Clash of Civilizations Not Inevitable, Poll Finds

A violent clash between Islam and the West is not inevitable, according to a majority of respondents in a survey [.pdf] of more than 28,000 respondents in 27 countries released Monday.

An average of 56 percent of respondents agreed with the proposition that "it is possible to find common ground" between members of the two faiths – twice the percentage who agreed that "violent conflict is inevitable" between Muslim and Western cultures, according to the survey by BBC, the University of Maryland’s Program of International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), and Globescan.

"Most people around the world clearly reject the idea that Islam and the West are caught in an inevitable clash of civilizations," said PIPA director Steven Kull.

The survey, which was carried out by locally contracted polling firms between November and January, covered five predominantly Muslim countries – Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia – as well as several others, including Kenya, Nigeria, and India, with significant Muslim populations.

It also included overwhelmingly Christian nations, including the three countries of North America – the U.S., Canada, and Mexico; three South American countries – Argentina, Chile, and Brazil; and nine European nations, the Philippines, and Australia.

China and South Korea were also included.

On the question of whether Muslim and Western cultures could find common ground or whether violent conflict between them was inevitable, Muslim respondents tended to be somewhat more pessimistic.

Thirty-five percent of Muslim respondents overall – boosted by a 51 percent majority in Indonesia – said they believed conflict was inevitable, compared to 27 percent of Christians and other non-Muslim respondents who took that position.

But the answer often depended on how well-educated respondents were, according to the survey. Among those who told interviewers they had no formal education, only 46 percent said they thought common ground between the two cultures was possible. By contrast, almost two out of every three respondents with post-secondary education gave that answer.

The survey also asked respondents whether they thought tensions between Islam and the West arose more from differences of religion and culture or from conflicts over political power and interests. Overall, 52 percent chose the latter option, while only 29 percent chose the former.

Remarkably, a 56-percent majority in Nigeria, half of whose population is Muslim and concentrated in the North, and 40 percent is Christian and concentrated in the southeast, said they thought tensions were due mainly to differences in religion and culture. In Kenya and Poland, respondents were roughly split on the question.

At the opposite end of the scale, the view that political power and interests were the main cause of tensions between the Islamic and Western worlds was most widely held in Lebanon (78 percent), Mexico (72 percent), China (62 percent), and South Korea (61 percent).

Asked whether tensions arose from fundamental differences between the cultures as a whole or from intolerant minorities within them, 58 percent chose the latter option, and 26 percent agreed with the former.

Of the 58 percent majority, moreover, 39 percent said that the intolerant minorities existed on both sides of the religious divide, while 12 percent placed the main blame on the Muslim side, and seven percent on the Western side.

The belief that fundamental differences, as opposed to intolerant minorities, were most responsible for tensions between the two cultures was also strongest in Nigeria, where 50 percent of respondents took that position, Egypt and Portugal (39 percent), the UAE (37 percent), Brazil and the Philippines (36 percent), and Lebanon and Indonesia (35 percent).

The belief that intolerant minorities on both sides were mainly responsible was most widely held in France and Australia (68 percent), and Mexico (67 percent), while 28 percent of respondents in Indonesia and one in five respondents in Italy, Egypt, Kenya, and India put most of the blame on intolerant minorities in the Islamic world.

Besides Indonesia, the view that violent conflict between the Islamic and Western worlds was inevitable was most widely held in Egypt (43 percent); the Philippines and Germany (39 percent); Nigeria (37 percent); and Kenya (35 percent). In each of those countries, however, pluralities or majorities still agreed that it was finding common ground was more likely than conflict.

Countries where the largest majorities believe that Islam and the West can find common ground included Italy (78 percent), Britain (77 percent), Canada (73 percent), and Mexico and France (69 percent).

The countries where respondents were least likely to say they thought common ground was possible included India (35 percent); Indonesia (40 percent); the Philippines and Hungary (42 percent); Chile (45 percent); Argentina, Poland, and Kenya (46 percent); the UAE (47 percent); and Turkey, Russia, and Germany (49 percent).

German respondents were also significantly more likely to believe that violent conflict was inevitable (39 percent) than any other European country.

As to the U.S., 64 percent said they believe it is possible to find common ground, compared to 31 percent who agreed that violent conflict was inevitable.

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.