How did it come to this?" asks Theoden, King of Rohan, as he gazes down on the massed ranks of evil beleaguering his fortress in Hollywood's adaptation of Lord of the Rings.
The words may be fictional but, as we count down to Washington's second instalment in the real-life epic that is the the war on terror, an honest examination of what has brought the civilisations of Islam and the west to this critical pass is long overdue. For despite the seemingly unassailable sway of the clash of civilisations thesis - in some quarters more a desire than a forecast - there is hope and it lies in the fact that the differences are less intractable than the forces of darkness would have us believe.
Five years ago, the Iranian president Mohammed Khatami called for a "dialogue of civilisations" before a meeting of the UN. The speech was an encomium to liberty, articulating what progressive Islamists have been advocating for years as the key to peace: emancipation from despotism. The major obstacle to peace, goes the theory, is not terrorism or religious obscurantism but the enslavement of hundreds of millions of Muslims, who continue to be denied the fundamental right of being free to choose their own leaders and systems of government.
The warmongers have made sure the message has remained outside mainstream debate so they can forge ahead unimpeded. Using their agents and sympathisers in the mass media to blanket all Islamist politics as fundamentalist, and by excluding its fluid, nuanced discourse from the international conversation, they have rendered voiceless a full quarter of humanity.