As people the world over shout out in unison their unwavering support and sympathy for the victims across Paris, we are remiss to not connect and unify the similar atrocities that occurred just before and just after France in Lebanon and Kenya.
This is not an insipid American liberal diatribe, trying to shame people for caring about the ‘white Western’ victims while barely paying attention to the ‘less white Middle East’ victims and even ‘lesser white African’ victims. That type of limited and mind-numbingly ignorant categorizing needs to stop in what is truly a civilizational battle for the soul of the globe. Make no mistake: all of these victims that crossed the spectrum geographically, religiously, racially, ethnically are forming an ever-lengthening line. And it is a line that should only be considered the march of Huntington’s martyrs.
Samuel Huntington, with his seminal and polarizing musings on ‘the Clash of Civilizations,’ was both prophetically right and disturbingly wrong. Indeed, his thesis basically engineered an entire generation of academics dedicated solely to either making him a deity or decrying him a demon. The ironic thing is he was neither: his work simply pointed in a direction for future conflict that would often prove true while also making major errors in just how the shape and scope of that actual conflict would emerge. What we have today is not ‘civilizational’ conflict as Huntington described where Islamic civilization is trying to destroy Western civilization. That is an unsubtle and inaccurate characterization. The people and their worldviews behind the disgusting and pathetic acts in France, Lebanon, and Kenya are not fighting ‘Western civilization’ or ‘Western citizens.’ What these attacks represent is a brazen attempt to undo the civilization we should all be calling ENLIGHTENED MODERNITY.
It is this civilization that has swept across the world, across almost all countries, been infused within almost all people, and represents the simple desire to live openly and peacefully and successfully, where people offer no interference to others pursuing the same while expecting no interference in their own similar pursuits. It does not matter from where this civilization’s ethos first emerged: every country and culture has largely adopted and adapted it to its own colorings and style. It is truly a global endeavor now. Enlightened Modernity is the civilization that was in the music theatre in Paris, the hospital in Beirut, and the university in Garissa. It is now a civilizational ethic that unifies all people regardless of location, upbringing, color, or creed: it is the desire to make oneself better while living without fear of unjust atrocity and expecting protection from baseless violence.
Standing against this civilization, engaged in a nihilistic battle of annihilation with it, is what I simply call the ZEALOT ETHIC. It is this civilization that offers no room for negotiation, no space for peaceful coexistence, and breeds an orgiastic passion to destroy anything that does not conform. It is the world of the zealot that ran through the streets of Paris, Beirut, Garissa, and many other places we have either forgotten about or never even bothered to make note of, with guns and home-made explosive devices aimed to do one very elementary thing: destroy enlightenment and modernity and wash the world in the fear of zealous outrage, blind ignorance, and violent judgment. It is this battle that must be waged holistically. The old battle lines of traditional warfare must be erased: the ones that make states and cultures and religions and peoples try to fight the battle individually, on their own, left to their own devices and methods, when only a truly unified and global bombardment can succeed.
Indeed, the members of the ZEALOT ETHIC have capitalized on our own prideful ignorance now for decades. Historically, it has always been the ‘high culture,’ the colonizers and imperialists, who deftly employed a divide-and-conquer strategy to maintain leverage and sow discord wherever they wanted advantage. What we have failed to realize is how the Enlightened Modern World has fed directly into this mistake against the Zealots. The Christians do not fight this war together with the Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. The Americans do not fight these battles together with the Russians or the Chinese. Everyone earnestly pledges sympathy and unity in the face of atrocity after atrocity while simultaneously refusing to put aside old grudges (even temporarily) to tackle the greater enemy and threat. This stubborn arrogance to go it alone benefits only the zealots, who have far softer targets for killing, far lower thresholds for success, and far easier standards for declaring victory. Back in the 1990s, when Russia was neck-deep in repulsing a religious jihad waged by Chechen mujahideen, one Russian general was famously attributed as saying, ‘how do you deter an enemy when he can stare straight down the barrel of your gun and see only Paradise?’ This is the single basic reality of zealots that enlightened moderns often confuse or are simply too uncomfortable to admit: this battle cannot be for conversion or epiphany or deterrence. It is to the death simply because one side wants it that way.
This should be reminiscent to all of the painstaking effort George W. Bush made time and time again after 9/11, telling everyone that the Global War on Terror was NOT a war against Muslims or a war against Islam. Many people in America took that to be simply a necessary nod to diplomatic political correctness, while others found the remark accurate and inspiring. Bush was adamant, in a non-deferential rejection of Huntington, that America was NOT fighting a war against Islamic civilization. The problem, of course, was that Osama bin Laden was on the other side of the world preaching the exact opposite. For him and his followers, that is exactly what they were engaged in and exactly what they were trying to craft: a millenarian struggle to bring the apocalypse about which they rapturously fantasize. Unfortunately, just like love, war does not need consensus: if one side is saying it is a battle for civilization, then it is, plain and simple. You need two people to be in love, but only one to fall out of it. You need two people to sustain meaningful and lasting peace, but only one person to utterly destroy it. The mistake we have made for nearly two decades now is that we have ignorantly drawn up civilizational lines based on geography, political ideology, state/religious boundaries, even economic strategies. These lines have allowed us to divide ourselves into ever smaller camps, making the undersides of our societies ever easier and more susceptible to bloodshed and horror. In this battle it has never been the West against the Rest. It has never been white against color. It has never been the Global North against the Global South. It has ALWAYS been the Moderns against the Zealots. Until the world embraces this reality and begins to smash its own self-imposed boundaries of nationalism, statehood, religion, ethnicity, and geography, it will constantly be putting itself in a limited and exposed position against this enemy. And scenes like the ones played out in France, Lebanon, and Kenya will continue.
This is a hard thing to come to terms with, a deeply sorrowful conclusion to make for a Modern. Enlightened Modernity has always prided itself on being a belief system and a worldview that can literally embrace all people and all regions. It was with the sincerest of good-intentions that it believed the only thing necessary was honest and transparent exposure to its ideals and the intense shining light of rational freedom would carry the day. For the most part, and this is important, it is true: the civilization of Enlightened Modernity can be found in almost every country and most certainly within the majority of every people. But it is in the desire to see TOTAL acceptance, to see the absence of any exceptions to that acceptance, which has pushed Moderns from the path of reality. The Zealots of this world were never going to be converted. They will never achieve the epiphany for which Enlightened Moderns hope. And because of the very nature of zealotry, deterrence of such a group is not possible. This simple lesson in logic is what the world needs to remember now more than ever. While this fight is civilizational we must finally recognize what the civilization actually is that we are fighting and what options are, and are not, available for the fight. In the end, one bitter but eternal fact must be accepted: you cannot grant life to an enemy that only wants death.