The unsettling polarization, politicization, and securitization of cultural and religious identities linked to “Islam” and “the West” is a complex transnational phenomenon, within which seemingly localized political and military conflicts have given rise to more widespread tensions and anxieties. These tensions and anxieties, in turn, have been harnessed by populist and often authoritarian political movements in a variety of different contexts, through consistent messaging about how the “other” represents a profound threat to the national, cultural, and religious “self.” Drawing on insights from interdisciplinary conflict analysis as well as from constructivism and identity theory, this paper outlines principles that can be applied both to generate better understanding of Islamic-Western identity politics and to enhance options for peacemaking. After noting dynamic processes through which religious symbols, identities, and values are being invoked to accentuate differences and sharpen hostilities, attention will be given to ways in which cultural and religious dimensions of contemporary conflicts might be transformed through intentional efforts to reframe fundamental issues, foster new narratives, and stimulate the cooperative pursuit of an inclusive, human security agenda.
Chair and Associate Professor, Peace and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo, Canada
I am a professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Waterloo, where I chair a department with an undergraduate BA as well as a master's degree in this field. I also act as Chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies Association of Canada, and have served on the boards of two other Canadian peace organizations: Peacebuild and Project Ploughshares.