Tomorrow, Ken Livingstone and Daniel Pipes will debate the motion A World Civilisation or A Clash of Civilisations. I've got tickets, but I'm not going to go and maybe the best time to try to get away with writing about this without seeing it is before the event.
I've got too much work to be able to spare the time to travel down to London. All my projects are behind schedule and I need to put in the hours. But there's another reason why I am not going to try to shuffle my commitments: the closer this event has crept, the more I find myself wishing both debaters could lose.
Because the reality is neither, and it is both. In other words, it is complicated and to see two of the extremes butt heads would be depressing even before I started to analyse the audience, and attribute motivations to them all. What are we going to gain from seeing this clash of the extremes? Increased polarisation is an inevitable outcome, indeed the entire event is an exercise in polarisation.
We do have a world civilisation. This is not meant to be exhaustive, but trace the currents that brought us, say, contemporary mathematics and you'll have to bring in ancient Hindus, Babylonian accountants, Greek philosophers, Cambridge alchemists, Islamic astronomers, Indian railway clerks, French functionaries... the thin strands of the web cover much of the globe.
Look at the last five hundred years of art and you see Arabia, Africa, China, Japan, America, north and south, Australia...
Successful civilisations are omnivorous and voracious. The Western Roman Empire is still with us, in the form of the Papacy; they even dress as third century Imperial officials. That was accomplished by absorption, not by isolation. But imagine Rome in 100AD: people from every part of the known world walked the streets. So it is with London and New York today.
But that's not to say we don't have a clash right now, and if it is not of civilisations, then what is it? Broadly speaking, there is a world civilisation, but it doesn't cover all the world and even in the parts it seems to encompass, it isn't the main priority for everyone.
Pathan tribesmen, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi religious police seem to be relatively unmoved by Joyce's experimentations with the form of the novel, Picasso's voracious appetite for artistic influences, and by twentieth-century physics. A part of the hard left has joined with them, and even soft left stragglers hang from the tails of the hard left.
Livingstone is a fellow traveller, Pipes is an ultra - nothing that has ever touched Islam can be acceptable.
I disavow both. Martin Amis put it well recently:
People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.I detest the "racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist and genocidal" Islamists, and I detest those who are up their arses, like Ken Livingstone. But I'm not sure that Daniel Pipes is the answer.