One of the outstanding bodies of research on culture is that undertaken by Professor Geert Hofstede. [http://www.geerthofstede.nl/]. His initial analysis of a large database of employee values scores collected by IBM, between 1967 and 1973, was used to develop a series of cultural dimensions, around which different cultures could be compared. Since 2001, scores are listed for 76 countries and regions.
These constructs dealt with four areas which different societies tackle in different ways. They came down to: ways of coping with inequality, the relationship of the individual with her or his primary group, the emotional implications of being male or female and ways of coping with uncertainty. These became the Hofstede dimensions of national culture: Power Distance, Individualism versus Collectivism, Masculinity versus Femininity and Uncertainty Avoidance.
Two further dimensions, based on the research of Michael Bond then Michael Minkov, were subsequently added. Long-Term Orientation and Indulgence versus Restraint.
The most outstanding indication here is that the Muslim societies differ greatly amongst themselves. There are obviously great differences in the dimensions of Individualism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-Term Orientation and Indulgence. Despite the rants about the extreme masculinity of Muslim societies, Egypt comes out, along with Turkey and Indonesia, as societies where the dominant values are caring for others and quality of life. Australia is only second to Lebanon on the Masculinity dimension, indicating the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner.
The high scores of Australia (and the USA) on Individualism and Indulgence do set it apart from the others. Individualism may not be a value universally admired as it indicates a society where people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. This runs counter to the notion of a ‘fair-go’ and a caring society. Indulgence indicates the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised. The extremely high score of Australia on this dimension indicates relatively weak self-control.
A long held Australian myth is that of the egalitarian society. The dimension of Power Distance, is defined as “ the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.” It indicates that a society’s inequality is widely accepted. The low Australian score, compared to the high scores in the Muslim countries, indicates a significant difference. Of course the growing social divide in Australia and our extreme individualism suggest that this cultural dimension may not reflect reality. What is amazing is that Islam teaches a message of equality, of no tribal, national or language group superiority yet we see Muslim societies emerge with apparent acceptance of inequality. This certainly indicates a need for further research.
The attempt by certain political factions to create the idea that the Muslim world is some sort of threatening cultural and ideological monolith, seeking to undermine sterling Australian community values, does not stand up to the light of truth. As Prof. Hofstede’s research has shown, there is no monolith and notions of ‘sterling values’ need further consideration.