- The Validity of Samuel P. Huntington’s Thesis in “The Clash of Civilizat
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Huntington maintained that Islam and the West will continue to collide because of the presence of certain cultural characteristics on each side which antagonise and provoke the other. On the Western side, the fault lies in its aspiration to universalise its culture.
The Validity of Samuel P. Huntington’s Thesis in “The Clash of Civilizat
Islamic and Sinic nations will cultivate decent inter-relations in order to damage and defeat their common foe and adversary; that of the West. For evidence of this, Huntington pointed to the selling of weapons and armoury between the two civilisations which exists to counterbalance and indeed, to confront the supremacy of the West. Today, Huntington has his fair share of both supporters and critics. They point to the nature of the contemporary Islamic world with the rise of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban as well as puritanical movements such as Salafism, which is becoming a more popular expression of Islam; arguing that this is sufficient evidence that humans in general and Muslims in particular are becoming more attached to their individual civilisations.
In the face of these terrible events, there is a human need for quick answers. Muslims attacked New York and London because as Muslims, they are at complete odds with the Western world. These acts of terrorism are nothing new; this is what Muslims have been doing for centuries.
Indeed, the strength and effectiveness of such quick fixes can be ascertained by the fact that various commentators who were former critics of Huntington, such as Robert Kaplan and Fouad Ajami, reverted their stance and become wholesale supporters of the clash worldview. The first major criticism takes the shape of objection at his concept of civilisations.
In his writings, Huntington presented civilisations as homogenous foundations, they are seen to be static and everlasting; yet, most people would argue that this is more or less impossible. Civilisations are multi-faceted and incredibly diverse and this holds true even for the world of Islam. Some examples will help to demonstrate this point further.
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Likewise, history has preserved many instances of Muslim states attacking other Muslim states, whether in the first Gulf War, in Syria supporting Christian fighters in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War, or in Egypt sending weapons to arm groups in Yemen in the North Yemen Civil War. These occurrences serve to illustrate that Muslims, like any other group, are plagued by internal divisions and ruptures. The very concept of a united Islamic civilisation is thus put into severe suspicion. Not all Muslims see their personal identity as inherently clashing with the West — European and American Muslims are a living examples of this.
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In the thesis, there is a lack of reflection on this diversity, meaning that Huntington was guilty of dangerously misrepresenting and oversimplifying Islam. However, Muslims, like any other religious or cultural group, possess numerous identity forms and not all of these have to result in conflict with the West.
This reinforces that Islam is not the ultimate enemy of the West, weakening the thesis of the clash of civilisations. The clash of civilisations thesis also ignores the very recent history of colonialism, and how this dramatically affects relationships between those who govern and those are governed.
Huntington overlooks this important distinction. His core argument was that future conflicts would be shaped by cultural and civilizational differences rather than ideology. After all, even the phrase The Clash of Civilizations is enough to form a rudimentary picture of a world of cultural strife. Yet Huntington was building on a much longer intellectual heritage, drawing from the writings of Toynbee, Bagby, and others.
Huntington posited that, with the collapse of ideological struggle at the end of the Cold War, Western-style modernization is, in effect, the only game in town. Indeed, for Huntington, culture was paramount. As he noted, cultural characteristics cannot be altered as easily as ideology, class, or other factors. And while he made a few nods to balance-of-power considerations — he allowed that states may ally across civilizational lines when necessary — Huntington argued that future conflicts will be primarily found in civilizational borderlands and driven by opposition to Western economic and military dominance in the rapidly growing non-West.
Many of the factors that he drew upon to build his argument are indisputable: the Western world is disproportionally wealthy, overrepresented in international institutions, and militarily powerful, though its dominance is declining. And there is likely something to his assertion that states which share a cultural background may be more likely to cooperate: similar arguments have been made by political scientists to explain alliances. As Jeane Kirkpatrick pointed out, most of the bloodiest wars of the twentieth century took place within civilizations rather than between them.
The period since seems to bear him out more effectively: opposition to the West in the Middle East is certainly growing. And while Huntington largely dismissed realist views of world politics, the events he cited — most notably resistance to Western global dominance — could as easily be explained as a process of realist balancing by rising powers like China against the global hegemon.
Huntington was correct that both Russia and China have attempted to build larger regional alliances, whether ideological, economic, or military. Yet both have been unsuccessful: the states of Central Asia have repeatedly pursued multi-vector foreign policies, seeking ties with Europe, the United States, and China, not a recreation of Soviet-era economic and political ties. Meanwhile, under pressure from China, Asian states have sought closer defense ties with the United States, most notably Vietnam.
Bush, strongly influenced by neoconservative ideals, and that of Barack Obama, which tended towards liberal internationalism, both rejected this idea in the strongest terms.
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Bannon has even praised Alexander Dugin, proponent of Eurasianism, a Russian strand of traditionalist, nationalist, far-right political thought. Yet as the author himself pointed out, the article title included a rarely noticed question mark. While some of these have not aged well — his argument in favor of NATO expansion now seems particularly poorly thought out — his central arguments remain pertinent.
The ideological origins of great power politics: June 23, The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. The field of fight: how we can win the global war against radical Islam and its allies. New York: St. And obviously Hitler and the Nazis.