Veiling and the Clash of Civilizations

The United States won their quarterfinal match against Canada today in Olympic women’s soccer and it got me thinking about how last year, the team from Iran was banned from competing in their qualifying match for the Olympics because they would not remove their veils. Islamic law requires that women wear veils for modesty, though FIFA rules say that players can not wear anything that covers the neck and ears. Thus, either the women had to compromise their religious values for the sport or withdraw from the competition. They did the latter.

It’s not the first time that Muslim women were forced to remove their veils. France made news in the past for banning full veils like the burqa and also expelling and suspending students for veiling themselves in schools. Many of these arguments came from a feminist viewpoint that saw veiling as oppressive to women, but many Muslim women have fought back highlighting that banning the veil was an infringement on their religious identity. Other arguments claim that Islam threatens French culture, which is already being jeopardized by such things as McDonald’s and the English language. 

In Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations?”, he describes how culture has emerged above ideology as the prominent driving force of conflict in the world. While political and economic ideology can be changed, it is much harder to compromise the characteristics ingrained in one’s culture or religion. Huntington believes that the West is at its peak of power as it dominates political, economic, and security institutions, meaning that it has control to promote its own interests that may not exactly match the values of other civilizations. Those other civilizations have reacted by either isolating themselves from the global community (ex: North Korea), joining the West and accepting its values, or attempting to modernize without Westernizing.

Is it possible for civilizations to coexist with each other without losing their own identities in favor of the status quo? That’s one of the biggest questions within cultural globalization and it’s one of the hardest to answer.

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