Cold War has brought renewed interest in civilizations as a source of identity and conflict. The Cold War had allowed the world to be divided into two distinct camps: one directed by Communist philosophy and the other directed by democratic ideals. This division often resulted in considerable conflict but at least everyone occupied a definable position. All this changed, however, with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The collapse of Communism presented the possibility of a more peaceful world. Gone was the constant state of tension between the two ideologies. Democracy was now the prevailing political ideology and the door was open for the growing trend toward globalization to progress in earnest. This feeling of euphoria, however, was short-lived and new barriers soon emerged to construct new walls and barriers between the various worlds' nation-states.
In some cases actual walls have been constructed such as the proposed wall between the United States and Mexico or in Baghdad where the U.S. forces have built a wall to divide the various religious sects from each other. In Israel, the Israeli government has erected a wall to divide itself from the neighboring Palestinians. The actual physical building of walls is only symbolic of the more deep-seated and pervasive civilization divisions that are present in the world.
This building of barriers between civilizations, whether physically or otherwise is supportive of the theory first suggested by American political scientist Samuel Huntington. Huntington argued that the end of the Cold War would not necessarily result in the less conflict but in more conflict but that such conflict would no longer be based on ideological lines but would rather be based on cultural lines. Huntington's theory, which was set forth in his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (Huntington), took issue with the concept that the Cold War would mean a convergence of the world behind the liberal western democratic thought and the capitalist way of live but, instead, new conflicts would be shaped by indentities and interests shaped by civilizational heritage.
For Huntington, civilizations are determined by common elements such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions and the subjective identification of people. He argued that the effects of civilization would eventually shift the loyalties of people away from nation-states towards their larger identity groups that transcend such nation-states. Huntington felt that humans have a psychological need for identification with others and that the effects of civilization are more powerful than the artificial identities of nationalism.
Not surprisingly, Huntington's theory is not without its critics. It has generated considerable debate among both academics and policy makers but despite these criticisms Huntington's "clash of civilizations" has remained a viable concept. Events such as 9/11, Iran and North Korea's belligerence in regard to the development of nuclear weaponry and the generalized war on terror are examples of how Huntington argued matters would develop in the post-Cold War world.
Huntington argued that the clash of civilizations would occur for six basic reasons. The first reason, Huntington suggested, is that differences between civilizations are basic. These basic differences go to the very structure. Each civilization has different views on the relationship between God and man, between the individual and society, parents and children, husband and wife, and so on. These differences do not occur over night. They develop over centuries and they often result in serious conflicts between civilizations.
Second, the world is becoming increasingly smaller. Not in a physical sense but because of improvements in communication and transportation technology. The fact that different civilizations are capable of communication and reaching each other increases the frequency of interactions between with these civilizations. These increased interactions accent the differences and increase the chance that misunderstandings might occur.
Modernization and corresponding social change have caused individuals to lose some of their local identity. Nationalism is no longer as strong and in some cases religion has stepped in to fill the gap and some of these religions are of the fundamentalist variety. Unfortunately, these fundamentalist religions occur throughout the entire spectrum of religious sects. There are fundamental sects in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhists, and Islam. These fundamental religions are quick to reject secularism and encourage their members to separate themselves from their national identities and unite themselves with their religion.
Fourth, Huntington argued that the popularity and power of the West worked for and against them. As a result of the West's power and popularity, civilizations in the Middle East and Asia have worked diligently to promote their own civilizations among their people. The result has been a strong push in Japan on all things Japanese, a renewal of Hinduism in India, and an emphasis on Jihad in the countries dominated by Islam. Each of these trends has worked hard to avoid Westernization within their civilizations.
The fifth factor is identified by the fact that cultural differences are less easily changed than are political differences. The classic example is the situation in the former Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed it was easy for Ukrainians and Estonians to abandon the Communist ideology but they could not so easily deny that they were Ukrainians and Estonians.
Finally, the increase in globalization has, surprisingly, resulted in the growth of economic regionalism. In an effort to balance the strength of globalization there has been an increase in the development of regional economic partnerships between nation states that would not ordinarily have been expected to cooperate. Nation states such as China and Taiwan who historically had ideology differences that disallowed the possibility of their forming a partnership are now coming together because of their cultural similarities and geographical proximity and putting aside ideology in an effort to promote their economies. In the process, the new cooperative develops an attitude of us against them. It becomes the East vs. The West.
The result of this new process is that civilization consciousness is increasing throughout the world. According to Huntington's theory this increased consciousness will eventually cause conflicts between these civilizations to increase as well. Civilization conflict will, according to Huntington, replace ideology conflict as the primary source of conflict.
The critics of Huntington's theory argue that the end of the Cold War and the effects of globalization have actually had an opposite result from the one predicted by Huntington (Said). These critics suggest that whatever influences flow from different civilizations globalization and improved communication and transportation technology have diminished and not accentuated the influence of civilizations. Such critics add that instead of civilizations becoming more organized they are actually becoming more disintegrated. Contrary to what Huntington might claim there is little cohesion in the Muslim world and, instead, religious and cultural differences remain strong within the countries where the Islam religion dominates and the situation that results is far from representing an organized civilization united against the influences of the West. Huntington's detractors point out that his theory was developed prior to the widespread introduction of satellite television and the internet and these two elements plus the effect of globalization have only served to further add to the influence of Western culture into the Middle East and Asia.
There is no denying that there is considerable conflict between the West and other areas of the world. The events of 9/11 and Iran's belligerence in developing nuclear weapons are only two of many examples where conflict exists but to argue that such conflict is based simply upon differences in civilization is entirely too simplistic. The political and cultural differences between Muslim cultures and those of the West are far more complex and the clash of civilization theory does not consider all the available complexities (Lewis). The clash of civilizations was a convenient and easily adaptable method of dividing the world into rival camps after the collapse of the Soviet Union and it…