There’s a lot of this going around all of a sudden. Watergate figure and born-again evangelical Chuck Colson wrote for the Christian Post Aug. 18 (in a piece imaginitively entitled “The Clash of Civilizations”):
During the Cold War, there was a great clash of civilizations—communism vs. Western liberal democracy. And it threatened to destroy us in a nuclear holocaust. I was in the White House during those years. I can tell you, it was terrifying getting those daily briefings from the military. But the danger that we face from radical Islam today is even greater than the Cold War.
In the mid-1990s Harvard professor Samuel Huntington predicted that the twenty-first century would see a great clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. Nobody paid much attention. After all, we had just defeated communism. There was peace in the world. All was well.
Then came September 11, when we awoke to the fact that there are people out there who want to destroy us—not just defeat us, but annihilate us.
Why? There has been a lot of hand-wringing in the West about why they hate us. “Maybe if we just got out of the Middle East,” some say, “or elected a new government, or abandoned the war on terror, maybe they would change their minds.” Well, what the pundits don’t realize is that this is a clash of civilizations. Armies of suicide bombers ought to tell us that their worldview matters more to them than life itself.
The hard truth is that members of Islam’s radical branches have no interest in coming to terms with non-Muslims, or even moderate Muslims. To put it bluntly, they don’t care whether we’re nice or not. To this breed of radical Muslim, there are only two options: convert or die.
Does that sound drastic? Sure. But it’s a fact.
The history of Islamic hostility toward the West goes back centuries. Radical Muslims are still smarting over the defeat of their armies south of Paris in the year 732, not to mention the catastrophic defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna on September 11, 1683. That’s right, September 11. Bin Laden chose his date for a reason. He was avenging the defeat of Muslim armies more than four hundred years earlier. September 11 has roots in an irrational hatred of the West.
Now, politicians don’t like to say politically incorrect things like this, but it’s true. We in the West had better understand that we are in a life-and-death struggle with a worldview that wants to destroy us. To see anything else would be tragically blind.
Pennsylvania’s reactionary Sen. Rick Santorum, argueing in defense of Bush’s new catch-phrase Islamic fascism, said: “In 1683, not that long ago, the Islamists had surrounded the gates of Vienna and were on the verge of toppling it after a siege.” (Pocono Record, Sept. 3)
Sept. 11, 1683 is also recalled by the Christian website Greater Things and the rabidly Islamophobic History of Jihad. There is even a website entirely devoted to the specious 1683-2001 analogy, Gates of Vienna.
This is pretty scary. Santorum’s disingenuous use of the word “Islamists” neatly conflates the Ottoman empire (which was actually more pluralist and enlightened than many Christian kingdoms of the day) with al-Qaeda, an analogy which would pass muster with no serious historian. But more revealing is his hilarious reference to 1683 as “not that long ago.” This can’t help but remind us of Slobodan Milosevic’s exploitation of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, in which Serbia fell to the Ottomans, as a rallying point for his anti-Muslim campaigns. Now who exactly is being fascistic here, Senator?
Furthermore, as Lawrence Wright points out in his best-selling The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9-11, Islamic fanatics disdain the western calendar for their own lunar system. So the anniversary of the siege of Vienna wouldn’t even fall on the same date as far as Osama and his pals are concerned. (Review, New York Times, Aug. 6)