Clash of Ideologies
Rather than Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations"
By Salman J. Borhani
April 28, 2004
The notion of a "Clash of Civilizations" has
received wide spread attention, especially after the events of
11. It seems especially relevant
in a world which is marked by inter-religious strife in every corner of the world.
Yet, Samuel Huntington's proposition of an epic clash is based on several
questionable premises. An analysis brings
to the fore a basic puzzle that must be answered: If the Clash of Civilizations
in inevitable, why have intra-civilization conflicts and inter-civilization cooperation
Indeed, Huntington's views seem to be based on circumstantial evidence
and his conclusions ignore trends of cooperation that have existed for centuries
between civilizations. The purpose of this paper is to attempt to show how Huntington's
view, although tempting to accept in the current atmosphere, is based upon questionable
There is no doubt that civilizations, as defined
by Huntington, exist in the world today. In fact they are a powerful
force in the world today, as shown through
organizations such as the European Union or the Arab League. If we are to accept
that these organizations represent the tendency to aggregate along cultural
lines, then logically we must conclude that any civilization-based
conflicts would occur
along the lines of such organizations.
Yet, we have not seen any pan-Arab/pan-European
conflicts since the time of the Crusades. Conflicts that have occurred have
been between states, not civilizations. A telling example is the
Arab-Israeli conflict. The continuing strife has often been cited
as an example of a clash
between the Judeo-Christian world and the
forces of Islam. Yet, the characterization of this conflict as a cultural
or even religious war is misguided. The Arab-Israeli conflict has
a conflict based upon nationalism, not culture or religion.
In fact, Christian
Arabs have often sided with the Palestinians and while there is widespread
for the Palestinians in Europe, while American public opinion has traditionally
sided with the Israelis. If this conflict was based on a clash of civilizations,
we would see much more homogenous support of the two sides. The Arab world
has never been able to unite in the face of Israeli actions and the Europeans
usually been at odds with both the United States and Israel.
Proponents of Huntington's view also point to the
rise of Al-Qaeda and anti-Americanism in the Islamic world as an
example of inter-civilization
conflict. Although claiming to speak for the Islamic world, Al-Qaeda also
a threat to Muslim countries. It has never spared Muslims in its attacks
specifically targeted civilians in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and
Further, recent polls have indicated that Muslim
apathy toward the United
States does not extend toward European countries or the American people
Western values. Anti-Americanism arises out of specific actions by
the government of
the United States that are perceived in the Muslim world as threatening
Huntington points to the "kin-country syndrome"
in attempting to prove that countries will come to the aid of fellow
that share cultural ties
with them. If we are to base civilizations along religious lines, then
how can we explain Iranian support of Christian Armenia in its
brutal conflict with Azerbaijan
or the worldwide condemnation of the invasion of Iraq? The kin-country
syndrome is a reality in many instances, yet there are enough counterexamples
it from becoming a rule.
Huntington's theory assumes that civilizations are
homogenous enough to promote intra-civilization cooperation. Huntington
the rise of regional organizations as an example. Yet, such organizations
are usually created to gain economic leverage over other blocs,
not to divide the
world along cultural lines.
The Economic Cooperation Organization might be an
all-Islamic club, but its purpose is not to promote Islam as a rallying
force, rather to use the efficacy of a regional organization to
increase economic growth.
Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan expanded ECO to the former communist states
mainly to serve as spigots to the huge new market Central Asia
example, groups the United States with the Pacific Rim countries
in an effort to coordinate economic policy. No one claims that
organization would lead
to civilization-based strife. Further, NAFTA groups the Anglo-American
states of the United States and Canada with Latin American Mexico.
serve economic policies, not cultural ones, and are usually formed
in respect to geographical realities rather than cultural affinity.
Huntington is correct when he states that the world
is getting smaller. No one can deny the fact that technological
have brought civilizations
together. Yet, proximity does not inevitably give rise to conflict.
States has been home to every civilization known to man, yet its
system of laws and civil rights has allowed for a relative peace
different ethnic groups.
A certain degree of tension always exists
when civilizations come
together in close proximity, yet multi-cultural societies such
as the United States, Lebanon, and Canada have shown that harmony
can be achieved
contact is regulated by an equitable legal system.
The clash of civilizations is ultimately based upon
the argument that different factors are converging in the world
that will ultimately
boundaries and create an identity based on pan-national civilization.
This idea formed
the basis of the failed experiment in pan-Arabism and today is
the underlying rationale
of anti-globalization activists. Alarmists point to increasing
regionalism based along cultural lines and the power of supposed "supranational" organizations
such as the World Bank.
Yet, evidence has shown that increased regionalism
does not automatically equate to the demise of the nation-state.
In fact, the rise of
and international organizations are a result of rational calculations
by national governments that usually are based on realist perceptions
The EU was formulated in a way that would try to ensure
French domination, Japan pushed ASEAN to re-establish its historic
in the Far
East, and the former
CENTO states created and expanded ECO to serve as the gateways
for Central Asia's wealth.
Organizations such as these represent
through the use of collective action that correspond to these goals.
If these organizations were created to form conflicting blocs,
we would expect
organizations to easily be able to form standing armies and pursue
aggressive common policies. Yet, the Organization of Islamic Conference
Arab League can barely come up with acceptable communiqués
at the end of their usually chaotic meetings, much less come up
with common policies that would threaten
Western civilization. Such intra-civilization strife proves that
the nation-state is no where near its demise.
Thus we return to our original puzzle: if the clash
of civilizations in inevitable, why does intra-civilization conflict
The answer lies in the fact that societies, as whole, still identify
with their nation-state and, as such, national goals and aspirations
remain paramount. It is difficult to forge a common identity across
when so many
different forces pull societies in different directions.
Huntington's ideas are not based upon delusions,
however. A clash exists in the world, although not necessarily
more aptly call it a "Clash of Ideologies", for we see striking
commonalities between ideologies that cross national boundaries.
Religious intolerance, for
example, is not a product of the East or West. Rather it a phenomena
prevalent in all societies, from David Kouresh to Osama bin Ladin.
Racism has affected
every civilization. Greed and corruption appear in all
societies. Discrimination against women is common to all civilizations,
in one form or another.
Democratic movements are present everywhere. It might be true
that religious bigots, for example, might be in the ascendancy
in certain civilizations.
challenge is to realize that a threat emanating from a different
civilization is not a threat that arises out of the civilization
itself and does not represent
an intention to promote a clash between civilizations. Rather,
the "Clash of Ideologies" represents a chance for democratic
movements across civilizations
to stamp out religious extremism, discrimination, and violence
Salman J. Borhani is a graduate student at the Whitehead
School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall in
South Orange, New Jersey.
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