By Maria Dubovikova
May 02, 2018
The 21st century is presenting Arabs with challenges that may affect their identity for many years to come. Middle Eastern scholars are concerned about how to maintain cultural identity without being dependent on the West, which has the upper hand in terms of influence thanks to its education and media systems, and globalization that cannot be stopped or controlled.
Though many Arab intellectuals have written articles and books about the need for independence from the West, the risks of the Westernization of Arab and Islamic culture are uncontrollable. Though globalization can be viewed as positive, many scholars consider it a sign of colonialism and cultural invasion, threatening people’s identity and cultural individuality. Similarly, the creation of Al-Qaeda and Daesh was aimed not only at destroying the armies of Iraq and Syria, but also their cultural and historical heritage, and ultimately their national identity. This is why Daesh destroyed historical sites in both countries.
Arabs are living in a state of displacement, intellectual dispersion, and cultural disparity and reliance. As such, many youths seek to recreate the old glory and dignity of the caliphate era, as they feel they have lost their identity in the “clash of civilizations.” They want to create a new state that unifies them under the slogan of Islam. This is a trap set by Daesh and Al-Qaeda, which mislead and radicalize youths who are torn between Islamic and modern identity.
In Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations,” he argues that the West will try to rule the world by permeating its notions and morals. This is being rejected by Arab and Muslim youths, leading to radicalism and actions against Western interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.
What turns young Arabs and Muslims into extremists and then terrorists is the conflict between the West and their own civilization culturally, economically, militarily and politically.
Linking historical identity with national interests is very significant in determining the moral perspective of extremists’ strategies and way of thinking. Though political relations between nations in the 21st century are important, extremist groups do not consider them to be so.
Arabs and Muslims are facing a cultural identity crisis at the global level, and extremists are exploiting this to foment conflict. It is a battle of civilizations to draw new borders.
The outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, and the resulting identity struggle, have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the migration of millions of people. Meanwhile, none of those left fighting clearly understand what they are fighting for or against. Syria is the perfect example of this.
There are social, cognitive and religious situations that may remain in the structure of a society and culture, and may provoke clashes from time to time. But at a historical moment and for multiple reasons, it could lead to an abrupt transition from equilibrium to bloody conflict between multiple parties over identity.
Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub).