By Jacob Thomas
On Sunday, March 5, 2006, the In Depth Program on C-Span2 aired a 3-hour interview and call-in show with Francis Fukuyama. It was a very riveting television show that acquainted us with the titles of the literary works of the professor, such as The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992), and America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy (Yale University Press, March 2006).
It is not my intention to comment on the entire program as it ranged over a variety of subjects. My specific concern is Fukuyama’s views of world history, and his thoughts on Islam.
One of his early statements that caught my attention posited equivalence between Islam and Christianity. As far as I recall, he said something like this: “Seventy years ago, the Christian West had Nazi ideology, while at the same time the Muslim world was more tolerant.”
When asked about his view of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996,) it became quite apparent that he held an opposite view, even when it had to do with the “clash” between Islam and the West.
It was extremely unfortunate that the professor, whose fame has become global, (his End of History has been translated into many languages including Arabic,) juxtaposed the Christian West with Nazi ideology. Adolph Hitler did not base his National Socialism on the Christian tradition. He persecuted all Christians who criticized his policies. How can we ever forget the heroism of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “whose efforts to help a group of Jews escape to Switzerland were what first led to his arrest and imprisonment in 1943? He was hanged in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, one of four members of his immediate family to die at the hands of the Nazi regime for their participation in the small Protestant resistance movement.”*
Professor Fukuyama grew up in a pastor’s home, as his father was a minister in the United Church of Christ. In the interview, he said that his father’s theology was liberal. He did not consider himself to be a “practicing Christian.”
Unfortunately, Fukuyama, who said a good deal about Islam and the Middle East, did not evidence a proper knowledge of the history of Islam and its civilization. And yet he persisted in denying “the clash” between Islam and the West, because to acknowledge it would go against his basic philosophical commitment. He must have forgotten the utterly different ways in which Christianity and Islam spread in the world. Nothing in the history of the Church compares with the futuhat (conquests) of Islam in Asia, Africa, and Europe. They began in 632 A.D., first under Arab auspices, and later on, under the leadership of the Ottoman Turks, and continued for centuries.
A basic knowledge of European history would inform us that merely twelve years after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation (1517,) the Turks laid their first siege of Vienna. It was Islam that attacked the West, and not vice versa. And even though Western colonialism dominated most of the Muslim world for some centuries, yet it was neither a total domination, nor a final colonization of that world. On the other hand, most of the lands conquered by Islam have remained under their domination to this very day. It is too bad that a professor, who teaches at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, does not give any attention to the brute facts of history! However, as Roger Kimball reminded us when commenting on “The End of History”:
We have Fukuyama the philosopher, impressively erudite, deeply committed to a neo-Hegelian view of the historical process. This Fukuyama seems to put greater stock in ideas than facts (indeed, one suspects that he would scorn the distinction between ideas and facts as an artificial construct). [Emphasis is mine JT]
Like most world-explaining constructions invented by humanity, Hegel’s dialectic acts as catnip on susceptible souls. Once one is seduced, everything seems marvelously clear and, above all, necessary: all important questions have been answered beforehand and the only real task is to apply the method to clean up the untoward messiness of reality. It is very exciting. “All of the really big questions,” as Fukuyama puts it in his preface, “had been settled.” But the problem with such constructs is that they insulate their adherents from empirical reality: since everything unfolds “necessarily” according to a preordained plan, nothing that merely happens in the world can alter the itinerary.
One of the most serious moral problems with the idea of the End of History is that it implacably transforms everything outside the purview of the theory into a historical “accident” or exception, draining it of moral significance. Hegel’s system tells us what has to happen; what actually does happen turns out not to matter much. Fukuyama admits that “we have no guarantees” that the future will not produce more Hitlers or Pol Pots. **
I turn now to Monsieur le President Jacques Chirac. During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, he stated: “We must stop all those who fabricate the Clash of the Ignorant” The headline in the online daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat of March 6 proclaimed, “The first Western leader addresses Majlis al-Shura [the newly-organized Saudi approximation to a Parliament]. Chirac declared that France and Saudi Arabia must work together in the war against Irhab (terrorism) and extremism. He went on to say that both countries must stop all those who would create the ‘Clash of the ignorant’ [!] that some call the ‘Clash of civilizations.’”
What a pity that the President of France, having recently experienced some by-products of the Clash, joined in the chorus of its deniers! Has he forgotten one of the earliest pieces of French literature (le Chanson de Roland) that describes the death of Roland, as he fought the Saracens who were attacking France across the Pyrenees?
Finally I am indebted to Martin Kramer’s description of the continued attempts to persist in the denial of the Clash. On Wednesday, March 08, 2006, he wrote:
The West (and Israel) have mocked the prophet—not Muhammad, but Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations. Our elites have spent a decade denying the truth at the core of his thesis: that the Islamic world and the West are bound to collide. Even now, we glibly predict that possession of political power and nuclear weapons will make Islamists act predictably. It all makes perfect sense—to us. But the cartoon affair and the Hamas elections are timely reminders that our perfect sense isn't theirs.
Fortunately, it isn't too late. There is a clash of civilizations, but there isn't yet a war of the worlds. "You do not have God," they say. "God is with us." That is their prayer. But they lack power, resources and weapons. Today they burn flags; a united West can still deny them the means to burn more. It can do so if it acts swiftly and resolutely, to keep nuclear fire out of Iran's hands, and to assure that Hamas fails. ***
The more the denials of the Clash persist, the more it becomes evident that they are not based on a realistic reading of the history of the last 1400 years. They are either politically motivated or springing from philosophical positions that ignore the real world. But a realistic reading of the authoritative texts of Islam: Qur’an, Hadith, and the Sirats of the Prophet, coupled with an experiential knowledge of contemporaneous Islamic history, would make us fully aware of the Clash. What a pity, that so many Western “experts” and “pundits,” keep telling us that it doesn’t exist, or that it is simply a Clash of the Ignorant!