In recent years, the conflict between political interests of the Western and Islamic communities has become rather sharp. It is based on the history, culture and religion of the two worlds. However, this issue aggravates while focusing on the differences of these two communities instead of describing their similarities or events that unite them. A considerable role in the escalation of the conflict is played by various means of mass media, which provide the negative visions of both civilizations. The current paper will describe the formation of these visions, their consequences and means of improving the situation.
The short-term formation of the conflict was described in the work of William Bloss (2009). The author noted the existing differences between the two civilizations. However, he made insufficient emphasis on the role of mass media in the formation of the discussed conflict. Nathan Funk and Abdul Aziz Said (2004) paid attention to the formation of a negative image of the Western society in the Islamic mass media resources. At the same time, Faatin Haque (2008) made emphasized the attitudes of Western people to the representatives of the Middle East and the formation of a negative image of Islamists. His ideas were supported by Sofia Hayati Yusof, Fauziah Hassan, Salleh Hassan, and Mohd Nizam Osman (2013).
The current paper is based on the information concerning the existing conflict between two civilizations: Western and Islamic. The information was obtained from various print sources (scholarly journals and books). Additional attention was paid to the relevance of the sources. The major difficulty during the preparation of the paper was related to choosing the appropriate sources which would provide relevant and impartial opinion on the discussed topic.
Analysis and Discussion of the Information
How the Conflict from Political Interest between the Western Society and Islamic Community Took Place
The conflict between the Western society and Islamic community has rather deep roots. Islam has appeared shortly after the rise of Christianity and was flourishing in the Byzantine Empire. The sudden breakthrough of Islamists in Arab conquests of Sassanian and Byzantine territories formed the image of ârivalsâ and âreligion of swardâ (Funk and Said 14). In the Middle Ages, Western civilization considered Islam to be a move that had distinct religion and ideology combined with the violent and chaotic passions (Funk and Said 15). During the time of the Enlightenment, Islamists were perceived as fanatic and intolerant people full of despotism âin the face of rational faith and libertyâ (Funk and Said 16). This sharpened the perception of otherness and made the idea of Islam an âexceptionâ to Western understanding.
The political and cultural events also formed the Islamic perception of the West. Before the Western expansions on the Middle East, Muslims did not pay attention to the deep investigation of the Western civilization. Their first ideas were formed on the basis of the cultural self-confidence and political dynamism. The rise of the Islam was perceived as a sign of divine favor. The confidence concerning the existence of the conflict of interests between two civilizations started to form during the loss of Spain and termination of the Arabic presence in Western Europe in the 15th century (Funk and Said 7). The threat from the Western world became stronger after the occupation of Egypt by French forces in 1978 (Funk and Said 8). Further Western colonial expansion by France, the Netherlands, Spain and Britain was related to the Islamic intention to regain its independence. The Western society became a tremendous cultural and political challenge.
The conflict of the political interests is closely related to the military conflicts in the Middle East and the political influence of the Western countries in the 20th â 21st centuries (Bloss 78). During Cold War, both the USA and the USSR took an active part in the arming of various states and escalation of political and military conflicts in the Middle East (like Iran â Iraq, Israel â Arab, Israel - Palestine) (Bloss 78). The above mentioned historical events formed a background of the alienation of two civilizations. This perception increased after September 11, when Islamists began to be viewed as those who may threaten the society and whose behavior and actions cannot be understood or predicted (Yusof et al. 107).
The end of the colonization policy brought about one more issue to the Islamic world â the necessity of the establishment of the political legitimacy. It was connected with the existing ethical and cultural diversity, religious solidarity and subordination. Currently, Islamists try to recognize and redefine themselves in the modern world. Technological, economic, military and political development of the Western civilization creates ambivalent feelings in the Islamic world: a combination of fear, suspicion, and distrust, resentment together with curiosity, enthusiasm, and admiration.
The additional attention should be paid to the existence of cultural differences between Muslims and Western civilization. Differences in the religious practices and rituals which regulate the major aspects of the private and public life sharpen the existing tensions. Western society is characterized by secularist separation of private and public life, while in the Islamic world community values, family, faith and politics are closely connected with religion. In the Western society, religion occupies a secondary position in the society, while Islamists have a God-centric point of view on all aspects of their life (Bloss 80).
Also, the emphasis should be made on the existing distinctions between the essential elements of the described ideologies. The elements of Western ideology are the following: âsecularism, individualism, capitalism, market populism, and modernityâ (Bloss 81). In this particular context, modernization is represented by cultural diversification, globalization and urbanization, as well as fast technological development. On the contrary, the major elements of the Islamic ideology are the following: advocating for political changes through holy jihad (war against adversaries), dividing the world into good and evil, and absence of utilitarianism. The existing differences are sharpened due to the fact that both civilizations are in close proximity with each other (especially due to the globalization and migration of numerous people from one location to another (immigration and emigration)). Hence, the described political conflict is sharpened by the religious and social differences between the described civilizations (Shadid and van Koningsveld 178).
Despite the centuries of the effective commercial relations, presently, the emphasis is placed on the existing religious and military conflicts. Civilizations consider each other as âothersâ whose speech and actions are directed towards confirming their self efficiency and greatness (Funk and Said 10). Nowadays the emphasis is placed on the distinction of âthe geopolitical tensions if the present from the politicized cultural legacies of the pastâ (Funk and Said 11). The feeling of otherness sharpens due to the image of the Middle East created in the minds of the representatives of Western civilization during the Cold War and the Iranian Revolution: strange, arbitrary and uncommon desert land with enormous stocks of oil and constant military conflicts where people live under the uncommon rules (Funk and Said 12). They are considered to be foil, i.e. distinguishing them from everything that does not belong to their common life. Islamists also have the attitude of âothernessâ towards Westerners. It is reflected in such non-perception of the Western world as religion, sexual morality, established social norms, crime, family, and others.
In this situation of the intensification of the conflict, both parties became trapped inside their own perceptions concerning the threat of identity, unjustifiable suffering and fear (Funk and Said 9). Nowadays, the role of narrators is played by the means of mass media.
The Role of Media in the Conflict
The modern era is the age of communication and modern technologies. The messages concerning various matters are brought by the means of mass media. It is used for providing information, education and entertainment and forming certain views and ideas. In the current paper, the means of mass media are considered to be narrators which play a casual role in the dynamics of the described conflict, by ruling particular political views and interests in or out of communities including people who claim to advance their interests (Funk and Said 18). They can easily sharpen the existing tensions by promoting loyalties and negative images and providing the invaluable information that reflects the disputantsâ understandings concerning the conflict and their motivations. At the same time, they can facilitate faster resolution of the conflict.
Nowadays, the means of mass media usually focus on the differences between civilizations, instead of describing things that unite them or make them similar, like international trade, technological and economic development, etc. They support the attitudes of âself vs. othersâ by making an accent on the strangeness, sensational diversities, social order, and religion. Nathan Funk and Abdul Aziz Said (2004) in their work noted that mass media in the Middle East often provides the foundation for the ideas concerning the existence of the Western conspirators, while the Western narrators focus on the oppression of womenâs rights and extremist policy, âleaving the impression that the strictest and most disturbing interpretations of Islamic values are widely acceptedâ. The âothersâ are perceived as hostile, when âselfâ is considered to have a defensive nature. The inception of these feelings by mass media pursues an aim of strengthening the in-group solidarity and cooperation for the sake of achieving common goals, as manifestation of contrasts between two civilizations leads to the improvement of their identity.
Much of the mass media attention was paid to the Islamist intents to disrupt the world order since the end of the Cold War, and especially after the military conflicts in the Middle East and September 11. Islamists are shown as extremists, terrorists and fundamentalists without taking into account the religious concepts of Islam (Fox 463). These people are shown as the ânew enemiesâ, because the majority of images of the Middle East depict Islamists as potential terrorists instead of focusing on the social and economic development of this region (Haque 18).
Means of mass media often provide mistaken information concerning the practices that are national or regional. For example, contrary to what is written in newspapers and shown on TV, no Islamist sacred scriptures justified the brutal attitude to women (Haque 18). Such misinterpretation is sharpened due to the use of such words as âextremistsâ and âterroristsâ which create a negative attitude towards Islamists in the minds of Western people (Kellner 126).
The additional attention should be paid to the conscious wrench of the events for the inception of negative attitudes. For example, Times published a photo where Islam soldiers prayed with guns (Haque 20). The caption near the photograph said: âGuns and prayer go together in the fundamentalist battleâ (Haque 21). This publication forms fear towards Islamists and their religion. It should be noted that the author and publishers failed or consciously omitted to note that âthe Muslim soldiers were praying on a battlefield in Afghanistanâ (Haque 22). These people were obliged to remain armed in order to protect their lives at any moment. This is a vivid example of how the mass media changes the meaning of real events and incepts particular attitudes towards other people and civilizations.
The Islamic and Arab events are often wrongly interpreted by the Western media, because of the lack of understanding of political, religious and social affairs, poor language translations, and the absence of developed news networks (Haque 12). Also, the Western media usually identifies the military conflicts with religion. For example, Western audience are told that âfive Israelis were shot by five Muslimsâ, instead of noting that âfive Israelis were shot by five Palestiniansâ (Haque 14). Such a misinterpretation of the information leads to the creation of a negative image of all Islamists.
At the same time, the Islamic means of mass media which often present a real and reliable image of the Middle East are almost non-presented in the Western world. This happens for several reasons. As a rule, Western companies are unwilling to cooperate with the Islamists because of fear, existing legislature barriers, cultural misunderstandings, restriction of media by governmental sanctions in some areas of the Middle East, etc.
The additional attention should be paid to the fact that in the Islamic means of mass media, the Western World is also shown as the victim and the object of humiliation at the hands of Western civilization. The anti-Western emphasis sharpens the nationalistic orientation and negative perception of the Western countries.
Improvement for the Avoidance of Further Intensification of the Situation
Further intensification of the above mentioned conflict can be eliminated or at least minimized by changing the representation of Western civilization in the Islamic means of mass media and the image of Islamists in the Western sources. The new story of both civilizations should be told by emphasizing the features which are similar or those which unite the two different worlds. This can be reached by the reduction of the cross-cultural isolation, the development of global consciousness, and strengthening of collaboration between the Muslim World and Western pop-culture.
Also, the improvement of the situation can be reached by means of a closer interaction between the Western and Islamic sources of mass media. This is necessary for the providing relevant visions concerning the economic and political events in both worlds. These visions should be grounded on a deep understanding of cultures of various nationalities, the historical context of the formation of their perceptions and the existing public sentiments. For his reason, the special alliance of civilizations network with the centers in the Middle East, Asia, the US and Europe should be established. It will perform the monitoring of the media reporting concerning the relevance of the presented information.
It should be noted that the current paper provides a short description of the formation of the conflict between the Western and the Islamic civilizations and the sharpening of this conflict by means of mass media. Currently, the means of mass media focus on the differences between cultures, religions, perceptions and politics of both civilizations. They show the representatives of other civilization as enemies and other people which pursue only their interests and intend to harm others. Media shapes this image through the misinterpretation of the real life events and focusing on the negative characteristics of the representatives of the Western world and the Middle East. The situation may be improved by changing the representation and focusing on similarities, increasing the cross-cultural awareness and improving collaboration of mass media located in various regions to provide more relevant information.