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Pioneer of sociology: In his philosophy of history, Ibn Khaldun recognised the value of "Asabiyah" (social cohesion)

It is not clear that the West has successfully met the challenge of 9/11. Worse: it is not clear that the West yet fully understands what the challenge is. 

To understand 2001 we have to go back to 1989, the year of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was an historic moment that few had expected. What did it mean? It was then that two stories were born, with one of which we are familiar, the other of which we seem hardly to know or understand at all.

The first narrative was that the West had won. Communism had imploded. In the end, it failed to deliver the goods. People wanted freedom. They sought affluence. The Soviet Union had delivered neither. Politically it was repressive. Economically it was inefficient. For freedom you need liberal democracy. For affluence you need the market economy. 1989 marked the victory of both. From here on democratic capitalism would spread slowly but surely across the world. To adapt Francis Fukuyama's phrase of the time, it was the beginning of the end of history.

The other narrative was quite different but has the advantage of so far being proved correct. Unlike Fukuyama's, it was based not on Hegel but on the 14th-century Islamic thinker Ibn Khaldun. We don't know much about Ibn Khaldun in the West but we should. He was one of the truly great thinkers of the Middle Ages. He has every claim to be called the world's first sociologist. Not for another 300 years would the West produce a figure of comparable originality: Giambattista Vico. Both produced compelling accounts of the rise and fall of civilisations. Both knew what most people most of the time forget: that the greatest civilisations eventually fall. The reason they do so is not necessarily the rise of a stronger power. It is their own internal decay.

Most accounts of al-Qaeda focus on the intellectual influence of the 20th-century thinker and critic of the West, Sayyid Qutb. That influence was real. But the deeper story the leaders of al-Qaeda told in 1989, without which 9/11 is unintelligible, had less to do with Qutb and hatred of the West and its freedoms; and much more to do with the key precipitating event of the fall of Communism: the withdrawal, in 1989, of the Soviet army from Afghanistan.

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November 29th, 2011
6:11 PM
Extremely thought provoking... while most tend to accept the dominant narrative about American exceptionalism, he challenges that entirely offering an alternative narrative, one that is fresh and nuanced about the suicidal tendencies of great empires. He was also not afraid, amid the Islamaphobic zeitgeist spreading allover the world, to draw from an Islamic luminary. Anyway, whether you agree with him or not, this is a compelling essay.

November 23rd, 2011
9:11 PM
The debt and decline of the West originates more with the likes of Barney Frank than with Ibn Khaldun; giveaway politics and borrowed money, which we are only now beginning to pay back.

Hugo Estrada
November 21st, 2011
1:11 PM
Wrong. Empires die when they run out of money. USSR wasn't decadent; it barely produced enough grain to feed itself. USSR bankrupted itself on a conquest war because it was so paranoid about how it was going to be destroyed by the West. Bin Laden did provoke an attack, but the goal was to induce the U.S. to engage in wars of conquest to bleed it financially. Where the argument is correct is in saying that lack of social cohesion has been a big contributor for this. But in the case of the U.S., this lack of social cohesion is expressed in an unwillingness for paying taxes, especially of the richest people.

October 5th, 2011
10:10 AM
DANNY wrote:"America won the fight against the soviets, because RIGHT was on our side." I totally disagree...The loss of the whole Middle east to the conquering Arab armies at the 7th c. with the spread of Islam, the Islamic invasion of Spain,the loss of "Asia minor" followed by the fall of Constantinople to the Turcs all these contradict the idea of right & wrong ! They are clear proofs that you do not need to be right to win..You must be hungry, cruel fanatical and have the WILL to "DOMINATE"

October 5th, 2011
10:10 AM
The author forgot to mention a number of facts 1) The withdrawal from Vietnam 2) The shameful interaction with the Teheran Embassy hostage crisis by Carter and the "Democrats" 3) The author also seems to disregard all the old historians' accounts that attribute the fall of the Roman Empire to decadence and the loss of identity (from Cicero,Seneca,Plinus the Eldest to Montesquieu through Gibbons..)Most of the preceded Ibn Khaldoon Concerning the withdrawals from Vietnam,Lebanon & Somalia, it can be argued that victory in these wars was achieved by more "peaceful and less costly" means, nevertheless it was the leftist and "pacifist" media and pseudo-philosophers that were behind these shameful acts of "cowardice"

September 26th, 2011
4:09 AM
But the Brit-ish Empire also dissolved ~ Empires come and go Like Disco Inferno.

September 21st, 2011
12:09 PM
"The question is not radical Islam but, does the West believe in itself any more?" Regardless of whether one agrees fully or partially with Jonathan Sacks' proposed solution, he is to be commended for having insight to ask the right question. Excellent article.

September 19th, 2011
10:09 PM
Francis Fukuyama has reversed his stance. That said, the big fight today in Europe and America is the view of governance. Conservatives under the banner of personal responsibility and self reliance, want to limit the actions of the state to security and military affairs. People do not want to pay taxes to suuport the state, so the power of the state is declining. Read the recent Harpers article "Pennies from Heaven; How Mormon Economics guides the GOP". I wonder if most people will accept this as a good approach to governance and revival of the west.

September 18th, 2011
8:09 PM
Every American needs to read this. No, every Westerner needs to read this.

September 15th, 2011
9:09 PM
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