Samuel Huntington predicted not long after the Cold War had ended, there would be a clash of civilizations, namely the Western world vs. Confucianism and Islam. In the light of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, this seems like it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Religion and war, along with other ideologies, have always had a symbiotic relationship, dividing groups and societies from one another. Just look at the history books or even the Old Testament. Yet in the post-World War era, collective security, through organizations such as the League of Nations and then the United Nations was designed to negate this, to bring stability to international society through open discussions. Though these institutions might not have achieved a world without war, we have been fortunate to have a sense of international order, brought mainly about through trade. This could explain why the economic symbol of the World Trade Towers was targeted by a few individuals bent on instilling fear in their perceived enemies.
Increased trade and its cousin globalization have made our world a smaller place, bringing peoples together from many different cultures and backgrounds. There are few homogeneous societies today, with most being multicultural. This is important to remember, as we can live in peace together. The United States sees itself as a melting pot with one dominant culture, as one means of integrating its society. Canada sees itself as a cultural mosaic, accepting all cultures. Both of these models have been successful at bringing peace and order within their countries. So why does this work domestically? And why doesn’t it work internationally?
For the most part religions and ideologies are not that different from one another. They speak to the basic needs of all societies, to the basic needs of all people. We want to know that we are safe, that we can raise our families and offer the basic needs of life. Knowing we have such security, we are happy to work together to share our cultures and to know that we might prosper together. For the most part, we are happy to go forward with our lives, recognizing the commonalities in one another.
There are glitches once in a while, fostered through demagogues who like to foment hate and distrust. What drives such actions is usually zealousness, ignorance and competition as we try to allocate blame upon visible groups to justify some point. The recent call to burn copies of the Qur’an by a preacher in the United States and the credibility he gained through the media is one disturbing example. Unfortunately, such negative actions have devastating and destabilizing effects upon society as the economic and social costs will hurt us all in one way or another.
Domestically, such prejudices are difficult to overcome, but they are not insurmountable. Internationally, however, the stakes seem much higher and it is more difficult to rise above them. Cultural nuances, communication hurdles and basic xenophobia all hamper efforts to find common ground and peace. But the situation is never hopeless, as international society is not that different from a domestic society. We all want the same thing — order and stability so that we might prosper. Socrates once proclaimed, “I am a citizen of the world!” We should all see ourselves as part of a greater international civilization.
John Kennair is a doctor of laws and an international business consultant who lives in St. Albert.