Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The 'Clash of Civilizations': Revisited after September 11

Engin I. Erdem, University of Virginia
The dissolution of the Soviet Union not only ended the Cold War era but also it terminated simplistic understanding of world politics, which was dominant during this time. The bloc mentality of the Cold War has no longer provided an outlook to delineate the picture of the new period. By the end of the Cold War, henceforth, students of international relations have witnessed several 'contending images of world politics'(1). The images are basically concerned with redefining the newly emerging world politics. Interestingly, all of these images originate in the West and in the United States in particular.(2) The linkage is in fact significant as it demonstrates knowledge-power relationship in international relations. Of these 'western' images of world politics, especially Francis Fukayama's the 'End of History'(3) and Samuel P. Huntington's the 'Clash of Civilizations?' have earned utmost attention. In contrast to Fukayama's optimistic vision of future, Huntington has called forth World War III that stems from clash of civilizations.(4) He predicts that 'fundamental' differences among the seven or eight major civilizations will more likely pave way to global turmoil in years to come.

This paper, aims at revisiting the 'clash of civilizations' thesis in post-September 11 world, is consisted of six parts. After introductory section, second section will deal with Huntington's arguments, which take place in his article, book, and his respond to the criticisms. In the third part, seven categories of criticisms on Huntington's thesis will take place. Then, the thesis will be re-examined in aftermath of September 11. The fifth section will briefly touch upon Islam-the West relations. Finally, there will be a concluding part, which offers several remarks about the clash thesis and the delicate nature of Islam-the West relations in the new epoch of world politics after September 11.
"The Clash of Civilizations?", 'X' article of the post-Cold War, period has resulted in 'clash of scholarship' in both academic and policy circles. This paper, first of all, endeavors to examine Huntington's thesis and its critiques. Then, it briefly evaluates the thesis in the post-September 11 world. In this final section, several concluding remarks take place.

First of all, Harvard Professor, Samuel P. Huntington is right in the sense that culture and religion considerably matter in aftermath of the Cold War.(84) Cultural and religious elements not played considerable role during the Cold War especially because of the strict bipolar system in this time. The new era of global politics, on the other hand, allows various ethnic, religious and cultural elements come into forefront of regional and global politics. Numerous ethnic conflicts and wars after the Cold War such as in Bosnia, Kosova, Somalia, and Rwanda demonstrate the increasing importance of culture and ethnicity. However, it does not mean that civilizational differences, overlooking the struggles for power and interest, are primary sources of conflict in this period. Besides, it is hard to accept that Huntington's clash of civilizations model offers a 'new paradigm'. Premises of classical realism- 'balance of power' 'interest' and 'alliances' essentially circumscribe the clash thesis. Huntington deeply concerns with state of Western power vis-à-vis other 'civilizations' power'. (Remember, for example, his advice to empower Atlantic partnership against 'Islamic-Confucian connection')

Second, Huntington's thesis basically depends on orientalist understandings of Islam, in which Islam-the 'other'- is perceived as culturally inferior to the West and identified as threat and even enemy. This understanding ignores the diversity, plurality and various dynamics of Islam/the Muslim World as well as that of 'Islamism' and 'Islamic fundamentalism'. This approach, however, closes the avenues for mutual understanding and dialogue as well as it leads to 'clash of misunderstandings'.(85) Moreover, Huntington has a selective perception in choosing cases in order to enforce his argument. For instance, he probably should know that the Gulf War is dealt with 'clash of interests', yet he exemplifies the War as a case for 'clash of civilizations'. Furthermore, Huntington underestimates probability of cooperation and dialogue among civilizations and between states, which come from different civilizations. Besides, as one of the most problematic points is that Huntington ignores the role of Western colonialism and hegemony in Muslim anxiety towards the West. However, as James Scott rightly suggests that 'wherever there is domination one also finds resistance'(86).

Third, US action is very crucial for the future of Islam-the West relations. As the world's only superpower, the United States should be cautious about Muslim concerns in related to both Palestinian-Israeli conflict and democratization process in the Middle East. The United States encounters a dilemma in this regard; how it converges its ideals of democracy and freedom with concerns of 'power and interest'. The Muslim peoples have a conviction that the West/U.S pursues double standards when democracy and human rights deal with the Muslim World. The U.S should not enforce this belief in the Muslim World by ignoring people's democratic demands for the sake of stability of its "strategic interests'. As Henry Nau rightly proposes, the United States should follow a coherent policy towards the Muslim Middle East by converging his identity and power(87). Otherwise, the growing anti-American sentiments in the Muslim World will continue to harm the relations between the West/U.S and the Muslim World.

Fourth, the West and the Muslim World should be open to critical dialogue and mutual understanding. The 'clash of civilizations' discourse creates a great obstacle for this effort. The need for dialogue between the two worlds in particular and among all civilizations in general is especially clear in increasingly transnational and interdependent world. Otherwise, the 'clash of civilizations' would be self-fulfilling prophecy. To blame the other and to abstain from self-criticisms does not produce a sustainable solution for the problems between the two worlds. Dialogue and mutual understanding is the only way for a promising future.
Fifth, as frequently stated above, the 'clash of civilizations' has resulted in a 'clash of scholarship' in the fields of international relations, American foreign and security policy as well as in dealing with Islam-the West relations. In this respect, the clash thesis has made important contribution in these areas. Lastly, the September 11 has vitalized the debate and sensitized the relations between the West and the Muslim World. As asked earlier, the following questions have become of profound importance; how does the 'clash of civilizations' discourse make an impact on the post-9/11 relations between the Muslim World and the West/the U.S? How the 9/11 will influence perceptions of Islam and the Muslims in the mind of Western elites and people? How will the Muslims in the United States and Europe likely to be influenced by post-September 11 developments? This paper has only touched upon these issues in brief; hence they urgently call for further studies
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