In 1993, the late Samuel Huntington published his highly controversial essay in Foreign Affairs magazine entitled "The Clash of Civilizations" (which became the object of a book in 1996).
Huntington argued that future divisions amongst humanity and the dominating source of conflict would be cultural. Nation states would remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal global conflicts would occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.
In effect, he contended, the fault lines between civilizations will become the key battle lines. He dismissed the notion of a universal civilization, stating that human beings are divided along cultural lines -- Western, Islamic, Hindu and so on -- each group with its own distinct set of values.
According to Huntington, Islamic civilization was the most troublesome given that Muslims' primary attachment was to their religion, not the nation-state, and that their culture is unreceptive to certain liberal ideals like pluralism, individualism and democracy.
Hence Huntingdon's clash of civilizations narrative insists that there is an irreconcilable conflict between Islamic and Western Civilization. Paradoxically the leaders of global terrorist movements such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) unequivocally agree with Huntingdon's view and have done their best to propagate it.
Regrettably, the Canadian majority concurs that "there is an irreconcilable conflict between Western societies and the Islamic faith in the world."
Critics contend that Huntington's arguments are a vast oversimplification of reality that requires generalizations about language, history, customs, institutions and, most importantly, religion. The very assumption that civilizations have distinct values can be misleading especially since the entities in question are culturally diverse and certain not ideologically monolithic.
Often regarded as one of the main adherents of the Huntington thesis, historian Bernard Lewis acknowledges the important divisions in the Islamic world with multiple sub-cultures and tribes he points out "... that Islam is less unified than any other civilization."
Even some of the more thoughtful media has encouraged the Huntingdon thesis. A February 2015 column in the New York Times appeared under the title "Islam and the West at War." The title is undoubtedly fodder for the fundamentalists.
Regrettably, the Canadian public seems to feel that the Huntingdon thesis has legitimacy as the majority concurs that "there is an irreconcilable conflict between Western societies and the Islamic faith in the world." Ten surveys conducted between 2012 and 2016 by Leger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies reveal that 55 to 60 per cent of Canadians subscribe to Huntingdon's thesis.
In January 2016 the idea was strongly supported by 26 per cent of Canadians with some 28 oer cent somewhat in agreement, 19 per cent somewhat disagree, 12 per cent strongly disagree, 12 per cent don't know and three per cent prefer not to answer.
Even those Canadians most convinced there is an irreconcilable conflict between Islam and the West see dialogue as a critical counterterrorism measure.
It's worth noting that those Canadians strongly persuaded by the Huntingdon thesis are least likely to trust Muslims and most likely to view them negatively (with 65 per cent saying they don't trust them and 70 per cent holding a negative view of Muslims).
On the other end of spectrum, some 16 per cent of those out rightly rejecting the Huntingdon thesis distrust Muslims and 13 per cent view them negatively.
There are important caveats in the Canadian endorsement of the Huntington thesis. A poll conducted a decade earlier in 2007 by the British firm Globescan reveals that 73 per cent believe that common ground can be found between Muslim and Western cultures while just 16 per cent believe that violent conflict is inevitable.
A significant majority (56 per cent) of Canadians sees "conflicts about political power and interests" as the source of tensions between Islam and the West, while 29 per cent believe they arise from religious and cultural differences. It's true that there is ground to challenge the way in which the options are framed for the survey respondents, but consider yet another caveat to Huntingdon that arises from a 2015 ACS-Leger survey.
In effect, while a majority of Canadians agree with Huntington's proposition, the majority also agree that dialogue between religious groups is essential in the fight against terrorism. Even those Canadians most convinced there is an irreconcilable conflict between Islam and the West see dialogue as a critical counterterrorism measure. Alas, Canadians believe in the possibility of reconciling the irreconcilable. There yet remains hope for the future.
Jack Jedwab is the author of Counterterrorism and Identities: Canadian Viewpoints (LLP, 2015).
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Her'es a look at some of what's been said — recently and otherwise — about Canada's evolving role in the U.S.-led mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which was officially retooled by the new Liberal government. (Information from The Canadian Press)
"Our efforts should better reflect what Canada is all about; defending our interests and freedoms alongside our allies and working constructively with local partners to build real solutions for the longer term." — Trudeau, announcing a larger training and development mission and the withdrawal of CF-18 fighter-bombers.
"ISIL would like us to see them as a credible threat to our way of life and to our civilization. We know Canada is stronger — much stronger than the threat posed by a murderous gang of thugs who are terrorizing some of the most vulnerable people on earth." — Trudeau.
"Left unchecked, this terrorist threat can only grow, and grow quickly. As a government, we know our ultimate responsibility is to protect Canadians and to defend our citizens from those who would do harm to us or our families." — Former prime minister Stephen Harper on Oct. 3, 2014, as he announced in the House of Commons a plan to send Canadian aircraft to fight in Iraq.
"Canadians did not invent the threat of jihadi terrorism and we certainly did not invite it; nor, as this global threat becomes ever more serious, can we protect ourselves, our communities, by choosing to ignore it. That is why a strong majority of Canadians have supported our government's mission against ISIL. Canadians understand that it is not merely in the wider interests of the international community, but specifically in Canada's national interest." — Harper on March 24, 2015, telling the Commons of a plan to extend and expand the mission.
"It is important to understand that while airstrike operations can be very useful to achieve short-term military and territorial gains, they do not, on their own, achieve long-term stability for local communities. Canadians learned this lesson first-hand during a very difficult decade in Afghanistan where our forces became expert military trainers renowned around the world." — Trudeau on Monday.
"Along with our allies and through the auspices of the United Nations, Canada should provide more help through a well-funded and well-planned humanitarian aid effort. The refugee crisis alone threatens the region's security, overwhelming countries from Lebanon to Turkey, from Syria itself to Jordan. Here at home, we should significantly expand our refugee targets and give more victims of war the opportunity to start a new life in Canada." — Trudeau as Liberal opposition leader in the Commons, March 2015.
"Our allies want us in the fight against ISIS, that is clear. This is a despicable terrorist group. And Canadians want us in the fight against ISIS because it is our fight and that is clear. When our friends and our allies are attacked, it is our fight and when our values are threatened and our country is threatened and our friends are threatened, it is our fight. And when human rights are trampled and human dignity is trampled, then it is our fight." — Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.
"The prime minister likes to say he cares about diversity, but there is nothing that threatens diversity more than ISIS — whether it is the rights of women, cultural and religious freedoms, or the rights of gays and lesbians." — Ambrose.
"The Canadian announcement is the kind of response the secretary has been looking for from coalition members as the United States and our coalition partners push to accelerate the campaign against ISIL ... the United States is willing to lead the coalition in the fight against ISIL, but the barbaric group poses a threat to every nation, so every nation should join this fight. If countries are unwilling or unable to contribute militarily, then they should consider the important non-military ways they can contribute to this effort." — Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook during Monday's Department of Defense briefing.
"We are concerned that the Liberal government has chosen to place Canadian Forces personnel deeper into an open-ended combat military mission in Iraq — a mission that fails to even define what success would look like. And while we welcome the government's announcement today of increased humanitarian assistance to the region, we are concerned that this aid is being linked to the military mission." — NDP MP Helene Laverdiere.
"I commend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for committing to increase humanitarian and military aid for the nearly 4.6-million Syrian refugees who have been displaced by five years of brutal war in the region." — Green party Leader Elizabeth May.
"As a founding member of the coalition, Canada has been a valued and willing partner in the mission to degrade and destroy (ISIL) and has played an important role across all lines of effort." — Bruce Heyman, the U.S. ambassador to Canada.
"We're pleased Canada is continuing to invest and play a leadership role in educating and protecting children affected by crises in Syria and Iraq." — David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada.