CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS
Professor Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations?
was published in 1993 and his follow-up, Clash of Civilizations
and the Remaking of World Order, was published a decade
ago, these writings may be more relevant now in the context
of the war on terror than they were in the aftermath of the
collapse of communism. This could explain why the editors of
Foreign Affairs continue to market Huntington's 1993
classic, comparing it with George Kennan's famous Soviet containment
article, The Sources of Soviet Conduct.
the beginning of his 1993 article, Huntington observed that
he was not alone among "intellectuals [who] have not hesitated
to proliferate visions of what [the new phase of world politics]
will be -- the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries
between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from
the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism." It is
clear that the end of the Cold War and the collapse of European
communism created a huge opening for students and scholars of
international relations to project their favourite hypotheses
about how the new world order would look. In fact, the opening
is still huge, and intellectuals are still trying to fill it.
far, so good. It sounds like Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes'
metaphor of truth in the marketplace of ideas. However, the
search for truth may not be as simple as the metaphor suggests.
The hypothesis that emerges as dominant may not be the best
hypothesis, but it corresponds best to the predisposition of
the government of the day. On one hand, this does not seem inappropriate
in a representative democracy where it is the responsibility
and prerogative of the government to act (as trustees) on behalf
of the majority (their wards). On the other hand, American history
is filled with examples -- and the Bush Administration has provided
its share of them - where democratically elected governments
have clearly acted wrongly and in violation of the spirit and
letter of the American constitutional system.
is this latter, more sinister use of ideas by power that seems
to characterize the relationship between Huntington's hypothesis
and the Bush Administration's war on terror. In other words,
the clash of civilizations thesis appears to be a unifying principle
for much of the Bush Administration's war on terror. If we create
an enemy in Islam, then it seems likely that policies designed
around that conclusion will improve the chances of proving the
clash of civilizations hypothesis.
second Iraq War -- this one clearly fabricated even in the eyes
of many in the West as well as in the view of the Islamic world
-- certainly gives the appearance of a clash of civilizations
where the rhetoric and reality of weapons of mass destruction,
terrorism, oil and democracy often get confused. The illegal
and the extralegal treatment of detainees from the war on terror
has further undermined the notion of the universal application
of the rule of law (e.g., Magna Carta-based habeas corpus).
This is regarded as an abandonment of Western principles in
defense of Western principles. And then, the arbitrary and extra-judicial
suspension of free speech and privacy protections -- by means
of administrative subpoenas, gag orders, domestic surveillance
and eavesdropping -- has further provoked suspicion that government
secrecy and deception have been turned against the American
people ostensibly to preempt anti-American terrorism by effectively
fostering a domestic climate that encourages thinking in terms
of the clash of civilizations.
Clash of Civilizations? predicted that in the post-Cold
War international relations, the fault lines would run along
cultural and civilizational lines instead of political and economic
lines. According to Huntington, since civilization represents
the highest level of human community and is, therefore, a fundamental
social grouping -- even more fundamental than ideological, political
or economic groupings -- the clash of civilizations promises
continuing geopolitical tension and conflict for the foreseeable
future. The West, as the dominant civilization, can expect to
have its global political, economic and military reach challenged
and must therefore be prepared with a hard-headed, pragmatic
foreign policy in anticipation of the potential threats originating
from Islamic and Confucian (e.g., China) countries.
Cold War provided a geopolitical equilibrium between the two
post-World War II superpowers, but this equilibrium was upset
by the fall of East European communism and the break up of the
Soviet Union. In Huntington's view, that equilibrium can be
restored in the short term either by a reassertion of Western
hegemony or by striking a new balance of power among conflicting
civilizations. Over the longer term though, the West must be
prepared to strike a balance of power with civilizations whose
political, economic and military influence increasingly constrain
Western-based unilateralist foreign policies.
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,
Huntington elaborates on his 1993 essay. Against the optimistic
arrogance that predicts in the post-Cold War world the universality
of Western civilization will unite mankind, Huntington offers
a bleaker outlook of perpetual conflict originating from the
fundamental incompatibility of the world's civilizations, in
particular those of the West and Islam.
describes the principal assumptions that have been used to defend
the notion of the superiority and universality of Western civilization.
First, the end of history thesis, popularized by Francis Fukuyama,
sees the failure of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR
as a necessary stage in the dialectic of history that inevitably
gives way to the ascendancy of Western liberal democracy as
the highest form of political economy. Second, globalization
provides the confidence that commerce -- economic integration,
free trade and market systems -- will overcome cultural and
civilizational differences. Third, universal progress into modernity
-- industrialization, urbanization, education, living standards
-- will unite humanity across all cultural and civilizational
Huntington, conflict is fundamental to human politics. In fact
in the chapter entitled The West and the Rest, Huntington could
be interpreted as invoking, as opposed to describing, a new
political rivalry to fill the void created by the fall of East
European communism. And for Huntington, the post-Cold War conflict
is not abstract. Acknowledging what he considers the most contentious
statement from his 1993 article, "Islam has bloody borders,"
Huntington goes even further in arguing that Islam creates a
propensity to violence.
1990 before the first Iraq War and before American soldiers
were stationed in Saudi Arabia, Bernard Lewis, the highly acclaimed
Western scholar of Islam, observed, in The Roots of Muslim
Rage, that Muslim rage is seen by many to be traceable
to provocative Western, especially American foreign policy,
e.g., support for Israel, support for repressive and corrupt
Middle Eastern governments and the imperialist subjugation of
Muslim peoples by Christian civilization.
why -- 13 years after the fact -- target Huntington's clash
of civilizations hypothesis? First, the Council on Foreign Relations,
an influential foreign policy think tank and publisher of Foreign
Affairs, seems intent to keep the hypothesis relevant through
its marketing of Huntington's original statement of the clash
there appears to be a strong correlation between Huntington's
hypothetical new world order and that imagined by the Bush Administration
with its war on terror at home and abroad.
in retrospect, Kennan's 1947 assessment of Soviet communism
appears to have been uncannily prophetic. But could this have
been partly because subsequent American foreign policy made
it so? Was the containment approach really the best of all possible
foreign policy frameworks? Might there have been some set of
policy options in between the extremes of appeasement at one
end and nuclear confrontation on the other end? The clash of
civilizations as public policy must face these same questions.
Fourth, bearing in mind the uncertainty of the future including
the prospect of getting it wrong, is some sort of clash of civilizations
approach the doctrine that Americans want to be remembered by
50 years from now?
might there be hidden agendas behind the clash of civilizations
hypothesis, which make it more appealing than it should be?
For example, a familiar and easily marketed 'us versus them'
worldview would be an effective diversion from divisive domestic
policy debates, e.g., those pertaining to the increasing asymmetries
in political as well as in economic power among America's socio-economic