Arun Kundnani writes:
Since the end of the Cold War, conservatives have argued that the world should be seen through the lens of a clash between civilizations. The world could be divided, they argued, on the basis of different cultures and their distance from Western values.
Countries where the majority of the population is Muslim were grouped together as the ‘Islamic world’ and seen as culturally prone to fanaticism and violence. Revolution there could only mean Islamic revolution along the lines of Iran in 1979. Democracy could only emerge if imposed by force from outside, as disastrously attempted in the Iraq War.
Liberals had their own version of such thinking, particularly after 9/11. Rejecting the necessity of a clash between civilizations, they spoke of a dialogue between civilizations. But they shared with conservatives the assumption that culture was the primary driving force of political conflict.
There was something of this thinking in President Obama’s famous 2009 speech in Cairo, addressed to “the Muslim world.” Liberals like Obama thought it possible that dialogue could allow for the peaceful co-existence of cultural differences between Muslims and the West. Conservatives, on the other hand, feared that no dialogue was possible with Islam, and it was better for the West to ready itself for inevitable conflict.
These have been the terms of debate between liberals and conservatives since 9/11.
Significantly, both sides in the debate assumed that the fundamental divisions in the world were cultural rather than political.