Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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3.4.3 The clash of civilisations? (iii)

The World Values Survey is a questionnaire conducted at regular intervals since 1980 across an increasing range of societies across the world. It provides a unique insight into attitudes towards religion, culture, society and politics. All the surveys are conducted with large samples of respondents across nationally representative samples of the population, making them a reasonably reliable source of data.

Activity 7 Political, social and cultural attitudes in Western and Muslim-majority societies in the World Values Survey

  1. Visit the World Values Survey [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and click on the online data analysis section.
  2. Choose the most recent period and pick a couple of Muslim-majority societies, (e.g. Bangladesh and Egypt) and a couple of Western societies (e.g. Belgium and the US) by clicking in the box besides each of the country names
  3. Now click on 'continue' to take you to a screen where you can choose which part of the survey to look at. The sections on 'Politics and Society' and 'Religion and Morale' are most relevant for our purposes.
  4. Click on the 'Politics and Society' tab. This brings you a screen that lists the question areas under 'Politics and Society' asked in the survey.

Support for Democracy

To see the question asked, click on a question area, for example, click on 'Having a democratic political system'. This will give you the exact question asked (or least the English version of it), and the responses available to respondents. To see how people answered these questions in the four countries you have chosen, click on 'Marginals'. This gives you a table showing the percentage of answers in each category in each country.

In the countries we chose, more than 80 per cent of the population in each country thought that having a democratic system is a 'very' or 'fairly' good way to govern their country. Perhaps surprisingly, enthusiasm for democracy is rather higher in Bangladesh and Egypt than in the US or Belgium, with 65.9 and 64.2 per cent rating democracy as 'very good' compared with 50.9 and 44.5 per cent respectively. This may be for a variety of reasons, for example, that democracy is less taken for granted in Bangladesh and Egypt than in the US or Belgium. Does this result suggest that we should be cautious about applying the ‘clash of civilisations’ argument at the level of political attitudes amongst general populations? Might differences be more evident at the level of political systems?

Religion and Politics

Another area where one might expect to see differences if the clash hypothesis is correct is in the relationship between religion and politics. Click on the 'Return to question list' tab, and then on 'Religion and Morale', and scroll down to religion and politics. A relevant statement there is 'Religious leaders should not influence government', so click on this to see the question, and then 'Marginals' for the country breakdown.

The question wasn't asked in Egypt, but in the other three countries the most striking differences is between Belgium, where 53.4 per cent of the population strongly agreed with the statement, and Bangladesh and the US on the other, where only 15.7 and 16.8 per cent respectively did. In both cases, a slight majority did either agree or very strongly agree: in Bangladesh this was 65.1 per cent, and in the US just 50.5 per cent. Can we see an Islam versus the West split?

Gender and Society

We might also expect differences in opinion between Muslim-majority societies and the West on gender and sexuality-related issues. Many of these items can be found in the 'Family' section of the survey, and you might like to compare items such as 'Men make better political leaders than women' and 'University is more important for a boy than a girl'.

On these and other gender and sexuality-related issues, it is clear that Muslim-majority societies are more conservative than Western societies. For example, look at the homosexuality item under 'Religion and Morale'. However, even here it is not as straightforward as you might think. For example, you might be surprised to learn that the majority of Egyptians disagree with the statement 'University is more important for a boy than a girl'.

Now you know how to use this survey data, you can check as many items and countries as you like, as well as looking at changes over time. We have looked at only a small sample of the material available.

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