‘Tortured Civilizations: Islam and the West’

‘Tortured Civilizations: Islam and the West’ by Tariq Ali for The Walrus, September 2004

In the brutal aftermath of the war on Iraq, a genuine clash of civilizations has emerged. Could it have been avoided?

During the first half of the 20th century, when the British still occupied India and a nationalist movement had erupted against the British Empire, sundry U.S. journalists were dispatched to observe the scene and interview Mahatma Gandhi. “What,” one of them asked the Indian leader, “do you think of Western civilization?” The old fox smiled. “It would be a good idea,” he replied. Seventy-five years later, Iraqis suffering the abuses of an oppressive first year under the U.S. occupation would probably endorse Gandhi’s sentiment.

To sell the Iraq instalment of the war against terrorism, the U.S. had justified the war as necessary to free the good and common people from a tyrant. Once removed, and with the benefit not of foreign nation-builders but of bureaucrats to ease the transition, the path would clear, swords could be turned into ploughshares, and the desert would bloom in a transformed and democratized Middle East. If at home President Bush and his cadre of acolytes were merchants of fear, on the road, to justify foreign adventures, Donald Rumsfeld et al. were merchants of hope. read more