These are fraught and fragile times. Media sources are not short of tragedy to report on at the moment, as events in Ukraine, Gaza, and Iraq continue to run their bloody course. Indeed so severe is the situation that Professor Craig Calhoun, Director of the LSE, has gone so far as to ask the question whether a new world war is bubbling and his colleague Professor Simon Hix is not alone in returning again to Samuel Huntington's seminal Clash of Civilizations and wondering if, after all, Huntington wasn't right.
@craigjcalhoun Given the locations of these conflicts, was Sam Huntington right after all?— Simon Hix (@simonjhix) July 21, 2014
Huntington's argument was that in a post-Cold War world it would not be ideology that defined the conflicts between great powers but civilizations. He identified 8 of these different civilizations and the fault lines that separated them. As models always are, it has been criticised for oversimplifying these proposed identities. Nonetheless, as predictions of fault lines go it seems, at least superficially, to have been right on the money.
If Huntington is right, and the world is heading towards blocs defined by particular (often, in Huntingdon's model, religious) identities then one of the greatest cultural losses will be those areas which historically have been home to the most diverse communities. Mosul is a prime example of this loss. A city which has been home to a Christian minority for centuries has now effectively been purged by ISIS. Christians were forced to leave, convert or pay a tax (or worse), their homes marked out with an ominous symbol to identify them.
Mosul's Christian community have become martyrs, both for their faith, and also for the failing of today’s world to find ways of embracing pluralism that has existed in some of these areas for centuries. I say the modern world, because this is not just a matter of an Islamic caliphate trying to emulate the conquests of the past – it is a Western failing too.
True, the West is not witnessing the elimination of minority groups, but there is an insularity epidemic which has been gaining momentum for some time. A wish to split people into homogenous groupings split away, often intractably, from other peoples. It is a disease which connects the conflict in the Ukraine, often characterized as Russian Ukrainians against Ukrainian Ukrainians, with that in Palestine, and the situation in Iraq. It is present, on a less deadly but perhaps no less sinister scale here in Western Europe too.
It is a phenomenon which the Templeton Prize Winner Tomas Halik has identified. He has spoken recently of the failings of Western multiculturalism which have led to the ghettoization of immigrant communities. The blame for this he lays at the door of a Western society which has mistaken the commandment to 'love thy neighbour' for a more passive and cold approach called “toleration”.
It is a disease present in Huntington’s thesis too – those areas where civilizations meet are perceived as fault lines – not places of positive cultural engagement as they have often been perceived in the past. It is one of the most paradoxical traits of our modern world that at a time when we are better connected in terms of transport and communications than ever before that it seems like insularity and the shutting out of outsiders is becoming a defining characteristic of world affairs. It is an epidemic in increasingly urgent need of a cure.
Ben Ryan is a researcher at Theos