Photo from Daniel Pipes' web site. From left to right: Daniel Pipes, Gavin Esler (moderator), Ken Livingstone, Salma Yaqoob.
A World Civilisation or Clash of Civilisations?
an edited guest post by Jonathan HoffmanLATEST UPDATE: YouTube clips and transcript highlights of the platform debate.
UPDATE: Oliver Kamm's excellent commentary on the Conference is here.
UPDATE UPDATE:Daniel Pipes' own account is here; more good commentaries from Ami here and from Sharon Chadha here. A very interesting account from Sunny at Pickled Politics is very hostile to Daniel Pipes but acknowledges he and Murray had far better arguments than Livingstone and Yaqoob.
I went to hear Daniel Pipes speak at SOAS on Thursday night. I came away very gloomy about Saturday's debate with Ken Livingstone. Pipes had been so negative - Oslo was a failure, the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan had been failures, Israel has lost through diplomacy what it gained militarily, diplomacy is almost hopeless, the only solution will be when one side gives up its aspirations, the NGOs should adopt the same definition of 'refugee' as UNHCR - someone who has personally fled rather than including the children and grandchildren of a first generation refugee too.
I’m so happy to admit that I could not have been more wrong. Pipes was magnificent at the Conference. Daniel went into the lion’s den and not only did he survive, he pulverised the lion.
Moreover, he (and his co-speaker, Douglas Murray) got just as much applause as Ken and his co-speaker, Councillor Salma Yaqoob. This was quite remarkable, given the timing of the Conference, which meant that many in the Jewish community missed the daytime programme. And yet more – Israel was not even mentioned in any of the four principal morning speeches on the main topic.
Ken spoke first. Predictably, he seized the moral high ground by saying what a multicultural, harmonious City London is. Huntington’s original ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis had set Western values against those of Islam and of Confucius and wasn’t that misjudging the odds, since these form 2/3rds of the world’s population (trust Ken to do the political calculus). Also predictable was that Ken - ever the populist – would refer to Celebrity Big Brother early on in his speech. The fact that 82% of the vote had been against Jade Goody was very revealing -he said - about the transformation of British society – it would not have happened 30 years ago. Had the vote gone the other way, Ken said he would have to have caught the next flight to India (the second largest source of UK investment, he said).
He went on to discuss his relations with Islamists and with the IRA. Yes – he said – he did meet IRA leaders when he was GLC Leader, and more recently he has met Qaradawi – because he believes in talking to people to try to change them. He does not agree with the Caliphate but is prepared to speak to Qaradawi because he represents ‘the future of Islam’. Here he quoted Max Hastings who apparently said that there was no point in studying any culture except that of Europe . The Chief Rabbi had spoken about a “tsunami of anti-Semitism in Europe” but here in London it had declined. Ken’s peroration followed. The US had been able to vanquish Communism because of its superior economic power. But now the US was increasingly having to share economic power with China and increasingly India . He linked this back to multiculturalism and the need to appreciate all cultures.
Daniel Pipes spoke next. I also went to his talk on Saturday evening at South Hampstead Synagogue. There he said that in the run-up to the Conference he had received so many emails from London warning him that the audience would be very hostile that he had worked harder on this speech than any other that he had ever given.
It certainly paid off – his speech was outstanding – well-judged, scholarly, well moderated and logical throughout. He began by going back to Samuel Huntington’s original “Clash of Civilisations” paper in Foreign Affairs in 1993. Huntington had warned that clashes between civilisations had become the greatest threat to world peace. He had identified eight civilisations - Western, Eastern Orthodox, Latin American, Islamic, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, and African. But – Pipes said – there were many problems with Huntington ’s analysis. First, the civilisations he cited are not a political concept. Second, the thesis cannot account for violence within civilisations – he cited the Rushdie Affair. Third, it ignored agreement across civilisations. Fourth, it cannot account for changes over time, eg the increase in tension between the US and Europe .
“Can a world civilisation exist?” asked Pipes “No, not as Huntington defined it”. But a world civilisation was possible as a coalition against what he termed “barbarism”. He then defined what he called ‘Ideological barbarians’ – fascists, totalitarian Communists and most recently – Islamists. The great question – he said – is how to oppose the barbarians. The Mayor , he said, proposed multiculturalism. But he – Pipes – wanted to win what he termed a War against barbarism. The UK had become a safe haven for terrorists. David Blunkett had noted that British based terrorists had carried out incidents in 15 countries. President Mubarak of Egypt had denounced the UK for protecting terrorists.
Pipes then focused on three aspects of Islamism. One, it was attempting to extend Sharia law into new areas. Two, it divided the world into two – those who held the right religion and everyone else. Three, it’s totalitarian and anti-modern. Here he cited Tony Blair’s August speech in Los Angeles (“it is a global fight about global values; it is about modernisation, within Islam and outside of it”).
He went on to ask why some elements of the traditional Left (in which he included Livingstone) were so supportive of Islamism when they opposed other forms of totalitarianism. His answer was that they shared the same enemies. Harold Pinter, for example, said that “the US was run by a bunch of criminal lunatics, with Blair as their hired Christian thug”. Chomsky had called the US “a leading terrorist State”. He noted that the demonstration in Hyde Park on 16 February 2003 was organised by a coalition of Islamists and the Left. Norman Mailer said about 9/11 “We had to realise that the people that did this were brilliant”. Parts of the Left dismiss terrorism as an irritant and blame it on eg Western ‘colonialism’.
In conclusion, said Pipes, there is no way to appease this ideology. It must be defeated as the Germans and Soviets were defeated. Islamism can only be defeated by a coalition of the ‘civilised’, among whom he cited a long list of Muslim dissidents, for example, Irshad Manji.
Then came Councillor Salma Yaqoob, the Chairperson of the Stop The War coalition in Birmingham and a parliamentary candidate in 2005 for Respect. Predictably she attacked Pipes for evading “the history of Western colonialism in the Middle East” and “the attempt of the US neocons to remould the Middle East in their own image”.
Then Douglas Murray. He began by thanking the Mayor “for being so generous with other people’s money”. Then he criticised the “straw man motion” that Livingstone had produced. Muslims can be on the side of civilisation but we are courting the wrong Muslims, we should not be cultivating Qaradawi. Livingstone had said that the Cold War was “our fault” – why do he and his allies always blame the ills of the world on the West? Can countries not make mistakes withut the West being responsible? How is Jihad “our fault”? Why then are Muslims killing Hindus? Why was the gay mayor of Paris stabbed by a Muslim in 2002? Multiculturalism has been a disaster. And how is it going down in Saudi Arabia ? There is no reciprocity in Islamic countries for Western concessions to Islam (he cited the Dutch Justice Minister who said that Sharia Law could be introduced if a majority wished it). The Mayor should be saying “we should not have Sharia Law in the UK ”. Why did Livingstone choose Respect member Yaqoob as his debating partner, rather than a moderate?
Then the Q+A. At least two questioners pointed out that holding the event on a Saturday precluded many Jews from attending. I asked Livingstone about his view that Israel should never have been created (something that he had told me when I met him campaigning before the last Mayor al election). He said that he did believe Israel should not have been created because land was ‘stolen’ from Arabs. But now that it existed he accepted that. He said that the US supported the creation of Israel because they “were scared that if they did not do so they would be called anti-Semitic”. Someone suggested the invasion of Iraq was all about securing oil supplies. Pipes’ response was that the US invaded Iraq despite knowing that this would boost the price of oil.
Livingstone was asked about faith schools. He said they should not exist, there should be no parental choice, all children should go to their local school.
Yaqoob – in an attempt to convey her support for multiculturalism – said “God bless America, God bless the UK , God bless the Jews” – but she pointedly did not say “God bless Israel ”, an omission later pointed out by Oliver Kamm.
The two afternoon sessions I went to were “Enlightenment Values and Modern Society” and “Democratic Solutions in the Middle East ”. The first featured Oliver Kamm, Inayat Bunglawala, Linda Bellos OBE, and Simon Fletcher.
Kamm’s was by far the best speech. He cited Jefferson ’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom as a key Enlightenment document. Religion should be a matter for private choice; there should be no religious requirement for public office. He said that there are many forces urging the repeal of the Enlightenment and that it was wrong to interpret the Enlightenment s meaning that groups of people should be protected from being offended. He also praised Nick Cohen’s forthcoming book “What’s Wrong with the Left?” which he had proof-read. Enlightenment values, he said, have an embattled prospect. More embattled than a year ago.
Bunglawala was asked about the Teheran Holocaust denial Conference. He called it ‘ridiculous’. He noted it was a reprisal for the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons offensive to Muslims. He also said that the creation of the State of Israel was “a terrible mistake”. However “we are where we are”.
Oliver Kamm also spoke outstandingly well in the “Democratic Solutions in the Middle East ” session. “The autumn of autocrats in the Middle East has not been followed by a Prague Spring”. On Israel , he said that many Israelis were prepared to trade land for peace, but it would take time and a change of PLA leadership for this to happen. In the rest of the Middle East , democratic solutions are not on offer. We have to press for reform. He asked how MPAC in any way could claim to represent the British Muslim Community. Bunglawala accused him of saying that the MCB was not representative – but that was not what he said, it was about MPAC. Kamm also roundly criticised Bunglawala for drawing apparent ‘moral equivalence’ between the Holocaust and the publication of some cartoons which upset Muslims.
The same session featured Susan Nathan, an English-born writer who lived in Israel and has moved from Tel Aviv to Tamra, an Arab town in the North. She said that the Western form of democracy could not be imposed on the Arab world. Karma Nabulsi also spoke – now the Fellow in Politics at St Edmund Hall Oxford, she was a PLO representative from 1977-90, working at the UN and in the UK . She spoke about the right of return and about de-democratisation in the Middle East .
Ken Livingstone’s cynical tactic of tailoring his policies to the demands of his interest groups was seen for what it is; Daniel Pipes, Douglas Murray and Oliver Kamm (and I’m told David Aaronovitch) got at least as much applause for criticising multiculturalism as the other side did for praising it; and a conference in which the Middle East was a main subject did not degenerate into a tirade against Israel.