Tuesday 25 October 2016

Host culture values must also be protected in this new 'clash of civilisations'

Published 09/01/2016 | 02:30

Performance artist Milo Moire holds up a poster reading
Performance artist Milo Moire holds up a poster reading "Respect us! We are no fair game, even when we are naked!!!" as she stands near Cologne's landmark, the Cologne Cathedral, to protest on January 8, 2016 against offenses against women that happened in Cologne on New Year's Eve. Thirty-one suspects, including 18 asylum seekers, are under investigation over offences including assault and theft in Cologne on New Year's Eve, Germany's interior ministry said. / AFP / dpa / Oliver Berg / Germany OUTOLIVER BERG/AFP/Getty Images

Twenty years ago, in 1996, it was predicted by an American political scientist, Samuel P Huntington, that the prevailing theme of our age would be the "clash of civilisations".

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Cultural and religious identities, he said, would be the primary source of conflict in a post Cold-War world. And Islam would be a major flashpoint.

How right he turned out to be. The "clash of civilisations" now reigns over issues ranging from the migrant and refugee crisis, the threatened meltdown of the EU, the fears and afflictions of jihadist terrorism, the dissolution of states like Libya, the culture wars in the universities, and much more.

And the problems were emblemised by the dismaying events in Cologne (and other German cities) on New Year's Eve, when dozens of women were hemmed in by a crowd of a thousand men, groped, insulted, had their clothes torn off, and were apparently assaulted.

The women claimed that these men were all "of Arab or north African" appearance. But the reports of these events were not made public for some days afterwards, and it's being claimed that there was a deliberate cover-up by the police and other authorities for reasons of political correctness.

Politically, this is complex and delicate. Liberals and leftists, throughout Europe (as well as decent humanitarians) would like to maintain a welcoming and tolerant attitude to incomers and migrants - particularly those people fleeing from the torment of the Middle East and north Africa. On the other hand, wherever there are large numbers of migrants clustered together, there is going to be a "clash of civilisations"; norms in one culture are seldom the same as norms in another.

We shouldn't ascribe blame to migrants without full evidence (although 18 asylum seekers have been identified among the offending group).

But we can still observe, from history and sociology, that things may get problematic where large numbers of migrants are single young males, bursting with the testosterone of sexuality and possibly aggression (and probably unused to easy access to alcohol).

Attitudes to women will be very different in their societies of origin, and behaviour by women is very different in the host societies.

In Western Europe, young women affirm the right to dress as they like, and behave as they like. Women today are likely to react angrily when they are told, as the mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, suggested, that they should observe "guidelines" for their public behaviour, especially at times of revelry. That, liberated young women retort, is "blaming the victim".

Politically, it's the extreme right-wing parties of Europe who are now defending this aspect of women's liberation; the events in Cologne have been called "a xenophobe's dream".

Yet the "clash of civilisations" certainly includes sexuality in the mix. The host societies have themselves seen major changes in sex and gender attitudes over the past 20 years, which are still being processed.

Previously, it was thought to be incumbent upon women to behave with a certain decorum; a woman wearing provocative clothing was said - sometimes by judges in court - to be "leading men on".

There were vernacular expressions for women who knew how to arouse men, but then refused to comply with sexual demands - the "p****-teaser" was seen as a cruel minx. A drunken woman had "let herself down", and was thus "asking for it".

Feminist campaigns have shifted these values, affirming that women are entitled to "reclaim the night", wear what they like, and rebuff any sexual advances that don't involve full consent. There have even been "slut walks" to flag up these changes. Women today feel they have a right to be safe in all situations.

As European societies try to compute these social changes, sometimes bewildering to an older generation - women of the 1960s generation sometimes find it hard to understand that something formerly seen as harmless flirtation is now regarded as serious sexual harassment - it must be even more difficult to explain to immigrants from more segregated societies.

Alongside the "clash of civilisations", there is also a flux of civilisations. Things are in a state of cultural change.

Attitudes to rights and entitlements have also had an influence.

When Irish emigrants went to North America in past times, they accepted that they should integrate into and respect the host culture - keeping their Irish culture alive within their homes, churches and communities.

But today, host cultures are sometimes expected to adjust to incomers; the British education system is now planning to change the scheduling of school exams to accommodate the observance of Ramadan. This does not give a helpful signal to accept the host culture.

But if the "clash of civilisations" is not to descend into chaos, surely the rule of law must be observed by all, and the host culture's values upheld and respected.

Irish Independent

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