Samuel Huntington warned back in 1993 about the changing nature of conflict. He argued in his well-known essay ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, that in the post-Cold War order the source of conflicts would be the great divisions in culture and religion among civilizations.
At the time of publishing, his argument was considered simplistic, naïve and feeble minded. It started to gain some attention as years went by but even nowadays it still receives a lot of criticisms because of his essentialist and primordialist understanding of civilizations. However, despite the limitations of his thesis, he might not have been completely mistaken. The recent terrorist attacks around the world could be showing the credits of his prediction.
What did he mean by ‘a clash of civilizations’?
Huntington said that the world is divided in 9 major civilisations: Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic (or Confucian), Hindu, Orthodox/Slavic, Buddhist and Japanese. Each civilisation is the highest level of cultural identity for the people who conform it. They are defined by shared ‘objective elements like language, history, religion, institutions, and by the subjective identification of people’ (Huntington, 1993; 24).
People will identify with their culture or religion more than with any political ideology, because the first ones are much less malleable than the last one. Thus, it is no longer a question of which side you stand on, but WHAT you are.
By the increasing interaction between people from all parts of the world that is caused by globalisation and migration, the awareness of the differences and commonalities between civilisations are enforced. These differences go beyond political ideologies and are much more fundamental for individuals as they represent spiritual and moral values, such as the relationship between man and God, between citizen and state, family relationships and responsibilities in society. Therefore, when people from different civilisations come to interact with each other, the divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are reinforced. Moreover, in cases of conflict, states will ally with those of their same civilization. Huntington calls this a Kin of States.
Because of this ‘othering’, when civilisations encounter, they will clash. And when they clash, conflict is very likely to arise. One level where the clashes will occur is along the fault lines between civilizations. For Huntington, it is no coincidence that the ‘borders’ between civilisations are more likely to experience conflict (such as the border between India and Pakistan where the Hindu and Islamic civilisation clash; or the border between Mexico and the U.S. where the West and Latin America encounter). Another layer is at the macro-level, where states from different civilisations will compete against each other for military and economical domination.
Since Huntington wrote the thesis, there have been many authors who have updated his argument to the current situation of the international system. One of them has been made by Kelshall, who argued that this clash is not going to occur between states but within them. This is because of the increasing mobility of people across the globe and the increase of multiculturalism in different society, especially the Western ones. The argument is that people will still adhere to their parent civilisations (cultures and religions) and because of their enforcing differences among them and obligation for some to submit to a civilisation that is not their own, conflict will arise.
What is happening with ISIS right now and its attacks in societies where Muslims and non-Muslims coexist (where two civilisations come together) is suggesting that what the Islamic State is trying to do, is to divide these societies to create a clash, a clash of civilisations.
To read more about how this clash is happening in what ISIS calls ‘The Grey Zone’ please refer to Candyce Kelshall’s and Angela Lo’s article: Civilization and the Grey Zone
Featured image: Freedomforce (http://freedomforce.com/6234/there-are-major-differences-with-freely-practicing-christianity-and-islam/)