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It’s been a full ten years since the publication, originally to much derision and apathy, of American political scientist Benjamin Barber’s book ‘Jihad Vs. McWorld: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy’.
Seen by some as a dumbed-down popularisation of Samuel Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis, this slim volume (and especially its title) has always seemed to me a more accurate framing of the same struggle.
The struggle with/against Islam is a clash of civilisations (in that Islam is a civilisation and that there is a ‘clash’ involved) but not entirely in the way Huntingdon predicted. The war is not Islam pitched against the West specifically, but Islam versus the modern age and all who aspire to dwell in it. Muslims are as hostile to Kenyans and Japanese as they are to Brits and Americans. The Jihadi elite correctly identify the modern ideal of globalisation as a lethal threat to the integrity of Islamic culture. This is not then a clash between ‘East and West’, but a battle between progress and the 6th century, between Starbucks and the Mosque, the Lexus and the Olive Tree (to quote the title of an excellent book by Thomas Friedman).
Islamism derives it energy from the same place as neo-Nazism. Those who pine for ancient castles, Germanic runes and maidens milking cows are one and the same with those who pine for the tent-life of ancient Arabia. Though officially opposed to one another, Islamists and Nazis alike share a burning disgust at the golden arches of McDonalds, at the white tick of Nike sportswear, at the homogenisation of the global high street and of national cultures. Both long for a misty utopian past; an older, simpler way of living that was cruelly interrupted by industry, but that is recoverable if only the capitalists (Jews) can be brought down from their dominant position.
This is what Barber meant by ‘Jihad’ – the poisonous ideas that appeal to those ill-equipped to compete in a meritocratic world. This is broader and more interesting than the crude differences Huntingdon presented us with. As Barber’s definition allows us to see, we have our own Jihadis in the West, and not all of them are Islamic.
The modern world needs to be defended from all its enemies, whatever they look like and whatever language they speak. We would be fools to presume, like Huntingdon, that the battle lines will fall neatly on the borders of cultures and languages.