Addressing Samuel Huntington, is it really a clash of civilizations?

digitally edited from a photo I took of Huntington in 2002

In 2002 I attended a discussion session with Huntington in NYC during the WEF meeting about bridging civilizations. On a distinct note, Samuel Huntington, said that there are indeed real differences in values and cultures among civilizations. The idea of a bridge, as suggested in the title of the session, implies there is something separating them. The issue is whether this is a “bridge over a chasm, a wide ocean, a changing stream or what?” He is not sure of the answer, but he is certain that differences exist, although they need not lead to clashes among civilizations. Another interesting issue, he noted, is the role of modernization in cultural exchange. In response to criticisms that his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Reality of World Order, dwelled on the clashes between Islamic and Western values and ignored the conflicts between Christian groups such as those in Northern Ireland, Huntington claimed that the clashes between Protestants and Catholics do not carry the same potential threat to world peace.

One can not easily subscribed to Huntington’s theory of Clash of Civilizations. Simply because after the Cold War, the dominant economic and political nature of globalization coupled with the rapid advances in communication are driving the whole world to be a global village with one civilization and different cultures. While each culture in the world contains different religions, the religions themselves each of them includes different ideologies. It is only a matter of definition, how Huntington defines and interrelates the different terms of civilization, culture, religion and ideology. That is why the late Edward Said in his critic to Huntington’s theory called it a clash of definitions. In fact the term civilization is being sometimes casually and mistakingly used as a synonym for culture but such a mistake can not be accepted from a distinguished scholar like Huntington.

Edward Said like many others pointed out and rejected the message of the theory to be underlining Islam as the new enemy of the western civilization after the cold war. If this is the case, then, it is not a clash of civilizations but rather  a religion against a civilization and it would mistakingly exclude Islam from the so called “western culture”, not only ignoring all Muslim citizens of the western societies but making them the enemy.  Clashes of/in the world now seem mostly ideological e.g. extremists vs. moderates or vs extremists from different ideologies,  but those clashes are often claimed to be religious or racist in nature. The wider claim of being cultural is also common as in the West vs Arabs (Wester culture vs Arabic culture). But if we examine the core motivations of the stakeholders in international clashes we can not ignore that they are mostly politically and economically oriented and the cultural aspects are only introduced as tools for mobilization. The differences then, are in the perception of the cause which is usually colored by personal interests and objectives. For instance, politicians see it more politically and the more religious persons tend to magnify the role of religion. The world now with its west, east, poor and rich has all the elements needed to constitute a global civilization that contains different cultures, religions and ideologies. This is actually the case now inside the western civilization itself. The principal constitutional personal freedoms and rights guarantee colorful societies that enjoy a variety of religions and subcultures with a wide spectrum of differences from ultra conservatives to ultra liberals and from ultra-religious to hardcore atheists. The cause of human conflicts has always been and will always be motivated by political and economic unjust. The worse this unjust goes the more clashes will exist and when if it is resolved or improved, the majority of humans will then show more capacity for tolerance and peace.