West And The Islamic World Cultural Studies Essay

By: Ahmad

Introduction

Culture context and definition

The history of cross-cultural conflict is widespread, stretching back to the very origination of civilization and the appearance of distinctive cultures around Mesopotamia in earliest times. "From the Roman and Persian conquests and subsequent persecutions of groups who did not conform to their laws and societies, to the Crusades of the Middle Ages, to the cross-cultural conflict that cropped up around the Age of Exploration and Colonialism in the 1500s through the 1800s, this type of conflict has a very long and violent history." [1] 

Cross-cultural conflict is a conflict generated, and exacerbated or perpetuated, by cultural differences among the groups involved in the conflict. [2] Hence, religion plays a major role in cross-cultures conflicts. At the emergence of the twenty-first century, a casual look at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the conflict around the earth. [3] 

As culture is one of the most difficult concepts and a notoriously ambiguous concept. Therefore, it is essential for the purpose of this paper and to avoid any misunderstanding to favour a certain definition of culture. There are different paradigms in the social sciences about the sense of culture, leading to diverse research approaches. [4] Chabal and Daloz defined the culture as "an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols", a reading of the importance of semiotics which is based on Max Weber, and "structures of meaning through which men give shape to their existence." [5] Therefore, culture should not being seen as an abstract concept and should be realised as the code people use to make sense of their lives. [6] For Sir E. B. Tylor, "Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" [7] For the anthropologist Franz Boas "Culture embraces all the manifestations of social habits of a community, the reactions of the individual as affected by the habits of the group in which he lives, and the product of human activities as determined by these habits." [8] The anthropological definition of culture which is mostly used by social scientists refer to whatever is distinctive about the ‘"way of life" of a people, community, nation or social group. [9] Hence, whenever I mention culture in this paper, I mean Taylor interpretation of it taking in consideration that civilization becoming a particular kind of culture [10] and religion which is part of beliefs as an essential aspect of culture.

Islam and the West: Inference of Cultural Conflict from Events

There has been a common perception that the relationship between the Muslim World and the West is a problem. In Chapter 10 of his book entitled "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order", Samuel Huntington- Ex- director of Harvard University’s John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies-, claims that conceivably the most significant reason for this is the absence of a core state in the Islamic World. [11] 

Events such as the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979 – 1989); [12] the former United States President George W. Bush speech in January 19, 2000 when described Iran, Iraq and North Korea as "Axis of evil" [13] ; the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington by Al-Qaeda which resulted in the deaths of 2,996 people [14] ; the subsequent US-led invasion of Iraq from March 19, 2003 to May 1, 2003 that caused the death for more than 55000 Iraqi [15] ; war in Afghanistan (Operation Infinite Justice) on October 7, 2001 by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, New Zealand and France [16] ; the London bombings of July 7, 2005 where 52 civilians killed [17] , and the Regensburg lecture of Pope Benedict XVI on September 12, 2006; [18] the two-hour film "Innocence of Muslims" by Sam Bacile – writer, director and producer - which sparked protests around the Islamic World and led to the death of the US Ambassador Chris Stevens in the Libyan city of Benghazi; [19] the anti-Islam cartoons and caricature that published in Spanish, French and Danish magazines and newspaper in several occasions and the so-called "War on Terrorism"; the current French war against Al-Qaeda in Mali, may appear to support the argument that there is a clash of both interests and values between the World of Islam and the West. This tensions stems to large extent from the differences in culture and the conflict of interests and this assures that culture is an essential cause of conflict in the international relations and world politics.

Many researchers have challenging that the presence of a single Islamic culture stretching all the way from Jakarta to Lagos, let alone one that held values extremely incompatible with democracy. The Modernization theories suggest that the central differences between these cultures rest on social values while Huntington claims that they rely on democratic values. [20] 

Huntington’s "Clash of Civilizations" and Esposito’s "The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality"

A poll of 27 countries for the BBC World Service found the most common view is that tensions between Muslims and westerners arise from "conflicts about political power and interests" - endorsed by 52% overall. Only (29%) believe that such tensions come from "differences of religion and culture". [21] 22Samuel Huntington’s "Clash of Civilizations" has different idea as Huntington argues that participation in one of several civilizations plays a constantly increasing, and principal role in the affairs between states. This appears clearly through the conflict of cultural identities within some modern states. [23] Huntington considers culture as the fundamental sources of conflict and not primarily ideological or primarily economic. He argues that states are the most powerful actors in world interactions and they will progressively group themselves together according to their "civilization." [24] Civilization, in this interpretation, is "the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity." [25] Nowadays there are between six and nine civilizations around the world, but the three most important actors "seem to be the West (including North America and Western Europe), Orthodox Christians, including Russia and other traditionally Byzantine nations, and the Arab world, which includes the Middle East and all Islamic countries." [26] According to Huntington these distinguished civilizations are led for incongruity by the end of the cold war and the fall of the Soviet Union as the excessive ideological conflict that had been separating the world was concluded.

Huntington think that because of modernity and the fact that the world became a smaller place, collaborations between states increased and this shrinking the national identity which makes religious identity fills the gap. [27] He argues that one of the reasons which will make civilisation clash is the variances among civilizations who are unlike from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion. He considers those differences as real and basic and people of different civilizations have different visions on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views of the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the outcome of centuries and will not soon fade. They are far more essential than differences among political ideologies and political systems. He believes that differences among civilizations have caused the most extended and the most violent conflicts over centuries and religion is a central defining characteristic of civilizations. [28] 

Huntington sees the Islamic Civilization is most likely to clash violently, while Western civilizations conflicts are more likely to be peaceful. According to him, Muslims represents more than one-fifth of the world's population but in the 1990s they have been far more involved in violence than the people of any other cultures. [29] He argues that "Islam's borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people is convinced of the superiority of their culture and is obsessed with the inferiority of their power." [30] He claims that the West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in using organized violence. [31] 

While Huntington, believed that the end of the Cold War would lead to an age he called "the clash of civilizations" and that major flash point in this conflict will be between Islam and the West, many western people and leaders see Islam as a religion of peace. For instance, few days after September 11, 2001, American leaders described Islam as a peaceful religion that had been "hijacked" by a fanatical group of terrorists whom behaviour was informed and directed by their misguided interpretation of Islam. [32] The American President Barack Obama, Ex-American President George W. Bush and Britain’s Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair repeated and asserted several times in different occasions, that Islam is "hijacked" by a few violent fanatics who don’t really represent Islam. [33] Huntington doesn’t believe in this as he says: "Some Westerners have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists. Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise" [34] Huntington focuses on Islamic violence but never spoke about Crusaders violence that represented the West at that time, as in 1099 only when they occupied Jerusalem, massacred 10,000 Muslim men, women and children who sought shelter in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. [35] It is mutual violence through long history and the cultural differences were mostly the cause!

Steven Emerson Executive Director, The Investigative Project of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States argues that militant Islam does not equal Islam and Islam as a religion, like other religions does not endorse violence. He describes Islam as a vibrant religion that provide spiritual comfort and meaning to its enormous number of practitioners around the globe and there are Islamic writers, intellectuals and clerics who openly and unambiguously deny violent Islamic militant ideology. Emerson assures that it is vital that people around the world should distinct between Islam as a religion and fanatical bands who claim Islam and try to hide under the shelter of the mainstream majority. [36] 

John Esposito’s "The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality" argues that the stereotypes about Islam in the West has its roots in a long history representing an exaggeration in their simplification. Esposito believes that the bad image about Islamic culture created throughout the Crusades and it still exists until today. He explains that those stereotypes developed for political purposes, mainly to gain recognition for papal authority and to reunify the Greek and Latin Churches at that time. [37] Some politicians for some political purposes are keen to distribute the notion that there is a unified Islamic threat controlling governments with violent aspirations aims to destruct the Western culture and civilisation. [38] 

According to recent study, while Huntington’s thesis claim that culture does matter, and matter a lot: religious legacies leave a distinct and lasting sign on contemporary values, Huntington is incorrect in assuming that the principal "clash" between the West and Islamic world concerns political values: instead the evidence indicates that surprisingly similar attitudes towards democracy are found in the West and the Islamic world. [39] 

Solutions to the Conflict between the West and the Islamic Wold

A Globescan poll of 27 countries for the BBC World Service found when they asked if "violent conflict is inevitable" between Muslim and western cultures or whether "it is possible to find common ground" an average of 56% said that common ground can be found between the two cultures. Only 28% think violent conflict is inevitable. [40] "In the UK, 77% of those polled believe Islam and the west can find common ground. In Italy the figure is 78%, in France 69% but only 49% in Germany. A majority of Americans (64%) think it is possible to find common ground, though about a third (31%) believe violent conflict is inevitable." Steven Kull, director of the Programme on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, which was also participated in the survey of 28,000 people says that most people around the world clearly reject the notion that Islam and the west are caught in an inevitable "clash of civilisations" [41] Hence, people believe that this conflict in world of politics should be ended.

In my opinion, what is happening is a clash of ignorance not a clash of civilization because people are fighting due to misunderstanding. The answer to ignorance is education, communication, dialogue and exchange of information. The solution comes through understanding, knowledge, experience and actual observation of cultures other than the person’s own. The above mentioned poll found that education can play a major role in bridging the gap between the Muslim World and the West. Thus, states must take steps that are necessary to build confidence and trust and here, it is beneficial to quote some of the American president Barack Obama speech in the Turkish Parliament in 2009 as he said "I want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world -- including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country -- I know, because I am one of them". [42] Therefore, cultures and states must benefit from each other rather than clash and move from words to actions.

I see globalization as a great chance to bring cultures closer together rather than farther apart as Huntington argued. The remedy for this clash is to understand that it’s necessary to attain love for one’s neighbour. [43] Therefore, educators and religious and community leaders need to meet more often to bridge differences and promote joint respect and understanding and must be mutual dialogue between Muslim religious leaders and Western thought leaders because these are the two greatest influential groups of opinion-makers in the world. [44] I believe that the on-going Arab Spring is a great chance to Westerns and Easts to start the dialog and shape the future together and this is an invitation for scholars to study empirically how to exploit the event to erases the differences between cultures.

Conclusion

Culture which "includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" [45] plays a major role in the conflict between the West and Islamic World. Basically, because of the differences in these aspects between the Western societies and the Islamic ones and religion which is an essential part of beliefs is the most dominant effective cultural attribute in this clash. Hence, it can be concluded that culture is a vital cause of conflict in world politics and international relations.

Politicians who always represent their cultures and governments are subjected by their cultural attitudes. Hence, they are keen to transform their cultures to the others which could make a conflict between cultures. Therefore, stems most of the wars and the mutual violence as each culture is concern to keep its continuity and privacy, which interpret the massive resistance of the Western democracy by the Islamic World.

Politicians should realise that the change cannot come through violence because violence always brings violence. The change and the answer to the cultural conflicts are education, communication, dialogue and exchange of information. The only solution to this comes through understanding, knowledge, experience and actual observation of cultures other than the person’s own. Hence, it is useful to end by Ralph Waldo Emerson quote "Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding." [46]