THE ‘CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS’ THESIS
A CRITICAL APPRAISAL
Numerous challenging paradigms, most being initiated in the West, particularly in the United States, have cropped up. The connection is, in fact, noteworthy because it demonstrates the knowledge-power relationship in international relations. If the US could disguise its empire-building project and legitimize its aggressive foreign policy behaviour as a necessary defensive posture to contain the threat of communism and the USSR in the Cold War era, it could not continue to do so after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. It was, therefore, in a greater need of legitimizing discourses that many American and European intellectuals of the right and liberal centre seemed eager to provide. Of these legitimizing discourses, the one that earned the most attention was Samuel P. Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis.
Huntington called out a typical shift to grasp post-Cold War global politics as he apprehended that inter-civilizational issues were replacing inter-superpower ones. He writes:
“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 dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”
Huntington argued that the fault lines between civilizations halted from differences in socio-political values. The civilizations had unlike values on the board of relations between God and man, the individual and 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.
Further enquiring of Huntington’s theory can explain the various critiques upon it because this was not a universally adopted methodology, and due to the modernist and post-modernist approach. In the context of modern theorists, there is no such theory that can give explanation to all the causes and their consequences because of the complexity of situations.
The article’s most controversial statement came when Huntington demonized Islam by suggesting a linkage between Islam and violence. He wrote:
“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.”
Huntington reckoned six reasons for intra-Islamic and extra-Islamic violence. Among them, militarism, less-adaptability, and proximity to non-Muslim groups explained the Muslim conflict proclivity throughout history while anti-Muslim prejudice, absence of core state in Islam and demographic explosion in Muslim societies were responsible for Muslim violence in the late twentieth century.
The remarkable portion of Huntington’s thesis dealt with policy recommendations. About US domestic policy, Huntington stressed the need for tightening immigration and assimilating immigrants and minorities to increase civilizational harmony. He preferred Americanization and denounced multiculturalism as it, in his opinion, weakened the American creed. Huntington’s guidelines on US foreign policy pressed the importance of maintaining Western technological and military superiority over other civilizations, and non-interference in the affairs of other civilizations.
The confrontational ideas underlying Huntington’s theory attracted immense criticism.
The criticism on the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis can be categorized under three heads: epistemological, methodological and ethical.
Epistemological criticism claims that the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis does not turn up with any new pattern because it precisely fits into political realism. This thesis is nothing new; it is the identical Cold War methodology rebranded for maximum impact. This repackaging for a brand-new generation became essential because the old enemy, the Soviet Union, now did not exist. Huntington trailed a Cold War mentality where war would be considered decisive for continuing the Western technological and military superiority. The epistemological critique also states that the thesis is orientalist. It contends that the language being used in Huntington’s thesis of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ is a perceptive way of orientalists. While the epistemological criticism also finds out the fault line in Huntington’s theory which is an elitist approach, some theorists argue that it is not a clash between civilizations, but rather one of the interests of the opponent elites of the US and Islam.
Methodological criticism matters on the monolithic outset of civilizations which neglects the polycentric structure of both worlds. Huntington ignored the core dynamics, plurality and many complexities of Islam and the Muslim world, as there is no single Islamic culture but multiple centres of Islam and various types of political Islam and Islamism in the Muslim world owing to the confrontation of Islamic culture to different geographical boundaries. The methodological criticism also determines the discrepancies in Huntington’s thesis because of the overgeneralization involved in his grip on history. For example, the Gulf War is a chapter of ‘clash of state interests’ rather than a ‘clash of civilizations’. Similarly, criticism also occurred on Huntington’s interpretation of the Armenia–Azerbaijan conflict as a civilizational clash meanwhile Muslim Iran had more friendly relations with Christian Armenia than with Muslim Azerbaijan. The methodological criticism also attacks the reduction of multiple causes of inter- and intra-national conflict, thereby essentializing the civilizational factor as the prime reason.
Ethical critics like Noam Chomsky condemn the immoral implications of Huntington’s thesis. Fascinatingly, the personal ambition of Huntington was in attachment with the expansionary goals of US policymakers. The statement of a leeway of the World War III by Huntington accommodates well with the needs of the US arms industry. Chomsky pinpoints that every year the White House gives to Congress a statement describing aims for having a huge military budget. For fifty years, it used the ruse of a Soviet threat. However, after the end of the Cold War, that ploy was gone. Therefore, Huntington constructed the Islamic threat as a pretext to justify the need for continuing and improving the defence-industrial base.
To fairly conclude, all the most appropriate discussion would be the differences in terminologies used by Huntington. As he used the terms culture, civilization, and identity in quiet places while explaining the clash of civilizations. And most importantly he underestimated the concepts of religion while overestimated the prosperity of US savagery. That is the sum of critics upon the theory of the clash of civilizations. The epistemological critique condemns the clash of civilizations thesis on grounds of its realist, orientalist, and elitist outlook. The methodological critique attacks its monolithic, inconsistent and reductionist and essentialist attitude while the ethical critique denounces it for being a purposeful thesis that fuels enemy discourse and, in the process, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The author is a student from Department of History,