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There is a widespread thesis by Huntington that defines the conflict in the world today as the clash of civilizations. This conflict goes beyond social classes and economic groups (Huntington p.28). It is a cultural conflict between two civilizations that share different ideologies.
The 21st century has seen a surge of violent ethnic clashes, especially in the Islamic nations of the East. In the eyes of the democratic western world, the violence is directly attributed to the oppressive political systems of the East. The conflict has now shifted to a raging clash between the Christian West and the Islamic East, especially after the September 11 attack on the United States. The assumption of many is that the conflict between the West and the East is political.
The Islamic East is fighting off the efforts of the West to convert them into democratic states. On the contrary, you would be surprised to learn that even among the western countries, there are many similar views on democracy similar to the ones that are held by the Islamic East. These countries disagree on the basis of politics.
Therefore, there has to be something else that fuels the conflict between the East and West. From my analytical point of view, I agree with experts who trace the cause of this conflict to cultural differences between the two civilizations. Eastern Islamic countries are by far the most conservative people in the world today. On the contrary, the western world claims to share the most liberal ideologies. A cultural gap ensues that ultimatum leads to conflict.
Western colonization and Islam
The western colonization of the East in the 18th and 19th centuries left a series of mixed reactions amongst the Islam colonies. The West brought with it ideologies such as modern education, democratic government, and Christian religion. This western experience became an eye opener for the Muslim community. There was a general consensus that the West had come to water down their Islam identity.
Therefore, there was the need to redefine the role of the Islam faith in the modern community. While all Muslims denounced western culture, some supported the idea of developing Islam alternatives to western culture. Others supported total Islamization without traces of the western influence. To the West, islamization is the main bone of contention with the East, claiming there is no democracy in Islam. For the East, the issue is not about democracy or lack of it, but about the cultural differences between the two groups (Aslan 12).
Religion has a deeper impact on culture than it may seem to be at first glance. This is the main source of conflict between Muslims and Christians. For example, Islam allows polygamy up to a fourth wife. For Muslims, it is an acceptable culture. For the Christians, polygamy is condemned. In fact, the Western people view the Muslim practice as oppression to women (Landscheidt and Wollny 1). The western social values give women more freedom.
For instance, they allow gender equality and sexual liberalization. They prove to be more tolerant when it comes to educating women, political representation, divorce, homosexuality and abortion. All these freedoms allowed to women by the West are an abomination in the conservative Islamic East. They are viewed as sacrilege to their religion. Therefore, it is important for the East to shun the western values. The Sharia law, which is adopted by Islam states as the rule of law, is based on the teachings of the Koran.
For Muslims, all aspects of their lives as pertains to religion and social rules of behavior are provided in the holy book. As a monotheistic religion that believes in only one God, Allah, Islam believes that all rules and laws were set by God. Therefore, it is an accepted culture amongst Muslims that the laws, even those which govern their politics, are based on religion (Landscheidt and Wollny 3). Christianity deviates from this in various ways.
The reformation of Christianity in the 16th century led to the formation of many breakaway factions of the church. The church and politics were separated, and the quest for freedom and democracy took root. Therefore, the rules of law that govern the western world are not based on religion in the least. Rather, they are based on a merger of the rights and freedoms of individuals. This is one of the aspects of the western world that Islam cannot agree with. Their law is not based on religion.
Christian democracy vs. Islam authoritarianism
In terms of politics, the clash between the West and the East seems to be endless. The Christian West runs on democracy. These are set of rules that ensure the freedom of individuals in the society. Each person has the freedom to determine what is right and wrong. Democracy is seen as the height of civilization and goes hand in hand with freedom.
The Muslim interpretation of Islamic law reiterates that all human actions are determined by Allah (Landscheidt and Wollny 4).Therefore, whatever one does is done to His glory. The independence of Muslims is curtailed by this very reason and explains why most Islamist states have authoritarian-hierarchical types of leadership in government.
The leader, seen as Allah’s instrument, is obeyed to the latter and normally has power the people. This is what the West interprets as oppression or dictatorship. Islamic societies support the kind of leadership where religion has a strong influence on society. This is different in the West, where religion is separated from leadership. Therefore, religious leadership does not play an active role in peoples’ lives. Whilst the Christian West upholds freedom, the Islamist East upholds justice and doing what their religion says is right.
Muslims feel justified to fight off the influence of the West. In the economic front, the West is seen as a formidable force that infiltrates weaker economic markets, tapping their potential at low cost of cheap local labor while reaping huge profits.
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A majority of Eastern Islamic countries are under-developed in terms of technology and reel from the effects of high unemployment rates (which they blame on the western type of education). This kind of exploitation by the West seems to fortify the belief of Islam states that they have to fight the unjust practices by the West, and the culmination of such fights are ‘terrorist’s attacks such as the September, 11 or the perpetual war on Iraq.
The holy war
These attacks by the Islam East are a result of the holy war, what they call ‘jihad’. According to Muslims, the translation of jihad as the ‘holy war’ is misconstrued. It is not that Muslims attack other cultures in a bit of religious fanaticism as there is no outright depiction of such attacks in the Koran. Rather, the Koran demonstrates that there are two existences of the world; the peaceful part, Islam and the part at war (designated to non-believers).
Accordingly, Muslims are expected, as part of their duty, to merge the two parts of the world. That is to mean, they should spread peace (Islam) to the rest of the warring world (non-believers). Therefore, there is a need to defend their country, as well as their religion even to the extent of war and other extremities. After all, by acting according to the Koran, one expects a great reward in Heaven.
The Christian western world, with its ideologies of freedom, globalization, liberalism, advanced technology, and economic monopoly is seen by Islam as a perpetration of all that is ‘evil’. Consequently, a Muslim feels that it is a calling to root out the evil so as to defend the loss of its religious societal values. Muslims believe that the ideal kind of world (and government) is of the kind that prophet Muhammad led in Medina (Aslan 69).
This means that the society should have one leader, who bids people to do the will of Allah in fulfillment of their religious duties. Modernization, which is a concept introduced and epitomized by the western world, is a representation of the abolishment of any and all religious laws in relation to leadership. This is far removed from the Islamic concept of religion and leadership.
Overly, Islamic states find their model of governance to be superior to the western model that is based on democracy, which goes against the requirements of Allah. To achieve the ideal state that relies on the religious rules that uphold the interdependence of state and religion, Muslims feel that the jihad is justified, and it is a means to enforce Islamic principles even if it means using violence.
Extremists of Islamic fundamentals take this as a step further. They form a large network of supporters, acquire arms and weapons and fling themselves to the core of jihadist movements. This is what has culminated in terror groups, the kind that plotted the September 11 attacks. Terrorism has now become a widespread threat, especially to the western world. The western world mistakenly thinks that this is a political war. Therefore, it responds in that manner. The United States of America invaded Iraq in response to the September 11 attacks.
This is what they termed as the war on terror. Consequently, other democracies of the western world joined forces to end the war on terror by subverting the political and economic state of the Islamic nation. In solidarity, other Islamic nations of the East continue to attack the West. Spain became a victim of this violence when on March 11; similar bomb explosions shook Madrid for supporting the United States by sending its troops to Iraq.
Consequently, Spain withdrew its troops. The Islamic East saw this as a victory for its cause. In order to protect the state of Islam, violent threats such as terror attacks on the western world seem to give them the desired response for the western governments to withdraw their invasion of Islamic countries. Their reasoning is simple: the West should stop meddling in its Islamic culture by perpetrating their values of modernity, democracy, and freedom.
It is difficult to predict the end of the conflict between the largely Christian Western countries and largely Islamic countries of the East. Political strife may be solved at tables, at conventions, but cultural strife is more delicate to handle. Islam, as a religion, is deeply rooted in the Muslim culture and has existed for over 1500 years; Christianity has existed for the past 2000 years.
The Islam political system is embedded in its religion; in the Koran. Demanding a shift away from their Islamic ideologies would be tantamount to demanding Islamic reformation without their free will. These ideologies revolve around all aspects of society which include politics, social values and religion itself.
Western effort to assert their ideologies on democracy, freedom, and other social values on these societies may be deemed as an affront to Islam (Funk and Abdul Aziz 15). The western Christian states emerge to be at the forefront of civilization, judging by their liberality. This freedom was not achieved overnight. It was a ferocious battle that started in the 16th century with reformist movements and stretched on for more than a century.
Eventually, religion was separated from politics and society indulged in freedom. The Islamic reformation should not be a battle between Christianity and Islam. In that way, the conflict will never end. Rather, the reformation should be a religious conflict amongst the subsets of Islam; mainstream vs. liberal, traditionalists vs. modernists and so on, that they may find their own middle ground in their own religion.
As for Muslims, their interpretation of the laws in the holy Koran should not be so radical as to infringe on the religious cultures of others. After all, the very Koran orders the believers of the Islam faith to dialogue with the non-believers in order to appeal to them. It does not say to bomb them into submission.
A further call is made of religious tolerance towards other faiths such as Christians and Jews that have been in existence for as long as Islam was conceived (Landscheidt and Wollny 16). The Christian west, having achieved economic and technological advancement way ahead of the conservative Islam states, should strive to foster coherence with their globalization agenda.
Barging into the Eastern markets with capitalist ideas will not augur well with the East that views such assault as injustice, therefore the need to retaliate. Rather, globalization can be used effectively to improve the education system of the East and to create employment opportunities to lift their standards in life, with both groups of civilizations viewing each other in mutual respect of their religion, culture and politics.
Aslan, Reza. No god but God, New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2005. print.
Funk, Nathan, and Said Abdul. “Islam and the West:Narratives of conflict and conflict transformation.” International Journal of Peace Studies, 25.2 (2004): 1-28. Print.
Landscheidt, Dennis, and S. Wollny. The conflict between the Western world and Islam, California: ICM, 2004. Print.