... At first glance, Islamist attacks on Christians in the Middle East seem like more evidence for the enduring idea — [which was] first put forward by Samuel Huntington in 1993 — that we are witnessing a "clash of civilizations" between the Western and Islamic worlds. But the Copts—who represent a distinct, non-Western Christian tradition as old as Catholicism—defy easy classification into any broad "civilization." As I have argued before, part of the problem with the idea of a clash of civilizations is that it is difficult to divide the world neatly into different civilizations. Real conflicts have complex historical origins that don't necessarily fit with the simple story of clashing cultural identities. And fundamentalist violence in the Middle East is probably as much a product of the failure of Middle Eastern states as it is of any clash of fundamental worldviews.
There is, in any case, another side to tragedy in Alexandria. Amid concerns that there could be more attacks on Christmas Eve this year, thousands of Egyptian Muslims—including President Hosni Mubarak's two sons—attended Christmas Eve masses to ward off attacks by acting as "human shields." Egyptians across Facebook changed their profile to the image of a cross within a crescent, an old symbol of religious unity in Egypt. It is a useful reminder that fundamentalists do not speak for everyone and that, in spite of their differences, people with different religious and cultural backgrounds can come together in solidarity.
- jR (aka AirFarceOne on Twitter)