The Clash of Civilizations

Samuel Huntington’s essay entitled “The Clash of Civilizations?” published in 1993 is among the most influential, widely read, and hotly discussed articles on the situation relating to international relations and their future development of the 1990s. The article was published after the end of the Cold War and was an attempt to make sense of what could await the world in terms of international cooperation and confrontation. The essay has produced quite various reactions, ranging from undisputed acceptable of its credibility and accuracy to complete rejection of all ideas of the author. Hence, on the one hand, statements and forecasts suggested by Huntington are perceived by many researchers, policy makers, students, and ordinary people as reasonable and well-justified in addition to being heralded as applicable even nowadays after so many years since their publication. On the other hand, prominent researchers like Edward Said do not consider the Huntington’s analysis to be credible, well-written, and justified, thereby utterly rejecting its underlying premises and requiring the utilization of a critical approach to its study. Although some ideas suggested by Huntington seem to be persuasive and quite reasonable due to the confident tone of the narration and the author’s credentials, analysis of detailed responses to it like the one by Said proves the contrary and requires a more critical and careful perception of the essay.

Huntington’s Idea of the Clash of Civilizations

Prior to focusing on debunking the myth of the clash of civilizations announced by Huntington, a brief overview of the essay should be provided. The key idea of Samuel Huntington’s theory lies in the fact that the most violent and lasting future conflicts in the world will happen not among some separate nation-states due to some economic or social disputes, but among different civilizations (Huntington, 1993). Thus, the author terms these future conflicts ‘the clash of civilizations’ and considers them to be virtually and hardly resolvable due to some reasons (Huntington, 1993). The main reason for such conflicts will concern different ideologies held by different existing civilizations and a potential inability of the latter to tolerate each other’s fundamental differences. In fact, such differences between different civilizations are basic as they are deeply ingrained in the mentality and mode of life of their representatives (Huntington, 1993). Religion is among the most prominent features, which is predicted to be the driving force behind most future civilization clashes. Religious discrepancies seem to be most difficult to tolerate as they contribute enormously to the alienation of strangers and the creation of the dichotomy “us versus them” (Huntington, 1993). The author also argues that the clash of civilizations seems to be almost impossible to prevent as the above-mentioned differences become even more obvious and eye-falling in the world experiencing the process of rapid globalization (Huntington, 1993). The matter is that the world is becoming smaller and smaller, while people representing different civilizations make contact more frequently than before, which contributes to the intensification of tension and conflicts.

Categorization of Civilizations

According to Huntington (1993), the above differences and future clashes are to occur among seven or eight existing civilizations, including Western, Islamic, Latin American, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, and possibly African. In addition to these civilizations, there exists a number of so-called “torn countries” like Turkey and Russia that are stuck in-between their own peculiar identity and their wish to become westernized (Huntington, 1993). These torn countries therefore remain undecided in terms of their civilizational identity and have to choose one particular civilization. Furthermore, it should be noted that the author emphasizes the complicated nature of civilizations and that it is a challenging task to categorize them, yet he claims that some factors like language, traditions, history, religion, norms, values, and culture can facilitate this process (Huntington, 1993). Hence, out of the above-mentioned eight civilizations, the author predicts the future clash to occur between the Western and the Islamic-Confucian civilizations as they are most likely to compete for the status of the world hegemonic power (Huntington, 1993). Such categorization of all civilizations may seem quite compelling at the first glance as it offers a clear-cut distinction and classification of the entire world and breeds little confusion. Huntington distinguishes these civilizations in a rather confident way with only Africa remaining a quite unresolved issue. However, in fact, such categorization is rather reductivist and simplified, which is emphasized by Edward Said in his lecture (Palestine Diary, 2011). Thus, Huntington’s essay supposes that civilizations are monolithic, homogenous, and unchanging when it is not so in the real world (Palestine Diary, 2011). Therefore, the initially compelling categorization suggested by the author is quickly ruined by listening to Said who proves that Huntington has failed to provide a neutral, descriptive, and objective analysis of existing civilizations with a view to their subsequent categorization.

Debunking of the Myth of the Clash of Civilizations

In fact, Edward Said does not only refute the categorization of civilizations in his lecture focused on the critical reading of the Huntington’s position but also debunks the entire myth of the clash of civilizations. Said claims that Huntington is “really most interested in continuing and expanding the Cold War by other means, rather than advancing ideas that might help us to understand the current world scene or ideas that would try to reconcile between cultures” (Palestine Diary, 2011). Hence, Said supposes that Huntington continues with the Cold War rhetoric when the actual Cold War is over. Moreover, from the beginning of the essay, it becomes evident that Huntington is an avid supporter of the Western civilization and advocates for an interventionist and imposing relationship between it and the rest of the world with which it is about to clash. Overall, Said proceeds with debunking the suggested theory from the position that “Huntington…is quite misleading in what he says and how he puts things” (Palestine Diary, 2011). For instance, Said criticizes him for a failure to provide an objective analysis of the situation and use of non-credible and biased sources for the analysis.