Handicapping the clash of civilizations: bet on the West to win big

Summary:  Western history is one of clashing cultures, as we see today on a global scale today. Again we respond to jihad with crusade. Previous posts discussed the military dimension of this long war. This post looks at the big picture. Western culture will crush our foes, as it did in the Cold War. We need only remain strong and avoid bold errors that bring defeat (as the Syracuse expedition did to Athens).

“They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”
Speech by President Bush, 20 September 2001.

Crusade vs Jihad

We attack them with invincible weapons

The people of fundamentalist Islamic regimes suffer an unrelenting bombardment by a callous great power that casually and thoughtlessly destroys their society with high-tech weapons against which they have no defense. It attacks at a people’s most vulnerable point: their children, interrupting the delicate transfer of beliefs from one generation to another.

Radio, television, rock music, Hollywood blockbusters, video games, the internet — all bombard their children with images of affluence, of easy sex, of enjoyable booze and drugs, of freedom from patriarchal authority — showing them a more attractive way of life. We attack them like a high-tech Pied Piper.

Western culture acts as a virus, with the American strain its most virulent. A more accurate analogy is that our culture acts as a mass meme displacing weaker ones. In Silicon Valley they speak of “mindspace.” America exports our ways to fill the minds of the world’s people — crowding out their native culture. Martin van Creveld describes this as “colonizing the future.”

The vital centers of Middle Eastern Islamic culture — Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria — adapt, albeit slowly and painfully. But what of the more fragile and rigid societies? Such as Saudi Arabia (and the other Gulf States)?

To survive in the 21st century their leadership class must understand western methods. So they send their young men to western schools, from which most return infected with western values. They hide their vices behind the walls of their wealth, with weekends in Paris and Bahrain — but their people nonetheless know — undermining the Princes’ shallow authority and inevitably weakening their alliance with the Wahhabi ulema, the state’s foundation.

We are like the Borg (in the Star Trek universe).

  1. The world watches our movies and listens to our music.
  2. Our values are “human rights”, which become the universal standard before which all must genuflect (to sooth their feelings we pretend to believe in multiculturalism).
  3. Our political system, which we call “democracy”, becomes the sole legitimate form, to which even tyrants must pay tribute via sham elections.
  4. Nations must adopt our economic system, which we call “capitalism”; the alternative is autarky and poverty.
  5. We employ technology to break the natural biological order by freeing gender from sex. Control of contraception destroys cultures based on highly differentiated gender roles.


Can they successfully defend against us?

Probably not. Ideas and technology have always spread irresistibly. Cultures that have walled themselves off, such as China did for centuries, suffered as a result. Globalization makes borders porous. Travel and trade allow cultural contagions to spread rapidly across the globe. Modern communications technology allows the first two factors to change cultures in years instead of over generations.

Sayyid Qutb

Don’t expect them to like us

We should not expect the people of other societies to like the challenges we force upon them. After all, most Americans despise some aspects of our culture. Nor will the elites of other lands obligingly and quietly die to ease their societies’ adoption of western ways, as did King Mongkut of Siam in the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I”.

This is clearly seen by those of the West who dislike western society, such as Charles Allen. In God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad he blames Hollywood and the Left for the enmity so many Muslim people feel towards us. He believes America has polluted the world with its combination of degeneracy, pornography, and radical feminism. He sees Jihad as a natural if regrettable response.

We need not listen to westerners to understand the Islamic fundamentalist perspective, as they have written about this challenge often since WWII.

The impact of western culture on Islam was clearly foreseen by Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian intellectual and Islamist (1906 – 1966) when studying in 1949 at the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley, Colorado.  Established as a utopian community in 1870, the city proudly maintained in the 1940’s the moral rigour, temperance, and civil-mindedness that were the hallmarks of its founding fathers. Greeley’s highly touted civic virtue, however, made very little impression on Qutb. In his mind, the inhabitants of Greeley, far from representing a kinder and gentler population of Americans, carried within themselves the same moral flaws of materialism and degeneracy that were characteristic of Occidental civilization in general.

He recounted how he once attended a church dance and was scandalized by the occasion’s “seductive atmosphere”. As Qutb wrote, “the dancing intensified,” and the “hall swarmed with legs”. … Qutb’s American writings are laced with such anecdotes, which reveal a strong concern with moral issues, especially concerning matters of sexuality.

— “Sayyid Qutb in America,” ISIM Review, newsletter of the International Institute for the Study of Islam, March 2001 (PDF here).

For more detail see Brynjar Lia’s Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al-Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri (2008) — or the summary in “Laptop Jihadi” by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books.

For a more analytical perspective on this see Samuel P. Huntington’s seminal article “The clash of civilizations?“ in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, later expanded into The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Winds of Change

Who is at fault for this conflict? America or them?

Please consult a priest or philosopher for answers to such questions. here we discuss what was, what is, and what might be. More importantly, neither Mother Nature nor Mistress Clio (the muse of history) cares about blame. Nor should we. Instead let’s have empathy for those whose cultures we threaten — and probably will irrevocably change. No matter if we disagree with their values, we can understand and sympathize with their anguish and lost traditions.

Other posts in this series

  1. How America can survive – even prosper – in the 21st century: a defensive strategy.
  2. Why we lose wars so often. How we can win in the future.
  3. Handicapping the clash of civilizations: bet on the West to win big.
  4. Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.

Also see William Lind’s “Strategic Defense Initiative”! For an explanation of what we’re doing now, see What is America’s geopolitical strategy? (Spoiler: it’s quite mad.)

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See other posts about Saudi Arabia, and all posts about Islam, and especially these about this aspect of the long war:

  1. The Fight for Islamic Hearts and Minds.
  2. A look at al Qaeda, the long war — and us.
  3. How I learned to stop worrying and love Fourth Generation War. We can win at this game.
  4. We are the attackers in the Clash of Civilizations. We’re winning.

Let’s avoid repeating these


33 thoughts on “Handicapping the clash of civilizations: bet on the West to win big”

  1. Brilliant, the best post I have seen in FM in a few years, you do respond well to challenge after all. :)

    Congratulations, +1000 for this level of writing

  2. Qutb felt that both Turkey and Egypt were too liberal. I never understood why he wanted to study in the U.S. What did he expect?

    I read an account several years ago that Qutb freaked out on the ship on his way to the U.S. because he observed a woman’s bathing suit top fall off and expose her cleavage.

    He’s a very interesting study, and the way he was treated by the Egyptian government in the 1960’s should have cautioned us about our own approach after 9/11.

  3. I think the series is spot on.

    Main theme: of pick your battles cannot be said enough. Don’t fight with a pig in the mud because the pig likes to get dirty.

    As I’ve told you privately, I have no what will happen in the short term, but, in the long run, we’ll win out as you mentioned here. When you look past the violence, this jihad offers nothing for the people in terms of economic prosperity or a better life. It will fade away, and we should not self-destruct with it.

    We can’t help those who refuse to help themselves, and we should implement a policy of attraction rather than promotion/forcing.

    1. Mike,

      It is bin Laden’s great accomplishment to lure a hegemon into the quicksand. It’s a brilliant form of asymmetric conflict, and quite rare to have it done as deliberate strategy.

      I agree that the Islamic fundamentalist culture is doomed in its current reform (i.e., only through reformation can it survive). I worry that, as you mention, we might self-destruct. Wars are dangerous tools.

  4. Fabius Maximus,

    Beware! You claim that we attack these cultures with invincible weapons, but you ignore the forces that come back with us in this war. Corruption, worship of force, extremism, and acceptance of gross inequality are all being imported from our civilizational enemies.

    Who has changed more since the conflict first reached America’s shores on 9/11? Does Iraq look more like the US or the US more like Iraq? What about Afghanistan and Yemen? Our leaders behave more like the dictators they fought and rely more on “Republican Guard” type units that use torture and fear than ever before.

    War changes both sides. Clashes reduce both sides to a brutal singularity. I say we lose as much as they gain.

    PF Khans

    1. PFK,

      “Does Iraq look more like the US or the US more like Iraq? What about Afghanistan and Yemen?”

      Wow. That’s really over the top.

      “Corruption, worship of force, extremism, and acceptance of gross inequality are all being imported from our civilizational enemies.”

      I suggest you read about US history. Those things are quite common in U.S. History; we have no need to import them.

      • Current levels of inequality are returning to those in the Gilded Age.
      • I doubt corruption has returned to late-19th C levels.
      • Worship of force — we didn’t spread across the continent by listening to Jesus.
      • Extremism is the mother’s milk of US politics.
  5. FM offers this: “Instead let’s have empathy for those whose cultures we threaten — and probably will irrevocably change. No matter if we disagree with their values, we can understand and sympathize with their anguish and lost traditions.”

    How thoughtful. How deeply caring. Such heartfelt emotions are the hallmark of a grand society! So value neutral in the usual way. No need for any other explorations in such a viewpoint. The Meaning of Life is solved! So American! Thank you,


  6. robertobuffagni

    In “The World and the West” (1953) Arnold Toynbee wrote:

    “In the encounter between the world and the West that has been going on for four or five hundred years, the world, not the West, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit–and hit hard–by the West…

    The secret of the West’s superiority to the rest of the world in the art of war from the seventeenth century onwards is not to be found just in Western weapons, drill, and military training. It is not even to be found just in the civilian technology that supplies the military equipment. It cannot be understood without taking into account the whole mind and soul of the Western Society of the day…
    Perhaps…we have stumbled upon a ‘law’ (if one may call it that) which applies, not just to a single case, but to all encounters between any civilization. This ‘law’ is to the effect that a fragment of a culture, split off from the whole and radiated abroad by itself, is likely to meet with less resistance, and therefore likely to travel faster and further, than the culture as a whole when this is radiated en bloc…
    In application, it is Western technology–and the capitalist/market-based system for producing it–that has been the penetrating splinter. And, with that in mind, there is a vitally important corollary to the law:
    Technology operates on the surface of life, and therefore it seems practicable to adopt a foreign technology without putting oneself in danger of ceasing to be able to call one’s soul one’s own. This notion, that, in adopting a foreign technology, one is incurring only a limited liability may, of course, be a miscalculation. The truth seems to be that all the different elements of a culture-pattern have an inner connexion with each other, so that, if one abandons one’s own traditional technology and adopts a foreign technology instead, the effect of this change on the technological surface of life will not remain confined to the surface, but will gradually work its way down to the depths till the whole of one’s traditional culture has been undermined and the whole of the foreign culture has been given entry, bit by bit, through the gap made in the outer ring of one’s cultural defenses by the foreign technology’s entering wedge…

    A loose strand of cultural radiation, like a loose electron or a loose contagious disease, may prove deadly when it is disengaged from the system within which it has been functioning hitherto and is set free to range abroad by itself in a different milieu. In its original setting, this culture-strand or bacillus or electron was restrained from working havoc because it was kept in order by its associations with other components of a pattern in which the divers participants were in equilibrium. In escaping from its original setting, the liberated particle, bacillus, or culture-strand will not have changed its nature; but the same nature will produce a deadly effect, instead of a harmless one, now that the creature has broken loose from its original associations. In these circumstances, ‘one man’s meat’ can become ‘another man’s poison’. ”

    N.B. He wrote, too (in “Civilization on Trial”, 1948) that the survival or decline of any civilization depends on whether it is spiritual or secular, that our civilization is becoming increasingly of the latter type; hence, it is doomed.

    1. Roberto,

      Thanks for posting this fascinating excerpt.

      As for Toynbee’s prediction that western civ is doomed, after 67 years I think we can color it as “proven false” in any usual sense of the word “doomed”. Much like Spengler’s “Decline of the West” theory (1918). Note that both wrote after great wars, which seemed to have darkened their vision.

    2. robertobuffagni

      Personally, I agree. I think that Toynbee would reply that the time-span he was considering is much more longer than one century (he talked about civilizations, not about their political form; and for him, there’s no civilization without religion).

      1. Robeto,

        I wonder if it’s fair to Toynbee to say he was predicting that the West was doomed over a timeframe measured in centuries. That reduces his bold prediction to a truism — obviously true and hence nothing new. Queen Gertrude says to Hamlet (Act I, scene 2):

        Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
        And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
        Do not for ever with thy veiled lids
        Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
        Thou know’st ’tis common;
        all that lives must die,
        Passing through nature to eternity.

  7. Every society has stories about its identity it tells itself. Outsiders take these stories at face value, which deceives them. Just as western narrations emphasize “freedom, equality, lust and wealth, etc.”other narrations emphasize “authority/status, family, compassion, solidarity, order etc.”

    Of course to insiders of those societies they intuitively know their own societies are not that simplistic. But they often see others as the caricatures those others present themselves as. And strangely people often talk amongst their own group overtly in the language of these simplistic narrations, while behaving very differently and in a more complex manner. I am not sure what to make of this, other than to point out this is likely just a part of human nature.

    This mentality often results in many easterners copying western technology, pop culture and dress thinking the sources of their power will rub of on them. But they are unwilling to copy the deeper values of critical inquiry and consultation (instead of relying more on authority/status) which were the causes. Many copy the consequences without incorporating the deeper causes.

    On whether technology destroys core moral values… It is unmistakable that it has a huge effect on the practical application of any moral values. However to say that it necessarily destroys core values is historically untrue. Are these last hundred years a big exception? The start of a new trend? Any technology is dual-use and double-edged.The difference with higher lever technology is that it takes much more skill to master it, and it takes more perseverance to prevent from being mastered by its power. But this all depends on the wielder.

    And in all adversity there is the seed for much more benefit. In fact there is no flourishing of human morality except through adversity.

    However the observation that morality overall is in decline is correct.

    1. Saif,

      “there is no flourishing of human morality except through adversity. However the observation that morality overall is in decline is correct.”

      Can you explain these two statements? They’re big picture statements, fascinating but impossible to definitively answer. My initial guess is that both seem incorrect.

    2. 1. “In fact there is no flourishing of human morality except through adversity.”
      For example
      – without the oppression of the British there would be no North American struggle for Independence
      – the compassion of the mother is increased by the fragility her infant and the challenges it is expected to face
      The greatest heroes usually rise during the most challenging of circumstances, even if those circumstances are created by the society itself they live in.

      In direct relation to the article, yes the full spectrum multimedia onslaught on non-western societies had definitely taken its toll on their cultures (I don’t know how to better define this as “culture”, but it feels inaccurate). Many of them to counteract this, have become even more rigid, inflexible and isolationist. I think this will spell their decline unless they transform, especially because their isolationist paradigms will not transfer well to their offspring living in a new world order.
      However many others who see both the strength of both their own traditions and the “other” western culture and are able to analyze and synthesize the best of both worlds will have an edge on both groups. Today these individuals often become influential in the fringes of their own groups and the youth. However the old ways still predominate in many groups.

      2. “However the observation that morality overall is in decline is correct.”

      US culture has definitely gained much ground in non-western societies. From my observations perhaps even more so in Asian countries than in European countries who see themselves as cultural equals or superiors to the USA.
      This necessarily accompanies a decrease in morality. Morality as defined by their own cultures. Drug and alcohol use, sex outside marriage, overemphasis on individual base desires etc.
      From my observations western societies are better able to deal with the vices of their own culture. Partly because when they say “Freedom, Democracy etc.” they say it, but they don’t completely behave like it (which is a good thing). While many outsiders take those statements at face value and just run with them and take them to their limits. Like kids who never ate candy let loose in a candy story.

      These observations are of course anecdotal.

      * The success of the USA in dominating the world culturally is also one of its big weaknesses. While all other countries know the USA (even if it is in a somewhat distorted manner) and they know themselves, it is much more difficult for people in the USA to learn about other countries. For example everyone around the world knows when the USA has presidential elections, and they know a bit about their politics. The other way around, not that much.

      1. Saif,

        I think we define these things differently. Neither of your two examples shows imo an increase in morality. I am skeptical that the American Revolution was an exercise in morality, let alone showed an increase in one. And certainly events forcing mothers to act SHOWS their compassion, but does not increase it.

        “Morality is defined by their own culture”

        So any cultural change results in a decrease of morality by your equation. So westernization of foreign cultures in the elimination of slavery and granting rights to women is a decrease in morality. Not in my calculus.

    3. FM,

      I apologize if I haven’t clearly defined these matters enough, but doing so would likely result in a book, since everyone has their own perspective of what is right and wrong, even if there are some areas of overlap.

      “Morality as defined by their own cultures.”
      I am here referring to the traditional moral standards of those societies, in contrast to modern culture. Although they have of course varied throughout time, I do see them as universal timeless values not a variable.

      The “traditional” cultures put more emphasis on social cohesion and duty, theoretically “do unto others as they would do unto themselves”. (The Golden Rule)

      While modern western culture puts more emphasis on individual expression and rights, “don’t do unto others as you would not do unto yourself” as the only theoretical constraint. (The Silver Rule)

      I think this is the fundamental difference between the basis modern western and many traditional non-western cultures.

      The best path is the middle higher path, combining the best of both.

      One extreme always seeds its opposite extreme.

      Slavery actually has not been completely eliminated, especially in the USA.
      If we ignore illegal human trafficking and forced prostitution, there is still the aberration of the USA prison/legal system. Prisoners are basically slaves of the state and practically also slaves of the corporations running the prisons. I would argue this is not an exception but a feature of the system itself, but that is another topic.
      Of course the oppression of women is wrong, but now in the west the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that it is discouraging many men from engaging in marriage for fear of the disastrous effects of divorce (and some say even marriage itself).

      My point is the whole system is out of balance.

      I would define morality (for mortals) as a moral being choosing to do the right thing with the right intention to the best of their ability.
      I feel the definition is missing something about the aspect of the soul/heart, but what is clear is that someone can’t be good (at least at that moment) and choose to act evil with an evil intention while having the power to abstain from it.
      Likewise the heart/soul(or whatever one calls it) is corrupted by evil actions and purified by good actions.

      The full spectrum media onslaught against doing the right thing, forces people towards evil. But this makes doing even the smallest of good that much more valuable.

      Living in Western Europe, I am grateful for the benefits of living here. However I am not blind to the fact that our relative comfort is paid at the expense of oppressing non western countries. And that even if those weaker African and Asian countries would try to actually emulate the western system, our governments and corporations would never allow that. At least not without a fight. For if they did, they would become the worst adversaries.
      They are in a bind, having to leave behind their past, not being allowed into the present western system as equals, they have to find their own path towards their future.

      Thanks for your reply and forcing me to clarify myself better. Writing improves with good feedback.

      1. Saif,

        “Slavery actually has not been completely eliminated, especially in the USA.”

        False on two levels. First, there are criminals who keep slaves, but slavery is a system of legalized forced labor. Crime can not be completely eliminated.

        Second, the lurid accounts of sex slavery so beloved by the media have been repeatedly proven false for decades. Here’s a rebuttal to the claims about sex trafficking in the US (a broader category). Here are rebuttals to the stories of massive sex slavery: here and here.

    1. Elle,

      That’s because I spelled it as Cleo, not Clio. Not something my spellchecker can catch. Usually I include a Wikipedia link, which would have caught my error (and made it easier for you to learn who she was). As per our previous discussion, giving references adds value in many ways.

  8. robertobuffagni

    Feeling a little uneasy in speaking for Mr. Toynbee, I’ll borrow the words of another philosopher of history, the Irish Desmond Fennell.

    “A civilization is essentially a grounded hierarchy of values and rules coveting all of life and making sense, which a citied community’s rulers and ruled subscribe to over a long period.

    The post-European collection of rules – new ones combined with some old that by the 1990s had come to hold sway in the west didi not and could not make sense to the human collective, white westerners in the first place, which was brought to accept it.

    What white westerners were faced with was a framework for life similar to that which had confronted every so-called ‘primitive tribe’ after its rules system had been adulterated by colonising Europeans. The resulting hybryd of old and new lacked, apriori, two qualities which a set of rules-to-live-by must possess to make sense to a human community: namely, a venerated source, divine or human,guaranteeing the rightness of the rules, and a single rational structure pervading all domains of life from the most abstract to the most particular.”
    “Third Stroke Did It: the Staggewred End of European Civilization”, Publibook, Ireland 2012

    A 30-pages essay which I cannot sinthesize in a post, but which I warmly recommend.

  9. Saw Google cardboard today. The next truly big thing is pretty much here right now. Implications for porn are staggering. All is proceeding as you have foreseen but quicker than any thought possible.

  10. Agreed: America will win the Long War. That’s the good news.

    The bad news? It will be a Pyrhhic victory.

  11. The West is dying of old age and getting mized with other cultures! By the way Saudi Arabia is holding up the dollar. But I think when it disintegrates as i likely bye bye US economy as US has antagonized other potential pillars of the “petrodollar”! As the now majority of low income kids mature into adults-one thing is clear US is addicted to debt, as income won’t be able to meet its lifestyle!

    1. Winston,

      “By the way Saudi Arabia is holding up the dollar.”
      That sounds unlikely. First, the dollar is strong and rising — nobody is “holding it up”. Second, the Saudi’s are almost certainly selling US dollars to fund their massive budget deficit.

      “But I think when it disintegrates as i likely”

      “bye bye US economy”
      We’d be better off if the USD was weaker. “Distintegarting” would be bad, but there’s no visible reason for that to happen.

      as US has antagonized other potential pillars of the “petrodollar”!

  12. These guys are/have been US tools
    A new memoir by a former senior State Department analyst provides stunning details on how decades of support for Islamist militants linked to Osama bin Laden brought about the emergence of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS).
    The book establishes a crucial context for recent admissions by Michael T. Flynn, the retired head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), confirming that White House officials made a “willful decision” to support al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists in Syria — despite being warned by the DIA that doing so would likely create an ‘ISIS’-like entity in the region.

    But in a recent interview on Al-Jazeera’s flagship talk-show ‘Head to Head,’former DIA chief Lieutenant General (Lt. Gen.) Michael Flynn told host Mehdi Hasan that the rise of ISIS was a direct consequence of US support for Syrian insurgents whose core fighters were from al-Qaeda in Iraq.
    Officials: Islamic State arose from US support for al-Qaeda in Iraq
    A former Pentagon intelligence chief, Iraqi government sources, and a retired career US diplomat reveal US complicity in the rise of ISIS

    1. Winston,

      That’s all quite false. That the US decided to support the broad insurgency in Syria did not make them “US tools”. We hoped that would happen — that we our support would gain leverage over them — but it did not. That US leaders ignored the area experts in their intel is a common occurrence (see “Vietnam War” in the history books). Here’s the interview with Flynn.

      HASAN: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?

      FLYNN: I think the administration.

      HASAN: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?

      FLYNN: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.

      HASAN: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?

      FLYNN: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.

  13. Pingback: Martin van Creveld explains why the Middle East is a disaster area | Moroccan News Update

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