Clash of civilizations revisited

3 helmi 2017

They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.

The Bible, 1 Peter 3:11.

[W]hosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind…

The Qur’an 5:32.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 1.

The president of the United States of America – the country that is often credited as being the leader of the liberal world – has turned his back on Syrian refugees by indefinitely stopping the admission of refugees from Syria. Furthermore, he has also banned entry to the country from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. These orders have been justified by the mantra ‘America first’ and the [supposed] threat of terrorism arising from these countries that host a Muslim-majority population. Europeans are building walls between countries; haunting pictures of a dead Syrian child; refugees on barely floating boats sailing the Mediterranean; and refugees stuck in refugee camps in unbearable living conditions. A dark period of history – not as distant as once thought – comes to mind.

Samuel Huntington has anticipated in his classic work The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order that in the Post-Cold War era the main cause for tensions in global affairs lies in differences between Western and non-Western civilizations. One of the deepest divisions is to be between the Muslim world and the Western democracies. In the present political limbo this seems like a justified claim. However, this would imply that civilizations can be defined as homogeneous entities. Do I as a privileged Western woman feel comfortable being placed in the same category with Donald Trump? Certainly not. And are all Muslims terrorists? Most definitely not. Is the suffering Syrian child of no interest to me as a Westerner? I should not care because he/she is Muslim [which he/she even might not be]? I should not care because he/she is so distant? I should not care because we have our own problems and they are not us? I should not care per se?

Creating over-simplified categories and presenting individuals and populations as one or the other is a dangerous mistake. We cannot be divided into opposing poles. First of all the definition of what is to be opposed is always discursively created by someone – usually by someone with power. Second, the myriad cultures and peoples can not be treated as soft butter that can be cut into half with a knife. This is simply not possible and anyone claiming that it is, is lying to himself/herself. We as people, as individuals, as humans, as equals, need something to reflect ourselves upon in order to build our identity. However, reflection does not, and should not, entail hatred or bigotry. Western superiorism, populism, and American exceptionalism have reached a new peak [more fittingly, a new low]. Leaving the mothers and children of Syria to suffer and banning entry on the basis of the actions of a perverted group is not in tone with the Bible, the Qur’an, or the international humanitarian norms. Terrorism and Western superiorism are the ugly faces of two old coins, and – if one insists on making categories – instead of a clash of civilizations we should talk about a clash of barbarisms.

Lotta Koistinen is a PhD candidate and project researcher at the University of Turku, Department of Geography and Geology. Her research focuses on governance processes of irregular migration. Bio- and geopolitics are central to her understanding of governance. She is interested in the rights and dignity of individuals in governance processes.

Huntington, S. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon & Schuster, London.

Shear, M. D. & H. Cooper (2017). Trump Bars Refugees and Citizens of 7 Muslim Countries. The New York Times 27.1.2017.