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An Alliance of Civilizations?

MADRID – The first International Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, conceived as an antidote to the idea that the world is doomed to a “clash of civilizations,” recently met in Madrid and revealed that there is more than a grain of truth in Robert Kagan’s idea that Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus. Ever since September 11, 2001, the United States has been engaged in a crusade against the forces of evil in the Muslim world. By contrast, the March 11, 2004, terrorist attack on Spain, which left 200 dead, triggered an “anti-crusade” that seeks to disarm extremism by building bridges of understanding and reconciliation with Islam.

Co-sponsored by Spain and Turkey, the Alliance of Civilizations initiative is not devoid of political calculation. To the Spaniards, it helps to justify their abrupt withdrawal from Iraq in 2004; for the Turks, it is yet another vehicle in their struggle, as the vital bridge between Islam and the West, for admission into the European Union.

A loose and somewhat confused project, the Alliance of Civilizations aims to heal the wounds of conflict between Islam and the West through education, viable integration policies, and a better-informed dialogue with the media. But it suffers from the major global players’ profound skepticism, with the US, Russia, and, for that matter, the EU shown no real enthusiasm for it.

However vague, the alliance of civilizations idea certainly cannot do more harm than war against Islamic extremism. After all, none of the Muslim world’s problems and conflicts with the West are susceptible to a military solution. Moreover, the Alliance is not an entirely incoherent proposal if the objective is that the West disengage from the politics of hubris and establish a genuine sphere of cooperation with the Muslim world in economics, culture, and science.