Alternative Insight

The Non-Clash of Civilizations

The most significant impact of Samuel P. Huntington's provocative article, The Clash of Civilizations, Foreign Affairs Magazine, summer 1993, results from those who use the content to subjugate the Arab world and dominate its territory and resources.

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 mankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nations 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. Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world.

Huntington expanded the article to a subsequent book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of a New World Order, Simon & Schuster, 1996. It is still debated whether his historical analysis is correct or whether he only redefined terms (conflict, culture, civilization, fault lines) and selectively chose moments of history, clashes and battlegrounds in order to prove his case.

Responses to several questions might provide the answer to the worth of Huntington's thesis:

Civilizations and their Clashes
History shows that civilizations have primarily solidified from clashes among themselves or with neighboring tribes. Events in the 21st century continue the pattern.

Religion played a major part in the development of several civilizations. Many leaders allied religion with their efforts; Western nations and Catholicism, Arab empire and Islam, Ottoman empire and Islam, Russian empire under the Tsars and Russian Orthodox, United States and "Onward Christian soldiers." Nations used the alliances to unify and control their peoples. Religion has shown to be a tool for expansion of civilization and not a force that directs the civilization.

Huntington attempted to redefine the characteristics that change the course of history. To do this he developed a jargon with definitions that contribute to his thesis:

All of this is erudite and scholarly. But is any of it new? Does it imply a "clash of civilizations?"

The Causes of Clashes
No matter how it's sliced, diced, proposed or presented, governments and not people, determine clashes between nations. Nations clash when their economic interests are threatened or when they find an opportunity to expand economic interests. Western civilization's capitalist system is characterized by constant change, which means it must grow to increase profit. The growth demands expansion of markets and capture of sufficient resources to maintain industrial output. Cultural identity and civilization may arouse the troops but they don't provide the friction for clashes.

(1) If the Shiites in southern Iraq weren't able to obtain massive oil fields, would they want a federated state based upon cultural identity?
(2) Hasn't Iraq always been a Cleft country and hasn't it had internal strife due to its composition?
(3) Didn't Iraq and Kuwait, two countries of the same "civilization," have a fault line that caused Iraq to wage a war against its neighboring Arab country?
(4) Isn't the entire world (Canada, Belgium, Great Britain, Ukraine, etc.) composed of "torn countries?"
(5) Did the fact that Japan is a "lone country" prevent it from spreading its loneliness in an attempt to achieve hegemony over all Asia?
(6) Although China might be the core country of Confucianism, has it rallied to the assistance of other Confucianists in Asian countries, especially in Indonesia?

Examine carefully all the major strifes in the world; Sudan, Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Congo, Iraq, Northern Ireland and those in Latin American countries, and the facades of cultural or religious conflicts are replaced by the actual reasons for the conflicts: oppression, territorial gain, domination, economic advantage, unfair distribution of power. All the conflicts might be resolved if justice prevailed. Perceived injustice, the umbrella for all the reasons, is the cause of the conflicts.

Huntington mentions the dominance of Western civilization:

The West is overwhelmingly dominant now and will remain number one in terms of power and influence well into the twenty-first century. Gradual, inexorable, and fundamental changes are also occurring in the balances of power among civilizations, and the power of the West relative to that of other civilizations will continue to decline.
Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and..., p. 82.

The paragraph might be more correct if we replace the word "civilizations" with the words "economic interests." Will the West battle to maintain dominance of its "civilization" or to maintain dominance of its "economic interests?"

Have the conflicts between western nations and Middle East nations been deliberately mis-characterized as a "clash of civilizations" in order to disguise the attempts by the western nations of the United States, Great Britain and Israel to dominate the Middle East?

The Conflict Between the Western and Arab Worlds
According to Huntington, a civilization requires a core state. The Arab world, which is sometimes termed the Islamic world, has no core state. No core state implies no civilization.

The nations of the Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq, have common language, religion and customs but no unification, cohesion, cooperation, common political systems and trust in one another. Practically all of them have 'quasi' secular governments and only four highly populated nations, Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent, Sudan, Libya and Morocco, can be considered to be "Moslem" governed nations. Previously secular Iraq might become a Moslem nation; a condition that is directly opposite to that desired by the Western world.

Islam covers a large part of the globe and so do Catholicism and Buddhism. There is no more relation between states that practice Islam in Asia, Africa and the Middle East than there is among the states that practice Catholicism in South America, North America and Europe. There is no more conflict between the West and the Arab States or Islam than between the West and, quoting Huntington, "the rest." In fact, the Arab states pose less threat to the west than many other nations. What economic or military threat can the Arab world present to western nations, now or in the future? Talk China. Talk Japan. How about Brazil and its friends? Talk any of these, and maybe there is a case for clashes, far fetched, but still possible.

Some western nations have problems with Radical Islam, which is a relatively small group of fanatical Moslems when compared to the 1.2 billion worldwide Muslims. Radical Islam perceives that some western and Middle East nations transgress on their beliefs. Its adherents accuse those nations of being determined to suppress their concept of Islam and reduce it to non-existence. The terrorist actions of Radical Islamists and their support for rebel groups of Moslem persuasion demand counter-actions that will completely extinguish terrorism and demolish the effectiveness of its insurgents. The counter-actions can be military but they can also be political and social. Nevertheless, the battle against terrorism should not be misused to create a battle against Arab states and Islam. America's hawks, Israel's government and to a lesser extent, Great Britain's confused leaders, have attempted to do that, and chillingly, they have academic support.

From Huntington's article "The Cash of Civilizations," Summer 1993, Foreign Affairs:

The West's "next confrontation" observes M.J. Akbur, an Indian Muslim author. "is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin." Bernard Lewis comes to a similar conclusion.

M.J. Akbur's remarks must have surprised Morocco's King Hassan. His military could hardly beat the miniscule Polisario rebel movement and he has suddenly become powerful. Tunisia and Saudi Arabia - part of a new world order? The nations from the Maghreb (Maghreb sounds more dramatic than Morocco.) to Pakistan (which many believe is not even a nation) will probably implode before they can explode. It's more likely they will be swept under before they pick up an offensive broom.

So, is there a "clash of civilizations?"

The Clash of Civilizations
Samuel P. Huntington mentioned a major consideration that might cause future clashes; revenge.

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.
Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and..., p. 51.

A major critic of Huntington's theses, Seizaburo Sato, Professor of Political Science, Tokyo University, added a coda to Huntington's remarks:

It might also be noted that Christianity was not born in the West, nor was Classical Greek civilization of Western origin.
Seizaboro Sato, The Clash of Civilizations: A view from Japan, Asia Pacific Review, Oct. 1997.

The Tokyo professor expresses an alternate vision to a clash of civilizations

Modern industrial civilization surpasses the classic civilizations in universality, and the contrasts between them in thinking and behavior patterns are great. The fundamental role of the mature classic civilization was to maintain and preserve the established ways of life, from thinking patterns to social order.
In contrast, modern industrial civilization is characterized by constant change, and its driving force has been the desire to improve man's ability to control his environment. Thus when it comes to the clash of civilizations, the most violent conflicts are those between a classic civilization and a modern industrial civilization, as was the case with the Opium Wars. In this sense, and contrary to Huntington's assertion, it was during the period often called the "Age of Imperialism," from the mid-nineteenth century into the twentieth century, that the clash of civilizations reached its highest peak.

What Huntington calls the "clash of civilizations" is in fact neither a clash between classic civilizations and modern civilization. The conflicts that have arisen are a result of the diffusion worldwide of industrial civilization...

Huntington started with an hypothesis: "The fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic," -and fashioned a classical treatise that failed to prove his fundamental conclusion : "The great divisions among mankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural." His book would have remained an interesting perspective of future history, but those who desire dominance of the Arab world and its oil resources publicized the book as proof of the necessity for their aggressive intentions. It became popularized and Huntington became exalted.

The destruction of Iraq, a nation that could have been a core state of a revived and more independent Arab world, is only a start of destruction mis-labeled as a "clash of civilizations." Contrary to M.J. Akbur, we are more likely to expect the expanse of territory from the Maghreb to Pakistan to be subdued to the economic and political interests of others. Contrary to Huntington, a "clash of civilizations," which implies large and mighty armies at "fault lines" engaging each other, we have small groups challenging distant nations. The Western world realizes that it is under violent attack by combinations of angry and alienated peoples who can greatly damage infrastructure, economies and populations. The Western world has not recognized that, for the most part, the alienation and anger results from Western nations having attacked peoples in several areas and these attacks persist without a foreseeable end.

september 1, 2005


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