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Journal says, Clash of Civilizations is not about Democracy, but Gender and Sexuality

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Friends, FOREIGN POLICY is published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. In addition to its flagship English-language
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4, 2003
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      FOREIGN POLICY is published by the Carnegie Endowment for International
      Peace in Washington, D.C. In addition to its flagship English-language
      edition, the magazine is published in Arabic, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and
      Turkish, reaching more than 10 million readers around the world.

      In a recent issue, Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, co-authors of the
      book, "Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change Around the World,"
      suggest the so called clash of civilizations is not about democracy as it is about gender equality and attitudes twards sex.


      Tarek Fatah
      The True Clash of Civilizations

      Samuel Huntington was only half right. The cultural fault line that divides
      the West and the Muslim world is not about democracy but sex. According to a
      new survey, Muslims and their Western counterparts want democracy, yet they
      are worlds apart when it comes to attitudes toward divorce, abortion, gender
      equality, and gay rights, which may not bode well for democracy's future in
      the Middle East.

      By Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris
      Foreign Policy Magazine

      Democracy promotion in Islamic countries is now one of the Bush
      administration's most popular talking points. "We reject the condescending
      notion that freedom will not grow in the Middle East," Secretary of State
      Colin Powell declared last December as he unveiled the White House's new
      Middle East Partnership Initiative to encourage political and economic
      reform in Arab countries. Likewise, Condoleezza Rice, President George W.
      Bush's national security advisor, promised last September that the United
      States is committed to "the march of freedom in the Muslim world."

      But does the Muslim world march to the beat of a different drummer? Despite
      Bush's optimistic pronouncement that there is "no clash of civilizations"
      when it comes to "the common rights and needs of men and women," others are
      not so sure. Samuel Huntington's controversial 1993 thesis―that the cultural
      division between "Western Christianity" and "Orthodox Christianity and
      Islam" is the new fault line for conflict―resonates more loudly than ever
      since September 11. Echoing Huntington, columnist Polly Toynbee argued in
      the British Guardian last November, "What binds together a globalized force
      of some extremists from many continents is a united hatred of Western values
      that seems to them to spring from Judeo-Christianity." Meanwhile, on the
      other side of the Atlantic, Democratic Rep. Christopher Shays of
      Connecticut, after sitting through hours of testimony on U.S.-Islamic
      relations on Capitol Hill last October, testily blurted, "Why doesn't
      democracy grab hold in the Middle East? What is there about the culture and
      the people and so on where democracy just doesn't seem to be something they
      strive for and work for?"

      Huntington's response would be that the Muslim world lacks the core
      political values that gave birth to representative democracy in Western
      civilization: separation of religious and secular authority, rule of law and
      social pluralism, parliamentary institutions of representative government,
      and protection of individual rights and civil liberties as the buffer
      between citizens and the power of the state. This claim seems all too
      plausible given the failure of electoral democracy to take root throughout
      the Middle East and North Africa. According to the latest Freedom House
      rankings, almost two thirds of the 192 countries around the world are now
      electoral democracies. But among the 47 countries with a Muslim majority,
      only one fourth are electoral democracies―and none of the core
      Arabic-speaking societies falls into this category.

      Yet this circumstantial evidence does little to prove Huntington correct,
      since it reveals nothing about the underlying beliefs of Muslim publics.
      Indeed, there has been scant empirical evidence whether Western and Muslim
      societies exhibit deeply divergent values―that is, until now. The cumulative
      results of the two most recent waves of the World Values Survey (WVS),
      conducted in 1995*96 and 2000*2002, provide an extensive body of relevant
      evidence. Based on questionnaires that explore values and beliefs in more
      than 70 countries, the WVS is an investigation of sociocultural and
      political change that encompasses over 80 percent of the world's population.

      A comparison of the data yielded by these surveys in Muslim and non-Muslim
      societies around the globe confirms the first claim in Huntington's thesis:
      Culture does matter―indeed, it matters a lot. Historical religious
      traditions have left an enduring imprint on contemporary values. However,
      Huntington is mistaken in assuming that the core clash between the West and
      Islam is over political values. At this point in history, societies
      throughout the world (Muslim and Judeo-Christian alike) see democracy as the
      best form of government. Instead, the real fault line between the West and
      Islam, which Huntington's theory completely overlooks, concerns gender
      equality and sexual liberalization. In other words, the values separating
      the two cultures have much more to do with eros than demos. As younger
      generations in the West have gradually become more liberal on these issues,
      Muslim nations have remained the most traditional societies in the world.

      This gap in values mirrors the widening economic divide between the West and
      the Muslim world. Commenting on the disenfranchisement of women throughout
      the Middle East, the United Nations Development Programme observed last
      summer that "no society can achieve the desired state of well-being and
      human development, or compete in a globalizing world, if half its people
      remain marginalized and disempowered." But this "sexual clash of
      civilizations" taps into far deeper issues than how Muslim countries treat
      women. A society's commitment to gender equality and sexual liberalization
      proves time and again to be the most reliable indicator of how strongly that
      society supports principles of tolerance and egalitarianism. Thus, the
      people of the Muslim world overwhelmingly want democracy, but democracy may
      not be sustainable in their societies.

      Testing Huntington

      Huntington argues that "ideas of individualism, liberalism,
      constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law,
      democracy, free markets, [and] the separation of church and state" often
      have little resonance outside the West. Moreover, he holds that Western
      efforts to promote these ideas provoke a violent backlash against "human
      rights imperialism." To test these propositions, we categorized the
      countries included in the WVS according to the nine major contemporary
      civilizations, based largely on the historical religious legacy of each
      society. The survey includes 22 countries representing Western Christianity
      (a West European culture that also encompasses North America, Australia, and
      New Zealand), 10 Central European nations (sharing a Western Christian
      heritage, but which also lived under Communist rule), 11 societies with a
      Muslim majority (Albania, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia,
      Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey), 12 traditionally Orthodox
      societies (such as Russia and Greece), 11 predominately Catholic Latin
      American countries, 4 East Asian societies shaped by Sino-Confucian values,
      5 sub-Saharan Africa countries, plus Japan and India.

      Despite Huntington's claim of a clash of civilizations between the West and
      the rest, the WVS reveals that, at this point in history, democracy has an
      overwhelmingly positive image throughout the world. In country after
      country, a clear majority of the population describes "having a democratic
      political system" as either hliefs of Muslim publics. Indeed, there has
      "good" or "very good." These results represent a dramatic change from the
      1930s and 1940s, when fascist regimes won overwhelming mass approval in many
      societies; and for many decades, Communist regimes had widespread support.
      But in the last decade, democracy became virtually the only political model
      with global appeal, no matter what the culture. With the exception of
      Pakistan, most of the Muslim countries surveyed think highly of democracy:
      In Albania, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Morocco, and Turkey,
      92 to 99 percent of the public endorsed democratic institutions―a higher
      proportion than in the United States (89 percent)[see chart].

      Yet, as heartening as these results may be, paying lip service to democracy
      does not necessarily prove that people genuinely support basic democratic
      norms―or that their leaders will allow them to have democratic institutions.
      Although constitutions of authoritarian states such as China profess to
      embrace democratic ideals such as freedom of religion, the rulers deny it in
      practice. In Iran's 2000 elections, reformist candidates captured nearly
      three quarters of the seats in parliament, but a theocratic elite still
      holds the reins of power. Certainly, it's a step in the right direction if
      most people in a country endorse the idea of democracy. But this sentiment
      needs to be complemented by deeper underlying attitudes such as
      interpersonal trust and tolerance of unpopular groups―and these values must
      ultimately be accepted by those who control the army and secret police.

      The WVS reveals that, even after taking into account differences in economic
      and political development, support for democratic institutions is just as
      strong among those living in Muslim societies as in Western (or other)
      societies [see chart]. For instance, a solid majority of people living in
      Western and Muslim countries gives democracy high marks as the most
      efficient form of government, with 68 percent disagreeing with assertions
      that "democracies are indecisive" and "democracies aren't good at
      maintaining order." (All other cultural regions and countries, except East
      Asia and Japan, are far more critical.) And an equal number of respondents
      on both sides of the civilizational divide (61 percent) firmly reject
      authoritarian governance, expressing disapproval of "strong leaders" who do
      not "bother with parliament and elections." Muslim societies display greater
      support for religious authorities playing an active societal role than do
      Western societies. Yet this preference for religious authorities is less a
      cultural division between the West and Islam than it is a gap between the
      West and many other less secular societies around the globe, especially in
      sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. For instance, citizens in some Muslim
      societies agree overwhelmingly with the statement that "politicians who do
      not believe in God are unfit for public office" (88 percent in Egypt, 83
      percent in Iran, and 71 percent in Bangladesh), but this statement also
      garners strong support in the Philippines (71 percent), Uganda (60 percent),
      and Venezuela (52 percent). Even in the United States, about two fifths of
      the public believes that atheists are unfit for public office.

      However, when it comes to attitudes toward gender equality and sexual
      liberalization, the cultural gap between Islam and the West widens into a
      chasm. On the matter of equal rights and opportunities for women―measured by
      such questions as whether men make better political leaders than women or
      whether university education is more important for boys than for
      girls―Western and Muslim countries score 82 percent and 55 percent,
      respectively. Muslim societies are also distinctively less permissive toward
      homosexuality, abortion, and divorce.

      These issues are part of a broader syndrome of tolerance, trust, political
      actnMuslim publics. Indeed, there has ivism, and emphasis on individual
      autonomy that constitutes "self-expression values." The extent to which a
      society emphasizes these self-expression values has a surprisingly strong
      bearing on the emergence and survival of democratic institutions. Among all
      the countries included in the WVS, support for gender equality―a key
      indicator of tolerance and personal freedom―is closely linked with a
      society's level of democracy [see chart].

      In every stable democracy, a majority of the public disagrees with the
      statement that "men make better political leaders than women." None of the
      societies in which less than 30 percent of the public rejects this statement
      (such as Jordan, Nigeria, and Belarus) is a true democracy. In China, one of
      the world's least democratic countries, a majority of the public agrees that
      men make better political leaders than women, despite a party line that has
      long emphasized gender equality (Mao Zedong once declared, "women hold up
      half the sky"). In practice, Chinese women occupy few positions of real
      power and face widespread discrimination in the workplace. India is a
      borderline case. The country is a long-standing parliamentary democracy with
      an independent judiciary and civilian control of the armed forces, yet it is
      also marred by a weak rule of law, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial
      killings. The status of Indian women reflects this duality. Women's rights
      are guaranteed in the constitution, and Indira Gandhi led the nation for 15
      years. Yet domestic violence and forced prostitution remain prevalent
      throughout the country, and, according to the WVS, almost 50 percent of the
      Indian populace believes only men should run the government.

      The way a society views homosexuality constitutes another good litmus test
      of its commitment to equality. Tolerance of well-liked groups is never a
      problem. But if someone wants to gauge how tolerant a nation really is, find
      out which group is the most disliked, and then ask whether members of that
      group should be allowed to hold public meetings, teach in schools, and work
      in government. Today, relatively few people express overt hostility toward
      other classes, races, or religions, but rejection of homosexuals is
      widespread. In response to a WVS question about whether homosexuality is
      justifiable, about half of the world's population say "never." But, as is
      the case with gender equality, this attitude is directly proportional to a
      country's level of democracy. Among authoritarian and quasi-democratic
      states, rejection of homosexuality is deeply entrenched: 99 percent in both
      Egypt and Bangladesh, 94 percent in Iran, 92 percent in China, and 71
      percent in India. By contrast, these figures are much lower among
      respondents in stable democracies: 32 percent in the United States, 26
      percent in Canada, 25 percent in Britain, and 19 percent in Germany.

      Muslim societies are neither uniquely nor monolithically low on tolerance
      toward sexual orientation and gender equality. Many of the Soviet successor
      states rank as low as most Muslim societies. However, on the whole, Muslim
      countries not only lag behind the West but behind all other societies as
      well [see chart]. Perhaps more significant, the figures reveal the gap
      between the West and Islam is even wider among younger age groups. This
      pattern suggests that the younger generations in Western societies have
      become progressively more egalitarian than their elders, but the younger
      generations in Muslim societies have remained almost as traditional as their
      parents and grandparents, producing an expanding cultural gap.

      Clash of Conclusions

      "The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the same freedoms and
      opportunities as people in every nation," President Bush declared in a
      commencement speech at West Point last summer. He's right. Any claim of a
      "clash of civilizations" basenMuslim publics. Indeed, there has d on
      fundamentally different political goals held by Western and Muslim societies
      represents an oversimplification of the evidence. Support for the goal of
      democracy is surprisingly widespread among Muslim publics, even among those
      living in authoritarian societies. Yet Huntington is correct when he argues
      that cultural differences have taken on a new importance, forming the fault
      lines for future conflict. Although nearly the entire world pays lip service
      to democracy, there is still no global consensus on the self-expression
      values―such as social tolerance, gender equality, freedom of speech, and
      interpersonal trust―that are crucial to democracy. Today, these divergent
      values constitute the real clash between Muslim societies and the West.

      But economic development generates changed attitudes in virtually any
      society. In particular, modernization compels systematic, predictable
      changes in gender roles: Industrialization brings women into the paid work
      force and dramatically reduces fertility rates. Women become literate and
      begin to participate in representative government but still have far less
      power than men. Then, the postindustrial phase brings a shift toward greater
      gender equality as women move into higher-status economic roles in
      management and gain political influence within elected and appointed bodies.
      Thus, relatively industrialized Muslim societies such as Turkey share the
      same views on gender equality and sexual liberalization as other new

      Even in established democracies, changes in cultural attitudes―and
      eventually, attitudes toward democracy―seem to be closely linked with
      modernization. Women did not attain the right to vote in most historically
      Protestant societies until about 1920, and in much of Roman Catholic Europe
      until after World War II. In 1945, only 3 percent of the members of
      parliaments around the world were women. In 1965, the figure rose to 8
      percent, in 1985 to 12 percent, and in 2002 to 15 percent.

      The United States cannot expect to foster democracy in the Muslim world
      simply by getting countries to adopt the trappings of democratic governance,
      such as holding elections and having a parliament. Nor is it realistic to
      expect that nascent democracies in the Middle East will inspire a wave of
      reforms reminiscent of the velvet revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in
      the final days of the Cold War. A real commitment to democratic reform will
      be measured by the willingness to commit the resources necessary to foster
      human development in the Muslim world. Culture has a lasting impact on how
      societies evolve. But culture does not have to be destiny.
      Ronald Inglehart is program director at the Center for Political Studies at
      the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and directs the
      World Values Survey.

      Pippa Norris is the McGuire lecturer in comparative politics at Harvard
      University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. They are the authors of
      Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change Around the World (New York:
      Cambridge University Press, 2003).
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