the clash of civilisations revisited

Posted on May 28, 2007

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Perhaps Samuel Huntington was right after all.

The clash of civilizations theory he espoused a decade ago is once again coming to the forefront.

Put aside the quarrel with Al-Qaeda and the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli clashes, new theatres proving Huntington’s theory that nations are seized with increasing threats of violence and conflict along religious/ cultural fault lines continually appear.

Witness the struggle in doggedly neutral Switzerland, against the building of minarets by its Muslim citizens.

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party is gathering surprisingly large numbers as it drums up support for the ban against the construction of minarets, with claims that minarets are not essential for worship, but act as symbols of Islamic law, making them incompatible with Switzerland’s legal system, the BBC reports.

The party is taking it further, hoping to garner enough signatures to eventually make it into a national referendum which would be binding.

“We don’t have anything against Muslims,” Oskar Freysinger, a member of parliament for the Swiss People’s Party, told the BBC. “But we don’t want minarets. The minaret is a symbol of a political and aggressive Islam, it’s a symbol of Islamic law. The minute you have minarets in Europe it means Islam will have taken over.”

More level-headed Swiss politicians have spoken out against the Swiss People Party’s initiative, but public opinion looks favorable towards the Swiss People Party, as polls showed 43 per cent of the Swiss favoring a minarets ban and objections have put paid to plans to build minarets in some cities.

In Malaysia, there’s religious persecution of a different stroke, as a Muslim-born woman takes her case to the land’s highest courts in her fight for the right to convert to Christianity. The case could bring to the surface Malaysia’s uneasy balance between the different races and religions, and even set a precedent for more converts from Islam to step forward. This in a place where leaving Islam is considered apostasy, the Washington Post writes.

If the woman, who has faced death threats, lost her job and whose case triggered protests, loses her appeal and persists in being recognized as a Christian, she could face apostasy charges, which carries a possible jail sentence.

Her case is testing Muslim-majority Malaysia’s very identity — whether it is a moderate Islamic state or prefers to be a secular state which guarantees religious freedom. Opponents see it as an impudent challenge of Islam’s position in Malaysia.

But religion may also have the power to make things better for some people, particularly those in India hoping to escape the condemnation of the country’s rigid caste system. Thousands of low-caste Indians and those from nomadic tribes converted to Buddhism recently in a mass conversion ceremony. Perhaps life will be better for these people, who would have been confined to a life of discrimination and deprivation under the Hindu caste system.

Taking the conversion route has been controversial in Indian society, but it has been a way for those of the lowest castes to obtain education and get jobs other than menial labor.

Huntington’s theories might have seemed overly alarmist and simplistic back then, but he might not have been hitting too far off the mark, and in fact have been explaining through a rather coherent model, judging by the tensions that our world is going through now.

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