East and West: Never the twain shall meet?

Yasser Abdel Aziz

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“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Ever the English poet Rudyard Kipling uttered these words in the nineteenth century, developments and events have not ceased to prove it true. There is a wide gap between the values, customs and traditions adopted by both sides, and there is always hope for understanding and coexisting with it, not for overcoming it and dissolving the two entities into one cultural and social entity.

The fact is that the cultural gap between the two sides is no longer widening due to the revolution of communications and information technology on the one hand, and the success of the Western model in solving development problems and achieving prosperity on the other hand, and yet, this gap is still able to spur hatred and discrimination and create conflict.

Some schools of sociology point out the difficulty of overcoming this contradiction between the prevailing values ​​in eastern and western societies. They even consider that some social constructs that stem from well-established value and cultural concepts turn into genetic heredity, which if proven true, would be the final blow to claims of universal values ​​and the possibility of eschewing contradictions based on cultural differences.

In the past week, two stories emerged from Europe highlighting this apparent contradiction the two value frameworks governing the Eastern and Western cultures.

The first story is about the news that nearly two-thirds of the Swiss electorate approved a law supporting gay marriage, and even granting them multiple rights, which would be activated on the ground as social and legal benefits by the state for same-sex couples who wish to form families, as opposed to the family as we know it in the East, whose bonds and unity we are keen on preserving, and which consists of a father and a mother.

This law, approved by 64 percent of voters in a general referendum, gives homosexuals the right to declare a civil marriage, adopt children, or purchase sperm to have a child for lesbian couples, in addition to the right of a gay husband to grant his spouse the nationality of the country if the latter does not possess it.

And when we examine the way those in the East reacted to this decision, especially by investigating the comments on social media, we can observe the extent of this cultural gulf that was referred to at the beginning of these lines, which nevertheless remains less harmful in all cases than some violent attitudes with which those in the East express their opinion on the issue of homosexuality in the West in general.

We recall in this regard that the last ten years, for example, witnessed dozens of terrorist incidents targeting gays in Western societies, and on top of those incidents was the famous Orlando incident in which a young Muslim of Afghan origin named Omar Mateen killed more than 50 people in a gay nightclub.

Such incidents have taken place in many countries, whether in the West or in the East. Perhaps the anti-homosexual discourse on various media platforms was an embodiment of the lack of moral consensus on this issue on the one hand, and support for violent targeting of them on the other.

As for the second story that took place during the past week as well, which clearly indicates the clash of the two cultures and their inability to coexist due to racist tendencies, arrogance and exclusion between cultures, it comes to us from France, whose Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced, last Tuesday, that his government has begun measures to close six mosques and dissolving a number of associations accused of “promoting extremist Islam.”

These measures are part of a package of measures taken by France in the wake of the murder of the teacher Samuel Baty, who was killed last October, near Paris, after he was accused of showing offensive pictures of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, to students at an elementary school in which he works, under the pretext of freedom of opinion and expression.

Last February, a French law was issued in the name of this teacher, and it belongs to a group of legislation that will be approved later under a broad title: “Promoting respect for republican principles.”

Explaining the circumstances around these new measures, Minister Darmanan said that his government is closely monitoring the activities of hundreds of Islamic centers and societies in the country, and that those that have been proven to "incite the extermination of Jews and the stoning of homosexuals will be closed."

France enters into a contract that it called the “Republican Contract of Commitment,” a contract stipulated in the “Paty” (anti-separatist) law, and its main focus is to promote the values ​​of French culture, and “combat extremist, separatist and discriminatory tendencies, especially from followers of the Islamic religion who show racist tendencies or try to change the country’s culture by using force and methods of coercion and religious propaganda that undermine freedoms and human rights” from the French point of view.

On the other hand, the West also practices cultural hegemony and exclusion towards certain Eastern cultures and “obligations” based on religious interpretations, which is a matter of constant complaint, and sometimes results in terrorist crimes, as happened in the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand.

The solution lies in the two sides’ realization that coexistence between the two cultures is possible without one melting into the other, and without one forcing the other to follow its own values ​​or culture or necessarily admiring it.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Egyptian daily newspaper El Watan News.

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