In his 55-minute address, “Clash of Civilizations or an
Islamic Reformation?” Robert Hefner, anthropology professor
and associate director of Boston University’s Institute for
the Study of Economic Culture, centered his comments not so much
on a conflict between Islamic radicals and the West but rather on
the power struggle between those radicals and democratically minded
“It would be a missed opportunity if the West fails to see
that the violence of Sept. 11, 2001, was directed not only at the
United States but also at moderate Muslims,” said Hefner,
a specialist on South-east Asia with a focus on the relation between
religion and economic development. He addressed a standing-room-only
crowd of more than 150 in the Jones Room of Woodruff Library last
Hefner spoke in depth about a Muslim world that has been struggling
to define itself in modern times. A great deal of Muslim leaders
and populations, he said, are committed to Western ideas of democracy,
but their efforts at reform often are undermined by hard-liners,
the most prominent of whom is Osama bin Laden.
He defined the extremists’ hatred of the West as stemming
from causes ranging from the Crusades to colonization, to the rising
influence of Islamic religious affairs in public policy. Hard-liners
see the West—along with nations such as Israel, Russia and
India—as dedicated to destroying their religion.
Moderate Muslims, Hefner said, see the situation differently. In
countries such as Iran and Indonesia, they even have had a modicum
of success in achieving democratic reforms within the context of
a Muslim state. But those reforms, Hefner continued, have been subverted
by conservative Islamists in power in Iran, who so far have succeeded
in blocking many reforms, and by militarists in Indonesia who used
violence to break up a democratic Muslim coalition.
“Higher education, women’s participation and economic
growth advance democratic Islam,” Hefner said. But, he added,
poverty and strategic use of violence (like the Sept. 11 attacks
and the unrest in Indonesia) can undermine those reforms.
In conclusion, Hefner said that what is going on now is not really
a clash of civilizations, despite the fact that many in the West
may see it that way.
“Even if U.S. military action is considered a technical success,”
Hefner said, the war inside Islam will continue.