Islam and the West: Essential Resources from the Carnegie Council

Ever since Samuel Huntington's 1993 article, "A Clash of Civilizations," which argued that the end of the Cold War had led to a world increasingly polarized by religious and ethnic identity, the phrase has been used as a quick way to explain tensions between the Arab and Western worlds—particularly since the September 11 attacks in 2001.

But how useful is this black-and-white concept to help us understand the multi-faceted relations between Muslims and the West? On further investigation, the reality seems much more complicated.

Historian Bernard Lewis was the first to use the term "clash of civilizations" and few could disagree with him and journalist Milton Viorst that it is vital to be aware of the conflicts between the Middle East and the West over the last 1,400 years. Yet Lewis himself paints quite a complex picture, analyzing divergent responses to the West within the Islamic world. Others such as scholar Gilles Kepel point to internal Islamic politics that help explain September 11 and the future of radical Islam. Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Jonathan Clarke argues that while the "clash" theory is not without foundation, if our goal is to mitigate conflict it is "profoundly unhelpful;" and Christian theologian Michael Novak finds common threads that if encouraged, can unite Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

These are just some of the experts who have shared their ideas and findings with the Council over the past few years. At this critical time, we cannot afford to misinterpret or oversimplify these issues. Therefore, the Carnegie Council offers the following essential resources on Islam and the West, including reports on the challenges of integrating Muslim immigrants in Europe and the United States.


Threats to One Humanity
Jonathan Clarke, Carnegie Council Senior Fellow
Jonathan Clarke argues that the "Clash of Civilizations" theory is largely based on mistaken conclusions about the meaning of the end of the Cold War, and could easily become a self-fulfilling prophesy. (Remarks to the U Thant Institute, UN, New York, December 2006)

Storm from the East: The Struggle Between the Arab World and the Christian West
Milton Viorst, Journalist and Author on the Middle East
In order to understand the Arab mistrust of the United States and of the West in general, we must examine the turbulent history of the relations between the Christian and Muslim world, says Viorst, particularly the conflicts and betrayals since World War I. (Public Affairs Lecture, May 2006)

Jere Van Dyk Interviews Milton Viorst
"This is not a new war," says Viorst. "It's the latest chapter in a war that has been going on between two great cultures, Islamic Eastern and the Christian West, for 1,400 years." (Video interview, May 2006)

The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable
Michael Novak, Theologian, Author, and Former U.S. Ambassador
Novak argues that although they remain underdeveloped, the concepts of political, economic, and religious liberty can be found in the Koran. There are strong intellectual currents for democracy in many places in the Arab world and the West's task is to encourage them. (Public Affairs Lecture, October 2004)

The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West
Gilles Kepel, Scholar, Middle East and Islamic World
The September 11 attacks were not an expression of "a clash of civilizations," says Kepel. The reality is much more complex. When Islamic radicals failed to ignite revolutions at home, they focused instead on injuring the "faraway enemy," hoping to galvanize the worldwide Muslim "Ummah" (community of believers). (Public Affairs Lecture, October 2004)

America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests?
Fawaz A. Gerges, Sarah Lawrence College
Fifty years ago, the entire Middle East used to admire the United States, viewing it as an island of progressivism in a Europe-centric world. Today there are no major political groups in the Arab world that are pro-American. What went wrong? Gerges examines the trajectory of recent U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East for some answers. (Public Affairs Lecture, October 2001)


What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
Bernard Lewis, Princeton University
In the Middle East today, there are two prevailing opinions about why the Islamic world now lags behind the West, according to Bernard Lewis. The first is that the Islamic world has simply failed to keep up with modernity. The second is almost the exact opposite: the Islamic world has become too much "like the infidels" and abandoned its own heritage, tradition, and faith. (Public Affairs Lecture, March 2002)

Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies
Ian Buruma, Author and Journalist
Buruma points out that the hatred animating Islamic radicals conforms to the classic counter-Enlightenment vision of Western society as rootless, timid, and soulless; and they learned it from the West in the first place. (Public Affairs Lecture, April 2004)

The Politics of Conceptualizing Islam and the West
Cemil Aydin, University of North Carolina at Charlotte 
Are critiques of the "West" peculiar to the Muslim world? Are they a reflection of a simple discontent with the international order or a conservative rejection of Western-originated, universal modernity? How should Western intellectuals and leaders respond to the Muslim critiques? Cemil Aydin's review essay discusses What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, by Bernard Lewis, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies by Ian Buruma and Avashi Margalit, and Thinking Past Terror: Islamism and Critical Theory on the Left, by Susan Buck-Morss. (Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 18.3. Winter 2004/2005)


Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam
Gilles Kepel, Scholar, Middle East and Islamic World  
Today, Islamist movements in the Middle East are fragmented, according to Gilles Kepel, and no longer have the capacity to mobilize different social groups simultaneously as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet they remain dangerous because they believe jihad is "the other superpower." (Public Affairs Lecture, April 2002)

Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam
John Esposito, Georgetown University
The communications revolution of the late 20th century made Muslims around the world aware that they were part of a global community, a development that helped to "globalize" the idea of jihad, says John Esposito, founding director of the Georgetown Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. (Public Affairs Lecture, May 2002)

The Future of Political Islam
Graham Fuller, RAND Corporation
Fuller predicts that although unlikely to disappear altogether, radical Islamist groups will eventually learn to compromise as more modest groups spring up to compete with them. (Public Affairs Lecture, May 2003)


Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance
Ian Buruma, Author and Journalist 
Ian Buruma discusses the events that led to the brutal murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in a country that prides itself on its tolerance and its generous provisions for immigrants. (Public Affairs Lecture, November 2006)

Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe
Jyette Klausen, Political Scientist
Based on her interviews with over 300 Muslim leaders in Europe, Klausen argues that European Muslims are overwhelmingly liberal in outlook. Their essential goal, she says, is to build a European Islam independent of the Islamic countries. (Public Affairs Lecture, April 2006)

American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion
Paul M. Barrett, Journalist
Over six million Muslims of different backgrounds live in the United States, and for the most part, says Paul Barrett, they are highly assimilated. But in certain areas this group has very different views of the world, and we need to understand their complexity.  (Public Affairs Lecture, March 2007)

Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah
Olivier Roy, CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research)
The spread of Islam around the globe has blurred the connection between a religion, a specific society, and a territory, says Olivier Roy. Accordingly, neofundamentalism has been gaining ground among a rootless Muslim youth—particularly among the second- and third-generation migrants in the West—and this phenomenon is feeding new forms of radicalism, ranging from support for Al Qaeda to the outright rejection of integration into Western society. (Public Affairs Lecture, March 2006)