No longer doomed to clash

BBC poll reveals that most people don’t see ‘inherent incompatibility’ between Islam and West

Ahmed Kayssi
Ahmed Kayssi

a r g u e n d o

The good news is that many people don’t think that Islamic and Western countries are doomed to clash. According to a recent BBC World Service poll taken by the reputable Toronto-based firm GlobeScan, an overall majority of respondents living in 27 countries said there was no inherent incompatibility, and hence no inevitable clash of civilizations, between Islam and the West.

The term “clash of civilizations” was coined more than a decade ago by Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, who argued that in a post-Cold War world, cultural and religious identity, rather than political doctrine, will fuel global conflict. Huntington’s supporters portray today’s bloody wars as an inescapable struggle for world dominance by hopelessly incompatible ways of life.

They cite the War on Terror as proof that Muslims and their neighbours are simply too different to just
get along. Luckily, many people around the world seem to disagree. Most of the 28,389 respondents
to the BBC’s poll—Muslims and non-Muslims alike—believe that conflicting political interests, rather than religious or cultural differences, drive global conflicts. The surveyors reported that 73 per cent of Canadians echoed that view.

The poll results highlight the need for visionary national leaders to build bridges and improve understanding between different cultures. Sadly, I can’t think of a single country where such leadership currently exists. Two other important findings also stood out: The first was that, on average, people with a formal post-secondary education were far more likely (64 per cent) to believe that it was possible to find common ground between Islam and the West than those without any formal education (46 per cent). This reaffirms the importance of post-secondary education in supporting a well-informed and tolerant society. It also exposes the folly of cutting back funding for the humanities,
whose courses force students to analyse, critique and question their views of society and the world. And yet this has been precisely the trend in Canada, where provincial governments have failed
to maintain necessary university funding for arts programs, focusing instead on more applied disciplines such as engineering, medicine and scientific research.

Our governments must realize that whatever economic advantage created by scientists and researchers will be useless if society is fractured by intolerance and racial bigotry.

That’s why it’s vital for Canadians of all backgrounds to have a broad education that challenges their
views and assumptions about their place in the world.

In achieving this goal, disciplines such as history and philosophy are at least as important as chemistry
and physiology. The poll’s other significant finding, as GlobeScan president Doug Miller put it, was that “So many people across the world blamed intolerant minorities on both sides for the tensions between
Islam and the West.” In other words, many people believe that there are groups on both sides of the divide who benefit from exacerbating the tensions between Islam and the West. Take, for example, the 2004 American presidential election, which should have been a referendum on Mr. Bush’s uninspiring handling of the economy, the environment and America’s leading role in the world.

He was re-elected, however, because his campaign sold enough Americans on the idea that pre-emptive aggression was the only way to ensure their security in a post-9/11 world.

While many Americans can hope for a brighter future when they elect a new president next year, the reality is starkly different in Muslim countries. In much of the Muslim world, people are desperate to be rid of their totalitarian regimes but also suspicious of any democratic changes proposed by America or its allies, especially as they witness the plight of their brethren in Iraq.

This has created a fertile recruitment ground for extremists who distort the Muslim faith to preach a myopic view of the world and justify violence against anyone who disagrees with their practices, especially unpopular Western governments. Muslims are beginning to realize, however, that these movements are guided by sinister political opportunism rather than genuine religious zeal or concern for the public good.

This trend is encouraged by a revival of Islamic thought by Muslim preachers such as Egyptian Amr Khaled, whom the New York Times Magazine recently described as “the world’s most famous and influential Muslim televangelist.”

Khaled’s widely circulated books and TV shows use everyday language to demonstrate the importance of worship and manners such as humility and compassion to Muslim life. His simple message has been so successful that his website boasts over two million visitors a month. Encouragingly, Khaled is currently broadening his horizons and setting an example for others by pursuing a PhD in the United Kingdom on “Islam and co-existence with others.”

Ahmed Kayssi is a second-year medical student. Arguendo appears every four issues.

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