chapter  2
6 Pages

Civilizationism

WithPaul Williams

The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks gave political legitimacy to a form of ethnic absolutism that Paul Gilroy refers to as 'civilizationism'. Civilizationism refers to the language used by politicians and political commentators in relation to the War on Terror, specifically the presentation of the War on Terror as a battle between mutually exclusive cultures. Civilizationism makes the local circumstances that generate ethnic tension evaporate and it rewrites incidents such as these as ingredients in a dispute between incompatible civilizations. Gilroy's alertness to twenty-first-century civilizationism is heightened by its racial character and its shadowing of nineteenth-century European imperialism. Civilizationism builds on existing ideas about immigration and cultural incompatibility. Advocates of the War on Terror use very similar language to nineteenth-century 'ethical imperialists' who argued that civilization belonged to Europe but could be forced militarily on the rest of the world for its own good.