This article is on Samuel Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996). To begin with, it is worth mentioning that this book is based on an essay by Samuel Huntington entitled: “The Clash of Civilizations?” with a question mark in the end; it was published in the summer of 1993. However, when the essay was developed into a book it has apparently become more certain of a clash of civilizations (for the author puts no question mark), as if Huntington no longer hypothesizes or predicts a clash of civilizations but rather witnesses it. He argues that this clash of civilizations within the new world order will be rather cultural not ideological; it will occur between different civilizations that is to say between different religious groups and cultures not between traditional ideological nation-states. “In conflicts between civilizations” he argues, “the question is ‘where are you?’” he believes that increasingly the interaction between people on both sides has become seen as a clash of civilizations.
Samuel Huntington admits in a lecture (1992) that his book is not entirely original; the title phrase itself is derived from Bernard Lewis’s essay entitled The Roots of Muslim Rage (1990) as Edward Said shows, besides the idea of this book had already been tackled by Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History (1989), and importantly in an article it is believed that the Moroccan professor Mehdi Mendjra was the first one to deal with the theory of the clash of civilizations in his book La Premiere Guerre Civilisationnelle (1991).
The book, Clash of Civilizations, is divided into 5 main parts, and 12 chapters. The 5 parts are entitled as follows:
Part I: A World of Civilizations;
Part II: The Shifting Balance of Civilizations;
Part III: The Emerging Order of Civilizations;
Part IV: Clashes of Civilizations; and finally
Part V: The Future of Civilizations.
This article will focus on the main points in this book as well as Edward Said’s reaction on the book, entitled as “The Myth of ‘The Clash of Civilizations’.” Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations is about the conflicts of different civilizations when they come into contact as the title indicates. During the cold war the world was divided into the First, Second and Third Worlds. Now it is more meaningful to group the countries in terms of culture and civilization. Huntington defines civilization as a cultural entity that is to say: villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious groups. He adds that civilization is “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity.” In short, civilization is culture at large. Huntington explains that people usually define themselves according to their cultural identity; they “define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions.” A resident of Rome for example may define himself as a Roman, Italian, Catholic, Christian, European, and Westerner. Identity, therefore, is multi layered. Civilization is the broadest level of belonging. A civilization may include a large number of people, without being a state, as it is the case with China, while Japan is both a civilization and a state. Civilization may include several nation states such as: The Arab World, Latin America, and The European Union. Huntington argues that Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall, divide and merge and they also disappear.
According to Huntington, what will cause a clash of civilizations is the cultural incompatibility of different civilizations rather than an ideological or nation conflict, even if they have commonalities that unify people. Edward Said, however, argues that it is not a clash of civilizations but rather a clash of definitions. Said goes further to call it “The Myth of ‘The Clash of Civilizations’.”
“Universal civilization”, as explained by Huntington, implies “the cultural coming together of humanity and the increasing acceptance of common values, beliefs, orientations, practices, and institutions by peoples throughout the world.” In other words, it is a shared culture, for example all cultures share that murder is evil. The term “Universal civilization” could also be used to refer to what civilized societies have in common, such as cities and literacy. In today’s world, the “universal civilization” is rather universality in human interest especially goods, such Hollywood films and Coca Cola. On the other hand, language, English for instance has become a universal language. A Japanese banker and an Indonesian businessman talk to each other in English does not mean that either one of them is being Anglofied or Westernized.
The world is divided into the civilized ‘us’ and the barbarians ‘them,’ Muslims from their own perspective divided the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, the dominant division, however, is between the “West” and the “rest.” Huntington assumes the unchanging character of the duality between ‘us’ and ‘them;’ it makes it obvious that Huntington does not write from a neutral objective position but is himself “a polemicist whose rhetoric not only depends on prior arguments (…) but in effect perpetuates them,” as Said states. Huntington homogenizes the Muslim Arab world to one entity and claims that they have nothing in common except they are non-western, which is not true; for there are many sub-civilizations that exist within Islam; Said agreed that “a billion Muslims, scattered to five continents, dozens of different languages and traditions and histories,” while criticizing the notion that Civilizations are monolithic and homogeneous. Basically, the world is divided between a Western one and a non-western many. For Huntington, Christianity and Islam are two missionary religions that attempt to spread their beliefs and expend their followers, this for him is seen as a threat to the Christian West, and it causes hate between the two religious groups. Muslims see the West’s culture and religion as corrupted and as “the godless West”.
Huntington argues that power is shifting from the West to non-western nations, particularly after “the victory in the Cold War (which) has produced not triumph but exhaustion” as he states. The Western civilization is in decline. There is a shift from the center to the periphery; and the non-western nation that will replace the West.
The West is composed of two major components, Europe and North America, this latter, historically speaking, represented freedom, equality and democracy, while the former represented oppression, hierarchy and backwardness. The term “the West” is now universally used to refer to what used to be called Western Christendom. The West is thus the only civilization identified by a compass direction and not by the name of a particular people, religion, or geographical area. Huntington uses Western civilization to refer to both European and North American civilization, “despite its serious disabilities,” as he states.
He states that “Western civilization is both Western and modern, non-Western civilizations have attempted to become modern without becoming Western.” Islamic nations, in particular, have become modern but without being Westernized, There is a cultural independence from the West, “we will be modern but we won’t be you.” Is modernity associated with the West? Are all Westerners modern? Huntington proofs that civilizations are becoming more religious, religion fills in the gap of cultures. People mostly identify themselves with religion.
Said highlights the centrality of an ideology, the West’s, around which, for Huntington, all the other civilizations turn. Said states that Huntington concludes his essay as well as book with a brief survey of what it is that the West must do to remain strong and keep its components; he shows what the West can do to keep winning. For Huntington, other civilizations will necessarily clash with the West, where there is democracy for example that is not compatible with the Islamic world. Said thinks that Huntington is misleading in what he says and how he puts things.
Said goes further to argue that Huntington is part of an advocate of one Civilization of all the others, obviously the Western one, to which he belongs. Huntington defines Islamic Civilization reductively as if his only concern is that Muslims are non-Westerners. According to Said, Huntington writes of the conflict between civilizations as a crisis that he wants to manage rather than resolve. He writes therefore as a crisis manager not as a student of Cultures and Civilizations nor as a reconciler between them.
Said wonders whether this is the best way to understand the world we live in? Is it wise to produce a simplified map of the world? Doesn’t this deepen conflict? What should be done to minimize civilizational conflicts? Do we want a clash of civilizations?
Said argues that cultures are not the same; within every culture there is an official Culture that speak on the behalf of all. Each culture defines its enemies, what stands beyond it and threatens it. Said unfolds a point which is missing in Huntington’s argument that in every official Culture there are alternatives unorthodox strengths that contain many anti-authoritarian themes in them that are in competition with the official Culture, these can be called the counter Culture.
Said finally argues that the too much attention to managing and clarifying the clash of civilizations obliterates a dialogue between them. Obviously, Edward Said opts for co-existence between civilizations and “try[ing] to come to terms with the ‘Other’ society or Culture that seems so foreign and distant.
To recapitulate, Huntington main arguments are as follows:
·Differences between civilizations are real and important;
·Civilization consciousness is increasing ;
·The conflict between civilizations will supplant ideological and other forms of conflict;
·International relations historically again played out within Western civilization will increasingly be derationalized and become a game in which non-western civilizations are actors and not simply objects;
·Conflicts between groups in different civilizations will be more frequent, more sustained and more violent and conflicts between groups in the same civilization;
·Successful political security and economic international institutions will develop within civilizations but with rare exceptions; and
·The relation between “the West, and the rest” will be highly conflictual focusing initially on the clash between the West and Islam.
To conclude, Huntington’s book was highly influencing and seen as a prophecy of the conflict between the Islamic and Western civilizations, especially after the 9/11 events and the war in Iraq. Reading, or better to say following Huntington’s arguments in his book The Clash of Civilizations we feel a kind of anxiety of the collapse of the Western Civilization and the rise of the Muslim Eastern one, especially that Islam is expanding demographically and as Huntington says that the greatest fault lines between civilizations, which is true with the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia, is one of the main causes of a clash of civilizations. These Muslim borders are seen as a threat to the West and to its hegemony. Therefore, the surviving of the West is based on preserving its identity. The book in short, is about the clash between the Western Civilization and the Islamic one, and Islam where the burden goes, as stated by Edward Said.