Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Clash of Civilizations

It's so easy to get mesmerized by the invasion of Iraq and general strong-arm tactics of the US that I sometimes forget that this may not be the main front in the evolution of Arab-Western relations.

In my previous blog The Burqa, I detailed some of the upheaval in northern European countries surrounding tension between Islamic and non-Islamic communities. The Dutch, Danish, and others are having some tough times. Politicians have been murdered. Some laws that address the tensions seem to go too far.

We may be lucky that these tensions are coming to a head in northern Europe, which has long had a reputation as the most tolerant and progressive place in the world. My guess is that they'll work it out, tensions will subside, their societies will be better off for it, and they will provide a model for the rest of the world to follow.

After all, our society is firmly committed to multiculturalism. All kinds of disparate groups co-exist in Canadian society who don't assimilate, such as Old Order Mennonites, new age religious cultists and native Indians. I don't see why the most traditional, fundamentalist Muslims shouldn't be able to maintain their faith and co-exist just as well.

There have had to be some compromises. After losing a 10 year legal battle, Old Order Mennonites were forced to install electricity to refrigerate milk in their dairy barns, and they have to put orange triangles on the back of their horse-drawn buggies. So far Ontario has rejected Sharia law (though narrowly) and polygamy.

But consider the case of 81-year old Doukhobor Mary Braun, who burned down a British Columbia school in 2001 and refused to wear clothing at her trial. There were no major outcries against her anarchist-arsonist-nudist sect. In fact, there was a great deal of unsolicited support.

Prior to 9/11 I wouldn't have worried so much about the future of Muslim/non-Muslim relations in the West. It's a tense time all around, but I'm starting to feel that the western intolerance may be temporary.

I'm not quite as sure about Muslim intolerance, but then I know a lot less. Two recent columns in Al Jazeera (link and link) make me a bit worried.

But we have to distinguish between issues in Arab countries and issues in western countries. For example, I'm appalled at calls to execute Abdul Rahm for converting to Christianity, and we should speak out against it: but that is the internal business of the Afghans. However, the murder of Pim Fortuyn is very much the business of Holland because he was a Dutch politician killed in Holland. Similarly, we have to be careful not to conflate Muslims in Pakistan who riot to protest Danish cartoons with Muslims in Toronto who have orderly protests.

There is a movement for reform in the Arab world. This special section in Al Jazeera pulls together a number of discussions about ways to reform Arab states and even Islam.

Of course, outside of domestic issues, the two big problems in Western-Arab relations are Israel and the US, and I don't know if there's any reason to feel that there's hope on those fronts.

I'm not sure how much Israeli/Arab peace is up to the Israelis. They have to protect themselves from the stated goal of genocide by their neighbors. While they have made some missteps in the peace process, they seem to have made a legitimate effort time and time again that was rebuffed. I don't think the situation can improve until the Palestinians want it to.

The US is a very different problem. I wouldn't be surprised if members of the current administration are prosecuted for war crimes one day, but their disastrous middle east policies could turn on a dime in the next election. However, the US practice of "spreading democracy" around the world, which also means spreading US business interests, is deeply entrenched and may not be called off so easily. Anyone around the world who has the strength to push back is going to want to do it, and that doesn't bode well for the world.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yappa...You say that the U.S. practice of "spreading democracy", which also means spreading U.S. business interests, is deeply entrenched. If "also" means ONLY, that there is nothing more to the practice than protecting U.S. business interests, fine but maybe a tad too cynical. But if you are saying that it's a matter of BOTH protecting business interests and spreading democracy, and THIS is firmly entrenched, well...need I say more?