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The Afghan Alumni
and the Clash between Civilizations

Shaul Shay
Policy Paper No. 128

(In the book Muhammad's Monsters, David Bukay, (ed.),
AR: Balfour Books and Israel: ACPR Publishers, 2004, 300 pages.)


In recent years, some scholars have spoken of a clash of civilizations between Islam and modern secular (or Judeo-Christian) democratic values and culture, or between Islamic civilization and the West.

Professor Samuel P. Huntington, in his article “The Clash of Civilizations” and later in his book of the same name, argues that the root of global conflict at the turn of the century is neither ideological nor economic, but primarily cultural.

Huntington singles out Islamic civilization as the most militant cultural form, and emphasizes the inherent conflict between it and Western and other civilizations.

Although Huntington’s premise can be brought into question, as shown by John Esposito (“Political Islam and the West”, JFQ, Spring 2000), the Muslim world today is torn by a deep internal conflict over the essence and purpose of Islamic society. The outcome of this internal conflict has dictated, and continues to dictate, the nature of the ties between Muslim civilization and Western and other civilizations.

Islamic fundamentalism is funneled through dozens of Islamist organizations that operate throughout the Muslim world. In addition, there are three states – Iran, Afghanistan, and the Sudan – whose fundamentalist Islamic regimes provide spiritual and material succor to the radical Islamic movements. These states work independently and through the radical Islamic movements to export the Islamic revolution to the entire Muslim world, and spearhead the struggle against foreign – particularly Western – civilizations.

In this article we shall be focusing on a recent phenomenon which clearly exemplifies Huntington’s theory of the “clash of civilizations” – that of the “Afghan mujahideen” – the spearhead of radical Islam’s struggle against heretical cultures. Despite their name, the “Afghan terrorists” are not affiliated with a specific movement or state, but see themselves as the representatives of Islam’s relentless struggle against secular Muslim regimes and heretical cultures.

Osama bin Laden is one of the outstanding “products” of the Afghan war, and his organization “Al-Qa’idah” is one of the main expressions of the “Afghan” phenomenon. Bin Laden views his struggle as part of the conflict between Islamic and other civilizations, particularly “the Jewish-Crusader civilization”, as he calls it.

As a cultural struggle, the world-wide Afghan struggle is being waged on three fronts: within Muslim countries (to reinstate the rule of shari`ah law); in countries with Muslim minorities, situated on “fault lines” with other cultures (the Balkans, the Caucasus, Kashmir, etc.); and, internationally, in the struggle against Western, particularly US, civilization, which is perceived by the fundamentalists as the source of all evil, and the primary threat to Islam.

It looks as if the clash of civilizations as perceived by Huntington, at one extreme, and Osama bin Laden, at the other, is with us to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

For the complete text of this article, click here.