The Times November 05, 2005
Fine words cannot disguise it: the clash of civilisations is real
.....Osama bin Laden, the inciting intelligence behind many of these atrocities, certainly believed in a “clash of civilisations”, as he called it. His justification for 9/11 was a bizarre fusion of finance and theology. The twin towers reminded him of the moon idol Hubal, worshipped by pagan Meccans until Muhammad demolished all lesser gods. But bin Laden’s stream of consciousness also included totting up the financial cost of 9/11 to the US, in terms of disrupted financial markets, lost employment and reconstruction, arriving at a net loss of $1 trillion for the modest investment of $500,000 that these attacks are thought to have involved.
But bin Laden has competition in the stakes for the world’s most wanted terrorist. His erstwhile Jordanian protégé, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, established his credentials as a murderer by cutting off the head of the US businessman Nicholas Berg, graduating to bomb attacks in Iraq that claim 60 lives a day. Perhaps al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has expressed “concern” about the killing of Iraqi Muslims, may get to al-Zarqawi before American special forces do. Big egos are at play.
President Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, have been commendably unflinching in their determination to eradicate the pestilence of Islamist terrorism. Other governments are trying a different tack, which smacks of appeasement. Last week in Madrid, I attended a “Dialogue between Cultures and Religion”, organised by a foundation with links to Spain’s ruling socialists. Here, talk of “dialogue” between faiths effortlessly mutated into the separate notion, promoted by Spain and Turkey, of “an alliance of civilisations” spanning the Mediterranean world. Countries can ally; civilisations generally don’t. A banquet in the government quarter elicited the intelligence, from a Moroccan diplomat, that not only was “Europe” morally superior to a US symbolised by Bush’s Texas, but that a distinctive “fusion” culture was emerging in the Mediterranean, “different ” from that of northern Europe. One doubts whether the Italians feel that way.
The conference opened with protestations of goodwill from Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former president, delivered by an ambassador who was not among those recalled for failing to reflect the crazed views of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Felipe González, the former Spanish premier, chose to overlook Ahmadinejad’s rant, preferring to contest the notion of a “clash of civilisations”, as if this were US policy.
At least Miguel Ángel Moratinos, the Spanish Foreign Minister, managed condemnation of an elliptical sort. He has been a prime mover of the claim that you cannot “fight evil with evil”, a formula begging many questions about moral equivalences. He favours marginalising extremists through a dialogue with Muslim “moderates”. These included Dr Tariq Ramadan, an Egyptian intellectual, who is on an FBI watch list and banned from France, but welcome in Spain.
Discussion of religion and politics took the form of a “dialogue” between aggressive secularists — on this occasion Spanish socialists with memories of “national Catholicism” under Franco — who averred, against all the evidence, that “religion” will “inevitably” fade away, and those who think it is an essential and vital force in the modern world. This was a dialogue of the deaf, because Western liberals have become totally unmusical on the subject of religion, which they nevertheless combat with an evangelical fervour.
There's nothing more annoying than a cocksure, evangelical athiest.