Table of Contents
2 Homogenization versus Heterogenization
3 Clash of Civilizations?
3.1 Samuel P. Huntington’s Vision
3.2 England After 7/7
4 Identity Formation in a Globalized Age
4.2 British Muslim Identity
4.3 Reactions to the loss of identity – Identity Search through stable identities
In recent years, reports on cultural conflicts have been a regular part of the daily news. The press and media coverage varies from big news stories, such as the so-called War on Terror or the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, to more domestic incidents such as racially motivated crimes in various European countries. Some scholars, such as Samuel P. Huntington, hold deeply ingrained cultural differences responsible for those conflicts.
Culture in this case, includes more than just language, dress codes or food customs. Cultural groups share race, ethnicity, or nationality, but also often arise from cleavages of generation, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, ability and disability, political and religious affiliation, and many more1. Intellectuals disagree about the degree of flexibility in terms of culture. Some argue that it is usually something that can not be altered at its core – but is mostly dictated by our parents, religion or social surroundings. According to the hyperglobalists’ point of view, globalization seeks to break down barriers – not only in trade, but also in culture, therefore contributing to a 'global society'. Others see new hybrid cultural identities emerging out of globalization.
With the rise of global phenomena (i.e. demographic shifts, asylum seekers, emigration throughout Europe) ethno-nationalism and nationalism are also on the rise. Taking a closer look at Britain, being a former colonial power and a nation characterized by a high immigrant population, exemplifies the different attitudes towards multiculturalism across society. By promoting a sense of “Britishness”, extreme right-wing parties such as the British National Party (BNP) try to secure the cultural dimensions of what it means to be British. This not only affects nations, but most of all communities within nations, specifically minority groups. In contrast to the very concept of multiculturalism, forces are gathering within nations to go back to their roots.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, much of the world’s attention has been placed on the Islamic world. This attention primarily focuses on the last remainders of highly differential cultural context of Muslim nations. Therefore, hyperglobalists such as Ohmae and Reich argue that globalization melts away cultural dissonances and brings the Muslim world into the West. However, the arrival of Islam into Western nations, such as France, England or Germany, often causes a serious identity crisis among natives and immigrants. Members of both sides want to preserve their heritage by assimilating the other side. As a result, this ‘clash of civilizations’, results in both sides breeding fundamentalist wings within their culture to preserve their own identity. Incidents such as the London and Madrid bombings or the race riots of 2001 in England are just a few examples.
Having those recent conflicts and developments in mind, several questions arise: In how far has a clash of civilizations occurred on a domestic level (i.e. England) and – if so – can those conflicts be ascribed to differing cultural factors? Since identity plays an essential role in the cultural context of who we are and how others see us, it will therefore be necessary to take a closer look at the challenges various groups in England face in regard to identity formation in a shifting globalized environment.
2. Homogenization versus Heterogenization
According to several globalization experts, globalization implies a dichotomy of homogenization and heterogenization: along with the widespread belief of a global Americanization, comes a reverse globalization movement in the form of an expansion of Islam. In the globalization debate, opinions differ strongly – different thinkers almost have opposite views about the impacts of globalization.
Homogenization is generally understood as a process which leads towards uniformity and conformism. Some theorists argue that globalization “has created domination by Western culture, in particular American culture, all over the world.”2 However, this process is not necessarily to be understood negatively, as it “promotes integration and the removal of not only cultural barriers but of many of the negative dimensions of culture.”3 Essential for the concept of homogenization is the assumption that culture is flexible and adapts to changing times, surroundings and circumstances accordingly, as Rothkop states: “Culture is not static; it grows out of a systematically encouraged reverence for selected customs and habits”4
According to the hyperglobalist view, the erosion of economic borders is crucial in a globalized world, characterized by the effortless flow of goods, capital, labor and information. This implies a significant loss of power for national governments. Globalization is therefore seen as the triumph of neo-liberalism, the end of social democracy and even of the nation-state itself.5
However, the described emerging homogenized culture is only one side of the coin and the forces of globalization do not create homogeneity in an absolute manner. Even though differences between cultures and nations across the globe are diminished at first sight, globalization also multiplies differences on a domestic level. Through immigration, enhanced traveling and working or study visits to different countries, people are more than ever before confronted with various people from different cultural or religious backgrounds. This in turn has contributed to a heterogenization of cultures and a “fragmentation of identities”6
According to relativists, such as Featherstone, the world today is not so much characterized by the emergence of a unified (American) culture, but rather provides “a stage for global differences not only to open up world showcase cultures in which the examples of the distant and the exotic are brought directly to the home, but to provide a field for a more discordant clashing of cultures.”7 This argument strongly points to the persisting cultural differences and conflicts along the “geopolitical fault lines of the world’s major civilizations.”8 Along with this argument goes the skeptical point of view that globalization is just a myth. According to skeptics such as Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson, the world trade (a central feature of globalization) was more developed at the turn of the last century than it is now9.
It can be argued that globalization does not necessarily – as it is often claimed – diminish differences between nations and cultures, but rather fragments the imagined unity within those nations. Furthermore, with the declining power of the nation-state, the state is no longer able to impose a uniform sense of identity. This lack of a clear defined identity has different consequences and will be discussed in the following section. What can be drawn from both the homogenization, as well as the heterogenization theory is the fact that globalization provided the ground for people from different national and cultural backgrounds to meet.
3. Clash of Civilizations?!
Following world news illustrates how two paradoxical processes seem to develop from globalization: the homogenizing impact of Western culture, as well as the expansion of an Islamic movement all over the world as a reverse globalization.10
3.1 Samuel P. Huntington’s Vision
With his widely discussed and often criticized essay The Clash of Civilizations? Samuel P. Huntington wrote an account of the cultural implications of globalization after the end of the Cold War. He predicts a shift in societies around the world: “For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others”11 Within his essay, Huntington claims that the axis of international conflict will be based on culture, rather than on differences between nations, political and economic systems or standards of development. Furthermore, he regards globalization as the generating factor which will lead to a clash of civilizations – mainly because the awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalities within civilizations is intensified through the increased movement of people. Due to the intensified exposure and awareness of those differences through globalization, these discrepancies are said to become a breeding ground for conflict and cultural misunderstandings. Hence, he concludes that international policy in the future will be characterized by a clash of civilizations – at the macro- as well as on the micro-level12.
One central issue in Huntington’s essay is the clash between Islam and the West, two civilizations which, according to him, show significant differences in terms of history, language, culture, tradition, and religion.13 Huntington regards Islam itself as the main problem – a civilization completely different to all the others. He furthermore argues that Islam per se has a violent character.14
1 LE BARON, Michelle (2003)
2 AMELI, Saied Reza (2002), page 226
3 ROTHKOP, David (1997)
4 ROTHKOP, David (1997)
5 Cp.: OHMAE, Kenichi (1995)
6 AMELI, Saied Reza (2002), page 226
7 FEATHERSTONE, Mike (1995), page 13
8 HELD, David et al., (1999), page 327
10 Cp.: AMELI, Saied Reza (2002), page 218
11 HUNTINGTON, Samuel P. (1993), page 21
12 SENGHAAS, Dieter (2002), page 71
13 HUNTINGTON, Samuel (1993), page 3
14 SENGHAAS, Dieter (2002), page 72