very harshly
on the mutilations of Islam by absolutists and
fanatical tyrants whose obsession with regulating
personal behavior promotes "an Islamic order reduced
to a penal code, stripped of its humanism, aesthetics,
intellectual quests, and spiritual devotion." And this
"entails an absolute assertion of one, generally
de-contextualized, aspect of religion and a total
disregard of another. The phenomenon distorts
religion, debases tradition, and twists the political
process wherever it unfolds." As a timely instance of
this debasement, Ahmad proceeds first to present the
rich, complex, pluralist meaning of the word jihad and
then goes on to show that in the word's current
confinement to indiscriminate war against presumed
enemies, it is impossible "to recognize the
Islamic--religion, society, culture, history or
politics--as lived and experienced by Muslims through
the ages." The modern Islamists, Ahmad concludes, are
"concerned with power, not with the soul; with the
mobilization of people for political purposes rather
than with sharing and alleviating their sufferings and
aspirations. Theirs is a very limited and time-bound
political agenda." What has made matters worse is that
similar distortions and zealotry occur in the "Jewish"
and "Christian" universes of discourse.

Do You Yahoo!?
NEW from Yahoo! GeoCities - quick and easy web site hosting, just $8.95/month.

     --- from list ---

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 06 Oct 2001 15:16:27 +0000
Subject: Deadline 1 December 01 for Proposals for Incubation 2002
    Conference on Writing & the Internet

Please be reminded that the deadline for proposals for the 2002 Incubation
Conference on Writing and the Internet is 1 December 2001

Please note also a change of date - the conference will now take place on
15-17 July 2002 at The Nottingham Trent University, UK (not 19-21 as
originally advertised)

For our second conference we continue our focus on the role of the
internet and telecommunications and particularly invite contributions that
address the way new media create new potentials and re-define the acts of
writing and reading. We welcome proposals on all aspects of new media and
writing, especially by those whose work is based in new media, on or off
the internet. Go to for the Call for
Proposals and the sound, image and text archive of Incubation 2000.

trAce Online Writing Centre
The Nottingham Trent University
Clifton Lane
NG11 8NS
Email Enquiries:
Telephone Enquiries: +44 (0)115 8486360

**Next courses at the trAce Online Writing School start 19 November**


:modeling this quickly against anything possible:spline animation lost
format, surface sheared at secondary arbitrary surface, knowledge of
spinal operations: Sin(x)*Tan(y) so that the field of anomaly registers in
one direction smoothly - then assigning the catastrophic to the latter,
control to the former - slab-city breaking rank with the manifold as
amplitude rises to infinity:

//now///in this time of war////daddy-o i gotta split/////things are
getting hot//////things aren't so cool/////you can sense it in the mad
streets////sense it in their crazy eyes///daddy hip existence of the karma
crazy eyes//you're my gone world baby//you're my gone world baby://cause
baby///you're all i got////in this world gone mad/////in this gone world//
////i'll raise my head/////i'll scream////cool daddy you're not all that's
going on///in this time of war//there's no karma big enuf://now///in this
time of war////all else seems gone/////in this gone world//////in this
lost world/////of blank stares////and dark existential eyes///daring daddy
hip existence//do something original for a change///hipster yabyum in the


Generated by Mnemosyne 0.12.