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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 12, No. 6, 2013
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




To add some small arch to bridge
the understanding
between East and West . . .
and carry a small lamp of understanding
across the shadowy world. . .
Not willingly would one push,
jostle or touch them roughly
so that in surprise or trepidation
their uncertain wicks snuff out.
Freya Stark, A Winter in Arabia


A recent month-long road trip in southern Morocco confirmed a long held suspicion I had been reluctant to submit to cross examination because hard facts are wanting and psychological profiling is -- at best – educated guesswork. But since terrorism is a fact of life which has undermined our most fought for and treasured political freedoms (a terror cell of ten can bring a nation to its meniscus), I will propose that the great “clash of civilizations” (Islam versus the West), the title of Samuel Huntington’s now famous and much quoted 1993 Foreign Affairs article, is in fact a festering inner conflict that has been unleashed onto the world, and neither side wants to hear about it.

In what has been correctly characterized as a dereliction of civilizational duty, the West evasively quantifies the great clash in terms of hijackings, explosions and body count, and dares not speak of the explosive mix of Muslim envy and inferiority complex as underlying causes, just as Muslims refuse to admit that their discomfiture might be an unintended effect of the numerous intolerance clauses tucked away in the Koran. Either way, there is no point in not pretending (the posture adopted by the apologist contingency) that Islam, at a very minimum, regards the ways of the West with great suspicion, and at the other extreme, has set up the West as a bogeyman man and made it the object of a relentless search and destroy mission.

If we grant that terrorism -- the Tamil Tigers’ gift to the world -- is a recent phenomenon, Islam’s intolerance of ‘the other’ is not. In the 1940s, when Islam was geographically isolated from the West, in the Empty Quarter (the Arabian desert) the presence of a single Christian (Arabophile © Leetfashions.comWilfred Thesiger) was enough to unsettle an area three times as large as Portugal. The hard fact of the matter is that Islam correctly feels threatened by the West and not the other way around, and the reasons for this bear directly on the origins of the clash and the terrorism it has spawned. Restating the clash in terms of culture, we must ask why a significant number of Muslims are attracted to western culture (its music, dress, freedoms, secularity) and why aren’t westerners attracted to Islam (its dress codes, gender segregation, Sharia law, religious observances)?

In Morocco, and almost everywhere in the Muslim world, and no longer exclusively among the young, it is almost a matter of course that the men are dressed in the latest style of jeans and cover their heads with baseball caps. They enjoy Happy Hour, the readiness-at-hand (zuhanden) of cell phones, iPods and laptops, and last but not least the highly sociable nature of western women. We note that without exception in America and Europe, western men are not exchanging their jeans for djellabas, or lobbying their representatives on behalf of Sharia law, just as the women are not trading in their skirts for chadors or stepping up to the plate for a late in life circumcision (ablation of parts or all of the inner labia and the clitoris). With the exception of its cuisine and carpets, the Islamic brand has no purchase on the West: the river of envy (a bit torrent) is running in one direction only.

When one of ours chooses a Louis Vuitton (LV) handbag over another that is the same in every respect but without the prestigious label, it’s because she wants to be seen with a LV bag. In Ways of Seeing, John Berger proposes that publicity has convinced the woman that the purchase of the LV handbag (gilt through association) will significantly enhance her status and ©ShazasScrapbookself-esteem, which in turn allows her to feel good about herself wearing her ‘second’ skin. Her satisfaction, her happiness is proportionate to the envy the product arouses.

So when a Moroccan bottom drawers his djellaba and invests in stylish jeans and a baseball cap it’s because he, no less than the LV wearer, wants to feel good about himself. It could be argued that he is getting a much bigger bang for his buck than the LV purchaser because he has bought into an entire culture. Since he will have been previously exposed through television and cinema to the world’s catalogue of sartorial modes, his preference for jeans and baseball cap is his confession to the world that western modes of dress -- and not those from China or Indian or Mexico -- best facilitate his feeling good about himself. Even in his home territory, where the muezzin’s call to prayer can be heard five times a day, he will parade his jeans (risking public censure) because he can’t refuse the high that comes from being perceived as someone who is in and hip and at home with western values.

If we are courageous enough to fess up to what is revealed to us in our fantasy life, there isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t rather be a somebody than a nobody. This longing resides deep within us all and it cannot be stilled, finessed or wished away. Despite its ever-changing content, the fantasy, as an autonomous impulse, tells the same story each and every time with the same happy ending: I’m a somebody. So if the Moroccan male imagines himself in jeans and not a djellaba, and his female counterpart fancies herself in a skirt and not a burqa, it’s because they believe the West, its freedoms and opportunities, is the best answer to their hopes and dreams. Since most Muslims, constrained by tradition and punishing immigration quotas, will never set foot in the promised land and be that somebody, the next best thing is the vicarious experience, which is why jeans and baseball caps are winning the hearts and minds of Muslims everywhere.

But despite the preference for most things western, there can be no denying the effects of being torn apart by two irreconcilable narratives. On the one hand, the Muslim is fascinated by his cowboy opposite, but on the other hand, he has been raised to believe that the West is heathen and awash in alcohol, drugs and immoral women. Unable to say ‘no’ to the latter -- if not in the flesh then the virtual world -- it’s only natural he emerges deeply, if not chillingly, pathologically conflicted.

And while the overwhelming majority of Muslims find a way to accommodate their divided selves (they learn to pick and choose from both worlds), there will always be those (men) who, hostage to the perfidious ways of the West, come to loath themselves on that account, a loathing that is exacerbated by the user-friendliness of western women and the hurt and humiliation that comes with losing control over their own over whom they once exercised absolute dominion. Is it any wonder they end up self-hating, and easy prey to the ‘paradise now’ politics whose track record no torment can walk away from.

It is in this schizophrenic state of mind that the distraught Muslim-cum-martyr, desperate to be relieved of his self-hatred, allows his resentment of the West to be stoked until it exceeds the sum of his temptations.

Of the millions of Muslims that have been destabilized by exposure to the West, it only requires a handful of malcontents to create global havoc. If we hypothesize one in fifty thousand is vulnerable to radicalization, and there are one billion followers of Islam worldwide, that means there are 2,000 free radicals in our midst, which represents 200 independent, highly lethal, self-governing terrorist cells. The global cost in human life and loss of peace of mind speaks to the terrorists' extraordinary powers and the ineffectiveness of the extraordinary means used to combat them. On our watch, terrorism has successfully diverted billions of dollars to fund security initiatives (at airports, train stations, public events) that could have been used to fight poverty and disease.

With the Internet -- a lawless, unholy land where everything is permitted – now making inroads into even the most isolated tribal areas, more and more of Islam’s best will be exposed to the contamination of western culture, which means terrorism is not likely to disappear gently into the contrite. If Islam is to survive as a viable religion, it must, with dispatch, begin to call into question its most sacred precepts and pronouncements. Islam is fighting a war (against itself, against human nature) it cannot win, and if it loses the world loses because diversity has always been the most effective means of identifying and managing adversity.

In a post-clash world, I cannot pretend to know how the modern Muslim should comport himself and do honour to an Islam that is at peace with itself in the 21st century, but I do know that I don’t want to hear hip-hop coming out of a Berber tent, and I don’t want to see a Holiday Inn where once an 800 year old Kasbah stood proud.

* * * * * * * * *

Between the great clash of civilizations and homogenization of the planet falls the shadow.

Between the shadow and the apocalypse arrives the new day. And deuces are wild.


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I tried several times to submit a comment on your essay, but that ridiculous numbers game has made it impossible. Sorry.
In an anonymous survey done in London about five years ago, one of every 100 Muslims is sympathetic to terrorism -- those are the real numbers..
Your essay reminded me to some degree of the movie Captain Philips. As you know, the general critical reaction to the picture was that it wasn't antagonistic to the characters of the pirates, one characterization of this response being that it was even "sympathetic" in its visual contrast between the little row boat and the no-holds-barred US Navy warships. But then you see the movie, and it turns out that the so-called sympathy was actually its often mistaken cousin of pity. At which point one should wonder about the moral, political and cultural vantage points of a Hollywood production dispensing the pity.
One out of a hundred??? I can go into any street in New York and find one out of ten, and without a single Moslem among them. What a ludicrous "finding." But also unfortunately typical of certain paranoias.
You have analyzed human nature with deadly precision, in particular the Muslim and how the very same drives that affect all humans are manifested in him/her.
We are liars, full of pretense, vainglorious, hypocritical and schizoid; so ashamed of ourselves is our subconscious that we are masters at other behaviours. That is what being an adult human is all about. Once we admit this and doff off all denial, then maybe we can begin to devise another mode of behaviour. Unfortunately, love is not the answer as so few are able to achieve this state of evolved grace. Most humans are daily crash course trash survivalists. The genuinely meek and sweet don't last here.
About the "humsn nature" observer: Anybody want to go to dinner with this guy?
Your thoughtful comments make a lot of sense, Robert. This schism probably does breed discontent among Muslims.

also by Robert J. Lewis:
Music Fatigue
Understanding Rape
Have Idea Will Travel
Bikini Jihad
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene


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