There is no "Clash of Civilisations"
If only it were all so easy. After 9/11 it was obvious to the theorists on both sides of the "clash of civilisations" that the clash was already well under way. We should all be ready for the worst. The US government went a bit further than others – including the Germans.
The 11th September was after all an attack on the United States, and the United States responded with its "War on Terror." But the US did not define clearly enough where the war against the armed men of violence ends, and where suspicion and even persecution of Muslims in general begins.
"How we deal with Islam"
Europe – Germany too – has now adopted the American course. Not just out of transatlantic loyalty, but also out of a fear born of the bombs in Madrid and London. Even before that there were the sleepers of Hamburg, and then after that the unsuccessful suitcase bombers on German trains. But in contrast to reactions in the United States, in Europe this has led above all to a discussion as to "how we deal with Islam."
Here the issues are about how the Muslim minority is becoming integrated into European society, whether it even wants to become integrated, and whether Islam and democracy are at all compatible. It is a discussion from which a number of extreme positions have emerged, from the tough demand for unconditional assimilation to the disproportionate "political correctness" of an exaggerated tolerance.
The power of reason
However, this debate has not dealt adequately with the issues, whether it's the Danish cartoon dispute or the pope's speech in Regensburg. The errors have not entirely been on the European, non-Muslim side; mistakes have been made on the Muslim side as well. Both here as well as outside Europe, Muslims have failed to develop a relationship to the West and its social system which is clear and reasonable (in the sense of its being developed through the use of the power of reason).
Real, or even merely perceived disadvantage has too quickly been misunderstood as deliberate discrimination – and that in turn has prepared a fruitful soil for the demagogues of the "Clash of Civilisations."
In spite of all arguments to the contrary, there is no "Clash of Civilisations." At least there is none where the civilisations live together, as they do, for example, in Europe.
Of course there will always be idiots on either side who want to destroy this good-neighbourliness, but the broad majority does not in the least share their view. The Muslim minority, while it is growing in numbers, does not want to "islamise" Europe, and the non-Muslim majority is mostly reasonable enough not to demand from the minority that it gives up what gives it its identity. At the same time, both sides have to make compromises, show respect to the other and practice tolerance.
That is the only way that peaceful coexistence will succeed. And by and large in Europe, it does succeed – even in Germany. That does not relieve us of the duty to deal with the issue responsibly and to criticise those who fail to do so, whether out of thoughtlessness or malice.
© Deutsche Welle/Qantara.de 2006
Translated from the German by Michael Lawton