Hasty generalization is a very dangerous and detrimental mode of logical inquiry. It frees the subject from all the difficulties and moral dilemmas associated with critical thinking. Generalizations are easy, comfortable, and perfectly suitable for designing swift policy responses. However, every generalization has its own limitations that have to be taken into account while employing a generalization as a relative truth.
Generalization as a form of reasoning always requires verification to be considered logically correct. Yet few in the so-called ‘West’ bother to verify whether the statement that all Muslims are suspicious and hostile can be actually verified. Many citizens of the Western liberal democracies never had any close contacts with the representatives of Muslim civilization, but they readily share the perspective that is actively promoted by governments and media.
While representatives of lay circles are certainly guilty of absence of critical approach, the blame lies mainly with the governments of liberal democracies. It is in their best interest to portray Muslims as terrorists: not only does it justify the interference in home affairs of other states under the noble pretext of spreading democracy, but also renders legitimacy in the eyes of their own populations as they gloriously position themselves as embattled defenders of Western values and Western way of life.
However, if we dare look deeper into the issue, does a clash of civilizations really exist? There are many places in the world where representatives of different religions coexist comfortably and peacefully. Unless the issue gets politicized. Religion remains one of the few division lines that can be effectively employed by politicians to breed hostility and conflict. In the past, racist rhetoric was used to exacerbate tension between the Northern and Southern states that eventually led to American Civil War. The ‘external enemy’ rhetoric at the height of the Cold War era nearly ended up in a nuclear self-destruction of the human race. Similar pattern is observed nowadays: governments of the world are politicizing elusive differences between civilizations with a view to starting a build-up to war.
Beyond any doubt, the issue of terrorism should be adequately addressed. Yet terrorism has always been present in human history; it did not emerge with the escalation of what is perceived as the ‘clash of civilizations.’ Different political, social, and religious group sometimes resorted to violence as a way to attract public attention to their agenda. Terrorist attacks by Animal Liberation Front do not make us hate all vegetarians altogether; why do sparse act of violence by religious fanatic make us hate the whole Muslim population of the world?
Governments of Western and Muslim countries are equally to blame for the imminent crisis. Western governments and media try to sell the image of a Muslim as an aggressive, narrow-minded, and backward citizen of some rogue state; Muslim governments and media are portraying Westerners as imperialistic, consumerist, and promiscuous intruders into their home affairs. Seeing beyond these images involves a great deal of courage on both sides.
The true strength of Western liberal democracies has always lied within their ability to rely on reason rather than emotion and engage in the process of impartial analysis of an issue from a variety of perspectives. It seems sometimes that the so-called ‘West’ is descending into new medievalism where propaganda and speculation shape the public discourse. There are some weak excuses for these disappointing developments: after the 9/11, followed by the attacks in Madrid and London, populations of Western liberal democracies were on the verge of panic and despair. Yet nowadays, when the passions have cooled down, it is a high time to take a realistic look at the problem.
Root causes of terrorism (such as poverty and conflict) should be addressed. Such an approach coupled with enhanced intelligence can prevent future terrorist attacks. As Huntington (1993, in Said, 2001, p.367) notes, Muslims are unhappy with ‘the inferiority of their power.’ It is perhaps the case that suicide bombing is nothing but a desperate call for a level playing field in international relations.
More attention should the paid to the process of formation of identities and collectivities. When Muslims are constantly persuaded that all of them are terrorists and deadly enemies of the West, they will eventually start perceiving themselves in such a way and construct their identities and collectivities accordingly. Berlusconi’s statement that Islam will never be able to be a part of modernity is wrong at many different levels. Apart from being incorrect from the ideological perspective, it is also incorrect from the methodological perspective, since there is a broad consensus among international relations scholars that the world has entered an era of post-modernity. The era of post-modernity requires different responses to the challenges the world confronts and different governance arrangements to maintain peace and promote human rights.
Therefore, Western and Muslim government alike should give up their ‘Churchillian rhetoric’ (Said, 2001, p.367) and turn to constructive dialog with a view to solving global problems by collective effort.