Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Matrix

This is an important point, made in passing:

I was particularly concerned with the rhetoric of a "clash of civilizations" that was often used by proponents of the war and echoed uncritically in the press. It occurred to me that discussing a favorite text of mine, The Epic of Gilgamesh, could provide an effective way to show that the cultures of Islam and "the West" are not inherently, eternally opposed civilizations, but are outgrowths of a common cultural matrix. Gilgamesh has echoes in Homer, the Bible, and The Thousand and One Nights, and this early commonality has new relevance today, as "Middle Eastern" and "Western" cultures again become increasingly intertwined in our globalizing age. Gilgamesh provides a particularly good case in point: The epic was rediscovered in the 19th century amid clashing British, Russian, French, and Ottoman imperial interests, and Gilgamesh himself has become a point of reference for figures as disparate as Philip Roth and Saddam Hussein.
An Egyptian academic, an anonymous Iraqi blogger, an ex patriot Iranian and a group of Arab writers are not such foreign voices. The desire to live in peace, to gain some prosperity, to be proud of your culture and the anger when that culture is degraded speak clearly to all people. And cultures have mixed so much in that crucible of civilisation that is the Middle East, then fertilised every other culture in the world including - perhaps especially - that of the West.

It has been said before, but we should keep sight of this fact: we are not living through a clash of civilisations; we are living through a clash between civilisation and barbarity.


Anonymous said...


Peter Risdon said...

The above are links to a JihadWatch "primer" on Islam. I suspect they were posted in disagreement with my post, but it isn't clear. In any event, it's worth remembering that the "civilisation vs barbarism" analysis was used by Daniel Pipes during the recent "Clash of Civilisations" conference in London. Pipes is generally regarded as an ally of Robert Spencer, the publisher of JihadWatch.