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Westerners have for a long time excluded Islam from their civilization mostly because they view themselves as having a Christian history which differs from the Muslim one. For this reason, none of the two societies recognizes each other’s positive aspects.
Richard Bulliet in his book, The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, chooses to take an impartial position in order to show that the two societies share a common history. This history may be deeper than the one presented by the Jews and Christians who reconcile after a long battle.
The Westerners and the Middle Easterners ought to emulate the Judeo-Christian civilization in order to bring about reconciliation between them. The phrase “Islamo-Christian civilization” compels one to assess both societies’ backgrounds and structures because the Muslims do not seem to be in agreement with the Christian Westerners’ liberalism.
The Westerners view the Muslims as being opposed to new ideas. The term facilitates a focus on the similarities of the two societies more so in terms of their development over the centuries rather than their differences. Bulliet challenges the work of Samuel Huntington in his book, The Clash of Civilizations as well as Bernard Lewis’, Islam and the West.
He predicts that the “unheard” Islam political pressure group currently “on the edge” will in future emerge as an Islam “hub” because it seems to be diverse and open-minded. Bulliet therefore urges the West to view the movement as Islam’s dominant “voice” and to a certain point, acknowledge its liberalism.
He suggests that the acknowledgment of similarities between the two societies will not only improve the chances of reconciliation but also bring democracy to Islam in the future.
Statement of the problem
Traditional popular beliefs postulate that the world is engaged in a battle in which the Islam and the Christian societies are the main enemies and go ahead to advance the idea that these two societies cannot be reconciled. This paper focuses on Richard Bulliet’s unbiased evaluation on the two societies as he attempts to overlook their differences in an effort to follow a pathway that may lead to their peaceful coexistence.
The study focuses on examining the solutions proposed by Bulliet from a neutral point. This fact may oversee the reconciliation and peaceful coexistence of the two societies. The paper will address the following issues:
- The factors that enhance the misunderstanding between the Middle Eastern Islamic and the Christian Western societies.
- The analogous historical development of Islam and the Western societies and the similarities and differences of the societies that emerge from them.
- How the Islamic justice system determines its governing regime and the Western’s perception of this system. -How the Middle East studies influence the West’s perception of Muslims.
- How Islam’s transformation will be achieved and the role that the “edge” will play in this transformation.
The approach chosen for this study includes a literature review for the reason that the revision of what has been done facilitates one’s conclusion making process about the Middle East and Western societies, their perceptions of each other and their relations.
As a result, one is able to develop a basis for the research. Studies suggest that both the Muslims and the Christians hold misperceptions about each other which in turn make them become suspicious of each other, consequently creating tension in their relationships.
The message communicated has been established to have an impact on its audience especially the average person in terms of influencing his perception. This fact is because the “communicator” of the message has the capacity to put across the information as it is, alter it or withhold it. The freedom of expression also plays a strategic role as the communicator has the ability to convey his personal perspectives to a mass audience.
The negative practice of this freedom of expression can have tremendous consequences more so during a tension-filled affiliation regarding the Middle East and the West. Certain scholars have stated that what the two societies encounter is inclined more towards “differences” of opinion in their theories as opposed to a “clash” of civilizations as postulated by Samuel Huntington and other authors.
The relationship between Islam and Christianity
Bulliet disarms Huntington’s clash of civilizations view as he argues that it fosters misunderstandings especially on the Islamic society. This fact in turn reduces any prospects that a view of common roots between the two societies would have presented for the construction of a future diplomatic coexistence.
He suggests that the two societies’ similarity come from their common heritage and because of their mutual invasion and influence on one another’s society, it would be impossible to assess their differences in isolation (Bulliet, 2004). He asserts that the terms that one uses influence one’s views and that the phrase “clash of civilization” implies that the cultures are in conflict which eliminates the chances of their sharing a future.
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He instead proposes the use of the term “Islamo-Christian civilization” which may highlight similarities between the two societies that may then develop a reconciliation framework. Huntington proposes to have Islam liberalized (Huntington, 2003) but Bulliet opposes this aspect as civilization is not tied to faith or nations.
He argues that even though the two societies appear to be more different than similar, they are more alike than the Jews and Christians were, and since the Judeo-Christian civilization was successful, chances of an Islamo-Christian civilization are also high. Therefore, if the two spheres are viewed as sharing a civilization, the tension between them can be resolved.
He concedes that the historical developments between Christians and Muslims are similar in the sense that they have experienced the comparable challenges in their evolutions. The societies shared history includes conversion attempts, setting up of institutional organizations and implementation of an inclusive religious language.
The underlying challenges
Questions have been posed like “What went wrong?” between the two societies especially after the September 11 attacks on the U.S. (Ilana & Bard, 2006). Bulliet however suggests that the question be rephrased to ask “What went on?” because “It is important to ask the right questions, but one cannot do so until one has explained why the question that is currently being asked does not work” (Bulliet, 2004).
This fact is made from the consideration that the society’s point of view is employed when asking the question as it largely implies that the Islam society has diverted from the “right way” of the Christian society. The question creates resentment and makes Muslims feel inferior, hence its restatement develops a system in which Islam can utilize to assert itself.
Bulliet suggests that one’s measure of success influences one’s analysis of the question and in this regard, Islam is in the “right way” judging from its conversions’ success. Over the last centuries, Islam has converted more individuals than Christianity (Bulliet, 2004). Bulliet argues that justice in the Islamic society plays a crucial role in its culture by spelling out the state-society relationship something the Westerners do not comprehend.
He asserts that justice is impartial to sex or status or any other factors, a practice which liberalism is not familiar with (Bulliet, 2004). In his view, Islam encourages dictatorial-based regimes. As time goes by, these tyrants’ control grows and certain Islam voices demand its removal while other leaders prefer the justice restored.
The West which highly values liberalism supports the overthrows but resent these political lobby groups as they seem to be anti-liberal leading to their misunderstanding of the Islam society. Bulliet points out that the 19th century innovations underestimate religion in politics. Bulliet suggests that the innovations facilitate the growth of the autocratic rule.
He asserts that the aforementioned factors result in the differences between the Western and Middle Eastern societies during the similar societal revolution.
Academics and perception
Bulliet suggests that Christians in the West should endeavor to value the principles of Islam rather than attempt to impose their values on them. He explains how both the secular Western scholars and past Christian missionaries seek to find Muslims who are like them in terms of schooling or mode of dressing (Bulliet, 2004).
In addition, they do not understand it when Islam refuses their offers and hence they cherish those who follow what they say. He affirms that the studies of the Middle Eastern influence the guiding principles of the society which result in the rejection of other new ideas of Islamic viewpoints.
The West does not want to appreciate Islam for its values but would like Middle Easterners to hold the West’s ideals in high regard. Bulliet advises that the misconstruction between the societies will be maintained unless the West re-evaluates acknowledging Muslim’s world development input and Muslims’ beliefs. This refusal will not only maintain the misinterpretation but also kill the prospects of a peaceful coexistence (Bulliet, 2004).
Bulliet predicts that Islam will undergo a transformation which will emerge from what he calls the “edge”. “Edges” are regions of interfaith where prospective Muslim converts who are in transition stay. In these areas, Islam’s religious diversity is high, a fact which oversees an attempt to modify their religious views in order to fit them into a secular culture.
In the past, several developments from the “edges” have found their way into the core of Islam (Bulliet, 2004). He therefore presumes that the revolutions taking place “in the edges” presently may translate into the future of Islam’s ideologies which in turn may develop creative means on how to deal with the power issues concerning dictatorial regimes in the Islamic society.
Although he does not provide solid predictions on the shape that Islam will take in the future, Bulliet feels assured that Islam will undergo a secular transformation like the Jews and the Christians did in the past and hence develop new democracies for them.
In addition, he forecasts that the trouble facing the Islam and the Western societies might be determined in about 200 years and goes on to say that the voices that will influence the plans that will change Islam may remain “unheard” at the moment (Bulliet, 2004).
Bulliet, R.W. (2004). The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. New York, USA: Columbia University Press.
Huntington, S.P. (2003). The Clash of Civilizations. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.
lana, K., & Bard, O. (2006).The Deadly Embrace. London, UK: University Press of America.