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Beyond their political implications, the religious dimensions of the Middle East uprisings have always been central, particularly to the West. Ever since 9/11, the West and Islam have been locked in a chilly standoff. The relationship was captured by Harvard professor Samuel Huntington’s lightning-rod phrase “the Clash of Civilizations.” Huntington’s thesis, which was roundly trashed when it was published as an article in 1993 but became a best seller in book form following Sept. 11, was that Islam taught Muslims to be hostile to freedom, pluralism and individualism.
At first blush, the Arab Spring seemed to render Huntington’s idea deader than ever. In up to 20 Islamic countries, Muslims marched in the face of bullets, tanks and water cannons, demanding the exact human dignities that parades of commentators had assured the American public Muslims didn’t want. If anything, the uprisings of 2011, coupled with the death of Osama bin Laden, raised the tantalizing possibility that the West and Islam, which came to the brink of a Holy War in the past decade, might finally be able to build a Holy Peace. Could the Clash of Civilizations be giving way at last to the Convergence of Civilizations?