The U.S.A. and the Middle East in a New Era of the Clash of Civilizations by Vassilios Damiras and Chryssoula Katsikoudis

huntington
I.
Events since the terrorists’ attacks of September 11, 2001, have dramatically and drastically changed the political environment in the Arab and Muslims worlds, a vast diverse region incorporating the band of nation-states with significant religious Muslim population that extends from western Africa to the southern Philippines, as well as Arab and Muslim communities and diasporas stretching throughout the globe.
The United States is concerned with three types of serious threats to U.S. national interests.

  • Direct physical threats against American citizens and military/diplomatic installations
  • Serious political destabilization of friendly nation-states in the Arab and Muslim worlds
  • Significant growth of anti-American, anti-Western, and antidemocratic ideologies in the Middle East and in the wider Arab and Muslim Worlds.

Preventing direct threats against the various American interests is the aim of the global war on terrorism with the defeat of Al Qaeda and related terror networks the paramount U.S. national security priority. The Bush administration in 2002 in the “National Security Strategy of the United States of America” declared that the United States of America is combating a war against brutal terrorists of global reach. The enemy is not a single political regime, or government, or person or religion or political ideology. The main enemy is terrorism premeditated political motivated violence perpetrated against innocents.
Cooperation in fighting terrorism and its networks is therefore a very critical component of the U.S. diplomatic relations with the various Arab and Muslim countries, but it is not the only element. Beyond the problem of terrorism lies the crucial issue of the future socio-political shape and form of the Arab and Muslim worlds and whether these religious and political worlds will be amicable to U.S. interests, values, and democratic ideas.

Political destabilization of friendly but authoritarian nation-states poses a very serious and complex set of dilemmas and challenges. Statesmen, diplomats, and scholars of the realist school of thought, who direct and influence the U.S. policies and decision-making toward the Arab and Muslim worlds, valued regime stability nearly above democratic values and ideas.  At the end of the 1991 Gulf War, serious fear and concern of the strategic consequences of the political destabilization of Iraq informed the George Bush administration’s decision to stop short of toppling Saddam Hussein and to permit him to crush the Kurdish and Shiite revolts. For the following decade both the Bush and Clinton administrations had to live with the serious consequences of that military decision. Because of that dramatic geostrategic experience, some policymakers now support and vigorously promote that American national interest are sometimes better safeguarded or even protected by regime change in antithetical brutal authoritarian regimes. President George W. Bush faced that dilemma of regime change in Iraq and President Barrack Obama encounters that dilemma in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria with the emergence of the Arabic Spring.

Obviously in some cases, promote for regime change is clearly a suitable socio-political option. There is little question, for example, that most alternatives to the current suppressive Iranian theocratic government would create a government more respectful of the Iranian people’s political and human rights, less likely to pursue and finish with the development of nuclear weapons or to support or finance vicious terrorist groups or causes, and more favorable positioned toward cooperation with the American administration and other democratic countries. This specific policy questions relate to the cost-benefit calculus implicit in any set of United States military or diplomatic actions adopted to bolster and promote viable democratic change.
It is evident differentiating between political transitions from authoritarianism to democracy that can be expected to lead to more pluralistic and republic political regimes and those that probably that lead to more repressive and regressive political systems is more difficult in the case of friendly authoritarian nation-states. This demands a more fine-grained analysis of the relative strengths and long-term aims of the socio-political forces at play in the region.

The best-case political scenario in the process of democratization of friendly authoritarian countries assumes that a socio-political transition from authoritarianism, although in the beginning disruptive and difficult, will create a more democratic and benign political environment over the long term. Thus, a democratic or democratizing Arab and Muslim worlds would significantly reduce or even remove of the structural social and political causes of Islamic extremism and anti-Americanism.
Nonetheless, pushing political change in friendly authoritarian or dictatorial regimes could be significantly destabilizing in short term, specifically in the absence of democratic political alternatives and strong civil society institutions and values. The removal of the Shah of Iran is a very cautionary study case. Furthermore, Algeria is a story of democratic transition that in the end generated an Islamist electoral majority, but instead of directing the Algerian socio-political system toward more inclusive politics, it produced a military crackdown and a radical Islamist insurgency of significance and unprecedented violence. In Egypt the Mubarak administration’s tactics drove the political opposition into underground. In 2011, under the banner of the Arabic Spring the Mubarak regime collapsed. It is ambiguous if Egypt will become more democratic. In the Saudi Arabia, the most serious socio-political menace to the regime’s stability and survival comes from religious Islamic radicals supporting a more extreme version of the official religious/political ideology. Last but not least in Pakistan, an ambiguous ally in the U.S. counter terrorism and counterinsurgency strategies, extreme religious Islamic groups threaten the fragile democracy.

A major concern is the disruption of Jihadist terrorist networks, which potential can carry a biological or nuclear terrorist attacks across the globe, thus undermining democratic developments and endanger the American national interests across the world. An important question is how the American intelligence community can identify hostile use of these lethal networks. It is imperative to analyze the profiles of certain Muslim communities that harbor or maintain violent Islamic networks and the nodal and communicable aspects of these convoluted groups. Methods and process of indoctrination, influence, communications characteristics, and religious rituals necessitate to be better comprehended. Once the U.S. intelligence are identified the aforementioned methodology of specific jihadist groups, then their recruitment procedure and weaknesses need to be examined and analyzed. Then the American government can design a specific strategy of how to penetrate, disrupt, and destroy menacing jihadist groups.

Interrupting these brutal terrorist groups does not mean closing down various Muslim institutions such as, health and welfare organizations, cultural centers, mosques, youth organizations, and student unions. Rather, it needs dismantling the trust nexus upon which jihadists depend and promoting Muslim moderates to obtain control of these institutions. The Obama administration needs to continue to promote educational reform, reforms in various Madrassas combine with reforms in several Mosques. It is vital also the American government to promote economic development in the Arab and Muslim worlds. The U.S. intelligence assets need very carefully to execute psychological operations targeting the various jihadist cells. Inside the U.S. borders, decision-makers need to be pay attention to radical recruitment in various prisons and within the American armed forces to monitor the role of Muslim prison clergy and military chaplains in disseminating radical ideas of Islam.

Evidently, it is extremely difficult in forecasting the consequences of regime change may generated from a failure to comprehend the growth of political ideologies drastically opposed to American national interests, values, democratic ideas, and policies. The American government has a difficult road ahead to promote democratic ideas in the Middle East and in the wider Arab and Muslim worlds and to persuade other American allies mainly in Europe to support that sensitive and important task ahead. One way is United States to sustain a significantly military force in the region that reflects the American commitments to her allies and her military interests. America will be the sole catalyst for democratization in these sensitive aforementioned areas.
II.

The outcome of the “war of ideas” in progress throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds is possibly to have significant consequences for the U.S. national interests in the region; nonetheless it is also extremely difficult for the American government to influence or alter Muslim ideas regarding the relations between the West and various countries in the Islamic World. Even pro-American governments wishing to work together with the U.S.A. on various important regional issues may be limited by domestic pressers and public perceptions. It is fundamentally and extremely difficult for a nonwestern power to influence or alter ideas and perceptions of Muslims about their religion or political affiliations. The historical evidence vividly illustrates that only Muslims themselves have the sole credibility to challenge or change the misuse of the Islamic religion by radicals or jihadist fighters. Thus, the American administration current and future have a serious and difficult task to tackle. The future will indicate the relations between U.S.A. and the Muslim and Arab worlds.

The Middle East has been the most conflict-prone regions. The lack of economic development and growth is one of the major factors why conflict in the Middle East continues in all likelihood to increase. The significance of ethnic dominance in Islamic countries equal well to the long-lasting and ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, already hosting two international wars with the participation of Iraq in 1991 and 2003 as well as the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988.
Ever since the 1950’s, civil war in the Middle East has been the dominant type of conflict. As a conflict ridden region, one cannot deny that Afrcia and Asia has not been on the same path, but by closely analyzing and comparing the three regions, the Middle

East is clearly caharcterized by current authoritatian regimes,  oil-dependent economies, and above all Islam.
Civil war in the Middle East is mostly associated with either religious or ethnic conflict or/and economical, political, and social discrimination. The region’s resistance to democracy and the lack of economic and social development is due to bring a movement of exceptionalism to the surface by reflecting the regions beliefs through their ideology and historical circumstances. Has conflict in the Middle East been shaped by exceptional factors vulnerable to the region, or is the Middle East just an “unfortunate” region; wrong place, wrong time?

After World War I, the boarders were drawn in the form of the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. The core regions of the Ottoman Empire became Turkey, some were given to Russia, parts of Syria and Lebanon to France, and Iraq and the rest of Syria to Great Britain. Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia were controlled by France, and Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan by Great Britain. By the end of 1960, most of those regions have gained their independece, except with the establishment of Istael in 1948, regional conflict in the Middle East started to spread like wild fire. Ethnic and religious conflict between Muslims and Jews became known as the another “holy war.” However, throughout all the conflict and civil war, the Middle East still today is one of the most unfluential strategic importance in world politics. The unique and close relationship with Israel and the United States has influenced external intervention such as the U.S./U.K invasion of Iraq in 2003.

According to the “war of ideas” in concept with Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” Islam an the West are engaged in a clash of civilizations as two competing ideologies. As Islam is conflicting with seclar democracy and basic civil liberties, the spread and the replacement of the current world with the caliphate are proceeding through two forms of how terrorism is defined nowadays. One, is the extremist Islamist group known as al-Qaeda, and second, the Party of Liberation which is more oriented towards ideological struggle. Known as a radical Sunni Islamist organizatio, PL has not been calssified as a terrorist organization, therefore, its ideologies are more accessable to the masses. Other Islamist groups focus more on single, religious issues, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, but PL reaches out to unite all Muslims under one Islamic banner such as – in Huntington’s case – the clash of civilizations suffered by Muslims all around the world.

After the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, modern Islamist movement emerged through some ideologues believing that the decline of the Islamic world can only be reversed if “real” Muslims unite and spread the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, doing so, replacing the existing governments ruling the Muslim world with Islamic ones. When the Party of Liberation was formed in the early 1950s, its followers, without a doubt, rejected capitalism and preached democracy as “godless.”1 The only way to liberate Muslims from the beliefs of nonbelievers was to replace the Christian dominated nation-states. Furthermore, followers of the PL also believe that Western civilization was seeking an ideological dominance within the Musim societies, and that capitalims and socialism were anathema because they failed to recognize the superiority of Islam.
Today, the PL is active in more than forty countries with a hierarchical approach aiming to resurrect the caliphate by overthrowing the government, and to prevent Muslims in the West to assimilate into Western culture. One of the party’s main focuses is Turkey – conflicted within a war of ideologies. Although Turkey is currently reforming its legal and constitutional systems in order to join the European Union, in the recent years it has become very vulnerable to domestic Isamist extremists. The PL is trying to convince Turkey not to enter the EU because otherwise they would lose their Islamic identity and instead raise their Islamic flag.

Huntington’s clash of civilizations thesis predicts that the increasing conflict between Islam and the West has to do with Muslims being involved in violent conflicts between religious and ethnic groups; with the Middle East being a region where Islam dominates. Ethnic dominance between Shia and Sunni proves his argument that any dominant ethnic group increases the risk of conflict incorporating Islamic dominance. In core content, Huntington’s Clash of Civilization thesis states that states belonging to different civilizations are more likely to fight each other, while states belonging to the same civilization are less likely to fight each other.

According to Huntington, the Clash of Civilization emerged in the post Cold-War era as a result of different factors such as increased economic regionalization, the interaction amongst people of different civilizations, and most of all a global resourgence of religious identity. Huntington identifies a civilization as “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.”2 Religion is evidently the single most important factor in a civilization. It is the central defining characteristic of a civilization; whether it is Hindu, Islamic, Orthodox, or a Western religious faith, civilizations are most likely to clash with each with different religions.

Huntington places a major emphasis on Islamic belief as a source of cultural strain in the modern world. His thesis predicted that the fundemental source of coflict in this world would be ideological or economical; and he was right. With a sligh emphasis on Weberian theory, combined with his theory of the clash of civilizations, it is evident that there is a troublesome attraction and compatability between Islam and the rest of the cultural world today, which translates into a fatalistic self-empowerment and individualism. Islam’s fatalism is the concept of traditional value system that are unreceptive to the idea of the process of modernization. For that, Huntington’s Clash of Civilization thesis is a perfect comprehensive analysis of the fatalistic qualities inherited in Islam.

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