This is a masterpiece of scare mongering, not recommended for the faint of heart. Sage Huntington can make you groan inside: omg, tomorrow there will...moreThis is a masterpiece of scare mongering, not recommended for the faint of heart. Sage Huntington can make you groan inside: omg, tomorrow there will be a massive conspiracy between the democracy-hating Sinic and Islamic civilizations (whatever that means) to destroy our democracy, civilized society and freedom and push us back to the Dark Ages. Don’t you see how they’ve already started infiltrating the US government with an African Muslim communist called Obama? And hapless America will heroically fight that struggle against evil and oppression until the end of time and come out gloriously victorious. But before that, we need to fight terror, terror, terror and build more aircrafts, missiles, military bases and bomb the shit out of them if necessary. I’m sorry I can’t pass this test of valor and courage, before this apocalypse happens, I’d rather drive to Mars. A rather depressing thought.
So much for the ranting. Now the serious stuff.
Samuel Huntington laid out his analysis of conflicts in the Post Cold War world in his article in 1993: 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
He divides the world into 8 major “civilizations”: sinic, western, orthodox Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Japanese, Latin American, African, and basically says that in the future, when the age of ideology is over, the cultural and civilizational rifts will be the main cause of conflicts. The only way the West can survive is to get stronger both militarily and economically and ally with civilizations sympathetic to itself to fight against the rise of Islamic and Confucian countries (i.e China).
This line of argument has some major flaws. First, it defines civilization as an all-encompassing and monolithic concept and ignores all the interaction and diversity within one culture. How would you define Islamic civilization? Islam of Saudi Arabia? Indonesia? Iran? Dubai? Similarly for all the rest.
But more importantly, often I find this kind of confrontational mind-set rather dangerous. It takes conflicts out of context and strips them of their much wider and more complex socio-political backdrop and reduces them to over simplistic terms of “us vs. them”, “cultural differences” or “civilizational faultlines”. But I never believe in such things, I never believe that people have enough time sitting on their ass and hating another group just because their culture and religion are different. If people fight, that must be for a reason, often one group are conquered or oppressed and resist, otherwise, economic reasons such as land, exploitation or resources. Invoking jealousy or ethnic hatred to explain conflict is a chauvinistic and foolish way of looking at it. The Vietnamese did not hate the Americans because the Americans drove cars and watched tv while the Vietnamese slogged behind buffalos. The Palestinians don’t hate the Israelis because the Israelis have swimming pools and have nuclear warheads. The Afghans hated the Russians not because the Russians rode tanks and had an empire. It’s never about jealousy, all about conquest, oppression, injustice and subjugation. Aren't these legitimate things to hate?
Conflicts are always about the conqueror and the dominated, about power and oppression, never so much about ideology or ethnic hatred. And if there’s an element of ethnic hatred, it often has a lot to do with the way the power structure was distorted to favour a group to oppress another during the colonial period. Need I say any more about Algeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Bosnia? But then again, don’t take my word because I might be oversimplifying things as well.
I find Huntington’s idea dangerous also because it represents a primordialistic world view, in which people are inherently and inevitably different, therefore, conflicts are unavoidable. Once you talk about something grand and presumably rigid and static in this case like civilization and culture as an innate part of human nature and as causes of war, you’re heading for a dead end. If people are inherently irrational, antagonistic, confrontational, aggressive, then what’s the point in preventing war and addressing political issues underlying them? That’s it, we’re doomed.
So let’s put all this in context because it’s the last thing this book would ever do. After the end of the Cold War, America came out as the sole superpower. So people started asking: ok, now the Russians are gone, why don’t we reduce our military budget and invest more in education, healthcare, aid to the third world, technology, infrastructure? Why do we need this half a trillion dollar military budget when we have massive social problems at home in this most advanced industrialized country? So America needed to invent something to replace the Russians to justify all that. Shush, it can’t be about the humongous profits for the military industrial complex, it can’t be about defending our corporate interests overseas. So voila, that must be the clash of civilization. America is perpetually at war with other rival civilizations, especially Islam. The paradigm of the West vs. the Rest never changed. Gone with the Russians, in with the Muslims. That’s why we need $500b in military spending (6 times the second largest, China, and the Pentagon squeaks) and 700 military bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Djibouti, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the list goes on.
After 9/11, this book rocketed in influence because now obviously, the Islamic world is waging war against America. The real civilization clash IS happening. How scary indeed. Huntington even declared: "It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power” and hate people “who are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world."
But the attack led by a group with a couple of thousand members (or say, even a million, still 0.1% of total Muslim population) against a country with a population of 1/4 of the “West” is defined as a civilizational war. Very representative huh? Some of them are Saudi, er but let’s forget that for a moment because that’s our closest friend in the region, although rather nasty bastards…
So yes, Huntington would easily dust off his hands and say this has nothing to do with US foreign policies in the Middle East at all. They hate us because we love freedom, democracy and we’re more civilized than them. Because this pre-renaissance backward fanatical people hate progress and are jealous of us living in our first world luxury. This rhetoric has been parroted again and again and again by Emperor Bush and his friends to justify his increasingly militant approach in the ME. Oh, there’s no limit to chauvinism and ignorance in this world.
Truly, I’d be rather upset if Americans buy this lie. The idea of CoC obscures the real grievances and frustration of people in the Middle East at many decades of American dominance in the region. Let’s remind ourselves that America is great friends with the despots of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel, the PLO (rather a rocky friendship), the mujahedeen (who gives a shit about Islamic fundamentalism if all we cared about was to kick ass the Russians out of Afghanistan), Jordan and a long time ago, Iran and Iraq. And many other friends that torture its citizens under US auspices (politics jargon: extraordinary rendition). Could anyone still say it has nothing to do with politics at all?
Finally, is it just me or anyone else that finds the idea of a respected professor writing such provocative arguments seemingly not to mitigate the problem but to aggravate it, to defend “our” superiority at all cost, rather disturbing? Is this honest and balanced historical analysis or is there a hidden agenda behind? I’m not good at conspiracy theory, but mind you, this guy’s book in the 1960s advocating stable dictatorships to achieve economic development over troublesome democracies also had great influence on US foreign policy in Africa and Asia. No wonder why America loved some dictators and overthrew a couple of trouble makers. Expert on democracy and civilization indeed.