Term Paper: Clash of Civilizations Samuel P. Huntington's Book

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¶ … Clash of Civilizations

Samuel P. Huntington's book the Clash of Civilizations and the Coming of the New World Order emerged from an essay he wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs in the Summer of 1993 in which he set forth his main thesis, a thesis he would expand and develop in his later book:

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 be the battle lines of the future (Huntington, 1993, p. 22).

Given the tensions of the time, Huntington's thesis was taken to be largely a reference to the clash in the Middle East, though Huntington also referred to various Asian states as well and talked of the Confucian-Islamic countries. His thesis has been most cogent since it was written in terms of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, however, with many seeing first the Gulf War, then the terrorist attacks, and now the Iraq war as direct evidence of a clash of civilizations of the sort cited by Huntington. Specifically, the clash is not between the United States and a specific other country, even if a war is now being fought in Iraq. The real war is between ideologies, as Huntington states, so that the West is arrayed against Islamic countries. Even if the enemy is identified as Islamic fundamentalism or Islamic radicalism, at heart the clash is between the liberal, Christian West and the conservative, Islamic East at the present time. Huntington's book is a good framework for the analysis of this conflict and for understanding more clearly what is at stake in this battle.

Of course, the West has tried from the first to downplay the idea that this is a clash of civilizations such as Huntington states, though the White House made certain missteps that did make it seem that the conflict was just as Huntington stated. The error came in using the term "crusade" with reference to the war, a term that evokes the conflict between West and East in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a conflict that was clearly based on religion and religious differences and that angers Muslims who believe that the current conflict is another case of the West over-stepping its bound and trying to force a foreign ideology on the Middle East. Islam commits much the same sin by either calling for or referring to the war as a jihad, a term which also has somewhat different meanings in different parts of the world.

The Quran is the chief foundation of Islam and stands as the highest authority on doctrine, ethics, and customs. The Five Pillars of Faith constitute the practical duties of the Muslim, while a secondary division involves the doctrines to be believed, of which there are also five -- that of God, that of the angels as servants of God, that of the books (the Quran, the Pentateuch, the Zabur, and the Injil), that of the prophets, and that of the resurrection on the last day (Soper, 1951, pp. 215-216).

The concept of jihad as explained by Muhammad makes reference to the importance of the holy struggle of Islam against that which is not Islam. The jihad was not the sort of aggressive holy war envisioned by many of the faithful today, for Muhammad expressly proscribed beginning hostilities, stating that "Allah loveth not aggressors" (Gumley & Redhead, 1992, p. 74). Once challenged, though, the Muslim is called upon to slay the enemy wherever they are found. This tenet of the faith has had long-term consequences for the way the rest of the world views Islam:

It is a fact of world politics that Islam is perceived not as a creed of peace-making compassion, but as an excuse for antique savagery and manic extremism. Muslims have to face the implications of the truth that for many non-Muslims the very word Islam conjures up images of contemporary horror... These images have more to do with the odd amalgam of fear and envy which have for so long characterized relations between the west and the Arab world than with the theology of Islam (Gumley & Redhead, 1992, p. 75).

The term jihad is often translated as holy war and has been called the unofficial sixth pillar of Islam. In truth, the term has only been half understood. In Islam, jihad is a very sensitive technical term. It actually has two branches, the lesser jihad and the greater jihad. The greater jihad is the jihad of the individual's soul. According to the Quran, man was created primarily for the worship of God, and the individual must therefore strive to achieve this. In Arabic, striving or struggle is jihad. Struggling to worship God is the greater jihad, and this means working to live a monotheistic life according to the moral principles in the Scriptures. The lesser jihad involves the use of arms or other forms of struggle, and if it is justified it is to fight oppression. Where there is oppression, it is incumbent upon Muslims to remove it. How the jihad is conducted is one of the problems, as is how oppression is to be defined. Western concern about Islam has deep historical roots, and the present Islamic anger against the West has also been developing for many years. The concept of jihad is one reason for this, similar to the Christian use of the term "crusade."

The Islamic experience with the West as a whole has been much the same from the Islamic point-of-view, a history of interference and of a refusal to recognize the right of Islam to make its own decisions. In 1943, a popular election in the region was seen as a "renunciation of any continued French interference in the domestic affairs of Syria and Lebanon, [but] the French authorities refused to transfer power to the new local governments" (Cleveland, 2000, p. 224).

Gelvin (2008) disagrees with the vision of Huntington about a clash betseen civilizations, though he also recognizes how widely held this view has become in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. Huntington saw this clash as inevitable, and Gelvin does not. Gelvin also traces the issue back to the sixteenth century and the early history of Islam. He sees the clash as being more between tradition and modernity, though certainly the West represents modernity and Islam a long-standing and largely unchallenged tradition. He also emphasizes that the clash has never been inevitable but that false steps and poor policies do make it more and more likely as time passes, implying sat the same time that the clash could be avoided if better policies were instituted.

Actually, Huntington also says that the war between the West and other civilizations may not be inevitable, and instead he finds evidence for a steady decline of Western hegemony over the centuries (Huntington, 1996, p. 302). Huntington is not outcome-oriented to the degree that many have taken him to be, and he states, "The overriding lesson of the history of civilizations, however, is that many things are probable but nothing is inevitable. Civilizations can and have reformed and renewed themselves" (Huntington, 1996, p. 303). The current clash between East and West may be just one of a long line of such battles and could be turned to a more peaceful long-term relationship at any time, assuming some middle ground can be found that is acceptable to both. At the same time, one cannot read what Huntington writes without sensing that he does not believe this is likely.

Indeed, in the last section of the book, Huntington develops a scenario for war that is global in its implications and that shows how the whole world could be drawn into the conflict, leading to widespread destruction and the potential end of civilization as it has developed to date. He does not see this as an inevitable outcome, but he clearly sees it as a possibility. The concern on the part of many would clearly be that the current war in the region could lead to the kind of widespread global war Huntington describes. In the broadest sense, though, Huntington does see come form of conflict as inevitable simply because human nature follows the statemtn he makes early in his book:

For peoples seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential, and the potentially most dangerous enemies occur across the fault lines between the world's major civilizations (Huntington, 1996, p. 20).

Huntington finds that in the post-Cold War world in which we now live, culture and culturla identities "are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict" (Huntington, 1996, p. 20). These force are certainly at work in the conflict in Iraq and were seen in Bosnia and Afghanistan… [END OF PREVIEW]

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