The ‘‘Clash of Civilisations’’, in Arabic ‘‘saddam al-hadharat’’, is both topical and complex, leading to a false generalisation, and is a topic that is bound to stir up a great deal of controversy. For this very reason, it should not lend itself to hasty conclusions. Any preliminary remarks on the subject are likely to provoke a heated debate about the West and the Middle East, or between the West and the Third World. Furthermore, everywhere in the world, events are changing fast and the debate is still raging. The discussion of this clash began in the early 1990s with the publication of Huntington’s 1993 article. But 11 September 2001 has both accelerated and greatly embittered this discussion, in which too few hold to a centre position. The stakes have never been higher. The central issue in this debate appears to be whether cultures can coexist, or

need to clash. Huntington famously argues that they must conflict. If not civilisations then what?, he asks, starting from the premise that states must conflict. But the very assumptions that cultures are (a) distinct, and (b) clashing, entities need to be questioned. In regard to the first, the temporal, contingent, nature of our supposed identities and traditions needs to be emphasised: they have not been there for ages, nor are they the only reading of the past. Some elements of our culture that are presented as traditional are associated with aspects of the past that were not always so important but that one chooses to revive in the present. Take Britain for example. For years St George’s Day, an English (but not a British) national feast-day, was no longer celebrated. It was made a Saint’s Day in 1222, but that is a while ago. Yet nowadays one sees many people on 23 April displaying in their windows or on their cars a white flag with a red cross. Even candidates in the 1997 elections – John Major as well as Tony Blair – wore the St George’s flower. The English maintain that this is part of their national heritage: but this is a case of the reemergence of a so-called traditional element that has become a more potent cultural symbol in the contemporary context. The prominence of this symbol is connected with current problems of identity and integration: the identity of the English vis-a`-vis immigrants, the contested integration of Britain in the European Union, new tensions with Scotland, and, of course, football nationalism. However, not everything that is presented as traditional, or ancient, is even

historic at all: one can even invent, or reinvent the past. Take for example the kilt, a symbol of Scottish nationalism in British culture. This garment is in fact

an invention that only dates from the beginning of the nineteenth century. Modern identity politics and a cult of ‘‘heritage’’ have made it a cultural or ancestral symbol. One therefore has to study how traditions come about. Some are selected and revived, some invented. They are also always changing: despite all the talk of a clash of civilisations, one must admit that the major cultural forms that make a society, languages, musical forms, food, and the criteria of identity, are not as permanent or static as we believe.2