Summary: The “Western World” rallies within its own borders when terrorism strikes, but ignores Jihadist radicals operating in the “Old World.” As it does so, it risks forgetting that neither values nor barbarism has borders.
The “cradle of civilization” is generally described as the location from where human beings emerged. Archeological evidence pins earliest humanoids in the region around Ethiopia, while biblical scholars point to modern day Iraq. The crescent between those regions is viewed as the birthplace of humankind.
Mankind slowly spread from its cradle to populate Europe, Asia and the rest of Africa. This held true (with few exceptions) until the late 1400s. Mapmakers of the 1470s and 1480s portrayed the known world in just those few continents, kept in check by various “winds.” It was the Columbus journey of 1492 that began the next expansion of civilization into North and South Americas, and then Australia in the early 1600s.
It took many decades to map out and settle these new lands as the voyagers from Western Europe slowly charted these new territories. Maps that initially referred to uncharted areas as “Terra Incognita,” eventually established the “New World.”
Western Europe’s New World
The New Worlds of North America, South America and Australia still feel closely aligned with Western Europe hundreds of years after the explorers from Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Netherlands and Great Britain established themselves on those shores. US President Obama stated on November 24, 2015 “Americans have recalled their own visits to Paris — visiting the Eiffel Tower, or walking along the Seine. We know these places. They’re part of our memories, woven into the fabric of our lives and our culture.”
And so it is with much of the New World and Western Europe. While the Europeans established the Americas and Australia/ New Zealand centuries ago, those new lands still feel a unique warmth and connection to the European continent separated by oceans and thousands of miles.
Over the centuries, the New World took in new immigrants from around the “Old World.” Africans were shipped against their will as slaves for the former Western European colonies, while people from Eastern Europe and Asia came on their own more recently.
The New World still prefers the close connections to their old motherlands in Western Europe.
Western Europe was hit with several terrorist attacks after the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001. Those attacks included: Madrid (2004); London (2005); Belgium (2014); an two attacks in France in 2015. The reactions to attacks in Europe were noticeably different than reactions to terrorism in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region over this time period.
Regarding the second attack on Paris in November 2015, as well as another Islamic extremist attack in Turkey just days before, US President Obama said: “it’s an attack not just of France, not just on Turkey, but it’s an attack on the civilized world…. This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.””
There were no such broad declarations about “an attack on all of humanity… and universal values” when it came to terrorism in MENA.
The leader of the New World looked back to the Old World and saw terrorism divided into two: attacks on the “civilized world” which held “universal values that we share,” and other attacks from beyond the civilized world, in what can best be characterized by various American politicians as “Terra Barbarus.”
Politicians were not alone in this world view.
The world uniquely lit up Facebook with the flag of France after terrorist attacks. The terrorist slaughters in Nigeria, Kenya and Israel by jihadists over the same weeks barely passed people’s minds or hurt their hearts. The New World looked back on the Old with disgust and disdain: those are uncivilized barbaric lands. Terrorism emerges from there. Terrorism is expected there.
So Obama, himself the son of a man from Kenya, drew borders around the civilized world. It’s physical limit seemed to take him to Turkey, a member of NATO that sits on the edge of wars in Syria and Iraq. The edge of “civilization” touched the cradle of civilization.
Borders or Values
There is a country that sits in that Terra Barbarus that shares western values, and calls out to be recognized as part of “civilization.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly stated that the various jihadist forces that continue to kill in the Middle East, whether Islamic State, Hamas or Al Qaeda, are all “branches of the same poisonous tree.” While his country sat in a dangerous neighborhood, the values of Israeli society were the same as western values. He sought to remind western leaders of that point right after the Paris attacks in November 2015:
“Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians. It can never be justified. Terrorism must always be condemned. It must always be fought. Innocent people in Paris, like those in London, Madrid, Mumbai, Buenos Aires and Jerusalem, are the victims of militant Islamic terrorism, not its cause. As I’ve said for many years, militant Islamic terrorism attacks our societies because it wants to destroy our civilization and our values.
“All terrorism must be condemned and fought equally with unwavering determination. It’s only with this moral clarity that the forces of civilization will defeat the savagery of terrorism.“
Indeed, Israel is the most liberal country in the entire Middle East and Africa. It’s values are closely aligned with Western Values. Yet despite Obama’s address on values, the West could not look beyond its contours of civilization. Unwilling to reframe its own narrative, the western world has opted to ignore the Israeli liberal society, and cast it as part of that dark side of humanity.
Should the West continue to ignore the liberal society in the Middle East, it can never expect to realize a different future for the entire region. The warring parties in Terra Barbarus will continue to battle each other, and occasionally reach out and damage the New World like a solar flare. So far, the New World reacts by alternatively bombing and ignoring the barbarians.
To realize a future world with universal values, the world must recognize the blue-and-white flower that has re-emerged in the arid soil in the cradle of civilization. Just as the West promises to fight barbarism that appears on its shores, it must nurture the “humanity” that exists everywhere.
Condemning terrorism was just part of Obama’s speech. Elevating those people that share western values must be part of the battle.
Flower in the hills around Jerusalem
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