Is there really a clash of civilizations?

Question: Is there really a clash of civilizations?

Barrett: There’s tension among large groups of people. There’s tension among very different . . . adherents to very different ideologies and belief systems. Absolutely. Let’s start with this country. In this country there is no vast and easily defined clash of civilizations. There is no Islamic movement that wants to take over the country and impose Sharia – the complex Islamic set of legal ideas and rules and regulations – onto American society. Now are there Muslim preachers who say that God would prefer that we live by Islamic rule? Yeah, you can go to mosques and find people saying it. The same way you can find some Christian preachers who would say that the heathens are running this country. And when God’s kingdom comes they will all be swept aside and incinerated, and the good people will be taken to heaven and sit at Jesus’ right hand. I mean you know every . . . a lot of different group has kind of apocalyptic ideas. They have the notion that their ideas and their belief system is superior to others. I mean traditionally that is what religion is all about. Like, “We’ve got a bunch of ideas. They’re better than your ideas. And God’s listening to us, not so much to you. So that’s why we should be in charge.” Now we’re a lot more advanced from that position in this country. And Muslims are, I think, fully able to exist in a pluralistic society even if they disagree with their neighbors; even if they disagree with people eating pork or drinking alcohol with dinner; or even if they hold vaguely or very pronounced anti-Semitic views just to choose one thing. Many of my relatives – I’m Jewish, just as an aside – have, you know, extremely bigoted views about Arabs and Muslims. That’s no big secret among Jews. So is there a clash of civilizations? Well you’ve got preachers all over the world declaring there is a clash of civilizations. You have ideologues who want to emphasize that. You have countries at war. You have Ahmedinejad in Iran stamping on people who don’t want to live according to . . . So you’ve got a lot of clashing all over the place, and I suppose you could use as your organizing prism for all that – your organizing filter – that there are clashes of civilization. Sure. I guess my reaction is when weren’t there clashes of civilization. And of what great use is that analytical construct? And in this country I would say it’s of very, very little use. Absolutely focus on the tensions. Absolutely look at where there’s friction. Look at where there are discrepancies between aspirations and ideals, and the reality of how people get along. That’s what my book is in part about. But declaring that there’s a clash of civilizations; and kind of the guys on the other side of the clash either have to get with our program or we’re all going to war; or in the title of a recent, extremely unhelpful book about the coming World War IV, I mean I just don’t see how that whole thing really helps us any.

Recorded on: 12/4/07

While acknowledging tensions, Paul Barrett questions the usefulness of analytical constructs.

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.

USA ranked 27th in the world in education and healthcare—down from 6th in 1990

America continues to tread water in healthcare and education while other countries have enacted reforms to great effect.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The American healthcare and education systems are known to need some work, but a new study suggests we've fallen far in comparison to the rest of the world.
  • The findings show what progress, if any, 195 countries have made over the last twenty years
  • The study suggests that economic growth is tied to human capital, which gives a dire view of America's economic prospects.
Keep reading Show less
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • There are 2 different approaches to governing free speech on college campuses.
  • One is a morality/order approach. The other is a bottom-up approach.
  • Emily Chamlee-Wright says there are many benefits to having no one central authority on what is appropriate speech.