‘Civilisations’ debate evades Israel clash
Delegates consider the Mayor of London’s Saturday conference to have been unexpectedly balanced
DESPITE GLOOMY anticipation from some members of London’s Jewish community, last Saturday’s “Clash of Civilisations” conference, hosted by Mayor Ken Livingstone, provided some surprises and some balance — much of which emanated from the opening debate between the mayor and the American academic, Daniel Pipes.
More than 2,000 people attended the conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster.
The mayor had already earned the ire of the Zionist Federation by holding the conference, which featured one session on antisemitism and another on democratic solutions for the Middle East, on Shabbat, thus excluding observant Jews. He was forgiven after adding an evening session, the panel for which featured journalist and JC columnist Jonathan Freedland.
Observers at the opening debate who have spoken to the JC agreed that Mr Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum think-tank, more than held his own with one of the most slick and accomplished politicians in Britain. Both had a seconder: the writer Douglas Murray with Prof Pipes, and Birmingham Councillor Salma Yaqoob — a member of George Galloway’s Respect Party — with Mr Livingstone.
“The applause at the end showed what the audience thought,” said Jonathan Hoffman from North London. “Daniel Pipes and Douglas Murray gained equal applause to Mr Livingstone and Salma Yaqoob. I thought Daniel Pipes set out his case very well.
“It was noticeable that the debate did not degenerate into a slanging match, which could have happened very easily. But perhaps that was because there was initially little mention of Israel.”
Mr Livingstone opened the debate and praised London’s multiculturalism. He spoke about his meetings with the controversial Muslim cleric Sheikh Qaradawi, while quoting the Chief Rabbi’s reference to a “tsunami of antisemitism”, which, the mayor said, was declining in London.
In the evening session, Adrian Cohen, chair of the London Jewish Forum, was heckled as he argued that antisemitism was in fact still very much in evidence in the capital.
Prof Pipes began with Samuel Huntington’s original 1993 Clash of Civilisations essay on foreign affairs, in which he warned that clashes between civilisations had become the greatest threat to world peace. Prof Pipes spoke of a clash not between civilisations, but of civilisations against barbarians.
“Can a world civilisation exist?” asked Prof Pipes. “No, as Huntington defined it” — but a world civilisation was possible if understood as a coalition against “barbarism”. He then defined “ideological barbarians” — fascists, Communists and now Islamists. The great question, he said, was how to oppose the “barbarians”.
The mayor, he said, proposed multiculturalism. But he — Pipes — wanted victory over “barbarians”.
He asked why some elements of the traditional left (in which he included Mr Livingstone) were so supportive of Islamism when it contradicted so much of their world view. His answer: that they shared the same enemies.
In the question-and-answer session following the debate, Mr Livingstone said that while he believed that Israel should not have been created because land was “stolen” from Arabs, now that it existed he accepted it. He added that the US had supported the creation of Israel because it “was scared that if it did not, it would be deemed antisemitic”.
Daniel Pipes (left) listens to the Mayor of London (right) at a debate chaired by Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler (centre)