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What Clash of Civilizations?

By Berry Friesen (February 20, 2015)

“The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie,” said President Obama on February 19; there is no great clash between Islamic civilization and the West.

Why do so many people across the Muslim world believe this “ugly lie?”  Historian Andrew Bacevich provided the answer in the pages of the Washington Post:

“Syria (is) at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.  Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria.”

At least 25 military intrusions—some lasting years— in 14 Muslim countries over 35 years.

So what is the “ugly lie” Obama wants to debunk?  Best I can tell, the President is saying it isn't religion that prompts the U.S. to frequently make war in Muslim nations, but other reasons.

He has a point.  If the violence-prone variants of Islam were the issue, then the U.S. would have targeted the nations where extreme, takfiri-oriented Islam is dominant (Saudi Arabia and Qatar), not more moderate nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria that built societies opposed to the intolerance of Wahhabism.

So the “great threat” that justifies perpetual war, violations of our civil liberties and all the spending on “national security” is not Islam, but rather Muslims who resist the U.S-led empire.

Yet it isn’t only Muslims who oppose the empire; here and there a few Christians (and Jews and Buddhists) feel the same way.  So under President Obama’s approach, the empire’s great salvation story of defeating terror does not discriminate on the basis of religion.  Instead, it defines the enemy in a more inclusive, open-minded way.  What a relief!

Will Obama’s nuanced description of the enemy continue to fuel public support for US-led wars of aggression?  Republicans don’t think so.  So this will be one to watch.

As for those of us who believe the witness of the Jewish and Christian scriptures is against empires (even those led by Jews or Christians), we shouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves caught up in Obama’s politically correct way of defining the enemy.  After all, within the Orwellian discourse of the current craziness, our claim that the god of the Bible opposes the empire can easily be characterized as giving aid and comfort to extremists, even though that is far from our intention.