America and Islam: “The Time of Humiliation” as a Determining Feature in Modern Politics

By Ronald Brown

Most commentators call the current American involvement in the Muslim world the “War against Terrorism,” “War against Islamic Extremism,” “War against Radical Islam,” or one or the other pseudonyms that politicians, analysists, and journalists have dubbed it. In essence, it is simply the latest installment in the millennium-old confrontation between the Christian and Muslim civilizations.

The Rise of Islam

Since God first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed that he was the completion of a long line of divinely inspired prophets, Islam has considered itself the authentic religion of God. Each of the many prophets from Adam and Abraham through the prophet Dhul-Kifl to Jesus revealed elements of this primal religion, but sadly their followers failed to understand the content of these revelations.

Jews turned the revelations of Abraham into a tribal religion that shunned outsiders while Christians distorted Jesus’ teachings and declared him a deity equal to God, thus abandoning the core monotheistic goal of God’s revelation. But finally, God called up still another prophet to return humanity to his path and Islam was the result.

The Golden Age of Islam

Sweeping across the Arabian Peninsula and into the heartland of the Middle East, Islam was confident that Jews would emerge from their self-imposed ghettos and embrace the “fulfillment” of the religion founded by the prophets Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, and Christians would abandon their deification of Jesus and return to monotheism.

After the death of the Prophet Mohammad, the four Rightly Guided Caliphs — Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali — continued the expansion of the new-old faith into modern-day Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey in the Middle East, Egypt to Morocco in Africa, and Pakistan to Indonesia in Asia. As if by divine providence the temples of long-worshipped gods tumbled and even the largely Christianized peoples of the Middle East and North Africa embraced the new faith, and large numbers of Jews succumbed to the advancing wave of Islamic culture, literature, economic power, and military might.

Islam was here to stay and seemed to be the wave of the future. Peoples in the way of this seemingly unstoppable new civilization had the choice to either join it or become impotent bystanders to the glorious future.

In the East, the Byzantine Empire abandoned province after province. The armies of Islam continued into the Balkans and along the shore of the Black Sea. A coalition of Austrian and Polish Catholic armies was able to save the city of Vienna and thereby saved the Germanic heartland of Europe from Islam. In the West, Spain and Portugal fell by 718 and the forces of Islam marched into France. Again an almost miraculous defeat of the advancing wave of Islam at the Battle of Tours in 732 saved the French heartland from Islam. In the South, Islam took the islands of Malta and Sicily by 902; again a coalition of Catholic armies repelled the Muslim advance into Central Italy and Rome itself. In 1453 Constantinople fell to Caliph Mehmed the Conqueror.

Christendom more or less abandoned the forward march of history to the Muslim world as it barricaded itself into its Medieval Fortress. Commonly called the “Dark Ages,” even the name “medieval” evokes images of fear, superstition and ignorance. From the great Muslim cities of Cordoba to Baghdad and from Cairo to the renamed Istanbul, Islamic art, architecture, medicine, science, mathematics, theology, and philosophy flourished. The populations of Black Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia were irresistibly attracted to this brilliant, wealthy and powerful civilization.

During this Christian “Millennium of Humiliation,” only tiny enclaves of Christians managed to survive in Ethiopia and Egypt, Armenia and Georgia in the Caucasus, and even smaller remnants in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Jews managed to establish a modus vivendi with the Islamic Empire and rose to positions of great power. Jews in Spain, Egypt, Morocco, and Iraq founded brilliant Jewish renaissances while the Jews of Christian Europe were persecuted minorities forced into ghettos.

The Muslim Millennium of Humiliation

The first nation to employ the phrase the “Century of Humiliation” as a powerful tool to overcome Western military, economic, and cultural domination was China. The term 百年國恥 first appeared in print in 1915. Mexican revolutionaries, Israeli Zionists, Shiite revolutionaries in Iran, and many other once great nations have adapted the phrase to their own purposes. Currently, the Muslim world has successfully applied the phrase to their own quest to restore their long-lost greatness.

The Muslim Millennium of Humiliation began with the expulsion of Islam from a reunited Spain in 1492. The victorious Christians gave Muslims and Jews the choice of conversion or expulsion. Until today, the Spanish celebrate this great victory of Christianity over Islam with statues of Mary with her foot on the Islamic crescent; the famous Spanish image of Our Lady of Almudena dramatically depicts this victory.

Following the defeat of Islam at the gates of Vienna in 1683, the Austrian and later the Russian empires advanced into Eastern Europe and the Balkans pushing the Muslim Ottoman Empire ever southward. The Ottoman Empire eventually earned the nickname “The Sick Man of Europe.”

Once liberated, Spain and Portugal directed their campaign of Reconquista at conquering the native empires of Latin America for Christendom, but the French, British, Austrian, and Russian empires directed their efforts at reclaiming the lost lands of Christendom. With brutal efficiency, France “liberated” North Africa and later Syria and Lebanon while Britain seized Egypt, the Sudan, and later Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine. Russia joined in this campaign to liberate the long-lost lands of Christendom by aiding the peoples of the Balkans, Caucasus, and Black Sea in overthrowing Ottoman (as well as Austrian) rule, and even set out to add the long-Muslim empires of Central Asia to Christendom.

Like the Spanish in Latin America, the Russians advanced with a sword in one hand and the cross in the other. Britain and France likewise claimed long-Islamic as well as African, Hindu and Buddhist lands to Christendom and dispatched legions of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. The Chinese Empire annexed the vast Muslim territories of East Turkistan and even the Americans joined in this anti-Muslim crusade by seizing the Muslim islands of the Philippines. The last victory in this Christian Revival was the American, Russian and European handover of Palestine to the Jews in 1948 and the subsequent Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem and the third most holy city of Islam in 1967. In Muslim eyes, the most egregious act of this Christian Crusade against Islam was the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate by the Turkish Republic under British and French pressure.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba. During the Reconquista, the Spanish Catholics converted the mosque into the Cathedral of Córdoba in 1236 after half a millennium as the central mosque of Córdoba.

The Muslim Revival

The Muslim Revival began with the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. When the Europeans granted independence to their colonial possessions, they shackled them with so-called “secular” governments and economic ties that continued their colonial status. Iran was the first Islamic nation to throw off its Western imposed “secular” government and install an Islamic Republic. Soon other nations liberated themselves and many made attempts to emulate the Iranian example. The most recent example was the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president in Egypt in 2013, but massive American, European and Israeli intervention halted this experiment and restored a Western, anti-Islamic regime under President Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in the rejection of Marxism and the independence of some 80 million Muslims in Central Asia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus. The various Palestinian intifadas and acts of resistance added to this Muslim revival; for some, so did the dramatic destruction by Al Qaeda of New York’s iconic World Trade Center towers in 2001.

Islamic movements have taken firm root from Indonesia to Morocco and from Nigeria to Bosnia. Muslim volunteers from Europe and North America have joined in this revival. The United States has intensified its war against the Muslim Revival, branding it as terrorism, extremism, radicalism, and President George W. Bush even declared the American campaign a “crusade.”

Power of a Vision

Newly emerging powers, such as Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Nigeria, and the European Union have no choice but to navigate unchartered waters in their quest for greatness. Old empires, such as Russia, India, China, Israel, the Islamic Ummah, and most recently the USA under Donald Trump and Great Britain after Brexit, on the other hand, are intent on restoring their once glorious and currently shattered greatness. Their faith in this former greatness is a powerful motivating force that tolerates no opposition and justifies the most brutal of tactics.

Presidents George W. Bush was and Donald Trump is intent on overcoming the “Decades of Humiliation” that began in the 1960s with a vision of restored American greatness (Trump said on July 6, “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.  Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?… Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”). America’s decline was marked by moral decay, military defeat in the Vietnam War, the women’s movement, gay rights, abortion, the rise of China, the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria quagmires, uncontrolled immigration of non-whites, outsourcing of American jobs, and a black man in the White House.

Russia likewise has invaded Ukraine, violated basic norms of human rights, and annexed Russian populated areas to achieve its restoration of the Third Rome. The Indian BJP is intent on erasing a millennium of Muslim and British (Christian) domination from their history and its followers are relentless in erasing mosques and churches and “Hinduizing” national education in its quest to restore the Maurya Empire (322-185 BCE).

China likewise believes it is the will of heaven that it reclaim its divine role as the Middle Kingdom and Confucianism is as vital an arm as the military, economy and culture in its restoration of the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE). Even a small nation like Israel views the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as disposable barriers in their path to renewed biblical greatness and supports ruthless oppression, relentless settlement building, and systematic expulsion of non-Jews.

Conclusion

The current conflict between the United States and the Islamic Ummah pits two civilizations traumatized by their respective “Times of Humiliation.” Names like the “War on Terror” or “War against Islamic Extremism” do little to obscure this reality. Unlike the past, the clashes of civilizations Samuel Huntington so eloquently describes in his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, predict a 21st century marked by brutal warfare unparalleled by any in the past. Both sides in the American-Islamic conflict do not hesitate to employ vile torture methods, mass slaughter of civilians, and violations of the most basic norms of human rights and decency in their quests to make America and make Islam great again.♦

Dr. Ronald J. Brown is a professor of history, political science and ethnic studies at Touro College and teaches courses in world religion at Unification Theological Seminary. A docent at the New York Historical Society with degrees from Harvard Divinity School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the University of Geneva, Switzerland, Brown is the author of A Religious History of Flushing, Queens; Into the Soul of African-American Harlem; and How New York Became the Empire City.

26 thoughts on “America and Islam: “The Time of Humiliation” as a Determining Feature in Modern Politics

  1. Thank you for this very interesting and educational essay. It helps (me) to better see the whole picture in our turbulent times. Much appreciated, Dr. Brown.

    • My article on this Blog is a much toned-down alternative view of what is going on in the Middle East. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. What exactly are you trying to say here, Dr. Brown?

    Your conclusion equating Islam and America in their struggle is frankly false. America’s (and the West’s) historical relationship with Islam has always been defensive in nature. If there’s any trauma energizing the contemporary combatants, it’s in the West; Islam’s traumas are largely self-inflicted and the result of picking a fight they ultimately lost. But it was Islam itself that debased its own society and collapsed to where the nascent West could take advantage as Islam earlier did with Christendom. The US has many moral failings in war and politics, but rising to the level of Islam’s is not one of them.

    Your euphemisms for Islam’s expansion are pretty sad and disingenuous. Failing to note the vast gulf between Islam’s 1400-year convert-or-die and Christendom’s localised convert-or-leave approach mischaracterises the history between them and distorts the lens through which to cognise it. If all you’re seeking to do is give a historical tit-for-tat account then you’ve accomplished that. But you’ve given little enlightenment and only sowed seeds of confusion. And come off piquantly biased.

    “Times of humiliation” as some sort of grand scheme to explain or view history fails. All people experience humilitation to various degrees at different times in their life and it’s usually self-induced. It sometimes motivates specific action. What you appear to allude to instead is spiritual history…usually thought of as collective memory. There is a lot to be said for that driving contemporary events, but it’s only one part of a larger symphony. Your traipsing through a payback history also ignores totally the multi-century life and death struggle in the West between secularism and Godism, collectivism and individualism, totalitarianism and freedom, etc., which is a far more defining characteristic for the West than any struggle with Islam.

    If Islam wasn’t constantly banging on the West’s gates, the West wouldn’t pay it any mind. Islam has been a hyper-aggressive force in the woods surrounding Christendom since its inception, relying on violent force from the outset. Of course, the West’s had to deal with it from time to time…twice nearly at the point of extinction…just like it’s had to deal with any other aggressive forces from beyond its pale. The only salient issue with the West’s struggle with Islam today is that the West cannot cognise a continuing aggressive Islam with the clarity of previous assaults, which in large part is thanks to leftism’s ideology eviscerating Western Christian-derived values and its capacity to reason.

    • “America’s (and the West’s) historical relationship with Islam has always been defensive in nature.” Quite the contrary. The century of humiliation had been a brutal period of Western aggression, exploitation and colonialism. The French in Algeria were genocidal as have been Israel and the West with the Palestinians. “1400-year convert-or-die” is a myth. Islam has a much better track record than Christianity.

  3. I concur with much of what Chris McKeon has stated here. Having done a bit of research on the Crusades, I came across the scholarly writings of Thomas F. Madden.

    Madden, former director of Saint Louis University’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and a leading authority on the subject, opines that the Crusades were “possibly the most misunderstood event in European history.” Offering a relatively unfamiliar perspective, he writes:

    “The Crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christian world. While the Arabs were busy in the seventh through the tenth centuries winning an opulent and sophisticated empire, Europe was defending itself against outside invaders and then digging out from the mess they left behind. Only in the eleventh century were Europeans able to take much notice of the East. The event that led to the crusades was the Turkish conquest of most of Christian Asia Minor (modern Turkey).”

    In a 2005 essay for Christianity Today, Madden lays bare many of the distortions and inaccuracies that have been promulgated by those who view the Christian West as the evil empire of the past two millennia. The Crusades were, in fact, a series of “holy wars,” but in no way were they conjured and perpetrated by the power-mad popes, rapacious knights or the Christian zealots who have been fallaciously characterized as “the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general.”

    As Madden tells it, “Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death.” The Crusades, some of which failed miserably, were the response “to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.”

    And as we are now witnessing, the extremist elements of Islam are still “gunning” for Christians and any other non-believers.

    And we are now defending civil liberties, freedom to choose, representative government — the defining attributes of Western, Judeo-Christian culture — without which we can never get to a culture of peace (the hope of all ages!) as defined in Divine Principle. We pray that the more moderate voices within Islam can militate the more radical voices and we can finally end the long history of antagonism and conflict among all religions.

    I might add, that there is something else at work in this debate: PC-based multiculturalism.

    Multiculturalism was originally seen as a way to create an atmosphere conducive to mutual respect and assimilation. However, progressive multiculturalists on the left now denigrate Western culture in the pursuit of fairness and justice. The desire to take Western culture down a peg lies at the heart of the multicultural agenda. A truly democratic solution would be to honor and respect all cultural expressions for their intrinsic value so long as civil liberties are considered sacrosanct. If those values are the progeny of a particular religious conviction, so be it. Does anyone see respect for “the other” coming from radical Islam?

    As Samuel P. Huntington instructs in his book, The Clash of Civilizations:

    “The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique, not universal, and uniting to preserve it against the challenges from non-Western societies. Avoidance of a global war of civilizations depends on world leaders accepting and cooperating to maintain the multi-civilizational character of global politics.”

    For those of us who have the good fortune of living in a free and open society, our trial will be how best to use our freedoms in the most humanitarian fashion. Western society is unique in its attempt to foster and advocate respect, dignity and liberty for all people. We don’t always get it right, but the principles are the foundation necessary to get to a culture of peace. Thus, the importance of protecting the West’s cultural patrimony vis-a-vis civil liberties and the right to choose.

  4. While I appreciate reading Dr. Brown’s overview of Islamic history and its clashes with Judaism and Christianity, it is clearly a whitewash of Islam’s core violence. Statements like “Peoples in the way of this seemingly unstoppable civilization had the choice to either join it or become impotent bystanders.” Really? What about the choice to pay exorbitant taxes for not joining, to become second-class citizens without any hope for improvement? I guess that’s “impotent.” And then there was always the choice to become a female sex slave. Women’s suffering in this terrible, oppressive “civilization” is not once even mentioned in Dr. Brown’s overview. I guess that’s to be expected from a male scholar.

    And to depict the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood from leadership in Egypt as somehow masterminded by the West? Wow. Apparently all those Egyptians who suffered from the brutal application of sharia were too “impotent” to matter in the overturning of the brutal Brotherhood.

    Dr. Brown’s hagiographic treatment of the most bloody, anti-woman “civilization” in world history is very disappointing. I expect better from UTS.

    • I believe that, as Donald Trump so eloquently argues, the USA is no longer “great.” The slogan “Make America Great Again” implies that we are no longer great. Whether he can return the USA to the golden age of the 1950s is debatable. I believe that Trump is simply trying to retain as much of American greatness as he can. With puppet regimes in the Middle East, corrupt monarchies, and failed states, Trump sees domination of the Muslim world as one goal he can achieve.

      As Huntington correctly argues, a list of five or six civilizations has replaced the bipolar world of the Cold War. My argument is that the Muslim world is fighting to achieve independence from American domination.

  5. Dr. Brown,

    Thank you for the lesson on history and thanking the other responders for very engaging polemics on Islam and its clash with Western cultural values.

    But, I was thrown off by the idea “Confucianism is as vital an arm as the military, economy and culture in its (PRC) restoration of the Zhou Dynasty.” Not to say I entirely disagree with the idea; it is interesting.

    To add, Dr. Brown is uniquely situated at UTS to encourage new findings on how to diminish the troubling and violent clashes we now see. When Dr. Brown writes his next book and opens his thesis with ”the power of a vision” and makes the arguments presented on the history of humiliation, political power and cross-cultural aggression, he would have a bestseller.

    • “Confucianism is as vital an arm as the military, economy and culture in its (PRC) restoration of the Zhou Dynasty.” Christianity was messianic and otherworldly. Jesus preached that he would soon return and establish the reign of God. So his followers had no need to worry about constructing a society or planning for the long term. Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Confucianism, on the other hand, were not messianic. These religions founded spiritual and temporal societies and planned for the long term, even thousands of years. That’s why they elaborated social structures, food restrictions, clothing, holidays, forms of worship and even political leadership.

      • Well, you might have something there Dr. Brown, but Judaism and Islam are both messianic religions too, and still are, the Jews still awaiting the first messiah and Muslims awaiting their 12th imam. Nevertheless, it was Christianity that produced the world’s best society in history, with the most freedom, rule of law, equality, and peacefulness. If it wasn’t for leftism, Christian America would probably be the most peaceful, prosperous, free, equal, and stable society on planet earth.

  6. This is an important topic to discuss, and as we can see from the level of disagreement here, not one very well understood or explained. “Humiliation” is probably related to both the rise of Trump and the resurgence of aggressive Islam. However, as such it is a psychological explanation, but does not explain political and economic conflicts and problems, which I believe are also part of the equation.

    Aggression is a knee-jerk or reactionary approach to “humiliation,” and built into the instinct for survival. It is explained by the “Frustration-Aggression” hypothesis that people (and animals) have a fight or flight reaction towards those things that cause us frustration. However, non-agressive responses to frustration can be learned. Good families and religions should teach constructive, rather than destructive, responses to frustration. This, at its core, is what civilization is all about. It is the ability to recognize that other people who believe differently, have a right to exist and to be treated civilly. Name-calling is another sign of incivility.

    What we are witnessing is more a clash of “uncivilizations,” e.g., groups of people whose culture did not enable them to mature beyond the fight or flight level of psychological development. In a more civilized and ideal world, individuals and societies learn to constructively respond to threats. Just war theory evolved to promote a standard of behavior of groups towards one another that implicitly recognizes the right of others to exist, and denies the right of anyone to conquer others through agression, while permitting defense against aggression — only after attacked, and then only in proportion to the violence unleashed by the agressor. Thomas F. Madden was attemping to justify the Crusades through this lens of just war theory because he implicitly realizes its value. Whether the Crusades were motivated by that sentiment or not is harder to discern.

    One thing we do know is that President George W. Bush violated traditional just war theory in the invasion of Iraq, and President Obama extended further violations in bombing Libya and arming an insurrection in Syria. From this standpoint, America represents one side of the clash of “uncivilization,” and uncivil behavior (violence) often begets more violence — and just war theory allows it. It takes someone like a Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi to stand up to a agressor with civilized behavior. Reverend Moon always taught that “Satan strikes first” and God strikes back with love for the enemy. He was an anti-communist who was allowed to go to Moscow because he wanted to transform their society without killing their leaders, but raising them up with a God-centered heart.

    I can only conclude that both the behavior of the United States and violent jihadists has been perpetrated by fairly low-level consciousness of uncivilized people. Neither side in this clash represents actions motivated by a parental heart (maturity) which wants the other side to live well and prosper, but is willing to stand up and curb violence, not with violence, but with good rule of law that punishes agression, without killing the agressors.

    • Humiliation is a powerful emotion and can lead to either a rectification of this state or a violent lashing out. Trump is filled with anger and is lashing out at the forces that reduced his once great nation to its present humiliation. This is the crux of his statement “Make America Great Again.” The Islamic World likewise seeks to return to its golden age as does China. Even India under the BJP is inspired by its past glory. Israeli Zionism likewise is a return to the past ideology. Returning to past glory is very different from aspiring to future greatness, which is the case of Brazil, Argentina, Nigeria, and many other emerging empires. Brazil is inspired by ambition, Trump is motivated by anger. Israel views the Palestinians as having no rights to the Israel homeland and therefore as a dispensable population. A return to the past glory that was unjustly taken from them is a factor that deserves to be taken seriously. Making America Great Again is more than an empty slogan.

  7. Dr. Brown states: ” Even a small nation like Israel views the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as disposable barriers in their path to renewed biblical greatness and supports ruthless oppression, relentless settlement building, and systematic expulsion of non-Jews.”

    This seems to be a complete misreading of the situation in Israel and casts the Israelis in the most unflattering light. The Israelis have been more than willing to discuss a two-state solution and have made numerous gestures towards ending the decades-long impasse that has plagued the Holy Land.

    • Israel’s relations with the Palestinians are brutal. Five million refugees dumped throughout the Middle East and an apartheid system in Israel and the Occupied Territories. I seriously doubt that Israel has any intention of establishing a Palestinian state. I lived there for five years and my first M.A. in history is from the Hebrew University.

      • How many Jews were displaced from Europe during the 1920s and ’30s? What did they do if they survived the Holocaust? Many tried to get back property through the legal system, but for the most part they didn’t try to reclaim homes. Many re-established themselves in the USA, Canada and elsewhere. They also gained their own nation with the help of a supportive United Nations. Jews were horribly mistreated throughout Europe, but they dealt with reality and didn’t dwell on the past, other than to “Never Forget.” They didn’t try to seek revenge (except for one or two small groups that didn’t last long).

        Why haven’t Palestinians been welcomed in other Arab countries? And why haven’t Palestinians done as well as Jews when they do relocate? Isn’t it true that Arab leaders do not want a solution to this problem, other than the dissolution of Israel?

        I would honestly like to understand what you, Dr. Brown, believe is the practical solution for Israel at this time.

  8. Sadly, Dr. Brown’s description of Israel’s current oppression of the Palestinians is all too true.

    Despite the efforts of the previous administration led by Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as peace-loving organizations like UPF to promote reconciliation, the politics in Israel has swung so far to the right that a two-state solution seems all but dead. Prime Minister Netanyahu is firmly wedded to the settlement lobby whose agenda is to settle Jews throughout the West Bank. Israel can enforce a harsh military occupation that has continued for 50 years with apparent impunity. And I don’t hold much hope that President Trump will be able to change things there.

  9. Would just like to add my two cents on this (apparently meant to be) provocative piece as far as “Islam and America”:

    It would seem that the issue(s) discussed here are much broader than either one or the other of those two and that such equivocation greatly diminishes any sort of constructive analysis or dialogue.

    • I would agree with EG Pierson, based upon Dr. Brown’s long list of marker indicators of the decline of America: “moral decay, abortion, women’s movement, gay rights, the rise of China, the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria quagmires, uncontrolled immigration of non-whites, outsourcing of American jobs, and a black man in the White House.” The article is an intentionally broad and provocative piece. Nonetheless, the phrase “century of humiliation,” first employed by the revolutionary Chinese as a powerful tool to overcome Western military, economic and cultural domination, is an interesting idea.

      • Robert, thank you for your comments.

        My multi-millionaire great grandfather once said that making his millions was fun but keeping them is no fun! Building empires is great fun but keeping them was not only no fun but downright dangerous.

        The most dangerous stage in the history of every world empire is how a declining empire will respond to its own decline. Panic and desperate acts are most common. The decline of the British empire is one of the few well-managed declines. France committed horrendous atrocities in Algeria and Vietnam in its desperate attempt to remain a global empire.

        The USA and its allies want to keep control of “our” oil in the Middle East. What I fear the most is the collapse of the Saudi regime. Then all hell will break lose throughout the area and all the American and Israeli troops in the world will not be able to keep control of the region. The USA can either continue trying to keep its empire intact or recognize that a new global actor is entering the world stage — the Muslim Ummah. Samuel P. Huntington was right on target.

        • I think your comment above is a failed analysis, Dr. Brown.

          The “most dangerous stage of every world empire” is not when they’re in decline — which usually takes decades if not centuries and hardly induces “panic” — but in their run up to, and the peak of, empire. That’s when the bulk of danger falls upon its hapless victims. If the British decline was well-managed it’s because the USA was there doing the managing and preventing any “panic” on England’s part, and because England had already envisioned a global commonwealth rather than a global empire.

          France’s atrocities in Algeria and Vietnam had literally nothing to do with its decline as a world power. Their atrocities in previous decades and centuries remained unmatched by atrocities in those two lands, and had nothing to do with their decline, but rather their dutiful support of their national interests in the face of violent rebellion. The French actually walked out on Vietnam after Dien Bien Phu, and that’s not the act of a panicking power in decline but the response of a sober realist.

          You might as well say the American Civil War 150 years ago was really just a “panicky” American empire in decline lashing out to keep what it had, rather than a principled defense of its national integrity in the face of violent overthrow, because that’s the underlying rationale of your argument here.

          As for the USA and “our” oil in the Middle East, nothing could be further from the truth. Who is actually more dependent upon Middle East oil, the USA — or Europe, China and India? Not only does the USA have plenty of its own energy resources, but conservatives have always demanded the USA be energy independent and exploit its own resources and forget about Middle East oil. This effort has routinely been blocked by liberals and corruption, forcing the US into dependency on the Middle East. The US has no vested interest in Middle East oil except indirectly through our allies’ needs. Sensible people who already expect Saudi Arabia to fall are trying to position America accordingly.

          But to what American “empire” do you even refer? We are a commercial nation primarily concerned with protecting commerce, not imperial power. All our military interventions (including even the half-witted ones) are designed to accomplish a single purpose: the protection of American commerce through keeping the peace. Unlike the British empire, America’s commerce is not geared to stripping the world of raw materials and selling back finished goods at exorbitant rates. Protecting American commerce is not the imperial sin it was for the British. And we are not even the Walmart of the world; we often pay quite exorbitant prices for imported goods, exactly the opposite of that for which an empire strives.

          Islam may or may not become a global military or economic force. A lot depends on its ability to unite, but currently and in the near future more mitigates against than for it. No “new global actor” is entering the stage, but an old, brutal, violent, corrupt, and harsh one is dreaming of its resurgence. Has that ever happened in world history? No. So if Islam becomes a global power again it would be a historical first and for that reason, too, is more unlikely than likely.

          You argue like the rise of another Soviet Union is a good thing because it’s Muslim and America is just another Christian empire that needs to go. But, 1,400 years of history should be enough to foretell the future of yet another aggressive, religiously fanatic empire on the march. The USA has a vested interest in not allowing such a thing…not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of Europe, India, Africa, and a humanity that’s been machine-gunned, bombed, beheaded and tortured by Muslim extremists on behalf of their Ummah for 50 years and counting. And that hardly makes the USA a “panicky” declining empire lashing out from the ash heap of history. So far, all I’ve read here is devotion to a cause.

        • But to what American “empire” do you even refer? Trump and many of his supporters view the Golden Age of the USA as following the Second World War. Blacks were in ghettos, Hispanics were in Mexico, and women were in the kitchen. The USA ruled the world, everyone watched Hollywood movies, drank Coke, wore jeans, used the dollar, and wanted to speak English. This was the America of Eisenhower. It all fell apart with the reopening of the gates of immigration in 1965, the women’s movement, gay rights demands, the Civil Rights movement, the end of prayer in schools, and abortion on demand.

  10. Thank you, Dr. Brown, for this post. Some of the responders may rightfully have taken issue with a few points, but, even taking these into account, I find your summary basically accurate and enlightening. Your background, especially the degree from Hebrew University, gives you gravitas in this area.

    I would be every interested in a follow-up piece presenting your ideas as to what can be done about the current impasse; I use this term because I’m cautious about the more loaded terms like “clash,” “war,” “battle,” and so forth. I am especially interested in ways in which we can get beyond self-serving biases (I sometimes wonder, for example, to what extent an assumption of Western Christian cultural superiority helped Americans in earlier centuries rationalize their treatment of Native Americans and Africans).

  11. This new report by strategist and author Robert Kaplan gives an alternative view to some of the views expressed above. He argues: “it isn’t the so-called clash of civilizations that is taking place, but the clash of artificially reconstructed civilizations,” and that: “Western civilization is not being destroyed; rather, it is being diluted and dispersed.”

    Also, this article is the first in a series of reports on Iran’s dominant position in Iraq, 14 years after the U.S. invasion, and its growing regional influence.

  12. Well yes…”diluted and dispersed.” But is that a good thing across-the-board?

    Kaplan makes some important points. But if we remove the “artifice” what are we left with? All cultures are based on certain moral and ethical premises, usually born of religion convictions. For devoted Muslims, those premises are not artificial, but core beliefs that all society, including government, must abide by.

    Samuel P. Huntington again: “The dangerous clashes of the future are likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance and Sinic assertiveness.”

    Finding common ground or shared values on matters of morality and justice is a good starting point toward overcoming the “clashes” between the West, Islam and Asian cultures.

    But when Sayyid Qutb wrote in Milestones (1964): “The Western world realizes that Western civilization is unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind….Islam is the only system [that] possesses these values and this way of life,” was he seeking common ground? Does the Christian West have nothing to offer humanity in terms of rights, morality, liberty, social justice, etc.? Are all Islamic prescriptions for a better world worthy of consideration? Is Islam the “only” way?

    Western liberal democracy provided a way for many voices to be in the equation. The mutual respect for those voices allows us to begin the fashioning of a better alternative to the modality of religious triumphalism. But as we understand in the West, greater democratic freedom allows for the sacred and profane to be in the social mix. We take our democracy straight. (The Greeks wrestled with this long ago) The West certainly didn’t get it right across-the-board, but it did provide a way to progress toward better understandings of “the other” by establishing the necessary rights to advance the dialogue.

  13. In response to Dr. Barry’s linking to Robert Kaplan’s essay:

    In his arresting 2006 book, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West From Within, American journalist Bruce Bawer cites the perpetual acquiescing by politicians, academics and members of the media in Europe to the demands by Muslims for complete and total respect for all things Islamic, often at the expense of civil liberties and intellectual integrity.

    Bawer notes European’s “peace-at-all-costs” mentality has resulted in “mindless, self-destructive multiculturalism” that strikes at the very heart of liberal democracy. According to Bawer, the abdication of moral responsibility by European elites is due, in large part, to the antipathy Europeans have toward their own religious patrimony.

    Because religious zeal has been on the wane in Europe for decades, Bawer asserts Europeans can’t fathom how religion inspires the Muslim heart. Consequently, they dismiss any suggestion that religious impulses are part of the equation. Bawer writes: “It must be something we can relate to — poverty, oppression, colonialism. The neo-Marxist analysis comes easily. And from these misreadings of reality spring a host of colossally wrongheaded responses.”

    And just as Christianity has suffered from schisms and divisiveness, Islam too suffers from its own internal conflicts. So when we speak of Islam we are not speaking of a unified voice — not at all.

    Also, as we understand, in Western secular democracy, religion has its place but is tempered by the concepts of pluralism and assimilation. Consequently, the permissiveness we experience on a daily basis is the result of civil liberties that insure freedom of speech and expression. These civil liberties assure that expressions of both the sacred and the profane are to be respected even if one or the other is considered onerous by various segments of the populace. Freedom of speech and religion give us a shot at working things out without resorting to inhumane responses —- war, genocide, etc.

  14. Here is a lengthy review of Huntington’s books written over his career: “Samuel Huntington, a prophet for the Trump era. The writings of the late Harvard political scientist anticipate America’s political and intellectual battles — and point to the country we may become.”

    Robert Kaplan’s final paragraphs in his above-mentioned report conclude about Eurasia:

    “…[T]he more important underlying dynamic will be the crises of central control inside Russia and China themselves as their authoritarian systems degenerate. This will happen alongside decaying Turkish and Iranian imperial structures, even while Europe itself becomes more fractured and less trustworthy – and besieged as the years go on with refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, to say nothing of the Middle East. …[M]odernism with its neatly defined bureaucratic states and borders is receding in the rearview mirror across Eurasia. The current bout of populist nationalism that we see is merely its swan song.

    “…At a more profound and yet less obvious level, there is… a growing emphasis on city-states and the half-hidden traditions of empire, even while the problems of modern states increase. We may be back to… the age-old political formulations of city, empire, and tribe, or ethnos. Meanwhile, across Eurasia, the state itself – that more recent invention – suffers. Thus, the map increasingly will be defined by a new medievalism, as the Westphalian model, with which the United States has traditionally been comfortable intervening and interacting, becomes increasingly less relevant.”

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