International Journal of Peace Studies, Volume 9, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2004
ISLAM AND THE WEST: NARRATIVES OF CONFLICT AND CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION Nathan C. Funk and Abdul Aziz Said
Abstract This article addresses one of the more vexing questions facing analysts of relations between the Islamic world and the West: How can we speak about deeply divisive cultural and political issues in ways that foster conflict transformation rather than an intensification of conflict? Using narrative analysis as an approach, we examine the most common “stories” that actors identifying with Islam and the West use to organize their thinking about conflict: a story of intercultural confrontation and a story of intercultural compatibility. After noting that both Western and Muslim narrators of these stories make a number of strikingly similar claims, we conclude by suggesting that a “new story” emphasizing intercultural complementarity can help agents of conflict transformation reframe differences and advance the cause of peaceful coexistence.
It has become commonplace to observe that the Islamic world and the West appear to be mired in an intensifying cycle of political and cultural conflict, and that the most significant source of rivalry is the profoundly unsettled nature of American relations with the Muslim Middle East. In matters related to Persian Gulf geopolitics, IsraeliPalestinian conflict, and the politics of Islamic revivalism, American policy preferences for maintaining stability and control through a system of regional alliances are met with contrary regional preferences for dramatic change. Frictions generated by conflicting interests and desires spill over into the cultural domain, resulting in the politicization of identities and an escalatory conflict dynamic in which the basic value commitments, beliefs and mores of the “other” are regarded as threatening and problematic. The result is an atmosphere of doubt, distrust, and disrespect in which efforts to...