The Clash of Civilizations is a hypothesis that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-colonial War world.
The American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued that future wars would be fought not between countries, but between cultures, and that Islamic extremism would become the biggest threat to world peace.
It was proposed in a 1992 lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, which was then developed in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article titled “The Clash of Civilizations?”, in response to his former student Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man.
Huntington later expanded his thesis in a 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
The Clash of Civilizations
by Samuel P. Huntington
Foreign Affairs Magazine
I. THE NEXT PATTERN OF CONFLICT
WORLD POLITICS IS entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it 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, among others. Each of these visions catches aspects of the emerging reality. Yet they all miss a crucial, indeed a central, aspect of what global politics is likely to be in the coming years.
It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world 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 be the battle lines of the future.
Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase of the evolution of conflict in the modern world. For a century and a half after the emergence of the modern international system of the Peace of Westphalia, the conflicts of the Western world were largely among princes — emperors, absolute monarchs and constitutional monarchs attempting to expand their bureaucracies, their armies, their mercantilist economic strength and, most important, the territory they ruled. In the process they created nation states, and beginning with the French Revolution the principal lines of conflict were between nations rather than princes. In 1793, as R. R. Palmer put it, “The wars of kings were over; the ward of peoples had begun.” This nineteenth-century pattern lasted until the end of World War I. Then, as a result of the Russian Revolution and the reaction against it, the conflict of nations yielded to the conflict of ideologies, first among communism, fascism-Nazism and liberal democracy, and then between communism and liberal democracy. During the Cold War, this latter conflict became embodied in the struggle between the two superpowers, neither of which was a nation state in the classical European sense and each of which defined its identity in terms of ideology.
These conflicts between princes, nation states and ideologies were primarily conflicts within Western civilization, “Western civil wars,” as William Lind has labeled them. This was as true of the Cold War as it was of the world wars and the earlier wars of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With the end of the Cold War, international politics moves out of its Western phase, and its center-piece becomes the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations and among non-Western civilizations. In the politics of civilizations, the people and governments of non-Western civilizations no longer remain the objects of history as targets of Western colonialism but join the West as movers and shapers of history.
II. THE NATURE OF CIVILIZATIONS
DURING THE COLD WAR the world was divided into the First, Second and Third Worlds. Those divisions are no longer relevant. It is far more meaningful now to group countries not in terms of their political or economic systems or in terms of their level of economic development but rather in terms of their culture and civilization.
What do we mean when we talk of a civilization? A civilization is a cultural entity. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious groups, all have distinct cultures at different levels of cultural heterogeneity. The culture of a village in southern Italy may be different from that of a village in northern Italy, but both will share in a common Italian culture that distinguishes them from German villages. European communities, in turn, will share cultural features that distinguish them from Arab or Chinese communities. Arabs, Chinese and Westerners, however, are not part of any broader cultural entity. They constitute civilizations. A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people. People have levels of identity: a resident of Rome may define himself with varying degrees of intensity as a Roman, an Italian, a Catholic, a Christian, a European, a Westerner. The civilization to which he belongs is the broadest level of identification with which he intensely identifies. People can and do redefine their identities and, as a result, the composition and boundaries of civilizations change.
Civilizations may involve a large number of people, as with China (“a civilization pretending to be a state,” as Lucian Pye put it), or a very small number of people, such as the Anglophone Caribbean. A civilization may include several nation states, as is the case with Western, Latin American and Arab civilizations, or only one, as is the case with Japanese civilization. Civilizations obviously blend and overlap, and may include sub civilizations. Western civilization has two major variants, European and North American, and Islam has its Arab, Turkic and Malay subdivisions. Civilizations are nonetheless meaningful entities, and while the lines between them are seldom sharp, they are real. Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall; they divide and merge. And, as any student of history knows, civilizations disappear and are buried in the sands of time.
Westerners tend to think of nation states as the principal actors in global affairs. They have been that, however, for only a few centuries. The broader reaches of human history have been the history of civilizations. In A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee identified 21 major civilizations; only six of them exist in the contemporary world.
III. WHY CIVILIZATIONS WILL CLASH
CIVILIZATION IDENTITY will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization. The most important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from one another.
First, differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion. The people of different civilizations have different views on the 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. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes. Differences do not necessarily mean conflict, and conflict does not necessarily mean violence. Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.
Second, the world is becoming a smaller place. The interactions between peoples of different civilizations are increasing; these increasing interactions intensify civilization consciousness and awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalities within civilizations. North African immigration to France generates hostility among Frenchmen and at the same time increased receptivity to immigration by “good” European Catholic Poles. Americans react far more negatively to Japanese investment than to larger investments from Canada and European countries. Similarly, as Donald Horowitz has pointed out, “An Ibo may be . . . an Owerri Ibo or an Onitsha Ibo in what was the Eastern region of Nigeria. In Lagos, he is simply an Ibo. In London, he is a Nigerian. In New York, he is an African.” The interactions among peoples of different civilizations enhance the civilization-consciousness of people that, in turn, invigorates differences and animosities stretching or thought to stretch back deep into history.
Third, the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled “fundamentalist.” Such movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most religions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, college-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business persons. The “unsecularization of the world,” George Weigel has remarked, “is one of the dominant social factors of life in the late twentieth century.” The revival of religion, “la revanche de Dieu,” as Gilles Kepel labeled it, provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations.
Fourth, the growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West. On the one hand, the West is at a peak of power. At the same time, however, and perhaps as a result, a return to the roots phenomenon is occurring among non-Western civilizations. Increasingly one hears references to trends toward a turning inward and “Asianization” in Japan, the end of the Nehru legacy and the “Hinduization” of India, the failure of Western ideas of socialism and nationalism and hence “re-Islamization” of the Middle East, and now a debate over Westernization versus Russianization in Boris Yeltsin’s country. A West at the peak of its power confronts non-Wests that increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to shape the world in non-Western ways.
In the past, the elites of non-Western societies were usually the people who were most involved with the West, had been educated at Oxford, the Sorbonne or Sandhurst, and had absorbed Western attitudes and values. At the same time, the populace in non-Western countries often remained deeply imbued with the indigenous culture. Now, however, these relationships are being reversed. A de-Westernization and indigenization of elites is occurring in many non-Western countries at the same time that Western, usually American, cultures, styles and habits become more popular among the mass of the people.
Fifth, cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones. In the former Soviet Union, communists can become democrats, the rich can become poor and the poor rich, but Russians cannot become Estonians and Azeris cannot become Armenians. In class and ideological conflicts, the key question was “Which side are you on?” and people could and did choose sides and change sides. In conflicts between civilizations, the question is “What are you?” That is a given that cannot be changed. And as we know, from Bosnia to the Caucasus to the Sudan, the wrong answer to that question can mean a bullet in the head. Even more than ethnicity, religion discriminates sharply and exclusively among people. A person can be half-French and half-Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two countries. It is more difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim.
Finally, economic regionalism is increasing. The proportions of total trade that are intra-regional rose between 1980 and 1989 from 51 percent to 59 percent in Europe, 33 percent to 37 percent in East Asia, and 32 percent to 36 percent in North America. The importance of regional economic blocs is likely to continue to increase in the future. On the one hand, successful economic regionalism will reinforce civilization-consciousness. On the other hand, economic regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization. The European Community rests on the shared foundation of European culture and Western Christianity. The success of the North American Free Trade Area depends on the convergence now underway of Mexican, Canadian and American cultures. Japan, in contrast, faces difficulties in creating a comparable economic entity in East Asia because Japan is a society and civilization unique to itself. However strong the trade and investment links Japan may develop with other East Asian countries, its cultural differences with those countries inhibit and perhaps preclude its promoting regional economic integration like that in Europe and North America.
Common culture, in contrast, is clearly facilitating the rapid expansion of the economic relations between the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the overseas Chinese communities in other Asian countries. With the Cold War over, cultural commonalities increasingly overcome ideological differences, and mainland China and Taiwan move closer together. If cultural commonality is a prerequisite for economic integration, the principal East Asian economic bloc of the future is likely to be centered on China. This bloc is, in fact, already coming into existence. As Murray Weidenbaum has observed,
Despite the current Japanese dominance of the region, the Chinese-based economy of Asia is rapidly emerging as a new epicenter for industry, commerce and finance. This strategic area contains substantial amounts of technology and manufacturing capability (Taiwan), outstanding entrepreneurial, marketing and services acumen (Hong Kong), a fine communications network (Singapore), a tremendous pool of financial capital (all three), and very large endowments of land, resources and labor (mainland China). . . . From Guangzhou to Singapore, from Kuala Lumpur to Manila, this influential network — often based on extensions of the traditional clans — has been described as the backbone of the East Asian economy. n1
n1 Murray Weidenbaum, Greater China: The Next Economic Superpower?, St. Louis: Washington University Center for the Study of American Business, Contemporary Issues, Series 57, February 1993, pp. 2-3.
Culture and religion also form the basis of the Economic Cooperation Organization, which brings together ten non-Arab Muslim countries: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. One impetus to the revival and expansion of this organization, founded originally in the 1960s by Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, is the realization by the leaders of several of these countries that they had no chance of admission to the European Community. Similarly, Caricom, the Central American Common Market and Mercosur rest on common cultural foundations. Efforts to build a broader Caribbean-Central American economic entity bridging the Anglo-Latin divide, however, have to date failed.
As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are likely to see an “us” versus “them” relation existing between themselves and people of different ethnicity or religion. The end of ideologically defined states in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union permits traditional ethnic identities and animosities to come to the fore. Differences in culture and religion create differences over policy issues, ranging from human rights to immigration to trade and commerce to the environment. Geographical propinquity gives rise to conflicting territorial claims from Bosnia to Mindanao. Most important, the efforts of the West to promote its values of democracy and liberalism to universal values, to maintain its military predominance and to advance its economic interests engender countering responses from other civilizations. Decreasingly able to mobilize support and form coalitions on the basis of ideology, governments and groups will increasingly attempt to mobilize support by appealing to common religion and civilization identity.
The clash of civilizations thus occurs at two levels. At the micro-level, adjacent groups along the fault lines between civilizations struggle, often violently, over the control of territory and each other. At the macro-level, states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power, struggle over the control of international institutions and third parties, and competitively promote their particular political and religious values.
IV. THE FAULT LINES BETWEEN CIVILIZATIONS
THE FAULT LINES between civilizations are replacing the political and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flash points for crisis and bloodshed. The Cold War began when the Iron Curtain divided Europe politically and ideologically. The Cold War ended with the end of the Iron Curtain. As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has reemerged. The most significant dividing line in Europe, as William Wallace has suggested, may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia almost exactly along the line now separating Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. In the Balkans this line, of course, coincides with the historic boundary between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. The peoples to the north and west of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they shared the common experiences of European history — feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east; and they may now look forward to increasing involvement in a common European economy and to the consolidation of democratic political systems. The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems. The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also at times a line of bloody conflict.
Conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations has been going on for 1,300 years. After the founding of Islam, the Arab and Moorish surge west and north only ended at Tours in 732. From the eleventh to the thirteenth century the Crusaders attempted with temporary success to bring Christianity and Christian rule to the Holy Land. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Turks reversed the balance, extended their sway over the Middle East and the Balkans, captured Constantinople, and twice laid siege to Vienna. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at Ottoman power declined Britain, France, and Italy established Western control over most of North Africa and the Middle East.
After World War II, the West, in turn, began to retreat; the colonial empires disappeared; first Arab nationalism and then Islamic fundamentalism manifested themselves; the West became heavily dependent on the Persian Gulf countries for its energy; the oil-rich Muslim countries became money-rich and, when they wished to, weapons-rich. Several wars occurred between Arabs and Israel (created by the West). France fought a bloody and ruthless war in Algeria for most of the 1950s; British and French forces invaded Egypt in 1956; American forces returned to Lebanon, attacked Libya, and engaged in various military encounters with Iran; Arab and Islamic terrorists, supported by at least three Middle Eastern governments, employed the weapon of the weak and bombed Western planes and installations and seized Western hostages. This warfare between Arabs and the West culminated in 1990, when the United States sent a massive army to the Persian Gulf to defend some Arab countries against aggression by another. In its aftermath NATO planning is increasingly directed to potential threats and instability along its “southern tier.”
This centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent. The Gulf War left some Arabs feeling proud that Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel and stood up to the West. It also left many feeling humiliated and resentful of the West’s military presence in the Persian Gulf, the West’s overwhelming military dominance, and their apparent inability to shape their own destiny. Many Arab countries, in addition to the oil exporters, are reaching levels of economic and social development where autocratic forms of government become inappropriate and efforts to introduce democracy become stronger. Some openings in Arab political systems have already occurred. The principal beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements. In the Arab world, in short, Western democracy strengthens anti-Western political forces. This may be a passing phenomenon, but it surely complicates relations between Islamic countries and the West.
Those relations are also complicated by demography. The spectacular population growth in Arab countries, particularly in North Africa, has led to increased migration to Western Europe. The movement within Western Europe toward minimizing internal boundaries has sharpened political sensitivities with respect to this development. In Italy, France and Germany, racism is increasingly open, and political reactions and violence against Arab and Turkish migrants have become more intense and more widespread since 1990.
On both sides the interaction between Islam and the West is seen as a clash of civilizations. The West’s “next confrontation,” observes M. J. Akbar, an Indian Muslim author, “is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Meghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.” Bernard Lewis comes to a regular conclusion:
“We are facing a meed and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations — the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. n2
n2 Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 266,September 1990, p. 60; Time, June 15k 1992, pp. 24-28.
Historically, the other great antagonistic interaction of Arab Islamic civilization has been with the pagan, animist, and now increasingly Christian black peoples to the south. In the past, this antagonism was epitomized in the image of Arab slave dealers and black slaves. It has been reflected in the on-going civil war in the Sudan between Arabs and blacks, the fighting in Chad between Libyan-supported insurgents and the government, the tensions between Orthodox Christians and Muslims in the Horn of Africa, and the political conflicts, recurring riots and communal violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. The modernization of Africa and the spread of Christianity in Nigeria. The modernization of Africa and the spread of Christianity are likely to enhance the probability of violence along this fault line. Symptomatic of the intensification of this conflict was the Pope John Paul II’s speech in Khartoum in February 1993 attacking the actions of the Sudan’s Islamist government against the Christian minority there.
On the northern border of Islam, conflict has increasingly erupted between Orthodox and Muslim peoples, including the carnage of Bosnia and Sarajevo, the simmering violence between Serb and Albanian, the tenuous relation between Bulgarians and their Turkish minority, the violence between Ossetians and Ingush, the unremitting slaughter of each other by Armenians and Azeris, the tense relations between Russians and Muslims in Central Asia, and the deployment of Russian troops to protect Russian interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Religion reinforces the revival of ethnic identities and re-stimulates Russian fears about the security of their southern borders. This concern is well captured by Archie Roosevelt:
Much of Russian history concerns the struggle between Slavs and the Turkish peoples on their borders, which dates back to the foundation of the Russian state more than a thousand years ago. In the Slavs’ millennium-long confrontation with their eastern neighbors lies the key to an understanding not only of Russian history, but Russian character. To under Russian realities today one has to have a concept of the great Turkic ethnic group that has preoccupied Russians through the centuries. n3
n3 Archie Roosevelt, For Lust of Knowing, Boston: Little, Brown, 1988, pp. 332-333.
The conflict of civilizations is deeply rooted elsewhere in Asia. The historic clash between Muslim and Hindu in the subcontinent manifests itself now not only is the rivalry between Pakistan and India but also in intensifying religious strife within India between increasingly militant Hindu groups and India’s substantial Muslim minority. The destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in December 1992 brought to the fore the issue of whether India will remain a secular democratic state or become a Hindu one. In East Asia, China has outstanding territorial disputes with most of its neighbors. It has pursued a ruthless policy toward the Buddhist people of Tibet, and it is pursuing an increasingly ruthless policy toward its Turkic-Muslim minority. With the Cold War over, the underlying differences between China and the United States have reasserted themselves in areas such as human rights, trade and weapons proliferation. These differences are unlikely to moderate. A “new cold war,” Deng Xaioping reportedly asserted in 1991, is under way between China and America.
The same phrase has been applied to the increasingly difficult relations between Japan and the United States. Here cultural difference exacerbates economic conflict. People on each side allege racism on the other, but at least on the American side the antipathies are not racial but cultural. The basic values, attitudes, behavioral patterns of the two societies could hardly be more different. The economic issues between the United States and Europe are no less serious than those between the United States and Japan, but they do not have the same political salience and emotional intensity because the differences between American culture and European culture are so much less than those between American civilization and Japanese civilization.
The interactions between civilizations vary greatly in the extent to which they are likely to be characterized by violence. Economic competition clearly predominates between the American and European sub civilizations of the West and between both of them and Japan. On the Eurasian continent, however, the proliferation of ethnic conflict, epitomized at the extreme in “ethnic cleansing,” has not been totally random. It has been most frequent and most violent between groups belonging to different civilizations. In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.
V. CIVILIZATION RALLYING
THE KIN-COUNTRY SYNDROME GROUPS OR STATES belonging to one civilization that become involved in war with people from a different civilization naturally try to rally support from other members of their own civilization. As the post-Cold War world evolves, civilization commonality, what H. D. S. Greenway has termed the “kin-country” syndrome, is replacing political ideology and traditional balance of power considerations as the principal basis for cooperation and coalitions. It can be seen gradually emerging in the post-Cold War conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and Bosnia. None of these was a full-scale war between civilizations, but each involved some elements of civilization rallying, which seemed to become more important as the conflict continued and which may provide a foretaste of the future.
First, in the Gulf War one Arab state invaded another and then fought a coalition of Arab, Western and other states. While only a few Muslim governments overtly supported Saddam Hussein, many Arab elites privately cheered him on, and he was highly popular among large sections of the Arab publics. Islamic fundamentalist movements universally supported Iraq rather than the Western-backed governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Forswearing Arab nationalism, Saddam Hussein explicitly invoked an Islamic appeal. He and his supporters attempted to define the was as a war between civilizations. “It is not the world against Iraq,” as Safar Al-Hawali, dean of Islamic Studies at the Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, put it in a widely circulated tape. “It is the West against Islam.” Ignoring the rivalry between Iran and Iraq, the chief Iranian religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for a holy war against the West: “The struggle against American aggression, greed, plans and policies will be counted as a jihad, and anybody who is killed on that path is a martyr.” “This is a war,” King Hussein of Jordan argued, “against all Arabs and all Muslims and not against Iraq alone.”
The rallying of substantial sections of Arab elites and publics behind Saddam Hussein called those Arab governments in the anti-Iraq coalition to moderate their activities and temper their public statements. Arab governments opposed or distanced themselves from subsequent Western efforts to apply pressure on Iraq, including enforcement of a no-fly zone in the summer of 1992 and the bombing of Iraq in January 1993. The Western-Soviet-Turkish-Arab anti-Iraq coalition of 1990 had by 1993 become a coalition of almost only the West and Kuwait against Iraq.
Muslims contrasted Western actions against Iraq with the West’s failure to protect Bosnians against Serbs and to impose sanctions on Israel for violating U.N. resolutions. The West, they allege, was using a double standard. A world of clashing civilizations, however, is inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard to their kin-countries and a different standard to others.
Second, the kin-country syndrome also appeared in conflicts in the former Soviet Union. Armenian military successes in 1992 and 1993 stimulated Turkey to become increasingly supportive of its religious, ethnic and linguistic brethren in Azerbaijan. “We have a Turkish nation feeling the same sentiments as the Azerbaijanis,” said one Turkish official in 1992. “We are under pressure. Our newspapers are full of the photos of atrocities and are asking us if we are still serious about pursuing our neutral policy. Maybe we should show Armenia that there’s a big Turkey in the region.” President Turgut Ozal agreed, remarking that Turkey should at least “scare the Armenians a little bit.” Turkey, Ozal threatened again in 1993, would “show its fangs.” Turkey Air Force jets flew reconnaissance flights along the Armenian border; Turkey suspended food shipments and air flights to Armenia; and Turkey and Iran announced they would not accept dismemberment of Azerbaijan. In the last years of its existence, the Soviet government supported Azerbaijan because its government was dominated by former communists. With the end of the Soviet Union, however, political considerations gave way to religious ones. Russian troops fought on the Side of the Armenians, and Azerbaijan accused the “Russian government of turning 180 degrees” toward support for Christian Armenia.
Third, with respect to the fighting in the former Yugoslavia, Western publics manifested sympathy and support for the Bosnian Muslims and the horrors they suffered at the hands of the Serbs. Relatively little concern was expressed, however, over Croatian attacks on Muslims and participation in the dismemberment of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the early stages of the Yugoslav breakup, Germany, inan unusual display of diplomatic initiative and muscle, induced the other 11 members of the European Community to follow its lead in recognizing Slovenia and Croatia. As a result of the pope’s determination to provide strong backing to the two Catholic countries, the Vatican extended recognition even before the Community did. The United States followed the European lead. Thus the leading actors in Western civilization rallied behind its coreligionists. Subsequently Croatia was reported to be receiving substantial quantities of arms from Central European and other Western countries. Boris Yeltsin’s government, on the other hand, attempted to pursue a middle course that would be sympathetic to the Orthodox Serbs but not alienate Russia from the West. Russian conservative and nationalist groups, however, including many legislators, attacked the government for not being more forthcoming in its support for the Serbs. By early 1993 several hundred Russians apparently were serving with the Serbian forces, and reports circulated of Russian arms being supplied to Serbia.
Islamic governments and groups, on the other hand, castigated the West for not coming to the defense of the Bosnians. Iranian leaders urged Muslims from all countries to provide help to Bosnia; in violation of the U.N. arms embargo, Iran supplied weapons and men for the Bosnians; Iranian-supported Lebanese groups sent guerrillas to train and organize the Bosnian forces. In 1993 up to 4,000 Muslims from over two dozen Islamic countries were reported to be fighting in Bosnia. The governments of Saudi Arabia and other countries felt under increasing pressure from fundamentalist groups in their own societies to provide more vigorous support for the Bosnians. By the end of 1992, Saudi Arabia had reportedly supplied substantial funding for weapons and supplies for the Bosnians, which significantly increased their military capabilities vis-à-vis the Serbs.
In the 1930s the Spanish Civil War provoked intervention from countries that politically were fascist, communist and democratic. In the 1990s the Yugoslav conflict is provoking intervention from countries that are Muslim, Orthodox and Western Christian. The parallel has not gone unnoticed. “The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina has become the emotional equivalent of the fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War,” one Saudi editor observed. “Those who died there are regarded as martyrs who tried to save their fellow Muslims.”
Conflicts and violence will also occur between states and groups within the same civilization. Such conflicts, however, are likely to be less intense and less likely to expand than conflicts between civilizations. Common membership in a civilization reduces the probability of violence in situations where it might otherwise occur. In 1991 and 1992 many people were alarmed by the possibility of violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine over territory, particularly Crimea, the Black Sea fleet, nuclear weapons and economic issues. If civilization is what counts, however, the likelihood of violence between Ukrainians and Russians should be low. They are two Slavic, primarily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships with each other for centuries. As of early 1993, despite all the reasons for conflict, the leaders of the two countries were effectively negotiating and defusing the issues between the two countries. While there has been serious fighting between Muslims and Christians elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and much tension and some fighting between Western and Orthodox Christians in the Baltic states, there has been virtually no violence between Russians and Ukrainians.
Civilization rallying to date has been limited, but it has been growing, and it clearly has the potential to spread much further. As the conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and Bosnia continued, the positions of nations and the cleavages between them increasingly were along civilization lines. Populist politicians, religious leaders and the media have found it a potential means of arousing mass support and of pressuring hesitant governments. In the coming years, the local conflicts most likely to escalate into major wars will be those, as in Bosnia and the Caucasus, along the fault lines between civilizations. The next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations.
VI. THE WEST VERSUS THE REST
THE WEST IS NOW at an extraordinary peak of power in relation to other civilizations. In superpower opponent has disappeared from the map. Military conflict among Western states is unthinkable, and Western military power is unrivaled. Apart from Japan, the West faces no economic challenge. It dominates international economic institutions. Global political and security issues are effectively settled by a directorate of the United States, Britain and France, world economic issues by a directorate of the United States, Germany and Japan, all of which maintain extraordinarily close relations with each other to the exclusion of lesser and largely non-Western countries. Decisions made at the U.N. Security Council or in the International Monetary Fund that reflect the interests of the West are presented to the world as reflecting the desires of the world community. The very phrase “the world community” has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing “the Free World”) to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers. n4 Through the IMF and other international economic institutions, the West promotes its economic interests and imposes on other nations the economic policies it thinks appropriate. In any poll of non-Western peoples, the IMF undoubtedly would win the support of finance ministers and a few others, but get an overwhelmingly unfavorable rating from just about everyone else, who would agree with Georgy Arbatov’s characterization of IMF officials as “neo-Bolsheviks who love expropriating other people’s money, imposing undemocratic and alien rules of economic and political conduct and stifling economic freedom.”
n4 Almost invariably Western leaders claim they are acting on behalf of “the world community.” One minor lapse occurred during the run-up to the Gulf War. In an interview on “Good Morning America,” Dec. 21, 1990, British Prime Minister John Major referred to the actions “the West” was taking against Saddam Hussein. He quickly corrected himself and subsequently referred to “the world community.” He was, however, right when he erred.
Western domination of the U.N. Security Council and its decisions, tempered only by occasional abstention by China, produced U.N. legitimation of the West’s use of force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and its elimination of Iraq’s sophisticated weapons and capacity to produce such weapons. It also produced the quite unprecedented action by the United States, Britain and France in getting the Security Council to demand that Libya hand over the Pan Am 103 bombing suspects and then to impose sanctions when Libya refused. After defeating the largest Arab army, the West did not hesitate to throw its weight around in the Arab world. The West in effect is using international institutions, military power and economic resources to run the world in ways that will maintain Western predominance, protect Western interests and promote Western political and economic values.
That at least is the way in which non-Westerners see the new world, and there is a significant element of truth in their view. Differences in power and struggles for military, economic and institutional power are thus one source of conflict between the West and other civilizations. Differences in culture, that is basic values and beliefs, are a second source of conflict. V. S. Naipaul has argued that Western civilization is the “universal civilization” that “fits all men.” At a superficial level much of Western culture has indeed permeated the rest of the world. At a more basic level, however, Western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other civilizations. Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate each ideas produce instead a reaction against “human rights imperialism” and a reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures. The very notion that there could be a “universal civilization” is a Western idea, directly at odds with the particularism of most Asian societies and their emphasis on what distinguishes one people from another. Indeed, the author of a review of 100 comparative studies of values in different societies concluded that “the values that are most important in the West are least important worldwide.” n5 In the political realm, of course, these differences are most manifest in the efforts of the United States and other Western powers to induce other peoples to adopt Western ideas concerning democracy and human rights. Modern democratic government originated in the West. When it has developed colonialism or imposition.
n5 Harry C. Triandis, The New York Times, Dec. 25, 1990, p. 41, and “Cross-Cultural Studies of Individualism and Collectivism,” Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, vol. 37, 1989, pp. 41-133.
The central axis of world politics in the future is likely to be, in Kishore Mahbubani’s phrase, the conflict between “the West and the Rest” and the responses of non-Western civilizations to Western power and values. n6 Those responses generally take one or a combination of three forms. At one extreme, non-Western states can, like Burma and North Korea, attempt to pursue a course of isolation, to insulate their societies from penetration or “corruption” by the West, and, in effect, to opt out of participation in the Western-dominated global community. The costs of this course, however, are high, and few states have pursued it exclusively. A second alternative, the equivalent of “band-wagoning” in international relations theory, is to attempt to join the West and accept its values and institutions. The third alternative is to attempt to “balance” the West by developing economic and military power and cooperating with other non-Western societies against the West, while preserving indigenous values and institutions; in short, to modernize but not to Westernize.
n6 Kishore Mahbubani, “The West and the Rest,” The National Interest, Summer 1992, pp. 3-13.
VII. THE TORN COUNTRIES
IN THE FUTURE, as people differentiate themselves by civilization, countries with large numbers of people of different civilizations, such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, are candidates for dismemberment. Some other countries have a fair degree of cultural homogeneity but are divided over whether their society belongs to one civilization or another. These are town countries. Their leaders typically wish to pursue a band-wagoning strategy and to make their countries members of the West, but the history, culture and traditions of their countries are non-Western. The most obvious and prototypical torn country is Turkey. The late twentieth-century leaders of Turkey have followed in the Attaturk tradition and defined Turkey as a modern, secular, Western nation state. They allied Turkey with the West in NATO and in the Gulf War; they applied for membership in the European Community. At the same time, however, elements in Turkish society have supported an Islamic revival and have argued that Turkey is basically a Middle Eastern Muslim society. In addition, while the elite of Turkey has defined Turkey as a Western society, the elite of the West refuses to accept Turkey and such. Turkey will not become a member of the European Community, and the real reason, as President Ozal said, “is that we are Muslim and they are Christian and they don’t say that.” Having rejected Mecca, and then being rejected by Brussels, where does Turkey look? Tashkent may be the answer. The end of the Soviet Union gives Turkey the opportunity to become the leader of a revived Turkic civilization involving seven countries from the borders of Greece to those of China. Encouraged by the West, Turkey is making strenuous efforts to carve out this new identity for itself.
During the past decade Mexico has assumed a position somewhat similar to that of Turkey. Just as Turkey abandoned its historic opposition to Europe and attempted to join Europe, Mexico has stopped defining itself by its opposition to the United States and is instead attempting to imitate the United States and to join it in the North American Free Trade Area. Mexican leaders are engaged in the great task of redefining Mexican identity and have introduced fundamental economic reforms that eventually will lead to fundamental political change. In 1991 a top adviser to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari described at length tome all the changes the Salinas government was making. When he finished, I remarked: “That’s most impressive. It seems to me that basically you want to change Mexico from a Latin American country into a North American country.” He looked at me with surprise and exclaimed: “Exactly! That’s precisely what we are trying to do, but of course we could never say so publicly.” As his remark indicates, in Mexico as in Turkey, significant elements in society resist the redefinition of their country’s identity. In Turkey, European-oriented leaders have to make gestures to Islam (Ozal’s pilgrimage to Mecca); so also Mexico’s North American-oriented leaders have to make gestures to those who hold Mexico to be a Latin American country (Salinas’ Ibero-American Guadalajara summit).
Historically Turkey has been the most profoundly torn country. For the United States, Mexico is the most immediate torn country. Globally the most important torn country is Russia. The question of whether Russia is part of the West or the leader of the Slavic-Orthodox civilization has been a recurring one in Russian history. That issue was obscured by the communist victory in Russia, which imported a Western ideology, adapted it to Russian conditions and then challenged the West in the name of that ideology. The dominance of communism shut off the historic debate over Westernization versus Russification. With communism discredited Russians once again face that question.
President Yeltsin is adopting Western principles and goals and seeking to make Russia a “normal” country and a part of the West. Yet both the Russian elite and the Russian public are divided on this issue. Among the more moderate dissenters, Sergei Stankevich argues that Russia should reject the “Atlanticist” course, which would lead it “to become European, to become a part of the world economy in rapid and organized fashion, to become the eighth member of the Seven, and to particular emphasis on Germany and the United States as the two dominant members of the Atlantic alliance.” While also rejecting an exclusively Eurasian policy, Stankevich nonetheless argues that Russia should give priority to the protection of Russians in other countries, emphasize its Turkic and Muslim connections, and promote “an appreciable redistribution of our resources, our options, our ties, and our interests in favor of Asia, of the eastern direction.” People of this persuasion criticize Yeltsin for subordinating Russia’s interests to those of the West, for reducing Russian military strength, for failing to support traditional friends such as Serbia, and for pushing economic and political reform in ways injurious to the Russian people. Indicative of this trend is the new popularity of the ideas of Petr Savitsky, who in the 1920s argued that Russia was a unique Eurasian civilization. n7 More extreme dissidents voice much more blatantly nationalist, anti-Western and anti-Semitic views, and urge Russia to redevelop its military strength and to establish closer ties with China and Muslim countries. The people of Russia areas divided as the elite. An opinion survey in European Russia in the spring of 1992 revealed that 40 percent of the public had positive attitudes toward the West and 36 percent had negative attitudes. As it has been for much of its history, Russia in the early 1990s is truly a torn country.
n7 Sergei Stankevich, “Russia in Search of Itself,” The National Interest, Summer 1992, pp. 47-51; Daniel Schneider, “A Russian Movement Rejects Western Tilt,” Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 5, 1993, pp. 5-7.
To redefine its civilization identity, a torn country must meet three requirements. First, its political and economic elite has to be generally supportive of and enthusiastic about the move. Second, its public has to be willing to acquiesce in the redefinition. Third, the dominant groups in the recipient civilization have to be willing to embrace the convert. All three requirements in large part exist with respect to Mexico. The first two in large part exist with respect to Turkey. It is not clear that any of them exist with respect to Russia’s joining the West. The conflict between liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism was between ideologies which, despite their major differences, ostensibly shared ultimate goals of freedom, equality and prosperity. A traditional, authoritarian, nationalist Russia could have quite different goals. A Western democrat could carry on an intellectual debate with a Soviet Marxist. It would be virtually impossible for him to do that with a Russian traditionalist. If, as the Russians stop behaving like Marxists, they reject liberal democracy and begin behaving like Russians but not like Westerners, the relations between Russia and the West could again become distant and conflictual. n8
n8 Owen Harries has pointed out that Australia is trying (unwisely in his view) to become a torn country in reverse. Although it has been a full member not only of the West but also of the ABCA military and intelligence core of the West, its current leaders are in effect proposing that it defect from the West, redefine itself as an Asian country and cultivate close ties with its neighbors. Australia’s future, they argue, is with the dynamic economies of East Asia. But, as I have suggested, close economic cooperation normally requires a common cultural base. In addition, none of the three conditions necessary for a torn country to join another civilization is likely to exist in Australia’s case.
VIII. THE CONFUCIAN-ISLAMIC CONNECTION
THE OBSTACLES TO non-Western countries joining the West vary considerably. They are least for Latin American and East European countries. They are greater for the Orthodox countries of the former Soviet Union. They are still greater for Muslim, Confucian, Hindu and Buddhist societies. Japan has established a unique position for itself as an associate member of the West: it is in the West in some respects but clearly not of the West in important dimensions. Those countries that for reason of culture and power do not wish to, or cannot, join the West compete with the West by developing their own economic, military and political power. They do this by promoting their internal development and by cooperating with other non-Western countries. The most prominent form of this cooperation is the Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge Western interests, values and power.
Almost without exception, Western countries are reducing their military power; under Yeltsin’s leadership so also is Russia. China, North Korea and several Middle Eastern states, however, are significantly expanding their military capabilities. They are doing this by the import of arms from Western and non-Western sources and by the development of indigenous arms industries. One result is the emergence of what Charles Krauthammer has called “Weapon States,” and the Weapon States are not Western states. Another result is the redefinition of arms control, which is a Western concept and a Western goal. During the Cold War the primary purpose of arms control was to establish a stable military balance between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the post-Cold War world the primary objective of arms control is to prevent the development by non-Western societies of military capabilities that could threaten Western interests. The West attempts to do this through international agreements, economic pressure and controls on the transfer of arms and weapons technologies.
The conflict between the West and the Confucian-Islamic states focuses largely, although not exclusively, on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles and other sophisticated means for delivering them, and the guidance, intelligence and other electronic capabilities for achieving that goal. The West promotes nonproliferation as a universal norm and nonproliferation treaties and inspections as means of realizing that norm. It also threatens a variety of sanctions against those who promote the spread of sophisticated weapons and proposes some benefits for those who do not. The attention of the Wests focuses, naturally on nations that are actually or potentially hostile to the West.
The non-Western nations, on the other hand, assert their right to acquire and to deploy whatever weapons they think necessary for their security. They also have absorbed, to the full, the truth of the response of the Indian defense minister when asked what lesson he learned from the Gulf War: “Don’t fight the United States unless you have nuclear weapons.” Nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and missiles are viewed, probably erroneously, as the potential equalizer of superior Western conventional power. China, of course, already has nuclear weapons; Pakistan and India have the capability to deploy them. North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Algeria appear to be attempting to acquire them. Atop Iranian official has declared that all Muslim states should acquire nuclear weapons, and in 1988 the president of Iran reportedly issued a directive calling for development of “offensive and defensive chemical, biological and radiological weapons.”
Centrally important to the development of counter-West military capabilities is the sustained expansion of China’s military power and its means to create military power. Buoyed by spectacular economic development, China is rapidly increasing its military spending and vigorously moving forward with the modernization of its armed forces. It is purchasing weapons from the former Soviet states; it is developing long-range missiles; in 1992 it tested a one-megaton nuclear device. It is developing power-projection capabilities, acquiring aerial refueling technology, and trying to purchase an aircraft carrier. Its military buildup and assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea are provoking a multilateral regional arms race in East Asia. China is also a major exporter of arms and weapons technology. It has exported materials to Libya and Iraq that could be used to manufacture nuclear weapons and nerve gas. It has helped Algeria build a reactor suitable for nuclear weapons research and production. China has sold to Iran nuclear technology that American officials believe could only be used to create weapons and apparently has shipped components of 300-mile-range missiles to Pakistan. North Korea has had a nuclear weapons program under way for some while and has sold advanced missiles and missile technology to Syria and Iran. The flow of weapons and weapons technology is generally from East Asia to the Middle East. There is, however, some movement in the reverse direction; China has received Stinger missiles from Pakistan.
A Confucian-Islamic military connection has thus come into being, designed to promote acquisition by its members of the weapons and weapons technologies needed to counter the military powers of the West. It may or may not last. At present, however, it is, as Dave McCurdy has said, “a renegades’ mutual support pact, run by the proliferators and their backers.” A new form of arms competition is thus occurring between Islamic-Confucian states and the West. In an old-fashioned arms race, each side developed its own arms to balance or to achieve superiority against the other side. In this new form of arms competition, one side is developing its arms and the other side is attempting not to balance but to limit and prevent that arms build-up while at the same time reducing its own military capabilities.
IX. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WEST
THIS ARTICLE DOES not argue that civilization identities will replace all other identities, that nation states will disappear, that each civilization will become a single coherent political entity, that groups within a civilization will not conflict with and even fight each other. This paper does set forth the hypotheses that differences between civilizations are real and important; civilization-consciousness is increasing; conflict between civilizations will supplant ideological and other forms of conflict as the dominant global form of conflict; international relations, historically a game played out within Western civilization, will increasingly be de-Westernized and become a game in which non-Western civilizations are actors and not simply objects; successful political, security and economic international institutions are more likely to develop within civilizations than across civilizations; conflicts between groups in different civilizations will be more frequent, more sustained and more violent than conflicts between groups in the same civilization; violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars; the paramount axis of world politics will be the relations between “the West and the Rest”; the elites in some torn non-Western countries will try to make their countries part of the West, but in most cases face major obstacles to accomplishing this; a central focus of conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states.
This is not to advocate the desirability of conflicts between civilizations. It is to set forth descriptive hypotheses as to what the future may be like. If these are plausible hypotheses, however, it is necessary to consider their implications for Western policy. These implications should be divided between short-term advantage and long-term accommodation. In the short term it is clearly in the interest of the West to promote greater cooperation and unity within its own civilization, particularly between its European and North American components; to incorporate into the West societies in Eastern Europe and Latin America whose cultures are close to those of the West; to promote and maintain cooperative relations with Russia and Japan; to prevent escalation of local inter-civilization conflicts into major inter-civilization wars; to limit the expansion of the military strength of Confucian and Islamic states; to moderate the reduction of counter military capabilities and maintain military superiority in East and Southwest Asia; to exploit differences and conflicts among Confucian and Islamic states; to support in other civilizations groups sympathetic to Western values and interests; to strengthen international institutions that reflect and legitimate Western interests and values and to promote the involvement of non-Western states in those institutions.
In the longer term other measures would be called for. Western civilization is both Western and modern. Non-Western civilizations have attempted to become modern without becoming Western. To date only Japan has fully succeeded in this quest. Non-Western civilization will continue to attempt to acquire the wealth, technology, skills, machines and weapons that are part of being modern. They will also attempt to reconcile this modernity with their traditional culture and values. Their economic and military strength relative to the West will increase. Hence the West will increasingly have to accommodate these non-Western modern civilizations whose power approaches that of the West but whose values and interests differ significantly from those of the West. This will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilizations. It will also, however, require the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests. It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilizations. For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others.
Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations Revisited
David Brooks, New York Times, March 2011
Samuel Huntington was one of America’s greatest political scientists. In 1993, he published a sensational essay in Foreign Affairs called “The Clash of Civilizations?” The essay, which became a book, argued that the post-cold war would be marked by civilizational conflict.
Human beings, Huntington wrote, are divided along cultural lines — Western, Islamic, Hindu and so on. There is no universal civilization. Instead, there are these cultural blocks, each within its own distinct set of values.
The Islamic civilization, he wrote, is the most troublesome. People in the Arab world do not share the general suppositions of the Western world. Their primary attachment is to their religion, not to their nation-state. Their culture is inhospitable to certain liberal ideals, like pluralism, individualism and democracy.
Huntington correctly foresaw that the Arab strongman regimes were fragile and were threatened by the masses of unemployed young men. He thought these regimes could fall, but he did not believe that the nations would modernize in a Western direction. Amid the tumult of regime change, the rebels would selectively borrow tools from the West, but their borrowing would be refracted through their own beliefs. They would follow their own trajectory and not become more Western.
The Muslim world has bloody borders, he continued. There are wars and tensions where the Muslim world comes into conflict with other civilizations. Even if decrepit regimes fell, he suggested, there would still be a fundamental clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. The Western nations would do well to keep their distance from Muslim affairs. The more the two civilizations intermingle, the worse the tensions will be.
Huntington’s thesis set off a furious debate. But with the historic changes sweeping through the Arab world, it’s illuminating to go back and read his argument today.
In retrospect, I’d say that Huntington committed the Fundamental Attribution Error. That is, he ascribed to traits qualities that are actually determined by context.
He argued that people in Arab lands are intrinsically not nationalistic. He argued that they do not hunger for pluralism and democracy in the way these things are understood in the West. But it now appears as though they were simply living in circumstances that did not allow that patriotism or those spiritual hungers to come to the surface.
It now appears that people in these nations, like people in all nations, have multiple authentic selves. In some circumstances, one set of identities manifests itself, but when those circumstances change, other equally authentic identities and desires get activated.
For most of the past few decades, people in Arab nations were living under regimes that rule by fear. In these circumstances, most people shared the conspiracy mongering and the political passivity that these regimes encouraged. But when the fear lessened, and the opportunity for change arose, different aspirations were energized. Over the past weeks, we’ve seen Arab people ferociously attached to their national identities. We’ve seen them willing to risk their lives for pluralism, openness and democracy.
I’d say Huntington was also wrong in the way he defined culture.
In some ways, each of us is like every person on earth; in some ways, each of us is like the members of our culture and group; and, in some ways, each of us is unique. Huntington minimized the power of universal political values and exaggerated the influence of distinct cultural values. It’s easy to see why he did this. He was arguing against global elites who sometimes refuse to acknowledge the power of culture at all.
But it seems clear that many people in Arab nations do share a universal hunger for liberty. They feel the presence of universal human rights and feel insulted when they are not accorded them.
Culture is important, but underneath cultural differences there are these universal aspirations for dignity, for political systems that listen to, respond to and respect the will of the people.
Finally, I’d say Huntington misunderstood the nature of historical change. In his book, he describes transformations that move along linear, projectable trajectories. But that’s not how things work in times of tumult. Instead, one person moves a step. Then the next person moves a step. Pretty soon, millions are caught up in a contagion, activating passions they had but dimly perceived just weeks before. They get swept up in momentums that have no central authority and that, nonetheless, exercise a sweeping influence on those caught up in their tides.
I write all this not to denigrate the great Huntington. He may still be proved right. The Arab world may modernize on its own separate path. But his mistakes illuminate useful truths: that all people share certain aspirations and that history is wide open. The tumult of events can transform the traits and qualities that seemed, even to great experts, etched in stone.
The Invasion of Iraq and the Clash Within Civilizations
Khaled Diab, Huffington Post, 2013
This year marks not only the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq but also the 20th anniversary of the clash of civilizations theory which made it possible. But Samuel P. Huntington was wrong.
A decade has passed since the blood-drenched invasion of Iraq began, unleashing a wave of destruction not seen in that part of the world since at least the Mongol sacking of Baghdad in the mid-13th century.
Unsurprisingly, the 10th anniversary has prompted immense media attention, in the United States and Europe, as well as in Iraq itself and the broader Middle East. In light of the carnage that has ensued following that fateful decision to invade, a lot of the public debate has focused on whether the war was justified and worthwhile.
The cheerleaders of the war argue that the invasion was just, the subsequent carnage was an unfortunate but collateral consequence of a benign act of goodwill, and that errors were made in the execution of the campaign but the principle was essentially sound.
Critics, like myself, see the wholesale destruction of Iraq and the chaos besetting it — which was chillingly illustrated by the deadly car bombings which rocked Bagdad on the 10th anniversary — as clear proof that U.S.-led intervention was not only unjustified but flawed.
In order to understand why, we need to rewind another 10 years, back to another important anniversary which has largely fallen under the media’s radar. Through some fluke of history, the theory which largely justified the Iraq war and provided it with its ideological underpinning was formulated exactly a decade earlier.
In an incredibly influential essay published 20 years ago in Foreign Affairs, the late Samuel P. Huntington first outlined his clash of civilizations theory which he later elaborated on and fleshed out in a book published in 1996.
Huntington argued that “the fundamental source of conflict” in the post-Cold War era would be not ideological or economic but “cultural”. “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future,” the Harvard professor argued.
Huntington divided the world into some half a dozen major civilizational groups which, he posited, would clash at two levels: local “fault line conflicts” where civilizations overlap and “core state conflicts” between the major states of different civilizations.
On the 20th anniversary of this controversial theory and given how influential it has been and remains, it is useful to analyze whether or not Huntington was right. Has a clash of civilizations emerged, as Huntington predicted, over the past two decades?
Supporters of Huntington’s hypothesis answer with an unequivocal “yes”. They point to the inhumane atrocities committed in the United States by Islamic extremists on 11 September 2001, the subsequent clash with al Qaeda, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the rise of Islamist parties during the “Arab Spring” as confirmation that a clash is underway.
Critics, like the scholar Noam Chomsky, have maintained that the clash of civilizations is simply the symptom of an empire, i.e. Pax Americana, in search of another justification for its imperial aspirations after the Cold War paradigm fell apart with the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
The late Edward Said, the renowned author of Orientalism, saw in Huntington’s theory an extension of the pseudo-scientific Orientalist scholarship which had been used for at least a couple of centuries to justify European and Western hegemony. In an essay entitled The Clash of Ignorances¸ published shortly after 9/11, Said argued that Huntington ignored “the internal dynamics and plurality of every civilization” and “the fact that the major contest in most modern cultures concerns the definition or interpretation of each culture”.
Personally, I find that, though the idea, in one form or another, of a clash of civilizations is as old as the hills — examples include the historical notions of jihads and crusades, not to mention the idea of “civilization” versus “barbarity” espoused by most dominant powers throughout the centuries — this does not make it any more valid or true.
Far more often than not, what has been dressed up as a clash of values is really just a clash of interests parading as something less selfish than it actually is. Although culture and ideology can, on rare occasions, lead to conflict, for the most part, societies enter into conflicts due to clashes of interests.
And in such a context, proximity is traditionally a far greater cause of friction than culture. That is why conflicts within self-identified cultural or civilizational groups are often greater than those between them. Over the centuries, Christians and Muslims have gone to war and killed more of their coreligionists than each other, as the carnage of two world wars in Europe shows all too clearly.
That would explain, for instance, why the United States decided to invade Saddam Hussein’s secular Iraq, even though it was a sworn enemy of al Qaeda and jihadist Islam, yet is bosom buddies with Saudi Arabia, the hotbed of reactionary Wahhabism, which it exports around the region and the world, and the home of most of the hijackers who took part in the September 11 attacks.
And alliances which cut across supposed civilizational lines have an ancient pedigree. Examples include the Arabs allying themselves with the British and the French against the Turks, or the Ottomans fighting alongside the Germans in World War I against the British, French and Russians. In fact, throughout its centuries as a major power, the Ottoman Empire’s alliances shifted between various Christian European states, including France, Poland, as well as the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic House of Habsburg.
Moreover, Huntington’s hypothesis is further undermined by what I like to call the “mash of civilizations”. Each so-called civilization is actually a volatile, constantly changing hybrid of ideas and cultural influences.
In fact, if we must group civilizations together, then I would place the West and Islam in the same group because they both share common roots in the Abrahamic tradition, not to mention the Greek and Hellenistic, Mesopotamian and Egyptian influences, as well as the modern importance of the Enlightenment, not just for Western reform movements but also for secularising and modernising movements in the Middle East. I would go so far as to say that Europe and the Middle East, especially the Mediterranean countries, have more in common with each other than they do with their co-religionists in Africa and further east in Asia.
So, if there has not been a clash of civilizations, what has emerged since the end of the Cold War?
At one level, there are the brewing clashes of interests between the great powers, as America tries to hold on to its waning global reach, Russia tries to claw back the influence it lost following the implosion of the Soviet Union and China, after years of quiet growth in the background, begins to flex its muscles on the foreign stage, both to advance its emerging “strategic interests” and for prestige.
On another level, cultures have clashed, but not between civilizations, as Huntington believed they would, but within them. This clash within civilizations is currently playing itself out most visibly in the Middle East.
In addition to the sectarian monster unleashed by the anarchy in Iraq, the revolutionary wave that has swept through the region has brought to the fore, and into sharp relief, the major fault lines and clashes within each society and, to a lesser extent, between them. There are the conflicts between the secular and religious, between majorities and minorities, between women and men, between the young and old, between modernists and traditionalists, between the haves and have-nots, and so on.
Although less pronounced, at least for the time being, these same internal tensions are being witnessed in the West, as reflected in the rising influence of Christian fundamentalism in the United States and the extreme right in Europe, as well as the large-scale social protests, from years of street battles in Greece to the Occupy Wall Street movement of the “99%”.
In Europe, particularly, class conflict is intensifying on the back of the economic crisis triggered by neo-liberal excess, as the poor and middle-classes are forced, through bailouts and austerity, to finance what has effectively become a welfare state for the rich. This is putting in jeopardy not only the much-vaunted European social model but also the EU enterprise itself.
If the European Union is not reinvented along more equitable lines and emerges out of this crisis, instead, much weakened, then it will likely leave a petty-nationalistic sized hole in the European arena which could eventually cause the conflicts currently taking place within individual countries to spill across borders.
In the second decade of the 21st century, a major challenge facing us all is not the clash of civilizations but the clash within civilizations. This internal cultural struggle is largely caused by the growing socio-economic inequalities that have emerged in just about every country in the world.
If these inequities are not addressed effectively, at both the local and global levels, then intolerance will grow and conflicts will continue to consume individual societies, with the danger that they will spill over into other countries, potentially spiraling out of control.