The Gurdjieff JournalFourth Way Perspectives
Working in the World
In 1945 the cover of The Sign of the Times, a monthly journal, showed the mushroom cloud above Hiroshima. That image quickly became a symbol, the dominant secular symbol around which the world has organized itself, the chief feature of the world one might say. On September 11, 2001, a new symbol was born, one that will surely mark future years as decidedly as the mushroom cloud once did, and perhaps more so.
A Clash of Civilizations
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, in speaking about the emergence of this new symbol, closed his speech at the United Nations saying, "Surrounded by friends of every faith, we know this is not a clash of civilizations. It's a conflict between murderers and humanity." [Emphasis added] Giuliani is stating our hope, not a fact. Unfortunately, there are many reasons to believe otherwise.
Harvard University political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued in "The Clash of Civilizations," his 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, that the fault lines in the post-Cold War world are no longer among nation-states or ideologies but among civilizations: Islamic, Hindu, Japanese, Confucian, Slavic-Orthodox and Western. Muslims, he wrote, are "convinced of the superiority of their culture and obsessed with the inferiority of their power... The next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations."
Earlier, in 1990, the noted Princeton Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis had warned in "The Roots of Muslim Rage," a comprehensive and acutely reasoned essay in the Atlantic Monthly: "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 civilizationsthe perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both."
Once Islamic culture and learning had influenced European thought, seeding the Renaissance. September 11, 1683, the day that Christian forces turned back the mighty Ottoman armies at the gates of Vienna, marks the last attempt of the Muslim world to conquer Christian Europe. By the late seventeenth century the once powerful Ottoman Empire was in decline. Having rejected western technology, beginning with the printing press and clockunderstandable from a spiritual perspectiveIslam retreated. Its ever hardening interpretation of the Koran, together with the notion of the Islamic state where all are believers, brought a sterility of vision and secular learning that raised fanaticism as it lowered living standards.
Fundamentalism Vs. Secularism
The recent introduction of Western commercial, financial and industrial methods only exacerbated the situation, as it brought great wealth to only a minority of Muslims. Writes Lewis: "For vast numbers of Middle Easterners, Western-style economic methods brought poverty, Western-style political institutions brought tyranny, even Western-style warfare brought defeat. It is hardly surprising that so many were willing to listen to voices telling them that the old Islamic ways were best and that their only salvation was to throw aside the pagan innovations of the reformers and return to the True Path that God had prescribed for his people."
Islamic fundamentalism's attraction for the masses offers a solution but at the price of casting all secularism and modernity as evil. Explains Lewis:
The war against secularism is conscious and explicit, and there is by now a whole literature denouncing secularism as an evil neo-pagan force in the modern world and attributing it variously to the Jews, the West, and the United States. The war against modernity is for the most part neither conscious nor explicit, and is directed against the whole process of change that has taken place in the Islamic world in the past century or more and has transformed the political, economic, social, and even cultural structures of Muslim countries. Islamic fundamentalism has given an aim and a form to the otherwise aimless and formless resentment and anger of the Muslim masses at the forces that have devalued their traditional values and loyalties and, in the final analysis, robbed them of their beliefs, their aspirations, their dignity, and to an increasing extent even their livelihood.
That America, the epitome of secularism and modernity, can be easily demonized in many Muslim minds as the Great Satan is understandable. And while the Koran has many beautiful passages preaching mercy, tolerance and respect for life, it also contains violent passages such as: "And when the sacred months are passed, kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them, and lay wait for them with every kind of ambush."
While jihad, or holy war, refers to an inner spiritual struggle, it is not exclusively taken to be so. V.S. Naipaul, a Trinidadian writer of Indian descent who has traveled extensively in Muslim countries for many years, writes of being told by a Pakistani that jihad was not meant metaphorically. "The word of the Koran is taken very literally. It is blasphemous even to think of it as an allegory. The Koran lays great store by jihad. It is one of the sayings of Mohammednot in the Koran, it's one of the traditions'If you see an un-Islamic practice you stop it by force. If you do not possess the power to stop it, you condemn it verbally. If not that also, then you condemn it in your heart. As far back as I remember I have known this. I think this tradition gives the Muslim license to act violently."
1. Clash of civilizations. Rudolph Giuliani, "Words to a Hurt World: Action, Not Deliberation," New York Times, October 2, 2001.
2. The origins of secularism in the West. According to Lewis, it is to be "found in two circumstancesin early Christian teachings and, still more, experience, which created two institutions, Church and State; and in later Christian conflicts, which drove the two apart. Muslims, too, had their religious disagreements, but there was nothing remotely approaching the ferocity of the Christian struggles between Protestants and Catholics, which devastated Christian Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and finally drove Christians in desperation to evolve a doctrine of the separation of religion from the state. Only by depriving religious institutions of coercive power, it seemed, could Christendom restrain the murderous intolerance and persecution that Christians had visited on followers of other religions and, most of all, on those who professed other forms of their own.
"Muslims experienced no such need and evolved no such doctrine. There
was no need for secularism in Islam, and even its pluralism was very
different from that of the pagan Roman Empire, so vividly described
by Edward Gibbon when he remarked that 'the various modes of worship,
which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people
as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the
magistrate, as equally useful.' Islam was never prepared, either in
theory or in practice, to accord full equality to those who held
other beliefs and practiced other forms of worship. It did, however,
accord to the holders of partial truth a degree of practical as well
as theoretical tolerance rarely paralleled in the Christian world
until the West adopted a measure of secularism in the late
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries."
3. Jihad. V.S. Naipaul, Beyond Belief (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), p. 305.
4. Seeds of Israeli Brutality. Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001), pp. 1314. Ze'ev Jabotinsky (18801940), an ardent Jewish nationalist and the founder of Revisionist Zionism, and spiritual father of the Israeli right, wrote two articles published in 1923 entitled "The Iron Wall." He wrote: "A voluntary agreement between us and the Arabs of Palestine is inconceivable now or in the foreseeable future.... Every indigenous people will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement. This is how the Arabs will behave and go on behaving so long as they possess a gleam of hope that they can prevent 'Palestine' from becoming the Land of Israel.... We cannot promise any reward either to the Arabs of Palestine or to the Arabs outside Palestine. A voluntary agreement is unattainable.... We must either suspend our settlement efforts or continue them without paying attention to the mood of the natives. Settlement can thus develop under the protection of a force that is not dependent on the local population, behind an iron wall which they will be powerless to break down.... As long as the Arabs preserve a gleam of hope that they will succeed in getting rid of us, nothing in the world can cause them to relinquish this hope, precisely because they are not a rabble but a living people. And a living people will be ready to yield on such fateful issues only when they have given up all hope of getting rid of the alien settlers. Only then will extremist groups with their slogans 'No, never' lose their influence, and only then will their influence be transferred to more moderate groups."
5. The good-wishing-for-all. Kathryn Hulme, Undiscovered Country (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown and Co., 1966), pp. 11213.