Recently I’ve been doing a lot of research on current events and international relations, and I’ve found a recurring problem that creates much of the political, social, and religious tension in the world today. From many of today’s international conflicts, there arises a sense of “Us” vs. “Them”. What I mean by that is many of today’s issues involve different nations, regions, or groups of people opposing each other simply because of political, religious, and ideological differences. Instead of accepting or even embracing differences in mentality around the world, fear and hatred dominate people’s minds and create unnecessary, sometimes violent international conflicts.
One of the most prominent areas of international conflict today is the rise of ISIS in the Middle East. The main goal of ISIS is to establish an Islamic caliphate, or create a unified area of Islamic brotherhood that resembles the structure of the Middle-East back when the prophet Muhammad lived. Yes, ISIS goes about achieving this goal in a violent, aggressive way that pretty much begs for international opposition. But what’s the real reason Americans are so afraid of ISIS? (I personally would not consider them a terrorist group, but a political faction that uses terrorist tactics to gain influence).
Americans have this idea engrained in our heads that anything different from our own ideology is the enemy. We define other nationalities, ethnicities, races, and religious backgrounds based on their differences from us, and we identify ourselves by how we differ from others around the world. In other words, we are US because we are not THEM.
I don’t think it is the political aims of ISIS that scares Americans today; I think it is the fact that ISIS represents an Islamic group that desires a lifestyle that is different from what we have here in America. ISIS wants an Islamic caliphate, they do not want democracy, or a free, capitalist market. Their social and political goals do not resemble ordinary goals here in America, and that makes Americans nervous.
This tendency to focus on differences reveals itself when considering the Cold War era for example. The main goal of the United States was to prevent the spread of communism. Why? Not because communism is a dysfunctional socioeconomic system, but because it is different from capitalism. News flash: JUST BECAUSE SOMETHING IS DIFFERENT DOESN’T MEAN IT IS BAD.
Consider China’s position in the world today. As an enormous economic superpower, there is discussion over whether China will surpass The U.S. as a world hegemond in the near future. While China has the economic potential to expand its influence and capabilities, some argue that China will never be able to make enough true allies because too many of the world’s nations are skeptical of China’s ideological policies.
First of all, I believe everyone is afraid of China’s growing power and influence (The U.S. is probably nervous about so many European countries jumping on board with China’s new development bank). Second, many are skeptical of China simply because they do not follow the westernized framework of liberalism, capitalism, democracy, and individualism. Again, people fear China because they are different.
I just attended a debate regarding U.S. relations with Cuba, and I found the same themes in the discussion. The reasons for the U.S.-Cuba Embargo are rooted in the Eisenhower era, when the Cuban revolution was at its height and Fidel Castro still instilled fear in people’s minds. Granted, the driving force behind the embargo was that the Cuban government owed the U.S. money, so it was mainly an economic strategy. But over the last half a century, the embargo has transformed into much more than that. It has served as a social and cultural barrier that restricts Americans from having the freedom to travel to or trade with a nation that could definitely benefit from improved relations with the U.S.. Cuba needs economic reform, and keeping the embargo in place clearly will not improve the situation in Cuba because it will not change anything. But the Cuban government is too stubborn to accept Obama’s attempts at cooperation simply because of outdated political and ideological differences. If the Cuban government embraced the U.S. as an ally and trade parter despite differing social and political policies, I think Cuba may enjoy many benefits from the relationship.
Basically, I believe people today are too hung up on cultural, social, political, and ideological differences, and this prevents everyone from coexisting peacefully. To speak in technical terms, too many people suffer from a mixture of Ethnocentrism (judging other cultures only through the perspective of one’s own culture) and Egocentrism (viewing one’s own culture as superior to others). Rather than trying to understand other cultures, people distance themselves from those who are different.
We need to stop defining ourselves based on how we are different from others, we need to embrace other cultures and try to be more open-minded when it comes to international conflicts. I’m not saying that an open mind will solve all of the world’s problems, but it may possibly bring more cooperation to the world.
So that’s my rant for the day. I tried to be as concise as possible (872 words is concise, right?) and I hope this was somewhat interesting to read. 🙂