Column: Here comes the clash

By Elie Dvorin

In “Clash of Civilizations,” Samuel Huntington argues that the traditional view of war as a conflict between nations will be replaced by a more unconventional conflict between cultures. As he writes in 1993 “the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.” Huntington divides the world into seven “cultures” including Western, Latin American, Islamic, Hindu, etc.

His theory has been criticized for having a Western bias, oversimplifying the cultural divisions, excluding certain cultures from classification and putting forth an unrealistic doomsday scenario. And while thus far so much of his theory looks ridiculous, there are several happenings that seem to vindicate him. Namely, the Western-Islamic clash that has been visibly in the works for at least the last five years. Nowhere is this more evident than France.

For more than two weeks now violent riots have consumed suburban France. Cars are burning. Windows are breaking. Businesses are being looted. Hundreds of arrests have been made and curfews have been imposed. These riots have most often been described as riots of the unemployed, lower class, and immigrant populations. To some extent, that’s true – but it goes much deeper.

At a deeper level, what France is witnessing is exactly what Huntington predicted – an Islamic uprising after years of an extremely lax immigration policy. For Europe, this has been years in the making. Most European governments have been unwilling to stand up for the protection of their individual nations and have welcomed a massive influx of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa. This population increase has literally reshaped the face of Europe. In a nutshell, Europe no longer looks like Europe.

The irony of the French policy is that the government census takers do not take data on ethnicity in order to avoid the negative effects of separatism. Yet, the fact that nobody really knows how many Muslims live in France – and where – makes it extremely difficult for the government to address any of their problems, leading to more polarized feelings of separatism.

The ethnic clash taking place in France is one that the French government is not able to handle. Their naive belief that they could radically alter the cultural demographic of the nation and not pay any price whatsoever has been exposed as insane. The true test of the French character is what they do next in the way of policy, and if history is any predictor of what’s to come, the French will run away with their tail between their legs.

French President Jacques Chirac has all but disappeared. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has been exposed as soft and willing to cave into demands if enough nurseries are torched. France’s Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been the only one to adequately address the problem. In addition to his public references to the rioters as “thugs” and “scum,” he has ordered the expulsion of all foreigners convicted of rioting over the period of unrest. This, of course, made him the target of criticism by many of the rioters. If the people burning down schools don’t like you, you’re probably doing something right.

The Europeans need to recognize that this is not an isolated incident. The riots in France, the bombing in Jordan and the terrorism in Iraq are all part of the bigger clash that’s taking place. We can’t make the mistake of taking these French riots as an isolated incident of economic protest. We can’t ignore the chants of “Allah is great” reverberating through the Parisian streets. We can’t ignore the demographic problems taking place in Europe as a result of their open-door immigration policy. And we can’t pretend a problem doesn’t exist at all – that’s what got Europe into this problem in the first place. The clash is here. Do we back down or step up?

Elie Dvorin is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Monday. He can be reached at [email protected]