Monday, October 15, 2012

Current Muslim rage: A confirmation of Huntington’s Clash of civilizations?

In 1992 political scientist Samuel P. Hungtington expressed for the first time his theory of world conflict which he referred to as “The clash of Civilizations”. With this phrase he developed his thinking on the post Cold War world scenario where he found that religious and cultural identity would be the primary source of world conflict.
Following the news about the so called “Muslim rage”  or “anti-US demonstrations” there are several interrogatives that have aroused in public discussion such as: Does every religion have the power to cause harm? How can the western world interpret these demonstrations?  Due to the importance this subject has gained in the world media, it seemed almost impossible not write about it.

My first statement is that faith by itself does not pursue the use of violence but it is the misinterpretation of faith what leads to fundamentalism.

My second statement is that the current  “muslim rage” (although I strongly disagree with this title and I shall explain why) has little to do with the famous video that portraited prophet Muhammed as a pedophile and has more to do with the fail of the US government in handling their complicated entanglements in the Middle East since 9/11.

My third statement seeks to reach out for a common ground, the value of life. Both muslim families in Libya, Egypt and other countries and American consular families, on the other hand, are hurt every day by these deadly violent acts. There is a lack of understanding that gets in the way of mutual respect between the East and the West. Just as freedom of speech is so precious to westerns, respect to religion and traditions is most treasured in the East.

Regarding my first statement there is a great quote by one of my favorite current philosophers that explains this point very well:

Religious violence is a very slippery topic; it tends to be even more problematic than religion itself. Religion is a mixed blessing; it can promote a sense of community and provide valid service to its members. But one should not be blind to its vices and harmful effects. Historically, religious ideas have been used to justify both war and peace, both violence and reconciliation. We can observe it in Islam, in Christianity, in Hinduism, in Judaism, in practically all religions.
What remains open to question is whether religion makes anybody good or non-violent who would otherwise be malicious and violent. This is the big question. And this reminds me of what Mary McCarthy used to say, “Religion is only good for good people.” When cloaked in religion people can display great tolerance and generosity, but sometimes it reduces them to the lowest forms of cruelty.
 In other words, faith in itself does not pursue violence for true religion seeks the welfare of human kind, but rather, it is the political and socio-economic environment that we’re surrounded by the one that may lead to a certain political action where religion is used as an instrument or shield I dare I say.
Regarding my second statement there are two key points I’d like to develop. The first one suggests that the name “Muslim rage” gives a misrepresentation of the facts. If by Muslim we refer to a radical minority of the world Muslim population then the term is correct, but as many of you may already know, these violent demonstrations have been performed by a minority whose goal I suspect is higher than banning the Muhammed Film. Does that mean that mean the film was a good idea? Certainly not, in fact I consider it a provocation by people who lacked the ethics of responsibility, which in the words of Weber means the capacity of considering the outcomes before an action and being thoughtful towards the majority of people. The other question within this second statement leads to the political arena in the Middle East. In reference to this there is an interesting article by Jeffrey Goldberg I read a few days ago that illustrates my assumption:

Motivation for rioting differed from country to country, but there are common threads. Many of the riots took place in countries with poor economies and venal, incompetent governments with mythomaniacal worldviews. (Recall that the president of Egypt is a Sept. 11 Truther.) More to the point, much of the rioting could be attributed to the exploitation of religious sentiment by radicals affiliated with Salafism, the extreme, puritanical, anti-Western and anti-Semitic strain of political Islam from which al-Qaeda draws much of its ideology. Salafists are competing with secularists and more moderate Islamists for power (only Salafists could make the Muslim Brotherhood appear moderate), and so they look for any opportunity to highlight their anti- American bona fides.
This video, like the Danish cartoons mocking Muhammad that set off protests in 2005, was merely an excuse.
So why won't the administration acknowledge this fact? Because that would mean acknowledging that the killing of Osama bin Laden and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq didn't bring to an end the unhappy U.S. entanglements in the Middle East. It would mean acknowledging that Obama hasn't charmed radical Islam into submission, and that American counterterrorism policies, especially drone strikes, sometimes cause as many problems as they solve.

Therefore, the so called “Muslim rage” title (a title given by the famous Newspaper Newsweek) is an incitement to rage by itself. It completely disheartens me that the whole Muslim community has to suffer this kind of label provided by a somewhat sensational western journalism, when in reality the majority of them have just dealt with it peacefully, even though hurt by a video that mocks their religion.
And thus we get to my third proposition, one that seeks common ground between Muslims and the western world. Just as tradition and religion are of high value for Muslims, freedom of speech is just as important for westerns, even though sometimes that freedom of speech can be used to harm others.
Something the Muslim community should take in consideration is that Christians in the western world suffer this kind of mocking all the time, in fact, they have had to deal with the satire of the Christian faith by Hollywood and the media for decades. There’s an article by Parvaez Ahmed and Mark Schlakman that fairly expresses my main point here:

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects both freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. In other words, a Muslim's right to freely practice his or her religion in America is derived from the same constitutional clause that protects the right of others to express their anti-Islam views.
In an increasingly interdependent world where diverse populations are linked by social media and 24-hour news cycles, the extent to which defaming religion may be analogous to shouting fire in a crowded theater is a debate worth having. But any such debate is less likely against the backdrop of extremists displaying not only a lack of respect for other cultures but also ignorance about the pluralistic and free-speech traditions within Islam.

Jahanbegloo, Ramin. Is a Ghandi muslim possible?
Parvez Ahmed and Mark Schlakman. Value of Free Speech lost in Muslim "rage"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cultural Diversity: a reason to celebrate

Cultural Diversity: a reason  to celebrate

In 2002 The United Nations  declared May 21st to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity. This year we commemorate the tenth anniversary of that declaration. But what does it really mean to “celebrate diversity”?

In his book “The clash of intolerances”, the Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo suggests the idea of embracing Cultural Diversity within a nation as a cause for celebration instead of conflict and division. His thesis is sustained by historical cases such as the Spanish “Convivencia”  ( 8th - 13th Century):

 “…While Europe languished in the Dark Ages, Muslims, Jews and Christians in Andalusia together formed an intricate social fabric having a closely entwined and culturally fruitful collaboration. (…)The paradigm of Cordoba shows not only the possibilities of a dialogical exchange, where people of different religions and cultures could live side by side, discerning common grounds and values without hating what—and who— they are not, but also the strength of the diversity of European identity—a strength that could encourage further border-crossings between Islamic and European civilizations in the South and the North of the Mediterranean. The Andalusian experience symbolizes the universality of the human cultures to connect with each other.”

The challenge of seeing cultural diversity within nations as an asset, as a cause for celebration instead of division suggests the idea of denying our own self-sufficiency and the intention of recognizing our own incompleteness. This approach highlights the construction of identities as a result of human interaction. In other words we do not form our identities in spite of our differences but because of them. I am thanks to my neighbor.
We’re empowered to construct social meanings through our interaction with our social environment. However, settling for what we already know (or think we know) without seeing and hearing different worldviews, represents not only fear but also lack of character. Stepping out of our comfort zone and accepting the challenge of having our own arguments being refuted by another person’s opinion is in fact putting our own beliefs to test. At the end of the day we may find ourselves in two scenarios. A we may reaffirm our beliefs by hearing others or B we decide our neighbor, who seemed so wrong at first, has actually proven to have a point and a somewhat valid argument and all of a sudden my “absolute truth” seems not so absolute anymore. In either case it is a win-win situation.

Most of today’s societies are multicultural societies. Try to find an homogenous country, mission impossible. Ethnic (and religious) minorities are a reality in every Nation-State. Global waves of massive migration due to the conditions of unemployment, poverty, and war, has emerged the debate regarding the increasing establishment of porous borders and on the other hand the question of policy in multicultural contexts. Such is the case of Europe, a continent that is still struggling with this phenomenon. Unfortunately the hegemonic paradigm in Europe is that of assimilation, that is, the idea that everyone must subject to a National Identity and that an expression of your cultural and religious particularities in the public space is not an option. Cultural assimilation leads to immigrants, for instance, hiding their true identities to try and blend with the crowd. A historical paradox I dare say. Precisely because what we think of today’s Western Civilization had its foundations in the Eastern ideas…what would it be of our western scientific progress if the Arabs hadn’t passed into us Math? And what about our the new discoveries in medicine…none of that would have been possible without the transmission of medical knowledge by pioneers as Averroes and Maimonides?

Voltaire claimed that the East is the civilization "to which the West owes everything". I believe the East and the West owe one another more than they can tell.

Exclusively because today’s societies are plural, Intercultural Dialogue is an imperative condition. We can only think of working out our differences once dialogue is an institutionalized practice.
Jahanbegloo: Cosmopolitanism and Diversity: Thinking Democratic Peace

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Way of Recognition

The Way of Recognition

The term recognition comes from the Latin re-cognoscere, and expresses the deep knowledge of something or someone. In Platonic language it would mean exposing the true knowledge of something.

Most of the time we think we know (cognoscere) the person in front of us because he possesses some characteristics that implicate a certain meaning, a meaning of course that has been socially constructed. We meet a person who is a Republican and immediately associate him with “ignorant, hates homosexuals and is probably extremely religious”. The same happens if we were republicans meeting a Democrat. Our idea of that person would probably be that of “a communist, pro-abortionist and just an overall immoral person”. We see a young man with dreadlocks singing with his guitar at a park and just assume he’s a “dirty man who probably barely takes showers and definitely smokes weed”. All of these preconceptions are expressions that unfortunately I’ve heard people say.

 The reason we’d rather stick to our assumptions than approach our neighbor to find out if they meet our presuppositions is fear. We feel too comfortable to leave our safety zone and take the risk of approaching the other, to learn about him/her, to listen to his/her story, as indeed, all of us have stories to tell.

And here is one of those stories:

I was about fifteen years old when I got my first marriage proposal. Well, it wasn’t exactly what we would call a proposal but it was quite close to that. My family lived seven years in Central Asia and by the time I turned fifteen a neighbor family came to talk to my parents about arranging my marriage to their oldest son. Their offer: Some sheep.

 To what my parents responded:

-“Well, where we come from, things are done in a different way, both, young men and young women, once they become adults, get to decide for themselves who they want to choose as a partner, of course they seek to have their parent’s approval, but it is their choice.”

As they were speaking, this couple seemed to look at them with wide open eyes full of intrigue. By the time my parents finished their statement, the asian couple’s oldest son, looked at them and asked: “What if I do that?, Would it be okay if I knew the girl I would marry and if I get to choose?”

-I don’t know. I guess there wouldn’t be a problem with that, if she’s a good girl I don’t see why that wouldn’t be possible.

Now, my parents knew arranged marriages were part of the culture there, but they still had an interest in hearing these people’s exposition on it. That is why they bravely asked them:

-Now, aren’t you afraid that your child will be unhappy with your choice? What if he doesn’t come to love her?

Their answer:

-Well, usually young people make mistakes when choosing a partner, but we parents love them and know what’s best for them. Love comes with time, that’s how it worked with us, our parents arranged our marriage, and as you see we’re still together.

Wow” my mom thought. “If we westerns had this kind of mentality, imagine how lower the divorce rate in our countries would be. This sort of thought actually makes a lot of sense”.

What I like most about this story is the lesson we can learn from these two diverse families, who when being introduced to a new way of doing a same thing, didn’t respond with prejudice but rather with an open mentality, with an intention of understanding that other in front of them. What we can highlight here is their capacity to listen and recognize in each other, certain values, different than theirs, but values after all.

And that is precisely what it means to recognize your neighbor, that is, to see him as your morally equal. That, my friends, is true recognition, a deeper knowledge of that someone we thought we knew, but whose image we could only see as a blurry reflection.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Encounter

Ever heard f the famous expression “Don’t judge the book by its cover”? I’m sure you have ot only heard of it but have also used it if not once, several times. But why is it that we have to use it? Don’t people know already that the cover is just that, a cover, and that the real character of a book relies on its content because unless you take the time to read it, no matter how beautiful the cover is, you’ll have no idea what the book is about?

The book metaphor is so commonly known because we individuals, subjects of a certain cultural sctructure tend to look at what’s different with ethnocentricity. The values and meanings that we grow up with shape our perceptions of ourselves and others.
It’s easier to attribute others’ actions preconceived motives in our mind than actually taking the time to understand them. However this kind of mentality leads to misunderstandings and conflict.

I guess it seems easier to just think that the muslim woman a few meters from me is being held way longer than me at the Security Check in the airport because “well…let’s be honest..most terrorists are muslims”; what about ignoring and not doing anything when we see a white young man insulting and mistreating an immigrant in the subway because “well… the immigrant must have done something to deserve it”.

Let’s just take an even simpler and everyday example. You have an Egyptian friend at work whom you and your other friends have invited out for dinner twice but both times she has said “no thank you”. You and your friends think that she might not be interested in being friends with people from work, so you stop inviting her. Meanwhile this girl is sad that you and your friends never insisted in inviting her to dinner, since she didn’t feel comfortable saying yes the first time because in her culture saying yes instantly is rude and people are asked twice or even three times before there can be a positive answer. This whole misinterpretation can be fixed by just approaching the Egyptian girl and taking the time to get to know her and her culture. Once there is some trust acquired, she could be asked if there was a particular reason why she didn’t join the dinners. You might not understand why they do it that way in Egypt but at least you have given the first step of showing interest and you have listened and learned.

The moment we meet someone different we have an opportunity to learn something new. We also find out there is another way of doing certain things other than my way. This is what an encounter is all about, learning.

The road of prejudice is easy and fast while the road of understanding may take more efforts and longer time, but just imagine what a difference it would make if more people applied this kind of thinking and tried to approach “that other different from me” to find out the real motives behind his actions, instead of analyzing them from their own point of view.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Your first blog entry takes as much first impressions skills as it does having your first job interviews. No matter how important are the things you have to share, the key is thinking about how you share them.

Maybe that kind of thought is what kept me so long from writing my first note. Call it fear or maybe just procrastination, the truth is, the problem was never “
what to write about” but rather “how to write it”. I guess my "how" will improve with time, but for now let me tell you "what" I will write about.

This blog is about global citizenship, inter identitary and intercultural relationships, intercultural and intereligious conflict management and peacemaking in plural contexts. The topics that will be discussed are international politics; ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity, social constructions about the world and our life values (cosmovisions) and how those constructions affect the way handle certain situations and how we act towards others.

This is an open blog, anyone may find it interesting, but I have a feeling that it will be even more appealing to people who have studied or are studying Politic Science, International Relations, Sociology, Cultural Anthropology or any other Comparative Social Studies; people who have grown in multicultural scenarios or even frequent world travelers who despite living in diverse contexts (or maybe because of it), still have many questions and unconcluded ideas.

It is my desire that what is shared here will help you think and re-think about your own interpretations of life and its values, contributing thus to form a critical open mind that is willing to learn from the “different” and find things in common rather than emphasize the differences.