Is There Really no Clash?

A recent poll has once more proven Samuel Huntington wrong. A growing number of people across the globe don’t believe that a clash between Islam and the West is inevitable.

A recent poll has once more proven Samuel Huntington wrong. A growing number of people across the globe don’t believe that a clash between Islam and the West is inevitable.

 

 They identify the problem as a conflict of political interests and ambitions rather than a clash of cultures and values. This is a welcome result confirmed by other polls and surveys. Yet does this mean that cultural differences don’t matter? A BBC World Service poll surveyed more than 28,000 people in 27 countries              (https://www.globescan.com/news_archives/bbciswest/) between November 2006 and mid-January 2007. Fifty-six percent of respondents believe that a common ground is possible between Muslims and Westerners, while 28 percent see violent confrontation as inevitable. Over 50 percent think that the current tensions between Muslim and Western countries are a result of political interests. Only 29 percent believe that culture and religion play a role in the current conflicts and 26 percent see the fundamental differences in cultural values as leading to conflict and confrontation. Yet, 52 percent of the 5,000 Muslims surveyed believe a common ground is possible. The Gallup World Study survey released last year points in the same direction. An overwhelming majority of Muslims criticize Western governments because of their policies, not because of the values of European or American societies. The rising tide of anti-Americanism is closely linked with the perception (and reality) of US policies as unfair (unconditional support for Israel), unjustified (invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq), and totally reckless and menacing (threats against Syria and Iran). (For an expert analysis of survey findings by John Esposito, see https://hir.harvard.edu/articles/1453/). American attempts at public diplomacy continue to fail because they don’t even come close to the real causes. So there is little ground for a clash of cultures and civilizations between Muslim and Western societies as the terms are defined by the advocates of confrontation. To preempt such a possibility, a number of initiatives were launched over the last few years. The UN Alliance of Civilizations project, co-sponsored by the prime ministers of Turkey and Spain, was an important step in this direction. The Alliance of Civilizations Report presents a balanced and honest assessment of the problems and tensions between Islamic and Western countries (for the report see https://unaoc.org/). This sends an important message to all political leaders in the West and the Muslim countries. The message is clear: ordinary people do not see cultural and religious differences as a ground for clash and confrontation. They do not want their political leader to exploit these differences for political gains. This should remind us that public opinion is shaped by perceptions and events but also by political leadership. A political discourse that divides the world between good and evil, us and them, civilized and uncivilized, developed and underdeveloped can only incite resentment and anger. Public opinion can change quickly. But the deep scars caused by reckless policies take a long time heal. While the polls above send a strong and positive message, I don’t think they can be read in a radically post-modernist and anti-realist fashion to mean that perceptions of identity, culture, religion, self-view do not matter. We cannot afford to fancy a world with no colors, no faces, no cultural traits. Cultural identities do matter and that’s why we have to take them seriously when we fight against the belligerent discourses of clash and violence. It is a mistake to see cultural differences as nothing more than ticking bombs. Yet it is no less erroneous to think that globalization will outgrow all c

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