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April 19, 2015

Responding To: Week 12: Clash of Civilizations?

The Play’s the Thing

Kathy Courrier

A day of wrestling with why Huntington’s theory endures despite its flaws and pre-digital origins was rewarded with rich insights from fellow participants. Three of many I hadn’t thought enough about were the paradoxical disconnect between relationships among nations and how people in those nations actually feel about each other (thank you, Cynthia Schneider), the centrality of humiliation in radical ideologues’ manipulation of refugees and other disenfranchised people (thank you, Jean-Louis Sarbib), and the lock that extremists have on culture’s importance (thank you, Samuel Huntington).

My personal “aha” came while pondering political theater’s role in clashing civilizations.  The flipside of George Bernard Shaw’s famous quip - “No conflict, no drama” – is that drama can incite and sustain conflict.  Yet, the gripping atrocities staged by extremists have only mid-play shock value. It’s action theater that doesn’t add up or go anywhere so the world audience tires of seeing one unresolved climax after another. We get Act III followed by Act III followed by Act III all over again. In the equilibrium narrative we want in our hearts and need politically, Act IV would resolve some regional intramural conflicts in the Mideast and western misunderstandings of Islam on the way to Act V, in which deeper understanding would make dignity possible. That should be peaceseekers’ playbook.

Kathy Courrier is the vice president for communications and public affairs at the American Institutes for Research.

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