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Clash of Civilizations?

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report." As Iraq struggles to form a government and stem the bloodshed, three recent terror messages attempt to exploit the tensions between Islam and the West. Is a clash of civilizations inevitable?

Plus, life in prison for Zacarias Moussaoui. An American jury metes out justice, but also exposes the limits of our court system as a tool of war.

Those topics and our weekly "Hits and Misses." But first, these headlines.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. Scholars and dignitaries, including Vice President Dick Cheney, marked the 90th birthday of historian Bernard Lewis this week at a conference in Philadelphia on Islam and West.

In his seminal essay, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," Lewis predicted the coming of a great struggle between Christendom and Islam, warning the world, of what he termed "the clash of civilizations" more than 10 years before it was brought home to the United States with devastating clarity on Sept. 11.

Johns Hopkins University professor and CBS News Middle East consultant Fouad Ajami attended that conference and paid tribute to the Lewis on the Journal's editorial page this week. Fouad, welcome.

Ajami: Thank you. Thank you, Paul.

Gigot: You wrote in that tribute that Lewis foresaw, in the placid decade--the lost decade of the 1990s--things about this conflict that others didn't see. What made him see that, and what did he find that others didn't?

Ajami: Well imagine--I mean, Lewis saw the fact there is this great upheaval in the Islamic world, and he saw it at the time of e-age in America. We were all in love with the high-tech. We believed that history had ended. We believed the world had become one. We had this gospel of globalism. And here is this historian of British birth looking at the old material, and looking also at things that he was reading in the Islamic world. And he warned of great upheaval in the lands of Islam. It was a remarkable insight at a time when the grain of thought went the other way.

Gigot: One of the things you quote him as talking about was comparing the attitude in the West, back when we fighting the Nazis in 1940, which Lewis was old enough to do--and you quoted him as saying this: "It is different today. We don't know who we are. We don't know the issues. And we still do not understand the nature of the enemy." What don't we understand about the nature of the enemy?

Ajami: Well, that's one of the remarkable things about Bernard Lewis, is this great personal optimism, which marks the man--his wit, his gregarious nature. But I think there is a kind of a dark, brooding thought that runs through the way he thinks about the West today and the industrialized democracies. He believes they really don't understand this nature of the struggle against Islamic radicalism. And in this quotation--because remember, Bernard Lewis was in British intelligence between 1940 and 1945.

Gigot: Right.

Ajami: He said he knew that the democracies would win. That in their island, the Brits would hold out and the Americans would come in. But now, he says, we don't really know who we are. And I don't want to speak for him so much. But I think he is deeply, deeply worried that in a way that Western liberalism can never recognize the nature of the enemy. We just don't know the Islamic world. We don't know evil in many ways. We don't know the sources of these malignancies that come our way.

Gigot: You also wrote yourself that "a pain afflicts modern Islam--the loss of power." Does that influence the nature of this threat we face? Elaborate on what that threat is.

Ajami: Absolutely. And this is really the genius of the work of Bernard Lewis, is that he takes you to the rise of Islam--that Islam was always about power in many ways. It wasn't just about faith. It was also about organizing the world. And that for many, many, many centuries, Islam had the upper hand in the struggle with Christendom. Then it fell behind.

And then people like Zarqawi, people like bin Laden--they have this history of hurt. They remember Islam in its time of ascendancy and its time of greatness. And they are would-be redeemers. They're avengers. They can find these young kids everywhere, from Europe all the way to Indonesia. And they can sell them on this dream of revenge and the dream of restoration. And that's why the work of someone like Lewis is so useful.

Gigot: But you were talking--what you seem to be saying, and Lewis seems to be saying, this is really a civilizational struggle. That is, it is really a clash of--they dislike us because of who we are and the Western dominance. And they're trying to conquer that again.

Ajami: Well, exactly. I mean, in fact, the great question is, you know, the famous question, why do they hate us? And the Bernard Lewis answer is why worry about it? They will always hate you. What you should worry about is, why don't they fear us? Why don't they take us seriously? I mean, this is the question.

And so do they hate us for what we do? Or do they hate us for what we are? And the people who believe that the Islamic world and people in Egypt and so on, hate us for what we do, have absolutely no recommendations other than the fact that more self-flagellation from America. And that's the thing that Bernard Lewis has always spoken against.

Gigot: How do you think those people would interpret the Moussaoui verdict this week--no death penalty, life in prison?

Ajami: That's a hard one. That's a hard one. I think, basically because these societies all believe in the death penalty, and they have the death penalty, and they mete it out all the time. I think it will be very difficult. It will be interesting to observe this and to try to see their response in the next few days.

Gigot: OK. More with Fouad Ajami after this break.

Still to come, violence leaves dozens dead in Iraq this week as the first working session of that nation's new parliament convenes. Can leaders there stem the bloodshed by drawing rival groups into the political arena? Plus, who's winning the war on terror? Our panel is here with their thoughts on the Moussaoui verdict, and the harrowing new film, "United 93."

President Bush: The new Iraqi government represents a strategic opportunity for America, and the whole world for that matter. We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens. And it's a new chapter in our partnership.

Gigot: Iraq's parliament convenes for its first working session since the December elections this week--a meeting that had been delayed for four months due to a deadlock over leadership posts. Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki has until May 22 to present a cabinet to Parliament. He's promised to form a national unity government that will stabilize Iraq by sharing power among Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs.

We're back with Fouad Ajami. He's the author of the forthcoming book "The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq."

Ajami: Thank you.

Gigot: Fouad, about a year ago--almost exactly a year ago--you wrote, in the wake of the successful Iraqi elections, in the ferment in the Middle East, that that area was now Bush country, in the optimistic sense that something was stirring--political ferment. How do you see things a year later?

Ajami: Well, it may be still Bush country more than some other places I can think of.


Gigot: Like Washington, D.C.?


Ajami: So it may still be Bush country.

Look, I am very optimistic about the standoff in Iraq. I mean, if this is what we're beginning with Iraq. We are going to have a national unity government. The Iraqis will form one. I think the new prime minister-designate, Nouri Maliki, will form one, because in fact the veto on his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has been dropped. And we will see a national unity government. It couldn't have come--you know, it should have come sooner. We are nearly five months after the elections.

But on the large question of the democratic stirring in the Arab world, we have shaken that world. We have shaken that world. And I don't think we should be discouraged. This president and this administration, for the first time in 60 years in the American engagement in the lands of Arab world, we've really made reform and democracy an American priority. We have not won every battle, but we have begun to reshape the politics of the Arab world.

Gigot: But there has been a backlash. We've seen Mubarak cancel elections. We've seen Syria at first look like it's pulling out of Lebanon, now back and certainly meddling in intelligence; and the Hamas victory in Palestine. Is this a real backlash against that trend?

Ajami: I think there is this kind of seesaw battle in many ways. And I think we should have expected it. I mean, the way I describe it--I think I may have even used these term in the columns of The Wall Street Journal, so it must be true--that this is a war between American power and laws of gravity in the region. And maybe a pessimist would say, "Look, why try because in the end, the laws of gravity will prevail."

There has been this seesaw battle. And indeed, one time, I said--again in your columns--I said, look, the gift of liberty is like that of a wild horse. When some people see a wild horse, some prefer to walk, and some prefer to ride. And many Arabs now still prefer to ride.

Have we won every battle? No. Have we changed the ways of Egypt? Not yet. I think that's the next great issue, if you wlil--what to do about Egypt. Are the Syrians still active in Lebanon? They are. Geography can't be annulled. But do the Syrians dominate Lebanon they way they used to? No. So there have been gains for this democratic campaign.

Gigot: And once these forces are unleashed--this discussion, this debate--do you think that it can be put back in the bottle, or will it be able to outlive this president and this presidency?

Ajami: Well, this really is--we don't know. And a lot will depend, of course, on the Arabs themselves. We can't win this battle for them, either for the reform of the Arab political order or for the reform of Islam.

What we need to do--and this is what we've done--is we put ourselves on the side of change. We put ourselves on the side of change. And we've signaled to these regimes that our tolerance for autocracy is not what it's used to be. And that really is this battle. It should have always been--we should have always known it would be a fierce contest.

Gigot: There's a point of view that says, you know, if we just left these countries to themselves, if we pulled out, if we pulled out of Iraq, if we let the region--if we weren't so dependent on oil, if we left the region alone, they would leave us alone. Do you believe that?

Ajami: Well, that was the dominant view. And that held until the clear, crisp, cruel morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I mean, I think that was the dominant strain, the realism school of thought in dealing with the Arabs and dealing with the Middle East. It's too late for this.

It's too late for this. We're entangled in the affairs of the Arab world. And these rulers in the Arab world are very sly, very cruel, very knowledgeable. They have a way of deflecting their own troubles onto us. And the young people of the Arab world have been given this diet of anti-Americanism and antimodernism. So we are deeply implicated.

And that's why Iraq is very important. Because it has become, whether it should have been or not, is not really interesting to do it now. This is this battleground now between the forces of change and the forces of autocracy and radicalism.

Gigot: Briefly, Fouad, if we pulled out, set a date certain to pull out of Iraq, what signal would that send to Iraq?

Ajami: I don't think we can do this. I don't think we should do this. And I don't think we're going to do this. We're going to give the Iraqis a chance to form their government, train a good army, and give us--that will be, if you will, the signal for our exit honorably from that land.

Gigot: OK. Fouad Ajami, thank you very much. Fascinating discussion.

The trials of Zacarias Moussaoui. The jury has spoken, but what did the six-week-long courtroom drama say about who is winning the war on terror? Our panel weighs in after the break.

Gigot: A federal jury in Virginia sentenced Zacarias Moussaoui to life in prison this week, for his role in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, in part citing mitigating factors from his childhood in their decision to spare him from death. At times, the six-week-long trial took on a circus-like atmosphere in an exercise that may well have underscored the limits of our criminal justice system as a tool of war.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editorial page editor Dan Henninger, foreign-affairs columnist Bret Stephens and editorial board member Brian Carney.

Dan, you and I both saw "United 93" this week. And I think I know what the hijackers on that plane would have thought about the Moussaoui verdict. I think they would have said, "You weak Westerners. You cannot even put to death people who would kill, deliberately, your innocent women and children." Would they be right?

Henninger: I think they'd have a good point. I think their position would be, "Have you forgotten us already?"

What this movie makes clear is that what happened on Sept. 11 was an attack on the core of civilized life. Because that's what was occurring in the morning of that day. And for three hours, you had this intense attack on innocent, unprotected people. And you come out of that experience feeling that the threat is just so large, so intense, that an entire civilization, ours, has to gather itself together to oppose it. And I'm afraid that in the years since, that the unity of feeling has eroded to the point where you end up with a verdict like Moussaoui's.

Stephens: I think that's right. You know, since Sept. 11, I don't think I've been as depressed as I am now about the conflict that we have with these Islamists.

You know, basically what you had on the side of the jihadis is that they're coming out of an honor and shame society. And we've responded with this verdict, with its focus on Moussaoui's troubled childhood, racism he experienced in the past. We've responded with sort of our own guilt and therapy. And I think that sends a very, very bad signal. When Moussaoui said, "America, you lost," I think there was some truth in what he said.

Carney: Well, I'm going to disagree with Zacarias Moussaoui and you, Bret. He said we lost because, I guess, by his own terms he felt that we did. But, yes, it does show a certain weakness of will. But he is hardly going to Club Fed here. The supermax prison that he's going to spend the rest of his life in is one of the harshest, most isolating, least pleasant places in the world you could go, outside of maybe a Turkish or Iranian prison.

Gigot: Or Saudi.

Carney: Or Saudi prison. And he's not going to be playing golf on the back nine of some club.

Stephens: Yeah, but that is not the question. The question is whether--did we exact the harshest penalty that was at our disposal? And we flinched from doing that.

Gigot: Yeah, are we as serious about the threat that they pose to us, as they view us--as they view our presence in the Middle East? And this language of therapeutic liberalism, you know, he had a dysfunctional childhood. That was put in by the court. That is the kind of way we treat our felony murderers.

Carney: That's true.

Gigot: That's a different nature of threat.

Carney: This is one of the things that I thought that the Moussaoui verdict and the whole trial, as well as "Flight 93" helped bring home, which is the enemy that we face is not, you know, a disgruntled boy from the 'hood. It's not even the kind of political terrorism that we've seen in the West. It is deeply and fundamentally different in its moral outlook and its view of the world from anything we've known. And one of the things that was very striking about Flight 93--"United 93" as a movie is how long it took the passengers to grasp the nature of the people who had taken over this plane. They tried to understand it in terms of what's familiar to them, and by the time they realized that those terms were the wrong terms, it was too late.

Gigot: Well, that was true of all of us on Sept. 11.

Henninger: Yeah, It certainly was. And four or five years have passed, and I think we should talk a little bit about the here and now.

That trial took four years. And it took four years because of the proceduralisms that are built into the American system. And there's a certain similar mindset, I think, in the Congress now, and even in the media, about things like wiretapping, the Patriot Act, detentions. There is the idea, for instance, that the prisoners on Guantanamo should be brought into the United States and exposed to the American system of justice.

Gigot: This is a law-enforcement mentality.

Henninger: Yes.

Gigot: The pre-9/11 mentality and it isn't the serious way you deal with it.

Henninger: And you can't come out of that movie with a law-enforcement mentality.

Stephens: Well, people refer to terrorism as an asymmetrical threat. It's not a conventional threat of the kind that we faced with the Soviets. But the problem that we've had is that we can't convince ourselves that we have to impose a new symmetry on the threat by responding in asymmetrical ways of our own. Democratization in Iraq is an asymmetrical response. The way we've handled enemy combatants is also an asymmetrical response.

We want to go back to what we know, to what's familiar. And it's once again a sign that we're unable to really grasp the nature of the threat we face, just as the passengers were right in doing so.

Gigot: But Bret, I will tell you--and I'm going to get the last word here--I think that uprising on that plane was the first counterattack. And I think that it does show that when we're aroused, we can fight back. So I'm going to leave on a hint of optimism that, I think, at least the broader American people--the people on the plane--not the elites, but the people on that plane--understand it.

All right. Thanks. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses." It's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week. Item one, Dan Henninger sides with the environmentalists in their beef with Yellowstone Park? Dan, say it ain't so.

Henninger: Well, sorry, but you bet. The environmentalists are getting ready to oppose the National Park Service's plans to expand cell-phone service in Yellowstone Park. Now you know and I know that if you're sitting in a restaurant at lunch or dinner and some guy pulls out his cell phone and starts talking, you want to kill him, right?

So the idea that they're going allow people to walk through Yellowstone Park with cell phones is simply anathema. The environmentalists are calling this the death of solitude. As far as I'm concerned, we have already killed solitude in civilization. So why do it to the wilderness? No cell phones in Yellowstone Park.

Gigot: It's a big park, Dan. All right. Next, it's that time of year again. Some at Boston College are objecting to this year's commencement speaker. Bret?

Stephens: Well, the story is 150 professors at BC have written a letter protesting the awarding of this honorary degree. And, you know, it puts me in mind of this--

Gigot: To?

Stephens: To Condoleezza Rice.

Gigot: To Condoleezza Rice, yes. The secretary of state.

Stephens: And it puts me in mind of this great story about Margaret Thatcher, who, in the 1980s when she was prime minister, the faculty of Oxford decided not to award her an honorary degree. And she responded by saying, "I went to Oxford, but I never let that hold me back." I think that whatever BC decides, it's not going to hold Condi Rice back.

Gigot: All right, Bret. Thanks. Finally, the judge in the Da Vinci case has a little fun with a code of his own. Brian?

Carney: That's right. Judge Peter Smith, who ruled in favor of Dan Brown and his publisher, Random House, in a case in which two authors accused him of plagiarizing their nonfiction conspiracy book about Jesus Christ in writing "The Da Vinci Code," decided to have a little fun and encoded, in his decision, a secret message of his own, using italicized letters and an encryption key based on the Fibonacci number sequence, which plays an important role in Brown's book. And he called it the Smithy Code.

The code, which was finally decoded in the last few days by some diligent British code breakers, doesn't say anything about the case. It's actually a reference to a long-dead British admiral named Jackie Fisher. But I'm going give a hit to the judge for getting into the spirit of the case and having a little fun while he did it.

Gigot: Well, but I'll tell you what. I hope more people see "United 93" than see "The Da Vinci Code."

Carney: I agree with that.

Gigot: That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to Dan Henninger, Brian Carney and Bret Stephens. I'm Paul Gigot. Thank you for watching, and we hope to see all of you next week.

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