The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations (Routledge Advances in Middle East and Islamic Studies)

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How can it be that Huntington's contested idea of a clash of civilizations became such a powerful political myth through which so many people look at the world? Bottici and Challand disentangle such a process of myth-making both in the West and in Muslim majority countries, and call for a renewed critical attitude towards it. By analysing a process of elaboration of this myth that took place in academic books, arts and media, comics and Hollywood films, they show that the clash of civilizations has become a cognitive scheme through which people look at the world, a practical image on the basis of which they act on it, as well as a drama which mobilizes passions and emotions.

Written in a concise and accessible way, this book is a timely and valuable contribution to the academic literature, and more generally, to the public debate. As such, it will be an important reference for scholars and students of political science, sociology, philosophy, cultural studies, Middle Eastern politics and Islam. Collections SPS Books.


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Login Register. In his analysis of the Reformation in Germany, Engels writes: In the so-called religious wars of the Sixteenth Century, very positive material class-interests were at play, and those wars were class wars just as were the later collisions in England and France. If the class struggles of that time appear to bear religious earmarks, if the interests, requirements and demands of the various classes hid themselves behind a religious screen, it little changes the actual situation, and is to be explained by conditions of the time.

Rather they represented the interests of the nascent bourgeois class in their struggle against the feudal monarchy, as well as the more radically inclined artisan and peasant rebels against serfdom. However, once in power, the bourgeoisie brought religion back as a bulwark of established order.

All the major religions of the world have undergone transformations in order to adapt to changing circumstances. In some instances, religion has played a progressive role and in others a reactionary one.

In still others, it has simply adapted to new conditions in order to retain its mass appeal. Myth 1: Islam is a monolithic religion The idea that Islam is a monolithic religion is not only false but functions as the basis for all the other myths. For it is only by denying the diversity of Islamic history and practices that one can then argue that it has certain inherent, unchanging characteristics that render it anti-democratic, violent, backward-looking, etc.

Islam is practiced in dozens of countries around the world. According to U. State Department figures, nearly1. There are several countries and regions which have majority Muslim populations, and they span the globe from Indonesia, to Bangladesh, to several central Asian countries, the Middle East, and North Africa. Islam looks very different in each of these regions and countries largely because as the religion spread it adopted the customs and traditions of the people of various lands. The claim that Islam is a homogenous and monolithic religion is therefore ludicrous, given the diversity of Islamic practices in nations that run the gamut from secular democracies such as Indonesia to dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia.

Much of the current Islamophobic rhetoric seeks to demonize Arabs in particular. However, all Muslims are not Arabs, and all Arabs are not Muslims. Arabs are people who speak Arabic, share certain common cultural traditions, and claim a common Arab identity. Because of linguistic and cultural differences, Iranians and Turks are not considered Arabs.

Like all religions, Islam has adapted. Religious texts may be more or less fixed, but the ideas and practices they are made to justify are ever-changing, based on historical transformations that are independent of religious ideology. As Chris Harman notes, Islam is no different to any other religion in these respects. It arose in one context, among a trading community in the towns of 7th century Arabia, in the midst of a society still mainly organized on a tribal basis. It flourished within the succession of great empires carved out by some of those who accepted its doctrines.

It persists today as the official ideology of numerous capitalist states Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, Iran etc , as well as the inspiration of many oppositional movements. It has been able to survive in such different societies because it has been able to adapt to differing class interests. It has obtained the finance to build its mosques and employ its preachers in turn from the traders of Arabia, the bureaucrats, landowners and merchants of the great empires, and the industrialists of modern capitalism. But at the same time it has gained the allegiance of the mass of people by putting across a message offering consolation to the poor and oppressed.

At every point its message has balanced between promising a degree of protection to the oppressed and providing the exploiting classes with protection against any revolutionary overthrow. This was one of the arguments that the Bush administration used to justify its war on Afghanistan. The reality is that neither Afghan nor French Muslim women have been liberated by these actions.

Today Afghan women are no better off than they were before the war. It does not represent a step forward for women, which would have entailed allowing women to choose whether or not to wear the hijab. The British used a similar justification when they invaded and occupied Egypt in Imperialist justifications for war and occupation have always been a sham, but one might still ask if Islam as a religion is uniquely oppressive towards women.

Women who were thought to be witches were burned at the stake, not only in Europe but in the U. Only 13 percent of U.

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The Unborn Victims of Violence Act makes it a crime to harm a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman. In short, Islam has no monopoly on misogyny. The dominant religion in any society does not automatically shape social reality, rather religious ideology is itself shaped and reshaped by material factors. There has been much debate about the role of women in Islam. The Koran, like any religious text, is contradictory and lends itself to multiple interpretations.

The theory of clash of civilizations -A critical analysis (New version)

There are passages in the Koran that grant women the same rights as men to divorce and that permit them to own and inherit property, marking a step forward for women in Arabian society at the time. Barlas argues that sexist interpretations of the Koran are a product of particular societies that needed religious authority to justify sexual inequality.

Ahmed states that prior to the institutionalization of Islam, women in Arab society participated in warfare and religion and had sexual autonomy. Montgomery Watt even goes so far as to argue that Arab society at the time was predominantly matrilineal. After her death, Muhammad practiced polygamy and married several women.


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As Islam spread, it adopted the cultural practices of various empires, including that of the neighboring Persian and the Byzantine empires. Among the Christians who populated the Middle East and the Mediterranean there were more rigid customs associated with women. In the Christian Byzantine Empire, the sexes were segregated, women were not supposed to be to be seen in public, they had to be veiled, and were given only rudimentary education. As the expanding Islamic empire incorporated these regions, it also assimilated these cultural and social practices.

The significant point here is that sexist attitudes towards women, far from being unique to Islam, were prevalent among Christians and Jews as well.

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However, this was not the first time that the women of this region saw a further curtailment of their rights under Western influence. In the period of the New Kingdom — BC , Egyptian women and men were considered equals under the law. Moreover, it is crucial to remember that the rights that women do enjoy anywhere in the world today are the result of struggles waged by women and men for those rights. It took no less than a hundred years of bitter struggles for women to win the right to vote in the United States.

All those who have traveled to the East or to Africa have been struck by the totally narrow mind of the true believer, the kind of iron band around his head that closes him off completely from science and him quite incapable of learning anything or opening his mind to any new ideas. Iran is represented, at best, as a petulant child incapable of responsibly handling nuclear technology, and at worst, a demonic force that must be vanquished. Little time is devoted to shedding light on why Iran, as a rational political actor, might want to acquire nuclear weapons. There are many ways to debunk this myth about Islam, science, and rationality.

I will focus on the hidden history of Islam and science. The important point here is that the West would not have gone through the renaissance had it not been for the contributions made by the Muslim empires. After the fall of Rome from the fifth to the tenth century, Europe entered the so-called Dark Ages, a period of scientific, artistic, and cultural decline.

During the seventh century, Islam came onto the scene and the Muslim armies established a vast empire that stretched from Central Asia through parts of Europe, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The Muslim rulers of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties — AD recognized the advanced development of the kingdoms and cultures they had conquered and took it upon themselves to assimilate and adopt these cultures. They established libraries and translation centers where the great works of science, medicine, and philosophy, both Eastern and Western, were collected and translated.

This age of translation was followed by a period of great creativity when a new generation of Muslim thinkers and scientists built upon this knowledge and made their own contributions. The Persian scholar Ibn Sina—known in Western histories as Avicenna—laid the basis for the study of logic, science, philosophy, politics, and medicine. Ibn Rawandi wrote several books questioning the basic principles not only of Christianity and Judaism, but of Islam as well. They used rationalist thinking, fragments of Greek philosophy, and their own observations to develop theories to explain the physical world.

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When Europe emerged from the Dark Ages, its renaissance in art, culture, and the sciences drew on this enduring legacy of the past, as European thinkers flocked to the great Muslim libraries to not only re-learn their own history and traditions, but also absorb the further development of these traditions by Muslim thinkers.

The scientific revolution and the Enlightenment stood in opposition to Christian dogma and was viewed as a threat by the Church. Scientists who employed reason and rationality to explain the physical world were severely punished. Giordano Bruno, who championed the Copernican system of astronomy, was imprisoned for eight years by the Roman and Venetian Inquisition for refusing to recant his beliefs. He was later burned at the stake. Galileo was similarly brought before the Inquisition and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Myth 4: Islam is an inherently violent religion Today, it has become commonplace to argue that Islam is an inherently violent religion and that the growth of political Islam is the logical result of the teachings of the Koran. One of the Danish cartoons featured the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb on this turban. This is nothing if not the visual depiction of the notion that Islam is inherently violent. Mahmood Mamdani argues against this translation, stating that the term jihad has two meanings. Instead, Islam is portrayed as a violent and intolerant religion.

I will address this myth in two parts. The claim that Islam was spread through war is indeed accurate. The reason why the Muslim armies could defeat these two powerful empires is that constant warfare between the Byzantines and the Persians over the previous century had left the people war-weary. In fact, in some villages the people actually welcomed the Muslim armies. Once in power, and unlike their orthodox Christian counterparts who persecuted heretics and ruled through fear, intimidation, and terror, the Muslim invaders gave people the choice to either convert to Islam or pay a tax.

Christianity had also risen to dominance through conquest and conversion, first in the Roman world and then in the neighboring areas of Europe, Armenia, Arabia, Eastern Africa and Central Asia.