Column: Islam and West can coexist

The events of the past six months have had a rather sobering effect on the country as a whole. While most people have made a concerted effort to “not let the terrorists win,” the simple fact is the 19 men who flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field have changed things.Off and on, you hear people speak the rather cryptic phrase, “How could this happen here?” in reference to the shock of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Perhaps a more appropriate phrase to mutter, one that can lend itself to more debate is, “Why do they hate us?”

In 1993, before much of the world had even heard of Osama bin Laden, Samuel Huntington, a political theorist from Harvard, wrote an article called “The Clash of Civilizations.” Huntington contended that, after the long span of ideological wars, the sphere of human conflict would shift to a realm it had never reached: a clash of the major civilizations of the world.

Huntington talks morbidly about the relationships between the Western civilization and Islam. He states that the conflict of the Cold War is “a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon” compared to the conflict between the West and Islam.

I make no claims to be an expert on international relations, nor do I even suppose that I might have more insight into the state of affairs in the world than Samuel Huntington.

But I think he is misguided. I think that he in fact goes too far in presupposing that the conflict can be simplified into “the West vs. Islam.”

There is no questioning that the relationship between the West and Islam has been a strained one in the past 30 years. But this does not mean that the whole of Western civilization is “clashing” with the whole of the Islamic world.

Instead, I would argue the real conflict comes when one is dealing with the elements of any particular civilization.

It is these fundamental elements that start the conflict. These elements certainly exist in every civilization. Take the mass murder of tens of thousands of Muslims at the hands of Orthodox Serbs in Bosnia. The genocide of up to a million people in 100 days at the hands of madmen. The blowing up of a federal building in Oklahoma by a man who wanted to take down the U.S. government.

The actions of these particular groups or people do not reflect the civilization as a whole. Such is the case with the Sept. 11 attacks. No one can blame Islam or the absurd notion of the “aggressiveness” of Islam (a peaceful religion) as behind the attacks.

These attacks, and ones similar all around the world, are made by fanatics who presuppose that the only way to persuade others to heed their call is through the barrel of a gun or the power of a terrorist act.

Why do they hate us? The fact of the matter is because the West allows much more personal freedom and tolerance than such fundamentalist groups as the Taliban would ever allow.

The West allows much more political and social freedom than would ever be allowed under an authoritarian, fundamentalist Islamic regime. For this reason, the West is resented and seen to be a threat to the very livelihood of these particular groups.

The West has done some awful things in the Middle East, but in no way does it deserve the attacks that ensued on Sept. 11, just the same as no civilization on earth deserves to be attacked by relatively small, radical elements in their own or other civilizations.

  • Joe Roma is majoring in political