Islamic Culture and Democracy: Testing the 'Clash of Civilizations' Thesis

in Comparative Sociology
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Abstract

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 Survey/European Values Survey (WVS/EVS) allows us, for the first time, to examine an extensive body of empirical evidence relating to this debate. Comparative analysis of the beliefs and values of Islamic and non-Islamic publics in 75 societies around the globe, confirms the first claim in Huntington's thesis: culture does matter, and indeed matters a lot, so that religious legacies leave a distinct imprint on contemporary values. But Huntington is mistaken in assuming that the core clash between the West and Islamic worlds concerns democracy. The evidence suggests striking similarities in the political values held in these societies. It is true that Islamic publics differ from Western publics concerning the role of religious leadership in society, but this is not a simple dichotomous clash — many non-Islamic societies side with the Islamic ones on this issue. Moreover the Huntington thesis fails to identify the most basic cultural fault line between the West and Islam, which concerns the issues of gender equality and sexual liberalization. The cultural gulf separating Islam from the West involves Eros far more than Demos.

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