When I was little, all around me walls were coming down. Stone walls that had been erected long after imaginary walls between ‘them’ and ‘us’ had already been established in people’s minds. The wall was there to protect us from the evil Capitalists on the other side. Funnily enough the shotguns were pointed at us. It was one of us who was gunned down when attempting to cross to the other side. The ‘others’ were allowed to visit and even stay if they had wished so. It was ‘our’ people whom ‘our’ government was spying on in a big way. But the wall was there to protect us.
Likewise in my dad’s child hood, people had suddenly discovered that their neighbours belonged to some mysterious and alien culture. Thus, they had to be eliminated. Strangely, soon after nobody was safe from elimination any more. After one division had been firmly established, others were soon to follow. First it was the Jews, then, soon it was everyone who didn’t nod emphatically when the dark haired Austrian ‘spoke’. Imaginary walls were being erected between each and every person.
When I was little, I was happy that the cold war was ending. Of course, I wasn’t consciously aware of that at the time but as I tasted freedom, munched my first Döner, started falling asleep to the sweet sounds of the English language that were incomprehensibly coming out of my radio like from another world, I knew that from now on we could travel everywhere and see with our own eyes how people were living there. No more stories about the miserable lives of people who were living a life style that was irreconcilable with our. People from whom we had to be kept away ‘for our own protection’.
But then Samuel P. Huntingdon came and exclaimed that once again there were people who were practising an alien culture which was a threat to our own. It was already the time of cheap travel and almost the time of broadband internet. And he wasn’t even screaming as loud as the Austrian, who had been turned down at art school and later had most artists killed who couldn’t flee the country quickly enough. Surely, people should have laughed about that political strategist who was apparently worried about losing his job in a post cold war world. After all Francis Fukiyama had exclaimed the end of history, the end of all conflicts. But once again people suddenly discovered that their neighbours belonged to some mysterious and alien culture. Once again they decided to listen to the fear mongering instead of going and seeing for themselves. I went to Pakistan and in five weeks I couldn’t find anything there to be afraid of.
However, my next door neighbour in my block of flats in Potsdam really does belong to a mysterious and alien culture. While most people that I know strongly follow a culture that appreciates fresh and clean air (we like to get out of the house as much as possible to go swimming, running, cycling etc.) and obviously like to dry our clothes in the fresh air on the balcony instead of in the dusty attic. But these weirdos like to take a bunch of dirty dried plant leaves, set fire to them and put them into their mouth. Even though this is really weird, It would tolerate it (Potsdamers have to be tolerant, due to the King’s Tolerance Edict from 1685). Yet, our cultures clash vehemently on the balcony, when we can’t sit there to enjoy the fresh air and my laundry smells of burned leaves instead of fresh air. What to do? Should I inform the German Secret Service about our Clash of Cultures? Should I at least write an influential article about it in Foreign Policy magazine? I am sure late Sam Huntingdon would appreciate that I am using his example to find clashes of cultures all around me and don’t start to naively think that we might just all be human beings and since we’re all a little different but still the same, we might just get along :O