Samuel Huntington states in “Clash of Civilizations”, “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world [the post-Cold War era] will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” Huntington groups the world into eight main civilizations: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and African. He explains this in reference two how during the Cold War the world was divided into three different worlds. This no longer exists since the end of the Cold War. Now many people (i.e. Lauquer) theorize the wars and conflict associated with terrorism to have political and/or economical basis. This might be true, but Huntington takes it a step further when discussing civilizations. He defines a civilization as a “cultural entity.” These include groups of individuals who share traditions, customs, religion, region, nationalities, etc. Also, not everyone can be considered into one group or civilization. For example, I am a Westerner with Catholic Irish/Italian decent, therefore I could be considered into different aspects of civilizations. Now as we examine and affirm “who we are”, we also begin to see “who we are against.” Huntington is basing his theory not on the political or economic differences in the civilizations, but there cultural differences such as religion and fault lines that separate the civilizations. Huntington believes the chief cultural fault line in the post-cold war world, occurs where the West meets Islam. With his hypothesis Huntington explains several reasons (four of which I will discuss) that he believes in the “Clash of Civilizations”, why it is happening, and why it will be so in the future.
The first reason Huntington gives is that the civilizations are actually basic meaning that they are not as complicated as one might think. They differentiate in areas such as “relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views of the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy” (Huntington). These are differences that will always remain with us because of individualism and a person’s own free will to believe in what they want. I use the term believe loosely because not all civilizations allow a person to exercise their free will to believe, but that is something that lives inside our minds and can never truly be taken from us or decided for us. A good example of the one basic difference between Muslims and Americans is the amount of freedom given to the individuals of these civilizations. In the Islamic culture, some believe the civilization suppress’ the ideas and beliefs of their followers who wish to become modern and adopt some Western ways. They live by the Quran and practice their lives according to that of Allah. Muslims who live as minorities in non-Islamic countries are also affected by the sexist and authoritarian attitudes that arise in many communities and impact behavior in terms of marriage, divorce, abuse, exclusion of women from the mosques and decision-making bodies, double standards applied to male and female children and so on. Also another example is the basic difference in regards to women as Muslims and Americans. In Islam, family laws pertaining to marriage and divorce, reinforce the rights of the husband superseding those of the wife and prevents women from being in control of their lives. Until recently, because of a pervasive sexist and oppressive presentation of women in Islam, Muslim women often felt the only way to be liberated intellectually, socially, politically and economically was by abandoning Islam. Also this could be a reason for such women turning to suicide bombing in hopes to reach the same status given to the men of Islam. Whereas here in America, women, for the most part, are encouraged to seek their own way of living in terms of education, marriage, children, religion, etc. We are liberated and in this century, do not depend or need men to support us. We have our own minds and men do not stand above us in anyway. Because of these basic differences, I can see why some Muslim women would turn from the Islamic faith in hopes to gain the freedom that the Western women have. Although these are just two examples of how civilizations differ in more basic terms than just that political in nature. I think this shows that Hunnington was right on that civilizations’ basic differences can be a cause of turmoil and conflict.
The second reason Huntington gives is that the world continues to become “a smaller place.” For the first time in history, global politics has become multicivilizational. As we evolve in economics and politics the people of this world have begun to reside in areas different from there own. With this the individuals of different civilizations who coexist have grown conscious of the diversities amongst them and sometimes this can lead to dissociation and isolation. A great example of this is how a vast majority of Muslims relocated to Europe. It is stated in Al-Qaeda’s New Front the some Muslims in Europe feel alienated because of the extreme differences in the two cultures. It also says that these Muslims although physically in Europe; their minds and beliefs are still in their homelands. According to Giles Kepel, author of The War for MuslimMinds, “within Europe, we also have Islamists who are much opposed to the fact that people from Muslim descent become assimilated into European culture. They’re against European democracy, and they would rather build citadels of jihad within Europe” (Al-Qaeda’s New Front). Some Muslims who have this idea in their minds are the ones who sway towards terrorist activity. These terrorists prey upon the Muslims who feel the isolation while living in Europe to recruit them into the Jihadist way of thinking. And unfortunately, according to Dr. Mamoun Fandy, “there is no program of assimilation within these countries to integrate these people and make them into citizens.” This example is only one of many that supports Huntington’s idea that a reason for the clash is because of the integration and evolution of the eight civilizations.
The third reason for Huntington’s theory on the “Clash of Civilizations” is that modernization is separating civilizations and “weakening their identities.” As the young, educated individuals mature in civilizations that have restricted political and economic views; they look at the modern Western cultures as an alternate way of life. As these people relocate and begin practicing the “modern” way of living, they also bring with them beliefs and values from the civilizations they were born into. This in turn causes their primary cultures to fade but also diverse into many other parts of the world. Some people of the civilizations see this in a bad light and feel that because of modernization their civilizations are being “contaminated” with Western beliefs. This also goes hand in hand with Hunnington’s fourth reason for the “Clash of Civilizations”. He explains that once the Westerners were the more powerful, domineering society that had influence over the other seven civilizations. But now the balance of power among civilizations is shifting as the West is declining in influence. Now Asian civilizations are expanding their economic, military, and political strength and Islam is dispersing demographically. Also more civilizations are reaffirming their values of their own cultures and not easily accepting Western views. But he also says this is occurring also with non-Western civilizations as well. Just as Ayman Zawahiri felt that the Westerners were pervading Islams ideologies of “selfish individualism”, it can be seen this has headed in other directions as well. But because the Westerners power has been declining, this inhibits Islamic terrorists to “strike while the iron is hot.” It amazes me how such people as Zawahiri felt that the Western ideologies were invading Islamic tradition, but their whole course of action was to pursue Islam into the West.
To the question of “is there a clash of civilizations”, my answer would have to be yes, but the clash is now one-sided. I think according to Bin Laden and most Islamic terrorists, this war is between Islam and Christianity. Unfortunately, Huntington does not go deeply into the fact that not all Muslims are terrorists and do not hold the hatred for Christianity that the Islamic terrorists do. Just as not all Christians think every Muslim is a terrorist. Although, Huntington does correctly identify the power of religion in the rise and fall of civilizations. Also, I don’t feel that he clarifies individual liberty in regards to religion as well as he could. I think this plays a major role on the clash of civilizations because the main difference between the Islamic and Christian religions is individual liberty and freedom to explore and pursue different ideas and beliefs. Although, I do feel Hunnington makes a strong argument in regards to multiculturalism. I agree with him that the mixing of the civilizations is a reason for the clash for the reasons mentioned in paragraphs above. But I still see the clash of civilizations as being more religious based and not through cultures in general. Even in civilizations there are going to be differences in beliefs, but Hunnington doesn’t mention wars in the civilizations themselves (i.e. Civil War). I don’t think the clashes and conflicts can be so specifically associated with fault lines and boundaries. So I guess, to be honest, I would have to say I could go both ways with Huntington’s theory, but I think it is just that, a theory (a little outdated as well) and should not be a basis for what is going on with terrorists and the war today.
1. Hunnington, Samuel. “Clash of Civilizations”. Foreign Affairs, 1993.
2. British Broadcasting Company. The Power of Nightmares. Miniseries episodes 1-3.
3. Kepel, Giles. The War for MuslimMinds. Al-Qaeda’s New Front.