Posts Tagged ‘The Clash of Civilizations’

IMMIGRATION AND CULTURE

Twenty years ago, Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order posited that the post-Soviet world consisted of nine distinct civilizations. Their cultures and values were different and often in opposition. Huntington was hailed and later assailed. Regarding today’s immigration issues, attention to Huntington must be paid.

Huntington’s new world order consisted of the West, Latin America, Africa, the Islamic world, China, Hindu India, Orthodox Christian Eurasia (Russia and environs), the Buddhist world and Japan. Three assertions—among many—bear study.

— “International organizations based on states with cultural commonality, such as the European Union, are far more successful than those that attempt to transcend cultures.”

— “The philosophical assumptions, underlying values, social relations, customs and overall outlooks on life differ significantly among civilizations.”

— “Global politics has become multipolar and multicivilizational.”

Nations and peoples are not all just the same, and American values don’t dominate the world. This sheds some light on Donald Trump’s position on Muslims—which I do not share—and the European right, which seeks to limit or halt Muslim immigration. Let’s first look at Europe.

Ten days ago, Germany’s conservative political parties reached an agreement limiting the number of immigrants allowed to enter each year. This from a nation that in 2015 welcomed one million immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Last Sunday, Austria’s election produced Europe’s youngest prime minister, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz. His People’s Party wants to strongly curtail immigration of Muslims.

Europe has never exhibited the United States’ ability to integrate immigrants from different cultures. Decades ago, Europeans loved accusing America of racism when Europe’s non-white, non-Christian populations were small enough to seem colorful rather than threatening. What makes Europe and the U.S. so different? I asked my friend Manfred Wolf, author of a provocative book of essays, Muslims in Europe: Notes, Comments, Questions.

Europe puts up cultural obstacles to assimilation, says Manfred. The French, for example, created a highly secular society. (Europe is heavily secular.) Anyone can be French, but religious identity must be kept private. At the same time, he notes, a significant minority of Muslins in Europe are not sure they wish to assimilate. They live in Europe but may not be of it.

America has never had a major influx of immigrants who refused to submit to the nation’s reigning culture and values, according to Manfred. The Amish and ultra-Orthodox Jews have ways that are entirely different, but their numbers are comparatively small. “In America, if Ahmed and Yasmina live next door and don’t make trouble, they’re Americans. We don’t care.”

Manfred’s take on immigration and refugees is personal. As a child, he fled Holland with his family to escape the Nazis. Eventually, they settled in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. He came to the U.S. at 17 to attend college.

He succeeded. “I’d learned English,” Manfred says. “I knew about America. I wanted to accept American culture, which made me a perfect immigrant.” If culture and personality match, he notes, assimilation becomes easy.

It may seem disheartening that immigrants often bring with them values that clash with those of their new country. And yes, much bigotry exists in nations taking in—or rejecting—migrants from other cultures. But solutions to this complex problem require understanding that the problem is, indeed, complex.

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THE CLASH OF CULTURES

I often refer to Samuel Huntington’s 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Huntington posited that the world is divided into religious and national entities that would be at odds with each other given the Soviet Union’s fall. The book has been criticized, but I believe it to be correct. In a parallel vein, it’s certainly apt to say that in 2017, America is riven by a clash of cultures.

The 2016 presidential election pitted blue coastal elites against red heartland Americans. Cultural differences played a major role. Many voters took opposite positions less on the economy and foreign relations than on guns, global warming, abortion, and a multi-gender, multi-ethnic America.

If you’ve traveled or lived in a region not your own color, you understand. Differences in culture and perception are a fact of life. This becomes a problem only when two critical factors go ignored. First, being immersed in a culture not your own is perfectly acceptable—if those “opposites” don’t force their preferences on others. Second, Americans share a common culture in many ways. Red and blue, we (if not everyone) love sports. We go to movies and watch TV in all its broadcast forms. We gobble pizza, barbecue on holidays, go to the seashore or lake, hike and bike, honor our troops and take Mom out for Mother’s Day brunch. Conservatives, like liberals, drink wine. Liberals, like conservatives, drink beer. Christians of all political persuasions decorate Christmas trees.

Sadly, red folks and blue folks come into little contact, since the nation lacks a military draft or mandated national service. So, Americans often see only stereotypes. Many adopt a philosophy undercutting the nation’s core beliefs as a democracy. They define different as bad. They consider illegitimate people with cultural preferences not matching their own. The cultural divide leads to a political divide increasingly wide and bitter. Everyone shouts. No one listens.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the Book of Leviticus. We’re now in the Book of Numbers, but Leviticus remains on my mind. Leviticus 19:18 commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Both red and blue types pay lip service to this verse. It demands more.

  • LOVE: Actions, not just words, prove the real measure of our intentions and integrity.
  • YOUR: The neighbor to whom Leviticus refers is ours, not someone else’s
  • NEIGHBOR: In a world grown more interconnected, we must expand our definition of neighbor from those nearest us to those at some distance. We can’t come to the rescue for everyone, but we can respect all people’s inherent worth.
  • AS YOURSELF: We cannot complain of prejudice and violence inflicted on us if we devalue, hate or persecute anyone else.

 

Democrats often vilify conservatives, as Hillary Clinton did in her sorrowful reference to Donald Trump’s “basket of deplorables.” Republicans eagerly point to liberals as “fake Americans” who control “fake news.” Yet most conservatives and liberals want the same things: good jobs, healthcare and education for their families, safety and peace. Because these issues cross cultural lines, good will and effort can help us find a measure of political common ground.

Yes, red and blue states—or communities—will continue to follow diverse cultural imperatives. But a closer look reveals that we’re all different just the same.

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WHY WE ALL CAN’T GET ALONG

In 1991, Los Angeles police beat a black man named Rodney King. This sparked the riots of 1992 in which 53 people died. King uttered words often repeated: “Can we all get along?” In the geopolitical arena, it doesn’t seem likely. The cause often lies in differences among civilizations and cultures.

Wait, you say. All people are essentially the same. That must go for nations and cultures, too. The historian Francis Fukuyama might once have agreed. In The End of History and the Last Man (1992), he proposed that the Soviet Union’s collapse ended competition between political-economic philosophies. Democratic capitalism won. The rest of history would only involve all countries adapting to it.

Samuel P. Huntington disagreed. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996) predicted hostilities among major civilizations. These included the West, Orthodox Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Muslim world. These civilizations uphold differing political, religious, cultural and economic norms, and would struggle with each other regionally or globally. Many academics and commentators faulted Huntington—foolishly.

Granted, all human beings may pursue the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: self-actualization, esteem, social relations, safety and physiological wellbeing. And many people in a world grown smaller have much in common. But cultural views, particularly among “leaders,” often differ markedly about the meaning of those needs and their associated values.

Alexander Lukin, Vice President of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, offers insight. In the July/August 2014 FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Lukin explains “What the Kremlin is Thinking.” The United States, he posits, hasn’t a clue. Lukin writes: “If one believes that the meaning of human existence is to gain more political freedoms and acquire material wealth, then Western society is moving forward. But if one thinks, as a traditional Christian does, that Christ’s coming was humanity’s most important development, then material wealth looks far less important… Religious traditionalists see euthanasia, homosexuality, and other practices that the New Testament repeatedly condemns as representing not progress but a regression to pagan times. Viewed through this lens, Western society is more than imperfect; it is the very center of sin.”

Russia and the West share affection for luxury autos, expensive clothes, pro hockey and basketball, and high-priced restaurants. But Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin see the world differently. Moreover, from Moscow’s viewpoint, writes Lukin, the West may be seen not simply as different but as evil.

Does this throw light on the Islamist State’s attempted genocide against Yazidis and forced conversion of Christians? Or the depredations of Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadis against Christians? Or why, after almost fifteen centuries, Muslim Sunnis and Shiites continue to slaughter each other?

And is Hamas exaggerating when it says it wants to destroy Israel and kill all Jews? Might the Gaza-Israel clash involve more than geopolitics and thus not be amenable to making peace? And might Israel (and the West) and Hamas (and Islamists) define peace differently?

If only we could all get along. But even that phrase may differ in meaning among cultures. Being a person of good faith offers no guarantee of good faith from others who see the world through a markedly different cultural lens.

Let’s hope. Let’s pray. But above all, let’s be honest with ourselves.

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