Up until recently, the distance between the East and the West was too long and terrain challenging to measure accurately. Seas and oceans stood in in the way and took months to cross. Modern transportation helped make the geographic distance easier to cover. However, the cultural differences between East and West have been a much more demanding task. Modern electronic technology, cell phones, the Internet and social media such as Facebook and Twitter attempt to bridge the cultural divide. To date, these tools have complicated matters rather than helped. They have accentuated our deep societal differences. Separation has widened and the rejection of cultural distinctions has persisted.
Rudyard Kipling, of the nineteenth Century, composed a poem that expressed the fact that the two cultures of East and West will never accept one another. He said, “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” It is interesting to note that even the Bible uses the East and West analogy to illustrate what seems insurmountable distance for mankind. It says, “As far the East is from the West, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalms 103:12
Nevertheless, there is a new reality as result of the present state of the East which is torn by religious and ethnic strife. There are catastrophic conditions in the East that are the result of the absence of freedoms; the spread of corruption; and bleak opportunities to hope for a decent enjoyable life. These make many people rethink the wisdom of staying where they are. The rise of terrorist organizations like ISIS forced millions of people to flee their homes in Iraq, Syria, and other countries. Most hoped for a way to find refuge in Western countries so that they could start new lives for themselves and their children.
The tragic story of the Syrian family who tried to go to Greece is still alive in our minds. The man paid 4000 Euros to be taken by boat to Greece for refugee asylum. The overcrowded boat overturned upside down in the sea. The man lost his family including his wife and two children. A few days later the waves washed body of his dead 5-year younger son onto the shores of Turkey. Many around the world wept profusely at the sight of televised news clips of the dead child.
This tragic incident made European countries change their policies about accepting Arab refugees. Before the heartrending sight of the dead boy most had refused to accept Syrian and Iraqi refugees out of fear that terrorists from organizations like ISIS would slip in posing as innocent. They also were concerned of admitting increased numbers of minorities that look on the West as infidels and harbor feelings of enmity towards non-Muslim cultures. The latest terrorist attacks in France and California prove that these concerns are justified.
What took place in Cologne, Germany on the New Year’s Eve, adds more evidence to these concerns. According to CNN, the German police documented some 90 cases of theft and sexual assaults on German women, which include one case of rape.
This incident angered the German people and led them to protest the reluctance of the German media to report certain crimes. This is due to sensitivities that accompany any dealings with certain minorities when there is any hint of criminal activity.
The core of the problem is that some of the minorities hold the belief that Western women are sexually loose and are easy to seduce. This way of thinking was expressed by Muslim Mufti of Australia Sheik Tag El Din Al Helaly. Al Helaly once said that women who don’t wear the head scarf become like uncovered meat and bring upon themselves the consequences of being attacked. Here is some of what he said, “If you take uncovered meat and put it in the street or the park or the backyard without cover, and then the cat comes in and eats it, whose fault is it? Is it the cat’s fault or that of the uncovered meat?” He added, “The uncovered meat is the problem.” The Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, reacted to this by saying, that these statements are terrible and deserve rebuke. He added, “The idea that women are responsible for being rapped is outrageous.”
It is clear that the conflict between the East and West is caused by a clash of civilizations that is rooted in differences in religion and culture. Some of these people will live in the West but will always act like assimilated foreigners, although they may have been born, educated, and employed in the West all of their lives. Most extremists think of the West as the land of the enemy. Some may choose to join sleeper cells that are like time-bombs ready to explode in unpredictable moments.
In the meantime, it seems Rudyard Kipling, century old sentiment still has unfortunate relevance. “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”, still holds truth. The world is still far from getting close to the point of mutual coexistence based on trust and goodwill.
Mounir Bishay is a human rights activist and president of the Los Angeles based Christian Copts of California.