'Clash of civilisations' foolish and wrong, says commentator

By staff writers
8 Aug 2011

Journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai Brown says that the 'clash of civilisations' idea, positing a fundamental confrontation between monolithic Islam and Western democracy, is "not only foolish but historically inaccurate," feeding extremism on both sides.

In conversation with David Pratt, foreign editor of the Sunday Herald newspaper, Ms Alibhai Brown - known for her regular columns in the Independent newspaper - was discussing the post 9/11 world, the democratic Arab revolutions, and Samuel Huntingdon's well-known thesis.

Speaking at St John's Church in Edinburgh, as part of the 2011 Festival of Spirituality and Peace, she described herself both as a practicing Shia Muslim and a liberal who strongly opposed both violent jihadism and the collusion of the West with injustice.

The idea that Islam is monolithic, violent and universally opposed to democratic values is a simplistic but persuasive notion that suits hardliners, including al-Qaeda sympthisers and the neo-conservative right, she said - accusing the British writer and commentator Douglas Murray, particularly, of feeding a new 'cold war' mentality.

Rehearsing the contours of a complex and variegated history of Islam over the centuries, Ms Alibhai Brown said that the contribution of Muslims to modern society was often overlooked. For example, many top IVF doctors in Britain are Arabs, she pointed out.

"The kind of Islam I practice is the one my mother's generation fought for... a joyous one," she added. "But because of [Britain's] friendship with the Saudi, wahabi ideology has come in and our government is allowing it."

Killing Osama Bin Laden without judicial process was wrong, said Alibhai Brown, who initially supported the war in Afghanistan but now sees it is a failure and a mistake. "If we say 'live by the law' then live by it," she declared. "He should have been brought to justice, and so should the people with him."

There was definitely hope in the Arab democratic revolutions, she said, but "Libya seems to be slipping into civil war." A "trusted, legitimate UN force" was needed instead of piecemeal and confused western interventions.

Violent jihadism is a real problem and needs to be faced, said Alibhai Brown. But paranoia about Islam, which is also being fed by some hardline Christian groups, was in danger of feeding the rise of the far right, she suggested.

Strengthening the International Criminal Court and the global judicial process, which should also involve making Tony Blair and George Bush accountable for the wars they have prosecuted, was important for a just future, Alibhai Brown said.

[Ekk/3]

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