In this new, not so brave world, pervasive and violent conflicts are not and will not erupt because of religion but increasingly from civilizations which are culturally different. The world is in the simultaneous process of fragmentation and integration not because of religious difference, but because of a “Clash of Civilizations“
The results of the 2016 BREXIT referendum, the US elections and the French 2017 Presidential front-runner whose campaign claims that French traditions are under threat from immigrants and Islamic fundamentalism is highlighting the significant changes and differences that is occurring in our civilization today. Civilization is a cultural entity which involves language, values, norms, ideals, modes of thinking of successive generations, a way of life, religion, customs, etc. However, of all the objective elements that define civilizations, religion is the defining characteristic of civilizations, as Christopher Dawson said “the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilization rests“.
Of the five “world religions”, four – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism – are associated with the world’s major civilizations (Sinic, Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, Orthodox and Western). The fifth religion, Buddhism is not associated with any civilization.
The most dramatic and significant contacts between civilizations were when people from one civilization conquered and eliminated or subjected the people of another civilization. As Geoffrey Parker observed, “the rise of the West depended upon the exercise of force“. To prove the point, he posits that the West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas, values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence to colonize territories as Europeans controlled 84% of the earth’s surface by 1914.
Western civilization however, has never generated a religion. But globalization, championed by the West, have caused states and governments to lose the ability to control the flow of ideas, money, technology, goods and people; and civilization is bringing with it all of its major elements including religion.
Since Western civilization has not generated any major religion, its unfamiliarity with religion is at the root of its unwillingness to tolerate the opinions, belief and practices of other civilizations or to accommodate religious diversity. Many in the UK who voted to leave the European Union (EU), voted to leave because they want to stop immigration into the UK and the US elected a President who wants to restrict the entry of the entire Islamic civilization into the United States under the assumption that Muslims are a threat to the US national security.
The real issue is that globalization has enabled the rise of populist movements and the West finds itself dealing with multiple identity crises, and has erroneously framed religion as the cause for the crisis of global insecurity and conflict. It is therefore in the interest of the powers of Western civilization to work with the Islamic civilization to address terrorism and fundamentalism. The level of cooperation will need to go beyond conventional security partnerships to tackle the deeply rooted political causes and ideological justifications of conflict.