ISLAM: The Clash of Civilizations

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kerby Anderson
KERBY ANDERSON is the President of Probe Ministries. He is the host of “Point of View” radio talk show. He is the author of fifteen books. B.S., Oregon State University (Zoology), M.F.S., Yale University (Science), M.A., Georgetown University (Government), Kennedy Institute of Bioethics (Washington, D.C)

Before we look at the rise of Muslim terrorism in our world, we need to understand the worldview conflict between Islam and western values. The Muslim religion is a seventh-century religion. Think about that statement for a moment. Most people would not consider Christianity a first-century religion. While it began in the first century, it has taken the timeless message of the Bible and communicated it in contemporary ways.

In many ways, Islam is still stuck in the century in which it developed. One of the great questions is whether it will adapt to the modern world. The rise of Muslim terrorism and the desire to implement sharia law illustrate this clash of civilizations.

The Clash of Civilizations

In the summer of 1993, Samuel Huntington published an article entitled “The Clash of Civilizations?” in the journal Foreign Affairs.[1] The article generated more controversy than any other article in the journal since the 1940s. And Huntington says it stirred up more debate than anything else he wrote during that time.

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Three years later Samuel Huntington published a book using a similar title. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order came on the market in 1996 and became a bestseller, once again stirring controversy. It seems worthy to revisit his comments and predictions because they have turned out to be remarkably accurate.

His thesis was fairly simple. World history will be marked by conflicts between three principal groups: western universalism, Muslim militancy, and Chinese assertion.

Huntington says that “global politics has become multipolar and multicivilizational in the post-Cold War world.”[2] During most of human history, major civilizations were separated from one another and contact was intermittent or non-existent. That pattern changed in the modern era (around 1500 A.D.). For over 400 years, the nation states of the West (Britain, France, Spain, Austria, Prussia, Germany, and the United States) constituted a multipolar international system that interacted, competed, and fought wars with each other. During that same period of time, these nations also expanded, conquered, and colonized nearly every other civilization.

During the Cold War, global politics became bipolar, and the world was divided into three parts. Western democracies led by the United States engaged in ideological, political, economic, and even military competition with communist countries led by the Soviet Union. Much of this conflict occurred in the Third World outside these two camps and was composed mostly of non-aligned nations.

Huntington argued that in the post-Cold War world, the principal actors are still the nation states, but they are influenced by more than just power and wealth. Other factors like cultural preferences, commonalities, and differences are also influential. The most important groupings are not the three blocs of the Cold War, but rather the major world civilizations. Most significant in our discussion is the conflict between the Western world and Muslim militancy.

Bernard Lewis sees this conflict as a phase the Islam is currently experiencing in which many Muslim leaders attempt to resist the modern world’s influences (and in particular the Western world) on their communities and countries. This is what he had to say about Islam and the modern world:

Islam has brought comfort and peace of mind to countless millions of men and women. It has given dignity and meaning to drab and impoverished lives. It has taught people of different races to live in brotherhood and people of different creeds to live side by side in reasonable tolerance. It inspired a great civilization in which others besides Muslims lived creative and useful lives and which, by its achievement, enriched the whole world. But Islam, like other religions, has also known periods when it inspired in some of its followers a mood of hatred and violence. It is our misfortune that part, though by no means all or even most, of the Muslim world is now going through such a period, and that much, though again not all, of that hatred is directed against us.[3]

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This does not mean that all Muslims want to engage in jihad warfare against America and the West. But it does mean that there is a growing clash of civilizations. Muslims see the world divided into two camps, and this view intensifies the clash between the West and Islam. Bernard Lewis explains:

In the classical Islamic view, to which many Muslims are beginning to return, the world and all mankind are divided into two: the House of Islam, where the Muslim law and faith prevail, and the rest, known as the House of Unbelief or the House of War, which it is the duty of Muslims ultimately to bring to Islam. It should by now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations—the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. It is crucially important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but also equally irrational reaction against the rival.[4]

Not everyone accepts the analysis of Samuel Huntington regarding conflict between Western democracies and Muslim militancy. For example, William Tucker believes that the actual conflict results from what he calls the Muslim intelligentsia. He says “that we are not facing a clash of civilizations so much as a conflict with an educated segment of a civilization that produces some very weird, sexually disoriented men. Poverty has nothing to do with it. It is stunning to meet the al Qaeda roster—one highly accomplished scholar after another with advanced degrees in chemistry, biology, medicine, engineering, a large percentage of them educated in the United States.”[5]

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His analysis is contrary to the many statements that have been made in the past that poverty breeds terrorism. While it is certainly true that many recruits for jihad come from impoverished situations, it is also true that the leadership comes from those who are well-educated and highly accomplished.

William Tucker believes that those who wish to engage in jihad warfare against the US and the West bear a striking resemblance to the student revolutionaries during the 1960s on American universities. He calls them “overprivileged children” who he believes need to prove themselves (and their manhood) in the world. He also believes that “this is confounded by a polygamous society where fathers are often distant from their sons and where men and women barely encounter each other as young adults.”

Tucker, therefore, concludes that we are effectively at war with a Muslim intelligentsia. These are essentially “the same people who brought us the horrors of the French Revolution and 20th century Communism. With their obsession for moral purity and their rational hatred that goes beyond all irrationality, these warrior-intellectuals are wreaking the same havoc in the Middle East as they did in Jacobin France and Mao Tse-tung’s China.”

One of the most watched Internet video debates on Islam involved Wafa Sultan, who debated Al-Jazeera host Faisal al-Qasim and Islamic scholar Ibrahim Al-Khouli about Samuel P. Huntington’s idea of a “clash of civilizations.” The exchange took place on the 90-minute discussion program “The Opposite Direction,” with Sultan speaking via satellite from Los Angeles.[6] Here are two excerpts of what she said:

The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations,” she said. “It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on the other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash but compete.

The Muslims are the ones who began using this expression. The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said: ‘I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger.’ When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash, and began this war. In order to stop this war, they must re-examine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels.

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The threat from Radical Islam

It is hard to estimate the extent of this threat, but there are some commentators who have tried to provide a reasonable estimate. Dennis Prager provides an overview of the extent of the threat:

Anyone else sees the contemporary reality—the genocidal Islamic regime in Sudan; the widespread Muslim theological and emotional support for the killing of a Muslim who converts to another religion; the absence of freedom in Muslim-majority countries; the widespread support for Palestinians who randomly murder Israelis; the primitive state in which women are kept in many Muslim countries; the celebration of death; the honor killings of daughters, and so much else that is terrible in significant parts of the Muslim world—knows that civilized humanity has a new evil to fight.[7]

He argues that just as previous generations had to fight the Nazis and the communists, this generation must confront militant Islam. But he also notes something is dramatically different about the present Muslim threat. He says:

Far fewer people believed in Nazism or in communism than believe in Islam generally or in authoritarian Islam specifically. There are one billion Muslims in the world. If just 10 percent believe in the Islam of Hamas, the Taliban, the Sudanese regime, Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism, bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, the Finley Park Mosque in London or Hizbollah—and it is inconceivable that only one of 10 Muslims supports any of these groups’ ideologies—that means a true believing enemy of at least 100 million people.[8]

This very large number of people who wish to destroy civilization poses a threat that is unprecedented. Never has civilization has to confront such large numbers of those would wish to destroy civilization.

So, what is the threat in the United States? Let’s take one number and one percentage for an estimate. There are about 4 million Muslim-Americans in the U.S., and we are often told that nearly all are law-abiding citizens. So let’s assume that percentage is even as high as 99 percent. That still leaves one percent who believe in jihad and could pose a threat to America. Multiply one percent by 4 million, and you get a number of 40,000 individuals that Homeland Security needs to try to monitor. Even if you use a percentage of one-tenth of one percent, you still get about 4,000 potential terrorists in America.

Islamic Tipping Point

When the Muslim population increases in a country, there are certain social changes that have been documented. Peter Hammond deals with this in his book, Slavery Terrorism, & Islam. Most people have never read the book, but many have seen an email on one of the most quoted parts of the book.[9]

He argued that when the Muslim population is under five percent, the primary activity is proselytizing, usually from ethnic minorities and the disaffected. By the time the Muslim population reaches five percent or more, it begins exerting its influence and pushing for sharia law.

Peter Hammond sees a significant change when a Muslim population reaches ten percent (found in many European countries). At that point, he says you begin to see increased levels of violence and lawlessness. You also begin to hear statements of identity and the filing of various grievances.

There are examples of hair-trigger rioting and jihad militias at twenty to thirty percent. In some countries, you even have church bombings. Nations like Bosnia and Lebanon experience widespread massacres and ongoing militia warfare by forty percent to fifty percent. When at least half the population is Muslim, you begin to see the country persecute infidels and apostates and Sharia law is implemented over all of its citizens.

After eighty percent, you see countries like Iran, Syria, and Nigeria engage in persecution and intimidation as a daily part of life. Sometimes state-run genocide develops in an attempt to purge the country of all infidels. The final goal is “Dar-es-Salaam” (the Islamic House of Peace).

Peter Hammond would probably be the first to say that these are generalizations and there are certainly exceptions to the rule. But the general trends have been validated through history. When the Muslim population is small, it leaders focus on winning converts and working to gain sympathy for sharia law. But then their numbers increase, the radical Muslim leaders take over, and the Islamic domination begins.

Christian Implications of the Clash of Civilizations

This clash of civilizations has a profound impact on missions. In the past, countries that were closed to the gospel tended to be communist countries. Even so, there was still a significant amount of Christian growth in countries behind the Iron Curtain and Bamboo Curtain. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of these countries are more open to the gospel than ever before. Meanwhile, persecution of Christians remains in China.

But a new phenomenon has emerged. Muslim countries are now the most resistant to the message of Christianity. Mission work is limited or even non-existent in many of these Muslim countries. This represents the greatest challenge for missions in the 21st century: reaching the Muslim world for Christ. Already there are over a billion and a half Muslims in the world, making Islam the second largest religion in the world and one of the fastest growing.

A second implication is related to the first. Samuel Huntington predicts a growing conflict between western universalism and Muslim militancy. In other words, the conflict is between liberal western democracies and their cultures and Muslim countries.

This presents a major challenge for Christians trying to reach Muslims. When they see the West with its immorality and decadence, they reject it and Christianity. After all, they reason, these are Christian countries, and this is what they produce.

It is crucial for Christians to make a distinction between Christianity and western society. The political conflict may be between western democracies and Muslim militancy, but the spiritual battle is between Christianity and Islam. The two are not the same.

Reforming Islam

Will this clash of civilizations continue, or is it possible to reform Islam so that it finds a peaceful place in the modern world? One book that attempts to explain the challenge that Islam faces in the modern world is the book, Inside the Revolution, Joel Rosenberg explains the challenge Islam faces in the modern world. He discussed the three most dramatic movements of our time.[10]

The first is what he calls “the Radicals.” These are radical Muslims who want to annihilate the United States and Israel. Many of them in Iran believe the Islamic Messiah’s arrival on Earth is “imminent” and the End of Days is at hand. The book and documentary talk about the potential danger of these Muslims acquiring nuclear weapons so they might achieve their apocalyptic objectives.

The second group is “the Reformers.” These Muslims believe that the Radicals are wrong. The book and his DVD documentary talk about the hope that these Reformers can create real democracies in the Middle East.

The third group is “the Revivalists.” Millions of Muslims are abandoning Islam and turning to faith in Jesus Christ. The book and documentary explain how this is happening. These are fascinating stories.

The subtitle of the book, Inside the Revolution, tells it all. It says: “How the followers of Jihad, Jefferson, and Jesus are battling to dominate the Middle East and transform the world.” These three groups within Islam will be influential in this century: the Radicals, the Reformers, and the Revivalists.

Changes in Islam will have to come from within (the Reformers) and perhaps also from without (the Revivalists). This leads to one of the most asked questions when there is a terrorist attack. Where are the modern Muslims? Where are the voices from these potential reformers?

Christine Douglass-Williams tried to answer that question in her book, The Challenge of Modernizing Islam.[11] It includes interviews with many of these moderate Muslims trying to bring reform. Early on in the book, she says the original title talked about reforming Islam. She and the publisher concluded that wasn’t precise enough. She points out that currently there is a turf war within Islam “between those who seek to reform Islam back to the seventh century and those who seek to reform it to modernity.”

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The first part of her book includes interviews she has done with moderate Muslims like Dr. Zudhi Jasser, Dr. Tawfik Hamid, and Raheel Raza. We don’t hear about them in the mainstream media too often because many of them aren’t provided a platform. We also have to acknowledge that many of them are threatened if they speak out. The subtitle of Christine Douglass-Williams book says it all: “Reformers Speak Out and the Obstacles They Face.”

It is also worth mentioning that not all moderates are reformers. Reformers usually insist that the texts in Islam must be subject to new interpretations. To do so will be difficult. It might mean having to set aside fourteen centuries of interpretation as well as Muslim history.

One illustration can be found in the writings of Tawfik Hamid who countered the common belief that Islam has been a religion of peace. He explained that the approved Islamic literature “teaches violent principles such as killing apostates, beating women, killing gays, and enslaving female war prisoners for sexual purposes.”

He went on to say that if you want to disprove what he said, all you would have to do is provide texts that have been “accepted by the leading Islamic scholars at Al-Azhar University or the religious authorities in Saudi Arabia.” These religious bodies are the ones responsible for approving a printed Qur’an.

All the critics would have to do is “produce a solitary approved Islamic text that stands clearly and unambiguously against, for example, killing apostates, beating women, killing gays, and enslaving female war prisoners for the express purpose of raping them.” He says they won’t be able to produce such a text because it does not exist.[12]

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[1] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, 22-49.

[2] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 21.

[3] Bernard Lewis, The Roots of Muslim Rage,” Atlantic Monthly, September 1990, http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/199009/muslim-rage.

[4] Ibid.

[5] William Tucker, “Overprivileged Children,” American Spectator, 12 Sept. 2006, http://www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=10342.

[6] The video clip from Al-Jazeera television that was seen on the Internet was produced by the Middle East Media Research Institute: http://switch5.castup.net/frames/20041020_MemriTV_Popup/video_480x360.asp?ai=214&ar=1050wmv&ak=null.

[7] Dennis Prager, “The Islamic Threat is Greater than German and Soviets Threats Were,” 29 May 2006, http://www.townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2006/03/28/the_islamic_threat_is_greater_than_german_and_soviet_threats_were.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Peter Hammond, Slavery Terrorism, & Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat (San Jose, CA: Frontline, 1982), 151.

[10] Joel Rosenberg, Inside the Revolution: How the Followers of Jihad, Jefferson, and Jesus Are Battling to Dominate the Middle East and Transform the World (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2009).

[11] Christine Douglass-Williams, The Challenge of Modernizing Islam (NY: Encounter, 2017).

[12] Tawfik Hamid, “Carson Is Right About Muslims,” Newsmax, 23 September 2015, http://www.newsmax.com/TawfikHamid/Ben-Carson-Middle-East-Religion/2015/09/23/id/692925/.

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