top of page

Towards a Clash of Civilizations?

Anförande vid ett symposium som anordnas av tyska Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) For many, the name of Pullach is associated with a world that we have left behind us. It was the world of the clash of ideologies and global systems – the world that came to its end on November 9, 1989 It was then that the wall that divided a city, a nation, a continent and even a world come down in Berlin. Then, we all hoped that we stood on the verge of an era of peace and stability, in Europe and the world. Francis Fukuyama wrote in his famous essay “we may be witnessing… the end of history as such; that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” And he was certainly not alone. The expectation of harmony was widely shared. Political and intellectual leaders in all our countries elaborated similar views. There were also solid grounds for optimism. We saw a revival of international cooperation through the United Nations. The rapid growth of the global economy during the 1990’s started to bring the benefits of globalisation to ever more remote corners of our world. Hundreds of millions of people were able to join the growing global middle class from Shanghai to Sao Paulo. We were faced with very major tasks. Here in Europe, it was no less than to build a completely new order of security. The lights had gone out over all of Europe in 1914, and it was only in 1989 that the nightmare was finally over, and we could see the lights coming on again in all parts of Europe. Our task was to build a federation of nation states, eventually encompassing virtually all of Europe to the West of Russia and the Ukraine, securing the peace and promoting the prosperity of this part of the world. For an academic, it might have been the end of history. For a politician, it was history accelerating. But for others, it was history coming back. A few years after Francis Fukyama, Samuel Huntington wrote his equally famous essay on a coming clash of civilisations, saying that “the politics of identity has replaced the politics of ideology”, and that “culture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civilization identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration and conflict in the post-Cold War world.” And just as the red flag had finally come from the Kremlin, and the Treaty of Maastricht had been signed, we saw a new kind of hideous war break out in south-eastern Europe. The multitude of old flags coming back over half of Europe had been seen as signs of freedom and democracy, but suddenly the multitude of old and new flags also brought violent conflict, millions of refugee and a brutality not seen for more than a generation on our continent. For most observers at the time, the wars in the Balkans were the exception to the rule of the new era we had entered. But the conflict proved more enduring than most had believed. Leaders went and regimes were overturned, democracy was established and a massive international presence introduced in the region, but somehow the basic issues remained the same, and the absence of open war did not really meant the advent of a true peace. We learnt once more, that there are no quick fixes to ethnic and national conflicts. There are no shortcuts to the essential tasks of state buildings in areas were states have collapsed or been destroyed. Military power can certainly separate or destroy armies, but military power alone can never unite peoples and build states. And – most important of all - we have been forced to recognize that the conflicts in the Balkans perhaps weren’t the exceptions to the rule of the new era, but were in fact the rule. Time after time, in place after place, we are confronted with issues of the same character. From Bihac to Basra we have to deal with the one difficult question of the order of the post-Ottoman area after the other. From Agadir to Astrakhan, we have started to see an arch of instability that we ignore at our own peril. September 11 is often talked about as a watershed event. It was. But in much the same way as we had seen the gradual decline and decomposition of the evil Soviet empire before November 1989, we should have seen the rising tensions, heard the voices of hatred and understood the nature of some of the forces that had been unleashed. Terrorism is certainly not a new phenomenon. Your country lived through a painful period a quarter of a century ago of domestic terrorism with foreign connections and foreign support. Many others have suffered equally horrendous experiences. But what we are confronted with now is new. It is conventional wisdom to date the emergence of the present international order back to the Treaty of Westphalia that in 1648 brought to its end the Thirty Year’s War. Then, the system of states was established, and in the centuries that have passed since, the states have remained the building blocs of the international order. But when the towers of the financial centre of the world come crushing down, the building blocs of the Westphalian order came down as well. In the new US national security strategy, President Bush writes that “enemies in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endangered America”, but that now, “shadowy networks of individuals can bring great chaos and suffering to our shores for less than it costs to purchase a single tank.” He speaks of America. But the same applies to Europe. To Southeast Asia. Indeed to every single part of our world. We live in the second great wave of globalisation, and we live in the most profound revolution in science and technology that mankind has ever seen. And it is in this situation that we are suddenly confronted with the consequences of a forceful marriage between modern technology and ancient hatreds. Suddenly, we are suddenly more threatened by weak states than we are by strong states. The later can still, in most cases, be deterred. But the weak, fragile or failed states can develop into a source of threats that can attack the very core of our societies. After September 11 even more than before, we have had reason to focus our attention on that region we often refer to as the Greater Middle East. The countries between the Sahara and the Mediterranean. The regions between the Indus and the Nile. From a European point of view, this is our “near abroad”. And as the process of globalisation proceeds, and as communications continues to develop and information about both problems and possibilities become more widely available it comes closer by the day. Today, much of the discussion is focused on the issues of Iraq. It’s an evil regime, although regrettably not the only one in the world. It’s a regime intimately linked to the quest for weapons of mass destruction – unfortunately not the only one in the world today. But it’s a regime with a record of defiance of the resolutions of the United Nations – taken under Chapter 7 of its Charter – second to none. It is this that makes the case of Iraq unique, and a case that simply can not be ignored. Add to that the obvious fact that not only have the policies we have pursued versus Iraq during the past decade not worked, but they have also become morally more and more difficult to defend. I can find more political arguments for the scuttling of a dictator than I can find moral arguments for trying to strangle a nation. But Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction is a unique case. What must concern us far more are all the issues of the political implosions or social explosions - of mass effect! - that we are likely to see in this region in the years ahead. Just look at the figures. Today, the 22 states of the Arab world have a population of app 280 million people. Within 20 years, that figure is likely to be app 450 million. This is a region with a larger number of young people than any other region – 38 % of the population is under 14 years of age. This would not necessarily be a problem if we saw solid economic growth, stable social progress and open political systems in these countries. But it is the other way around. Over the past 20 years, the region has had the slowest growth of any part of the world with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa. The economic standard of its peoples has deteriorated significantly versus nearly every other part of the world. Still, half of the women in the region can’t read or write. The region has the lowest Internet penetration of any in the world. Illiteracy rates are much higher than in much poorer countries. And the wind of democracy that has swept through Latin America, East Asia and Europe during the past few decades has hardly touched the region. On an index of freedom, no region in the world comes out worse than this one does. We talk about failed states – but the figures of the Arab region paint the picture of a failed region. On present trends, we are thus likely to see a series of either explosions or implosions, political as well as social, in this region over the coming years. The consequences will be profound. It’s not only the fact that the region houses app 60 % of the known oil resources of the world, and that every effort to study the global energy equation as the giants of China and India start to develop see a need to expand production here by no less than 50 % through truly massive foreign investments. An even more important fact was recently highlighted in a survey done by UNDP. It showed that app 50 % of the grown-up population of this region would like to leave and go for other, richer countries. Whatever their reservations against the policies of the United States, many of them might be dreaming of a future in Manhattan rather than Mosul. But they are more likely to end up in the suburbs of Milano, Munich or Marseilles. There might be those that believe that we can close the gates of Europe to migration coming from these and other far-away areas. But that is an illusion. The United States makes 1,5 million arrests every year along the Rio Grande and its borders with Mexico. But the attractions of wealth can overcome the highest of barriers. And the borders and coastlines of Europe are far more open than those of the United States. Today, there are more than 15 million people of the Muslim faith in the countries of the European Union. There are more than 50 mosques in the city of Berlin. And we know that the number is on the increase. Estimates are only estimates, but some of them talk of numbers up towards 60 million Muslims in the EU within the next quarter century. There is no way back. But neither is it irrelevant how fast the change is occurring. There are at each time and each place limits to how fast the change can occur without causing social as well as political tension. Two decades ago, issues relating to immigration were hardly to be heard of in the political debate in the different countries. Today, there isn’t an election campaign in any country of Europe were the issue is not among the most important ones. Over the years to come, I believe that the question whether we will be faced with a true clash of civilisations – along the lines of what Samuel Huntington wrote about - will be decided not only by the intense struggle between the forces of reform and the forces of reaction within the wider Muslim world, but perhaps more directly by how issues of identity and integration are handled by and with the millions of new Europeans of Muslim faith. We are dealing with a situation that is new – also in an historical context. Although there have been and there remain exceptions, Christians have been able to live in Muslim societies during important phases of history. The Ottoman Empire during its five centuries was far more tolerant of other religions, allowing them their own laws and their own lives, than it is normally given credit for. But the other way around is a new situation – significant Muslim minorities in societies shaped by the history and values of Christianity. And it’s a situation that will call for major changes both in our societies and in that Muslim faith that wants to find a place within our nations. Issues of economic and social opportunity are obviously of great importance for the possibilities of integration into our societies. And here, it’s obvious that our European societies and economies must change. Immigrants are twice as likely as natives to be unemployed in Denmark, three times as likely in Finland and four times as likely in the Netherlands. In more flexible economies and open societies like the United States or Australia there is hardly any difference at all. We need to learn from them. This is of fundamental importance. If immigration continues, and integration fails, we will see a build-up of tension throughout our societies. Frustrated young men might well seek answers in more fundamentalist versions of their Muslim faith. We might be confronted with an Islam of the ghettoes of the suburbs of Europe that will be a recruiting ground for extremism – and even terrorism – for years to come. When young men that have arrived in this country from Tunisia or Turkey, after a long time here, decides to go away and fight and die in Chechnya in the name of their Muslim faith, it is clearly a sign of a failure of our societies. Instead of a ghetto-Islam, we should encourage the evolution of a Euro-Islam that combines the values of the Muslim faith with the values of our secular, open and liberal societies. There are many models that can be followed, and there are many modern Muslims in our countries advocating this road. But we cannot take it for granted that this line of thought will be as dominant as we must desire. There are numerous connections between what will happen in the wider Muslim world – and particularly the Greater Middle East – and what happens in the struggle between ghetto-Islam and Euro-Islam in our European societies. The issue of Palestine is an obvious example. Failure to end the occupation and move decisively towards a democratic Palestine living side-by-side and in peace with Israel will obviously have consequences. Failure to facilitate a process of reform in these societies and economies will obviously also have consequences. I do not believe that we are faced with a conflict between civilisations – between Christian and Muslim societies – that is in any way pre-programmed. But equally, I do think that we must be aware of the dangers that are there, and that we must be prepared to adjust our policies accordingly. I have indicated in general terms some of the conclusions within our own borders and the borders of Europe. Issues of integration are absolute key if conflicts of identity are to be avoided or minimized. None of our states have fully grasped the magnitude of the challenge this represents. Beyond our borders, we cannot ignore the tensions that are building up in our “near abroad” through the combination of economic stagnation, demographic explosion and political inertia. We have to start to discuss in earnest the policies that can and must be pursued to address these dangers. On the other side of the Atlantic we hear voices proclaiming that our armies entering Baghdad will unleash a democratic revolution throughout the region. But a person like myself, who has seen the tens of thousands of troops in small regions like Bosnia or Kosovo having hardly any effect on the minds of men, the evolution of religions, the feelings of nationalities, is bound to remain somewhat sceptical towards such claims. Reforms must come, but they must come from within, although we should certainly encourage them with far more determination than has been the case in the past. We must speak up for human rights, private property, free trade and open societies in these countries as well. We must be seen as the friends less of their rulers and more of their peoples. And we must encourage those countries that are changing and showing that Islam, modernisation and democracy are values that can go together. The question of Turkey – now very much on the political agenda - is of key importance in this regard. If Europe were to slam the door in the face of a Turkey that tries to combine the private Muslim faith of many of its citizens with a modern secular society and an increasingly European democracy we might be inviting developments that will certainly not be to our long-term benefit. Pullach acquired its discreet fame in a time when it was all about counting the tanks and penetrating the politburos. Now, the issues are far more difficult. The entire international order is being reshaped. State sovereignty has ceased to be absolute as the primacy of states when it comes to the use of power has been challenged by modern technologies, as borders are losing part of their significance in the process of globalisation and as the internal structure of states can have major effects well beyond its borders. The Westphalian order in Europe was established after thirty years of a conflict consisting of a number of separate military campaigns, the recognizing and setting up of new states, major efforts to try to win the hearths and minds of peoples as the dominant religion was torn apart by violent disputes and intense diplomatic and political manoeuvring. Murder in the name of God was the theme of those times. At the end, the very nature of the international order had been transformed. Now, we might well be entering into a similar period, the outcome of which is uncertain. Again, we see intense struggles between forces of reaction and forces of reform within a major world religion - this time Islam rather than Christianity. Again, we are likely to face the need for military action and presence in different also far-away places. Again, there will be the need to assist in the setting up of new political structures, sources of legitimacy and frameworks of international order. We certainly need to look ahead. Intelligence agencies are supposed to do just that. But even more important – we need to think ahead. And shape the policies that can handle the far more difficult challenges we will be facing in the years ahead.

Utvalda anföranden
Senaste publicerat
bottom of page