Turning geopolitics into a battlefield over values is a really bad idea.
Frank Furedi, spiked 23 December 2014
A century after the outbreak of the First World War, it seems humanity is confronted with new cultural disputes that have the potential to mutate into violent conflicts.
The experience of the past century has demonstrated that the politicisation of culture always ends badly. And little wonder: cultural crusaders create a climate of intolerance towards the norms and values of their cultural targets. They are often censorious and seek to devalue their opponents. In its more extreme forms, cultural politics leads to the mutual dehumanisation of the antagonists.
Such dehumanising sentiments were far too evident a century ago. The Armenian genocide of 1915 represented the most extreme and destructive manifestation of this lethal synthesis of culture and militarism. Tragically, almost a century later, the spectre of culturally motivated violence haunts that region once more. Until recently, the great Armenian church in Deir el-Zour in Syria served as a memorial to the mass killings that occurred during the Great War. Earlier this year, however, in a savage act of vandalism, a group of Islamists blew the church up. They destroyed its archives, and the bones of hundreds of victims of the 1915 massacre were left strewn in the streets.
Today, the most extreme exponents of the politicisation of culture are the jihadist zealots who regard the lives of those who do not share their faith as unworthy of moral value. But the depravity and barbarism of a movement such as the Islamic State can obscure the disturbing reality: namely, that the politicisation of culture, and its intolerant consequences, is gaining strength across the world. It has certainly contributed to the hardening of the rivalry between the West and Russia. And it is this, the emergence of a caricature of the Cold War, that is arguably the most significant international development of 2014.
It seems that disputes about lifestyle, family life, sexual orientation and the nature of community life are no longer confined to the domestic sphere. The Culture Wars have gone global. Muslim jihadists are not just fighting with bombs; they are directly assaulting Western liberal values and denouncing them as immoral. For his part, Russian president Vladimir Putin has sought to present himself as fighting for traditionalism and the Christian way of life. In turn, Western diplomats have criticised Russia for its patriarchal and sexist culture.
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The year the culture wars went global