Article Review of „The Clash of Civilizations?“ by Samuel P. Huntington

When the former president of Germany, Christian Wulff 2010 said, „by now, Islam also belongs in Germany.“ [Rohan, 2010], he did not know what he caused. A large storm of indignation overcame him, a new party, inspired of Geert Wilders, an islamophobian dutch politician, was founded and muslims associations lament more hostility as ever before. These events are not nationally separated, they are part of a worldwide evolution, which contrast sharply an apparent difference. After 9/11, for the second time this millennium Islamic terrorists terrorized western world, endless war between Israel and Palestine lead to endless bitterness on both sides and all over Europe anti-islamic parties exploded. Is all this a sign of incompatibility of the western world on the one hand and muslim civilisations on the other? Recent developments seem like a completion of Huntingtons essay “The Clash of Civilizations?”, first published in 1993. Over the last 21 years his thesis “set off a furious debate” (Brooks, 2011), “was roundly and at times roughly criticized by Western scholars” (Brasted and Khan, 2012: 273) and lost nothing of its topicality. After the Arab Spring and the rose of the “Islamic State” (IS), its worth to tackle his thesis again. How did Huntington define “civilization”, why do they clash and in the end, why is wrong, nevertheless?

After the end of the Cold War, Huntington was just one among many, who all tried to predict the new world order. “World Politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be” he (1993: 22) set out. The WWII was primarily caused by a conflict of ideologies, which had superseded the conflict of nationalism. Next, the world will be confront with the clash of civilisations. Civilisation will be the political fault line of this clash, whereas the divisions of the world now in First, Second and Third World will be no longer relevant (Huntington, 1993: 23). In future “the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilisations” (ibid: 25). As a civilisation he understand “a cultural entity” (ibid: 23), which “share cultural features that distinguish them from” (ibid: 24) other communities. “It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people.“ (ibid: 24) Current developments end on these grounds in a clash: Different civilisations have different normative fundamentals how a social group is organised (1), old, deep in history rooted animosities will remerge, due to a more connected world (2), religion replaces the nation state as a source of identity (3), non-western states are rediscovering own values conflictive to western (4), religious identity is less mutable than e.g. political ideologies (5) and lastly, fault lines between civilisations will arise in economic regionalism, impenetrable for actors from the outside.
Although he mentions “eight major civilisations, these include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African” (ibid: 25), the main fault line “is deeply rooted elsewhere in Asia” (ibid: 33) and mainly a clash between the Western and Islamic World. “Islam has bloody borders.” (ibid: 35) Of course, there are also clashes between, for example the latin-america civilisation and the (western) civilisation of the USA, but in light of the Gulf War his thesis is concentrated on the islamic bloc. At that time, when his article was publicised , it seems plausible, handle the islamic world as entity.

More than 20 years later, the modernization of Turkey, the Arab Spring, the rising of the Islamic State, its clear, nations with muslim majority fighting more with domestic problems than against the Western (or another) World. Realist political theories tend to misprize political movements within, in this case, a civilisation. The only thing they see is state activities, this led Huntington to equalise autocratic dictatorship with Islamic civilisation. This elides the several facts: Huntington wrote, that “Western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other civilisations. Western ideas of individualism, constitutionalism, human rights [..], often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian […] cultures.” (ibid: 35) As we saw during the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt or Syria, those ideas just as appealing like it was for revolutionists of the French Revolution 1789. Back during that era and nowadays, public opinion were in anger at arbitrary authority. Though, arbitrariness was also an other event. “That is the past covered by Europe`s colonial intrusion into the Muslim world, the period 1800-1956 saw the Middle East was run over, subjugated and exploited by the European powers, […].” (Brasted and Khan, 2012: 279) Nationalism was never deeply rooted into Muslim memory. Religion feelings rose as compensation. By the time he spoke about Muslim world as entity, he was wrong as well. As part of the Christian world he knew the differences between Catholicism, Protestant and so on. Which he transferred it to other cultures. If he does so, the rise of the Islamic State shows the bestial clash between Shiitic and Sunni Islam. And this is only Middle East Islam: “There is a world between Muslims who are Arab, Muslims who are Asian and Muslim who are living in the West.” (ibid: 277)
Just as nation borders of the Middle East were drawn randomly, fault lines of civilisation were drawn at random as well. Huntington creates eight different civilisation, besides “Confucian-Islamic connection” (Huntington, 1993: 45), without any interplay, who are clashing because they are inflexible. This is a neat and simple explanation, but historically more disputable.

However, the term ‚clash of civilisation‘ seems firmly established in the popular” (Brasted and Khan, 2012: 285), no debate on current crisis without Huntingtons thesis. And this is what is also known as the “Huntington-Syndrome” of political science: If its becoming to dodgy, civilisation and culture is always a good. Though, to find political solutions on this way, is not possible.

Brasted, H. V. and Khan, Adeel (2012): Islam and ‚the clash of civilizations?‘ An historical perspective. In: Akbarzadeh, Shahram (ed.): Routledge Handbook of Political Islam. Pp. 273-289. New York: Routledge.
Brooks, David (2011): Huntington’s Clash Revisited.
Huntington, S. P. (1993): The Clash of Cicilizations? Foreign Affairs, 72, 1993, pp.22- 49.
Rohan, Brian (2010): German president welcomes Islam during unity speech. idUKTRE69219C20101003?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews