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18 September 2014
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Crusades and Jihads in Postcolonial Times

By Dr S Sayyid
Protesters waving pictures of Osama bin Laden burn an American flag
A protest in Pakistan ©

The relationship between the Islamic world and the west is often understood as a clash between two very different civilisations. Dr S Sayyid considers an alternative way of representing world politics, arguing that there can be no single authorised version of history.

Civilisation as we know it

'The events of September 11 seemed to have jolted the clock of history out of snooze mode.'

There is often a scene in action films where the ticking of the clock on the bomb that will destroy 'civilisation as we know it' is suspended and the audience is relieved to discover that Armageddon has been deferred once more.

This relief, however, is short-lived as either the villain or, more often than not, the hero's sidekick inadvertently jolts the clock out of suspension, and the doomsday machine begins its countdown. The events of September 11 seemed to have jolted the clock of history out of snooze mode.

The American-led war on terrorism is often seen as a clash between western and Islamic civilisations: the geopolitical analogue to the geological movement of plate tectonics. This is despite the attempt by some western leaders and leaders of Muslim countries to argue that the 'war on terror' is not directed against Muslims or Islam - but only against extremists.

There are other voices who see a chain of equivalences so that Al-Qaeda = Taliban = Islamism = Islam. Among the ultra-conservative constituency that considers President Bush to be one of their own, you can hear calls for the 'nuking of Mecca', the occupation of Middle East oil fields, the transformation of the Muslim world on the pattern of post-1945 Germany and Japan.

Among the disenfranchised and disaffected of the Islamicate world, the 'war on terror' is also read as war against Islam and resistance to repression by Muslims is recoded as terrorism, while the repression that they face is ignored. Beyond this representation of cosmic conflict between the west and Islam there are two processes at play. The first concerns the geopolitics of the Middle East, and the second concerns what can be called the postcolonial condition.

Published: 2002-09-01

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