Islam & the West: Testing the Clash of Civilizations Thesis
Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); University of Sydney
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Institute for Social Research (ISR)
KSG Working Paper No. RWP02-015
In seeking to understand the root causes of the events of 9/11 many accounts have turned to Samuel P. Huntington's provocative and controversial thesis of a "clash of civilizations", arousing strong debate. Evidence from the 1995-2001 waves of the World Values Study provide survey evidence allowing us, for the first time, to sift the truth in this debate by comparing attitudes and values in 75 societies around the globe, including many Islamic and Western states.
The results confirm the first claim in Huntington's thesis: culture does matter, and indeed matters a lot, so that religious legacies leave their distinct imprint on contemporary values. But Huntington is essentially mistaken in assuming that the core clash between the West and Islamic worlds concerns democracy, as the evidence suggests striking similarities in the political values held in these societies. It remains true that Islamic nations differ from the West on issues of religious leadership, but this is not a simple dichotomous clash, as many countries around the globe display similar attitudes to Islam. Moreover the original thesis fails to identify the primary cultural fault line between the West and Islam, concerning the social issues of gender equality and sexual liberalization. The values separating Islam and the West revolve far more centrally around Eros than Demos.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 31
Keywords: Political Science
Date posted: July 11, 2002