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Cover Poverty and Development

24. Identity Politics and Clashing Cultures  

Tom Kirk, Tim Allen, and John Eade

This chapter explores the rise of identity-based explanations for domestic politics and international conflicts in the 1990s, before turning to the War on Terror and its affects. An influential view of the current global situation is that there is a clash of civilizations or cultures, especially between Islam and the West. This idea has been reinforced by terrorist atrocities in the United States and elsewhere, and by the so-called War on Terror. Conceptualizing cultures as in conflict has origins in older ideas about nationalism and ethnicity, which have had a tendency to absorb or euphemize racist attitudes to outsiders. Several well-known scholars have been scathing about the clash of civilizations thesis, but there is no doubt that the argument has profoundly affected national and international agendas, and helps explain the rise of morally populist, nationalistic, and isolationist policies in many countries. The clash of civilizations also relates more specifically to concerns in the US about its position in the world, and its declining capacity to shape global agendas.