Cultural Strife in World Politics: A Danger to Humanity

(Research Argument RA)

A culturally diverse world should enrich the knowledge of different peoples and connect them to lead to worldly understanding, but if a Bosnian Serb and a Bosnian Muslim were asked how their cultures were linked, both would say by war. The exposure of contrasting cultures between one group of people to another can lead to conflicting values and, as a consequence, stifle social progress. It can also lead to bloody conflict. Most of us have learned of many genocides and ethnic cleansings that had occurred in human history as a result of disagreements between two peoples. The Bosnian genocide of 1995 of Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbians is one such example. Cultural discord can also affect modern world politics between countries which can stagnate diplomatic relations and affect several areas of discussion such as land distribution, trade, and economics. Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting one another for territory they both believe is culturally entitled to them for over 100 years, beginning in 1909. When addressing world issues around the globe, the international community has a responsibility to recognize the significance that cultural differences can play and why in order to establish mutual understanding and find common ground.  If the world community ignores cultural implications in issues where they are prominent, the tension can strain diplomatic talks to the point of dissolution of diplomacy and the start of a major conflict.

According to Samuel P. Huntington, an American political scientist and a former director of Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, in an article from the 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, every culture is distinct for “the people of different civilizations have different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, citizen and state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views of the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, [and] equality and hierarchy” in which such differences can create tension between the groups in question (Huntington 25). Aurel Croissant and Cristoph Trinn, both political science professors at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, give greater insight in a 2009 essay from the East Asia Study Center of the University of Dhaka about how cultural obstacles affect diplomatic relations:

The especially contentious nature of cultural conflicts stems from the fact that they do not primarily hinge on a clearly definable, interest-based (and thus essentially negotiable) object. Rather, the actors perceive or assert a fundamental difference with regard to the framework in which the communication takes place. The conflict issue is determined not by what the actors want or say they want, but by what they are or believe they are. (Croissant and Trinn, 3)

In essence, diplomatic discord between two nations or groups is easier to resolve if tension is derived simply from land disputes, trade implications, or any other physical interests, rather than fundamental and cultural issues. The Jewish people have been in constant conflict with its’ Palestinian and Arab neighbors for over 100 years beginning in 1909 for land that both believe belongs to them. According to a 2009 article from The Economist, “in 1909 the mostly Russian socialist idealists of the Zionist movement set up an armed group, Hashomer, to protect their new farms and villages in Palestine from Arab marauders [and] since then has come the dismal march of wars—1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2006 and now 2009—each seared by blood and fire into the conflicting myths and memories of the two sides” that has prolonged the conflict between Jews and Palestinians into the modern era (Time, 2). To know whether or not a conflict stems from underlying cultural differences, a commitment to understanding the historical cultural aspects of the peoples in the region is essential. A failure to understand the cultures of the region can also mean a failure in the attempt to effectively communicate a solution.

The world community demonstrated on 2 May 2017 its lack of understanding of cultural history in a region of the Middle East as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to uphold a resolution that denies the state of Israel all claims to Jerusalem. UNESCO is a branch of the United Nations that is responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication. It is, again, part of the UN: an organization consisting of 193 countries whose goal is to open dialogue between nations to find areas of agreement and solve crucial issues. Andrew Goldstein, a Hebrew and junior Journalism Major at Stony Brook University, explained that:

“In every single prayer, holiday, and ritual in Judaism, there is some kind of reference to Jerusalem and the hope of it being rebuilt as the Jewish capital. It’s telling that the cultural committee of the UN votes against a connection (meaning no cultural connection) between the Jewish people and Jerusalem; especially when you look at just which countries are pushing this vote forward”. (Andrew Goldstein)

The Jewish people have a long history with the Holy city of Jerusalem that spans over 3,300 years since the founding father of Israel, Abraham, led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt into the land of Canaan where the holy city was already established. King David, the second King of Israel, made Jerusalem the capital, and his son, Solomon, would be the one to build the first temple in Jerusalem as prescribed in the Old Testament. The Rule of the Israelites in ancient times came to an end in 587 BCE after the Babylonian Army captured Jerusalem and exiled the Jews to modern-day Iraq.

According to a 2017 article from Aljazeera News, UNESCO upheld the resolution “calling on Israel, as the occupying power, to cease persistent excavations, tunnelling, works and projects in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state” as their justification for the vote (Aljazeera par.8). A 2016 study by Aljazeera News however, explains that the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israel’s government has occurred, but it is in response to the increasing “violence by Palestinians against Israelis [that] picked up in late 2015, in what some described as a “third Intifada,” the third Palestinian uprising against Israel (Aljazeera par.3). There is no indication that the Jewish people should be ousted out of all of Jerusalem, as the resolution states, to uphold Palestinian sovereignty only in East Jerusalem. According to a 2017 article from the Times of Israel, “the resolution on Occupied Palestine which indicates that Israel has no legal or historical rights anywhere in Jerusalem was submitted to UNESCO’s Executive Board by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan”-all muslim majority countries with anti-jewish sentiments.

The cultural history that the Israelites have in the region that may have influenced the vote has been overlooked, and a group of anti-semitics have authorized an unfair resolution to an issue that has prolonged armed conflict between two groups for over a hundred years. This resolution angers millions of Jews across the globe, and it will not end the fighting between the Jews and the Palestinians.

Culture can also play a significant role in relation to peoples who lack a permanent nation-state and are seeking to solidify their cultural identity by establishing their own geographic borders in the regions they are from. This struggle to establish a homeland can lead to a conflict with other inhabitants that have already established their own borders and are recognized by the world community. A sense of identity in the Balkans has been the center of conflict for the peoples that live there since the days of the Ottoman Empire. In the Ottoman Empire’s final days in 1908, pan-Slavic nationalists (Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) wanted to seize the opportunity to create their own states, however, according to an 1908 archive from History, “the foreign minister of Austria-Hungary saw his empire’s chance to assert its dominance in the Balkans as, aside from the [Ottoman] sultan’s weakness, Russia, the Dual Monarchy’s great rival for power in the Balkans, was also reeling, after a defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and internal revolution in 1905” and so, the Austrian Hungarians annexed the Balkans (History par.3). This action caused anger and uproar among the slavic people, particularly the Serbians, throughout Europe as they viewed it as an interference by the Austrian-Hungarians in their desire for a unified culture. The Austrian-Hungarians went a step further to persecute the slavs out of fear of slavic expansionism in the region. This refusal to acknowledge a unified slavic culture boiled slavic hatred of Austrian-Hungarian rule to the point of assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, and his wife, sparking one of the greatest wars in human history: World War I (the Great War). Though Nationalism played a big role in the spark that caused the Great War, action by the Slavs (particularly the Serbians) for independence from the Austrian-Hungarians was mainly for the purpose of cultural identity and the struggle to get the rest of the world to recognize them as an independent entity. The Austrian-Hungarians overlooked this cultural struggle, and they paid with the collapse of their Empire in the Great War.

In a 2009 study from the East Asia Study Center of the University of Dhaka, Croissant and Trinn, political science professors at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, have argued that although “Asia is particularly prone to cultural conflicts domestically, cultural conflicts do not extend to inter-state relations” or world diplomacy. This is an honest and fair standpoint, given that it is established on a careful study of Asian conflicts over a course of years. In Asia, “the evaluation of the Conflict Information Data (CONIS) had confirmed that from 1945 to the mid-1960s, the region accounted for well over 50 percent of war-like conflicts world-wide with 16 of 19 wars and limited wars taken place in Asia,” that draws the desire to study the continent more closely. There is no question that domestic conflicts in Asia do take place, but this study has focused too specifically to the region of South East Asia where domestic cultural disputes are the most prominent on the continent. The study generally discusses how culture affects Asia as a whole, but largely ignores Eastern, Central, and South Asia. Regions such as Eastern Asia have displayed a history of cultural violence across national borders. According to a 2011 article from BBC News, the invasion of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s was an effort by the Han Chinese to not only annex Tibet, but “suppress Tibetan culture, freedom of expression and worship as well as efforts to supplant the Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, with a communist-approved alternative” to Tibetan culture and ideology (BBC News par. 9). China asserts the claim that Tibet is an integral part of China because the cultural history between the two goes as far back as during the Reign of both the Tang Dynasty and the Tibetan Empire in 618. This invasion by the Chinese across inter-state boundaries reflects the sensitive notion of national identity for both the Chinese and the Tibetans.

The current territorial disputes in the South China Sea “where multiple countries such as China and Asean nations (Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines) have made claims,” are based on historical and cultural accounts, in which such dissention crosses inter-state boundaries between South East Asia and East Asia and affects 2/4 of the entire continent. (BBC News par.1). China “has staked claim to the Paracel and Spratly Islands of which they claim dates back centuries” and Vietnam “has voiced their opposition to China’s claim based off concrete evidence that Vietnam ruled those islands since the 17th century” (BBC News par.10-13) which purports the argument of whose claim is legitimate. Although these islands in contention have economic implications in reference to trading, the broader issue of who owns what is historically and culturally based.

Another cultural dispute that lies solely in East Asia (that directly involves the United States) is China’s claim to Taiwan that had been an administrative part of China until the end of the Qing dynasty. The One China Policy, that is essential to U.S.-China relations, is supposed to give legitimacy to China’s historical and cultural claim with international recognition by foreign powers. This cultural dispute between The People’s Republic of China and Taiwan (which was formerly known as the Republic of China) has prolonged since the ousting of the Nationalist party to Taiwan by the Communist Party in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War. Taiwan, as of yet, has not officially declared independence from mainland China in fear of an invasion by Beijing, which would directly involve the United States who, despite accepting Taiwan as a part of China, recognizes Taiwan’s sovereignty as a nation. The cultural dispute between the Taiwanese and Chinese has shifted from being simply a domestic dispute to an international predicament that involves the greatest world power on earth over 7,000 miles away across the Pacific Ocean.

There is no such thing as a universal culture. Philosophically, we are all the same in that we are all part of the human race.Today, there still exists cultural divisions that impact social progress between different peoples and diplomacy between different countries. There are also different groups seeking to be recognized by the world community as an independent entities with a unique culture. The Kurds have been in conflict with Turkey for years in order to establish an official state on Turkish territory, in which the Turks refuse to recognize or even ponder the Kurds cultural land claims.  In the face of numerous cultural differences that have separated the peoples of the world for centuries, the world community must establish a sense of responsibility to understand cultural values in different parts of the world to avoid the possibility of a major conflict. Understanding issues emphasized by cultural differences can also help establish a stronger connection between peoples that can, perhaps, help lead to the end of wars as we know it.


Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”

New York: Foreign Affairs, 1993. Print, pp. 22-49

Croissant, Aurel and Christoph Trinn, Culture, Identity and Conflict in Asia and Southeast

Asia. U. of Heidelberg, 2009     

 The Economist. “The hundred years’ war”, The Economist 8 Jan 2009

Personal Interview with Andrew Goldstein, 2 May 2017

Aljazeera News. “UNESCO passes Jerusalem resolution critical of Israel”, Aljazeera News 2 May 2017

Aljazeera News. “Broken Homes: A record year of home demolitions in East Jerusalem”. Aljazeera New 2016

Ahren, Raphael and Fulbright. “On Independence Day, UNESCO okays resolution denying

Israeli claims to Jerusalem.” The Times of Israel, 2 May 2017

History. “Austria-Hungary annexes Bosnia-Herzegovina” History 1908

BBC News. “Why is the South China sea so contentious?” BBC 12 July 2016

BBC News. “Q&A: China and the Tibetans.” BBC 15 Aug. 2011

One Comment Add yours

  1. RyanC says:

    Extremely thorough and thought out analysis of culture within politics.
    And I do agree that cultural (mis)understanding underpins a lot of the tensions and conflicts that have come to define the world.

    I think that the only way to move forward is to encourage less insular behaviours within cultural groups and encourage engagement in proper global dialogue. The benefits of having different cultural differences discussed and defined provides a new framework in which progress can be made.

    This may never happen, but I believe that removing the political from culture may also reap benefits.
    The relationship between politics and culture is problematic as it paints all individuals who are part of a certain culture, with the same broad brush.
    Individuals are all unique and hold varying beliefs, and by removing the political aspect of culture – effective dialogue may be achieved without the agenda of politics.

    Liked by 1 person

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