In the present age of globalization, the world is witnessing cultural and ethnic clashes on an unprecedented scale, leading to widespread unrest and anxiety all around. Aided by technological and economic development, people search for better option of making a living. This has caused an increasing amount of migration as friction along social lines seems to be on the rise,.
Migration leads to intermingling of cultures, often causing a clash of cultural value systems. Conflict may occur on account of food, dress, festivals, general way of life or any other reason. Indeed, in today’s world, innumerable examples of cultural conflict can be found in both the developed and developing world, almost on an everyday basis.
The phenomenon of migration happens both from one region of the world to another, as well as within regions itself. Clashes may occur between groups of people belonging to different cultural backgrounds, or between members of same cultural group, as some of the members seek to ‘modernize’ their attitudes and value systems.
Sometimes, such cultural clashes become aggravated and cause wider conflicts between religious groups, which may lead to still wider ‘civilization’ conflicts.
To illustrate the above, consider the present day crisis of ‘Islamophobia’.
Islamophobia has risen out of a process of migration of Muslims from their native lands to the Western countries, over the last century. Migration of Muslims to the western countries has caused cultural conflicts, such as the one over banning of ‘Hizab’ in France, or not allowing construction of mosques with minarets, in Switzerland.
The essentially cultural conflict, arising over several decades gradually has taken the form of a full blown religious or a civilization war.
Fundamentalists among Muslims, perceived the essentially cultural friction as an affront to their religious identity. Later these seemingly cultural issues were interpreted as ‘attack on Islam’, still later, these were linked to the historical animosity between Christians and Muslims, arising out of medieval Christian Crusades.
The issue blew up in Europe after cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed were published in a Danish newspaper Jylland Posten, which was described ‘…as the worst political crisis facing Denmark since second world war…’ by the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
On 30 September 2005, Jyllands-Posten published an article entitled “Muhammeds ansigt” (“The face of Muhammad”) incorporating the cartoons. The article consisted of the 12 cartoons and an explanatory text, in which editor, Fleming Rose wrote:
“…Modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where one must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule…”
The French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons again, causing a widespread indignation among the Muslim communities around the world, culminating in two terrorist attacks on the publication, in 2011 and 2015, leading to 12 deaths in the latter attack.
Supporters of the issue said that the publication of the cartoons was a legitimate exercise of free speech regardless of the validity of the expression, that it was important to openly discuss Islam without fear or that the cartoons made important points about topical issues.
Critics of the cartoons described them as Islamophobic, racist, or baiting and blasphemous to Muslims, possibly intended to humiliate a Danish minority.
The Western tradition of relatively high tolerance for freedom of speech became a focus of some attention. The controversy ignited a debate about the limits of freedom of expression in all societies, religious tolerance, the relationship of Muslim minorities with their broader societies in the West, and relations between the Islamic World in general with Western societies.
It can be observed that what was being viewed as a ‘cultural’ issue by the Danes and French was perceived as a highly sensitive ‘religious’ issue by the Muslims around the world.
With the above backdrop, it becomes necessary to distinguish between the concepts such as ‘culture’ and ‘religion’. It may have become essential that relations between different national, racial, cultural and religious identities are fundamentally redefined, which may help in making the modern democratic societies more tolerant and peaceful.
Religion is a matter of faith and belief, therefore a great deal of resistance to change among people may be expected. On the other hand, culture is a matter of day-to-day life. In fast changing times, when societies seek to make their outlook more scientific, rational and modern, right education can reduce the level of resistance to change among people.
Therefore, it appears that if the society is able to clearly distinguish cultural issues from religious one, one may be able to prevent minor conflicts from blowing into full-fledged wars of religions. There appears to be a need to enlighten people about these issues in a more focused and concerted way.