Clash on crank

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A few weeks ago, one Randall Parker forwarded me this article, Historian challenges assumptions about religious conflicts, which claimed to “debunk” the “clash of civilizations” narrative. Brian Catlos asserts:

“Where my research and data leads, though not intentionally, is to debunk the notion of a conflict of civilizations–a conflict between groups of people who identify themselves as Christians, Jews, or Muslims and who articulate their struggle as a result of ideology and national identity,” said Catlos. “Rather what’s really behind history and contemporary human affairs is the interest of relatively small groups who often interact without regard to ideologies, national, or religious boundaries.”

Catlos’ contention is frought with ambiguity. What does “often” mean? Just because people can’t “articulate” doesn’t mean there isn’t something substantive underneath the cognitive surface. But my interest was piqued, so I decided to get Catlos’ book, The Victors and the Vanquished : Christians and Muslims of Catalonia and Aragon, 1050-1300, which was an elaboration on his Ph.D. dissertation. I had already read a fair amount about the mudejars, the indigenous Muslims of the pre-conquest unified monarchy states before the fall of Granada in 1492, in Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam. In this book Andrew Wheatcraft spends several chapters surveying the history of Muslims in Al-Andalus, and later Spain, until their final expulsion in 1610. After finishing Catlos’ book I decided to check out some chapters of Crusade and Colonisation: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Medieval Aragon, to get a different perspective on the issues and possibly scry any glaring biases in The Victors and the Vanquished. After this minimal reading program was completed I was considering writing up a blog post on the issues mooted and ideas I formulated in response to them, but I thought that it would be prudent to reread Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel Huntington, as Catlos’ contention seemed to be in response to the null hypothesis elaborated in this book a decade ago. I did read Huntington’s book when it came out…but I thought a refresh was timely, especially in light of changes in the order of the world since 9-11, and my own personal exploration of cognitive science over the past 3 years might give me a different perspective on the arguments in Huntington’s book. I stipulate here a priori the books I’ve read because they have obviously shaped my opinions and conclusions, and if you take objection to any of my contentions, I invite you to read the books above, or at minimum perform a google print search to get the gist of their theses. My overall conclusion, which I will state beforehand, is that Catlos has debunked Huntington as much as Bohr has debunked Newton, that is, they both explore the same fundamental subject, but on radically different scales of organization. The problem with the analogy above is that history and political science are in no way, shape or form, like physics, so take it for what it’s worth.


Let me first mount a minor defense of Huntington. Since the publication of his last book, Who are We: The Challenges to America’s National Identity, he has come in for some harsh treatment (there were few blogs when Clash of Civilizations was published). Matthew Yglesias deconstructed and debunked many of the “facts” which Huntington used to make his case against Mexican immigration into the United States, and he’s not the only one who made a sport of this game of falsify-Huntington. I remember reading Clash of Civilizations back in 1997 and being a bit irritated when glaring and obvious factual errors popped out at me. For example, Huntington makes repeated references to Ethiopia, but on page 137 he states, “largely Christian Ethiopia and overwhelmingly Muslim Eritrea separated from each other in 1993.” Follow the links in the previous sentence and you will see that both nations are about evenly split between Muslims and Christians, with Eritrea possessing a slight Christian majority and Ethiopia a plural majority of Muslims! I knew that then, I know that now, and that’s not the only error that is embedded in the book. There are similar problems in Who are We (I read that too). But as you might guess, I still think Huntington has important things to say, and that the models he proposes have value. Let me illustrate my basic stance with some quotations from Defenders of the Truth: the Sociobiology Debate:

…the British ‘sociobiologists’ did not want to be called that at all. They would have preferred to be called behavioral ecologists, or functional ethologists-anything but ‘sociobiologists.’ But in his review, Dawkins decided to take the bull by the horns. He said that ‘much as I have always disliked the name, this book finally provokes me to stand up and be counted’…. [a negative review of British anti-sociobiologist Steven Rose's book]

[Steve] Jones felt that Gould and Lewontin, although their Spandrels argument might contain some truth, effectively told biologists the following: ‘Abandon hope, go home, and become a be liberal-arts graduate.’

These two distinct opinions are in reference to the storm that swirled around E.O. Wilson after the publication of his book Sociobiology: a New Synthesis. It was in many ways a deeply flawed book (most people don’t remember it now, but Wilson also forwarded some sketchy group selection models). Nevertheless, it triggered a renaissance in social theory and its intersection with evolutionary biology, and was the most recent common ancestor of many biologistic modes of inquiry in the human sciences, from behavorial ecology to evolutionary psychology. Hell, it even helped inspire P.Z. Myers to become a biologist.

My point is that sometimes thinkers are important not for what they say, but for getting the ball rolling, establishing a common hypothesis of reference and framing the issues of importance. As far as Huntington goes, too many of the critiques of him strike me as reflecting a decision to give up and become liberal-arts majors, so to speak. In other words, they submit to the blandishments of skepticism as an ends rather than a means, and abandon the project of positive model building in favor of deriving is from ought because of its theoretical elegance. My post, True believer revisited…., should clue one into how I feel about that sort of attitude. When nothing is discernable, everything is possible.

Huntington’s thesis of civilizations existing as cultural atoms that behave as units seems ludicruous on first blush. And in the details it is almost certainly a weak signal in the noise. But, social phenomena being what they are, extracting any signal is difficult as it is, and no one who rebuts a deterministic set of propositions is acting in good faith because I can’t imagine that a serious scholar would present their expectations as having no variance or error in the real world. I did not get that from Clash of Civilizations in 1997, and I don’t get that now.

Catlos’ examination of the dynamics of Muslims in the kingdom of Aragon between 1200-1400 (roughly) is a clarification of that enormous expanse of noise which swamps out attempts to build predictive models. The rough backstory is simple, between 1000 and 1492 the whole of the Iberian peninsula was reconquered by Christian kingdoms from the Muslim polities, in fits and starts, though by 1250 only the emirate of Granada in the far south remained of Muslim ruled Al-Andalus. Between 1250 and 1492 large populations of Muslims lived under Christian rule as mudejars. In places like Valencia they were the majority of the population for a substantial period of time, and their presence was a reality on the ground until the last unconverted Muslims were expelled from Spain in 1610.1 In Aragon Muslims were likely not the majority for very long, but they remained a substantial minority in both urban and rural areas for several centuries. Catlos’ work focuses in particular on Zaragoza and its hinterlands. It is deep in its sourcing, not only does he assay economic records, legal documents, but, he managed to find quite a bit of correspondence and references which pointed to conflicts and events which might not show up on tax or property concerns. So here are some major points in Catlos’ work:

  • Muslims preferred to ally themselves with Christian religious orders. Peasants would enter into tacit bondage so that said orders would defend the rights of Muslims against local aggressors, sometimes Christian, sometimes Muslim.
  • Muslims also tended to look toward higher nobility and the king to protect them against their Christian socioeconomic peers or near betters.
  • Muslims had to compromise basic tenets of their interpretation of sharia to “get along” in Christian society. In other words, a dispute between a Muslim and a Christian would be judged according to the law of the Christian, unless the Christian preferred that Muslim law be used. Muslim judges (qadis) would render verdicts, but it would be up to Christian authorities to enforce their judgements at their pleasure and discretion.
  • Many of the same religious prejudices that worked against Jews were also applied to Muslims. Muslim males were discouraged from having sexual relations with Christian females, and Muslims had to give due respect to Christian religious processions or risk being lynched.
  • The class divisions that were common in Christian society were mirrored in Muslims. In particular the Muslim community, the aljama, repeatedly entered into conflicts with those Muslims who had received exemptions from tax through royal grace. This privileged class of Muslims did not hesitate to litigate to preserve their tax exemptions, even though this was often to the disadvantage of their coreligionists, who were almost always assessed a higher tax than their Christian neighbors (not only did Muslims have to support their own religious institutions, but they were often forced to tithe toward the Church just as their Christian neighbors were). Sometimes the tax exempt Muslims would be targeted by local Christian officials, in which case they would become entangled in a complex dispute where different interests aligned themselves tactically according to their own interests irrespective of religion (i.e., the king would support the Muslims to defend his right to confer exemptions, any Christian religious orders would attempt to reduce taxation on their overstretched tenants, etc.).
  • Elite Muslims generally either fled or converted to Christianity. Sometimes, whole villages would convert to Christianity (one instance is recorded because two women from a converso village were brought before an inquisitor because of charges of heresy).
  • Muslims were raised to fight for the king of Aragon. In particular, they were valued as crossbowmen. Though they were used in particular against Christian powers, sometimes they were also used to fight other Muslims. Professional soldiers, up the level of officers, of Muslim origin were fixtures in the retinues of many Christian lords. Unlike Jews, Muslims were perceived to have great martial vigor.
  • When the Almohads (a Muslim dynasty from North Africa which attained hegemon status vis-a-vi the emirates of southern Spain) ventured north into Christian territory, the king of Aragon and local notables reassured the native Muslims that there would be no confusion between them and the invaders. In other words, there would be no reprisals against Aragonese Muslims for the actions of their co-religionists who were foreign. On the other hand, local Christian bandits and militia levies on occasion raided Muslim villages opportunistically because of their special vulnerability (this was common enough that the king repeatedly instructed Muslims return from their refuges in the hills to take up farming).
  • Though of undoubted lesser status vis-a-vi Christians, Muslims seem to have sometimes served on town councils.
  • There seem to have been little physical and/or linguistic distinctions between male Christians and Muslims. Muslims could speak the Romance dialect of the region fluently (many of their names were Latinate in form), even if many preserved a form of Arabic at home. Catlos points out that this was one reason that there were statutes that instructed Muslims to always dress differently than Christians. Additionally, the transitory period when there were many Christians who spoke Arabic (Mozarabs) as their first language and Muslims who were fluent in Romance resulted in several assassinations because “passing” was easy for “both sides” in conflicts.
  • Muslims tended to form the slave class in Aragon, as enslaving Christians was generally frowned upon, and Jews could not own Christian slaves safely in any case. Some disputes arose over the issue of conversos, as some Christian masters preferred their slaves to remain Muslims so as to facilitate their perpetual bondage.
  • Nevertheless, in some cases Muslim peasants were in an advantaged relationship with local nobles in comparison to Christians because feudalism did not apply to them in that they were often under direct rule and jurisdiction of the king, so only the king could discipline them.

Catlos’ text makes clear that there are two intersecting salient traits of Christian-Muslim dynamics in Aragon: 1) the communities were corporately organized by their own leaders 2) nevertheless, there were innumerable linkages across and above these communal distinctions. Though Muslims were theoretically to be organized as an aljama, in practice many Muslims evaded its authority by utilizing the non-Muslim legal system as well as royal patronage. This, in the case of notables who explicitly chose to remain Muslim, rather than convert to Christianity and strengthen their hand. No doubt the Muslims who refused to pay their tax because of a privilege granted to their forebears by a Christian potentate justified it to themselves in a fashion that dovetailed with their sincere belief, and in fact, some families persisted for centuries in evading tax or withholding property to pay the past tax debt, but their names suggested they still remained believings Muslims, and so continued to persist in keeping their second class citizenship against their “rational” interest. But the dissent from taxation by some Muslims, in particular, the subset of some means and income, had the long term effect of weakening the community in its status vis-a-vi the Christian majority or even the ascendent Jewish mercantile class. The point Catlos seems to want to make is that it seems that first and foremost Muslims acted in their own interests, before looking to their putative ideologically inferred behaviors. The reality is that ostensibly Muslims should not even have been living under a non-Muslim ruler, but because of their importance as a tax base the Christian king and his nobles specifically made allowances for their retention, and even used Muslims to colonize newly conquered territories.

The “debunking” of the Huntington thesis seems to be that Catlos illustrates the lack of ideological commitment that characterized the Muslims of Christian Spain at any given time. In a rank order of priorities, conventionally intelligible ones would be foremost on the list before any specific injunctions made upon them by their faith. Their motives were variegated, just as were the motives of the Christian religious orders who often collected rents from them, or the king who depended on their famous crossbowmen. Sometimes they certainly were not trusted, and seen as fifth columnists, but other times they were subjects of the same king as their Christian neighbors, and men and women who paid tax and sat on the city council. Muslims had their own law courts, but on occasion they would take their disputes to Christian courts if it was to their advantage. They were a corporate community who were functionally dhimmis in reverse, and yet they often subborned the integrity of their own corporation, the aljama, if it was in their individual or familial interest.

There is nothing controversial in this assertion. Consider this from a column by Rich Lowery, editor of National Review, from a few years back where he offers one reason why he won’t run for mayor (selling out):

Shortly after the mayoral speculation began, a woman stopped me in my apartment building to ask if I were going to run. It turned out that she was that rarity, a right-wing Manhattanite. But soon enough she was asking me what I thought of rent control. I tried to dodge, saying I needed to study the issue further. She pressed me, then said she’d never vote for me if I wanted to end rent control since she lived in a rent-controlled apartment….

The voter to be was right-wing, ostensibly in principle against rent control, but the circumstances of her life dictated that she vote against anyone who would raise her personal rent. Principles are extremely important when they cut your way. A true measure of principles, of values, is what you do when they will cost your dearly on a personal level. Rational choice might have serious problems as the be all and end all of social science, but, it does make sense insofar as people do tend to work in their own interest first and foremost when they are capable of conceiving the general lay of the land in terms of costs vs. benefits. It may be advantageous to declare that one would be a pauper under a believing king rather than a prince under an infidel, but rarely is this sort of verbal declaration tested.

One problem that occurs when we attempt to understand why people do what they do is thatthey quite often do not give plausible motivations, but rather manufacture a rationale which makes them seem principled, logical or consistent. Cognitive scientists have shown that it is rather easy to get people to make “choices” by priming them a priori with various “random” inputs. When asked why individuals made the choices they did the reasoning was always sharply at variance with the correlations which popped out of the experiments the researchers had run. Humans are natural fabulists, story tellers and myth makers.

In my own family my paternal grandmother told me the tale of how my great-grandfather, her father, found the light of Islam in the 1920s (when she was a toddler). Years later my mother explained that my great-grandfather had been having difficulties with some of the employees in a small dairy processing factory he owned, and, some of his dairymen in the fields were refusing to produce their quota. The reason was that the part of Bengal he lived in was going through Muslim religious revivals, and some of his workers were using his Hindu religion as a pretext toward organizing their labor to extract higher wages or portions. My mother did not go much into much more detail, and never said anything explicitly, but later it came to my attention that my great-grandfather converted to Islam under sponsorship of my paternal grandfather’s father, who was the alam (prayer leader) of the local mosque and the scion of a Muslim family of some reputation. The subsequent marriage of my paternal grandmother to the son of the alam, and the one of the wealthier local Muslim landowners, solidified the entrance of my great-grandfather into Muslim society, and there were no protests any long against “working for a Hindu,” since their employer was a Muslim in good standing (any protests based on religious grounds at least were now baseless and indefensible). This story illustrates the social variables which scaffolded the cognitive commitments my great-grandfather made. As the eldest and most successful son in a region that was overwhelmingly Muslim (this was one of the more Muslim areas of Bengal), he had less to lose personally from leaving his established Hindu social networks than if he lived in a Hindu majority area. As it was, there was also a local Muslim establishment which was willing to accept him once marriage ties were solidified. Did my great-grandfather realize this on a conscious level? If he did, I doubt he thought about it in too much depth, rather, the story he told was likely one of spiritual discovery. Nevertheless, most people in the area seem quite aware of the circumstances behind the conversion, as my mother’s family comes from a neighboring locality and she was aware of the general circumstances during that period (as told to her by someone who was alive at that time).

I am not a pure materialist, there are other motivations that drive human beings. As I alluded to above, social context matters. A lone Muslim converso risked alienating their natal social networks before they were able to ensconce themselves into a new Christian identity. That explains the fact that there were records of mass conversions of villages to Christianity, in this way an entire social network was simply transferred and individuals distributed the risk amongst themselves (and removed the primary cost, alienation from their neighbors). Additionally, elite individuals with special skills and prominence can also shift between networks, i.e., renowned Jewish rabbis who converted to Christianity or Muslim warlords of some reputation who entered the service of a Christian noble and accepted baptism, ergo, entrance into the respectable Aragonese elite.

But if you asked these people later why they changed religions, their justification is often given in terms of the intrinsic appeal of the new religion. An emphasis on the special character of a belief is I think often fallacious at its root. I recall reading a book once about Jewish-Christian marriages, where Christian wives who had converted to Judaism missed the “Jesus of their youth.” One contention that many Christians make is that their religion evokes a personalized aspect via the incarnation that no other faith can compete with. There is perhaps something to this argument, but I think a more likely explanation is that Protestant Christian culture in the United States emphasizes the personal relationship with Jesus, and I would argue that some Jewish, Muslim and Hindu reformist groups are mimicking this pattern using their own motifs (the Catholic Charismatic movement is in some ways a cultural mimicry of a Protestant innovation). The rather detached character of Jewish worship in comparison to Christian worship might have little to do with the religion itself, but rather all to do with the character of those who are doing the worshipping (that is, Episcopalaian services might resemble Reform services more than either resembles Assemblies of God services or Lubavitcher prayer groups).

With all that said, regardless of the “reality” of cognitive identities, shibboleths also matter. There is a wealth of psychological literature (see The Nurture Assumption or Not by Genes Alone) which suggests that even the most arbitrary identities tend to elicit in humans a “groupishness” which induces some level of altruism toward those within your own group. The point is that the character of the identity itself doesn’t matter in regards to its eliciting a basal level of identification. If you want an example of an identity which seems rather frivolous, consider sports teams. Republican, Democrat, atheist, Born Agan, etc., Redsocks fans have a bond. Similarly, I recall defending Rush Limbaugh against the criticisms of liberal friends in the early 1990s after I found out he was a Steelers fan (I cared about such things in those days). The cross-linking of various identities results in the inability to generate expectations which are free from a large error because of other confounding factors. An error is almost always so large that any generalization can be easily “debunked.”

But in regards to Catlos’ and Huntington’s theses, the former is focusing on the enormous error generated by the cross-linkages of identity and interest, while the latter is focusing on a few salient dimensions which are signals within that noise. And I think the signal is important to focus on even if there is a great deal of noise. On 9-11 3,000 Americans died in the name of the Muslim God. It is really irrelevant on a substantive (as opposed to politico-rhetorical level) to argue about whether this was justified by Islam, whatever their “true” motivations, the terrorists were scaffolded by religious sentiments and concepts. The terrorist actions in London and Spain post-9-11 seem to be illustrations of the low-grade quasi-war that Huntington outlined in Clash of Civilizations. Whether you believe that the term “Islamism” is a term with any utility, or whether Muslims are a demographic threat to Europe, or that human rights abuses against American Muslims are a gross violation of international law, the salient fact is that the world has a Muslim problem. Muslims have a Muslim problem (see Algeria). Westerners have a Muslim problem. People confused for Muslims have a Muslim problem (Sikhs in the USA). There are other problems out there, but the “Muslim Question” is one that is I think relevant to our lives, and pretending it isn’t suggests very different priorities and models of the world out there than I have. Another concept that Huntington alluded to his Clash of Civilizations was that Muslims tend to have a “U-shaped” heirarchy of loyalties, that is, a strong focus on family and tribe and the Ummah, but little affinity with particular nation-states. My posts dealing with the Salafi terror network which is the prime international locus of low-grade warfare is I think an important aspect of this, the foot soldiers have minimal attachments to any nation, whether it be a Western nation (many were born in the West or resided for long periods in the West), or any Muslim majority nation-state. Their loyalties were to their tribe, their family-by-choice that they created when they were in an “alien” culture, and a vague abstract concept of a Caliphate.

This brings me to an issue that was made famous by Huntington’s book, the “Islam has Bloody Borders” observation, which many objected too. I think it is empirically warranted. But, of late I have wondered about the reason for the bloody borders. A few weeks a correspondent of Steve’s noted:

Wait a minute; much of Latin America has about the same IQ as the Muslim world, and you don’t see international terrorism coming from that region. Islam has bloody borders, and Latin America doesn’t.

Here is a map of Huntington’s civilizations:

Notice something about the borders of Islam vs. Latin America? The ratio of border to area of Islam is rather high in comparison to Latin America. The main opportunity to have “bloody borders” on the case of Latin American is actually going to be along the US-Mexican border, and I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether that border has been bloody (aside from the Mexican-American War). In fact, of the large civilizations defined by Huntington, Islam seems the least compact, the most interpentrated with others. The reality is that if all Muslims were turned into Latin Americans today, I don’t necessarily think that the level of intercivilization violence would be the same, I think Huntington and Steve’s correspondent hold part of the truth. But though I am not a geographic determinist in the mold of Jared Diamond of H. Mackinder, I think that geographical realities determined by the historical path of the growth of Muslim civilization laterally along the 30 degree axis of latitude certainly maximizes the opportunity for conflict, and made more likely cultures which were primed toward conflict because of habits, customs and traditions formed during past wars and clashes (and importantly, we might not be able to do anything about the cultural habits accrued because of these historical-geographical conditions).

But there is another point of Huntington’s which relates back to the rise of decentralized terror networks, and is in many ways an extension of what he said in Clash of Civilizations, in that Islam has no core state. A core state is a dominant state of a civilization. For Sinic civilization that is clearly China. For Hindu civilization that is clearly India. For Orthodox civilization that is clearly Russia. Western, Latin American and African civilization do not have core states of such paramount clarity, though the United States and South Africa could make claims in the West and Africa. Islam on the other hand doesn’t really have a proto-core state. Indonesia is large, but a great deal of its population is heterodox and it is distal to the central of gravity of the Islamic world. Egypt is central in geography and history, but its population is not greater than other rivals, such as Turkey or Iran. Saudi Arabia is hampered by its particularist Salafi creed and pro-Western monarchy. Pakistan is South Asian. Iran is Shia. Turkey has a secularist elite. And so on. Nevertheless, though Huntington gives the nod to low-grade war as being the operant condition in the clash between the West and Islam, he does not transcend the tendency to think in terms of nation-states. That is, he does not seem to see the importance that transnational networks of passport nomads and pariahs will play, outside, above, and beyond the sponsorships they might have once received from a particular state. While Huntington still wishes to focus on the macroscale civilizational dynamic by assembling a veritable army of details that point to his thesis that civilizational affinity matters (many of them disputable, and some subsequently falsifiable over the past 8 years), he gives short-shrift to the intracivilizational conflicts which simmer and often boil over.

This is where we get back to Catlos’ book. The historical background to the collapse of Muslim Spain was fundamentally about the weakness of Muslims as much as the revival of Christians. After the collapse of the Ummayad Caliphate in Al-Andalus hundreds of taifa emirates emerged. This political pluralism gave birth to an efflorescence of cultural production, but, it also endgendered relative weakness vis-a-vi the formidable marcher states of Castile, Leon and Navarre. The larger Christian polities simply began to swallow up the Muslim emirates, who were too busy jocking for power amongst themselves to see the larger scale dynamic. Once they did see the threat from the north they couldn’t agree upon a common front, and instead made recourse to intervention from dynasts in North Africa, first the Almoravids, and later the Almohads. These two Berber dynasties were culturally very distinct from the Muslims of Al-Andalus, and they alienated their new tributaries as much as they fought the reconquista states. In the end, rebellions and lack of cooperation from Spanish Muslims resulted in the inability of the North African dynasties to mobilize the population and state in defense against the Christian kingdoms. Nested within the intra-Muslim squabbles, there were conflicts between various Spanish Muslim groups, from the elite blooded Arab families, to converted lineages who dated back to the Visigothic period, and to Berber stock. Within the group of Muslims of Aragon, who were all Arabic speaking and non-elite (as elites who did not convert emigrated, as I noted above), there were still divisions along the lines of class and status. The conflicts noted above were easily mirrored by the Christians. The point is within the putative signal of intercivilization conflict there is a veritable cacophany of intracivilizational conflict. The famous alliances between France and the Ottomans, or Richelieu’s diplomatic bias toward the Protestant princes of Germany against his fellow Catholic Hapsburgs, simply illustrate the principle that within the noise of intracultural conflict there are many openings for making friends from afar. Catlos’ work is a close examination of this phenomenon. The relatively benign attitude of northern whites toward southern blacks, and contempt for southern whites (granted, this was always exaggerated), is another illustration of the principle at work (I have read enough literature that surveys the 19th century to contend that this stereotype extends very deep into our historical past).

All of this does not mean that there aren’t tensions along civilizational lines. There is a persistent signal within the noise. The key is how strong that signal is, and its strength is contingent upon multiple factors. If, for example, there was universal equality of wealth, freedom from want, and endless opportunity for individual self-realization, would that usher in a utopia of peace and providence? No, I hold that there might very well be a strengthening of the signal of discord based on values and ideology. When first order needs on the individual level are sated, I hold that other considerations, ostensibly more lofty, come into play. As I have noted multiple times, a large (disproportionate) number of the Islamic terrorists who claim to assail the West come from wealthy, healthy and intellectual backgrounds! The poor, the indigent and the illiterate often have greater concerns on their plate than a “clash of civilizations.”

But as I have emphasized over and over implictly, this isn’t physics. Hell, it isn’t even genetics. The noise is overwhelming, even though a disproportionate number of terrorists in the Salafi network come from affluent and technical backgrounds, not all do, the North Africans tend to skew toward the lower ends of French society, perhaps even amongst the North African origin French themselves. Being illiterate and poor might prevent fundamentalism, but it would also prevent the formation of cross-cultural ties, so in the event that someone from that background rises in status, they might not bring any cosmopolitan values to the table. And yet of course we know that men like Osama bin Laden and Mohammad Atta had been around the world and seen what was to be seen. The intersection of necessary and sufficient conditions for Muslim terror have not been properly characterized. Huntington’s emphasis on larger civilizational units seems to neglect the reality that intracivilizational noise and anomie are often more important to the individual than enemies afar. Catlos’ work that shows the importance of cross-linking relations and the relative ineffectuality of ideology and myth in motivating and generating solidarity neglects the reality that the illustration of the importance of noise within the system presupposes that there is a signal in the first place, in other words, all things being equal, Muslims are still Muslim, and Christians are still Christian. Of course, all things are rarely equal. I have emphasized on this blog repeatedly that reality as it really is on the substantive level is often far less relevant than reality as it is perceived in the minds of individuals. After reading books and articles on marriage, and hearing from authors how Christian values as espoused in the New Testament were crucial to the “Romeo and Juliet revolution,” I was amused to stumble upon an evangelical Christian Indian who was arguing that “arranged marriage is the Biblical model.” ’tis the nature of the beast I suppose. In the short term whether Islam is naturally violent is irrelevant, the reality of the Salafist network must be addressed. I am not one who thinks this is an existential threat, but I do think how we respond to the threat will help determine the evolution of our culture, Western culture.

The irony about Clash of Civilizations is that conflict between civilizations is only worthy of study because Huntington passionately cares about the core values of the West, pluralism of ideas, individuality and basic human rights. His message is clearly aimed at waking up the West, and arguing that the Western Moment is over, that the dream of a Universal Civilization as depicted in Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man has not, and will not, be validated. I think Huntington is too pessimistic. I have covered many topics in this post, so I won’t elaborate why I think Westernization is a reality, but I do think that the world is being unified by a common Western matrix, though there are regional flavors and variations. But Huntington’s message is that the ultimate threat comes from the lack of focus and passion that he perceives in the West, the unilateral cultural disarmament in the face of non-Western memes and the evisceration attempted from within by an assorted motley. I believe how the West responds will help determine what shape the coming Universal Civilization takes. The reality is that in the West vs. the Rest, the Rest are simply epiphenomena who will help shape the temporary dynamic. But epiphenomena can be a short term bitch.

1 – The exact details are somewhat confusing. Suffice to say that some Moriscos who were of Christian religion were also expelled, while a large number who had converted over the centuries had assimilated and were not expelled (some of the most enthusiastic boosters for expulsion from long established Morisco families who disliked being associated with crypto-Muslims), while the vast majority of those who refused to abandon Islam in secret probably left. Nevertheless, Morisco bandits are attested to as late as the 18th century in the hills above Granada.

7 Comments

  1. Indeed, one reason Islam has so many “bloody borders” is that it has so many borders: it occupies the functional center of the world. Medieval maps used to draw the world with Jerusalem as the central point, and that still makes a lot of sense. The Middle East is the crossroads of the three continents of the Old World.

  2. yes, and it is important to remember that covering the sahara in muslim green makes the area of the dar-al-islam seem greater than it really is. here is a population map for africa..muslim africa basically rings christian africa on the periphery.

  3. Razib, you’re a genius! Why don’t you try to publish any of this stuff [without the "bitch," of course]?

  4. Razib: 
     
    Let me play the devil’s advocate here (or, rather, Catlos’ advocate) and pose the following. It’s alright to speak of the ‘signal:noise’ ratio but your use of it does not rise above metaphor, at least in this post. To do so, you must show that civilisational-level attributes affected events ‘on the ground’. In other words, your post doesn’t show how such attributes enter into any sort of causal nexus in the history of this region. It would be interesting to write a history of the region, incorporating both Huntington & Catlos. 
     
    I agree with your general approach, FWIW, but more work needs to be done (I suspect you don’t disagree with that, but of course feel free to disagree.). 
     
    Kumar

  5. kumar, sure. but that book would be a very large one…catlos’ book was only around 400 pages from what i recall, and so it was good at focusing on its own topic. the problem is when catlos transforms the microlevel phenomenon as the be all and end all of intercivilizational connections. i might try to explore this issue myself, but i’m not a scholar with an access to archives and any fluency in non-english languages. to use another analogy, even if two distributions intersect a great deal, ANOVA can glean differences to a signficant level of confidence…. 
     
    as for how it is relevant in the region, if you move to the southern half of the peninsula, the taifa state appeal to the almoravids and almohads was purely based on civilizational affinity, as these groups were ethnically, geographically and linguistically distinct from the muslim culture of al-andalus. of course, these differences resulted in the inability to forcefully counter the christian advance, but the fact that the appeal was made in the first place suggests the affinity that the muslims of al-andalus felt with muslims across the straits of gibralter…. 
     
    Razib, you’re a genius! Why don’t you try to publish any of this stuff [without the "bitch," of course]? 
     
    arcane, this is just a hobby, i don’t have anything close to a scholarly background. and i don’t have much of an interest…this site gets ~2500 unique users a day, so a reasonable audience already exists.

  6. it is important to remember that covering the sahara in muslim green makes the area of the dar-al-islam seem greater than it really is 
     
    Sparsely populated regions can be enormously influential. Arabia, Mongolia, central Asia, Scandinavia (Vikings)… The US looks a lot like the Sahara on that map!

  7. Note that South America actually has a history of bloody borders running from the 1870s thru the Chaco wars of the 1930s.

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