Islam and the Clash of Civilizations Term Paper

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Islam and the Clash of Civilizations

World civilization has known in the last decades some of the most important political, economic, and in particular cultural developments of the 20th century. The era after the end of the Cold War determined a series of events that triggered numerous conflicts around the world, from the war in Kuwait in the early 1990s, to the genocide in Rwanda, human rights abuses and apartheid in South Africa, to the escalation of the terrorist phenomenon to dimensions never attained before.

The peak of the terrorist threat was reached on September 11, 2001 when the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York fully demonstrated the power, influence, and capacity terrorist groups can master. Along with the terrorist phenomenon, the other regional conflicts still ongoing in parts of the Middle East and Africa, point out the increased differences that exist throughout the world between different types of civilizations, cultures, and economic development. From this point-of-view, the theory presented by Samuel Huntington in his article, "The clash of civilization" from 1993 can be seen as valid to explain the conflicts and clashes that persist between the Western world represented in particular by the United States and the Islamic world. The differences that exist between the two major cultural and civilizational blocks are at the core of the conflicts that are constant between the two. Despite the fact that the idea of "clash of civilization" is a term and theory established in a period in which terrorism was not the most significant threat to the national security of a state, Huntington was right in pointing out that the new conflicts the world would be engaged in after the Cold War would be fought against the civilizational lines of peoples and cultures. The clash between the United States as representative of the Western world and the Islamic world are a proof of this theory.

The Clash of Civilization theory proposed by Samuel Huntington in his 1993 article of Foreign Affairs has the following premises clearly pointed out in the beginning: "it is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural" (Huntington, 1993). It must be pointed out that the historical context that the theory was presented included a wide debate on the world that would follow the Cold War. More precisely, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the role of the United States as the single and most important great power of the world was recognized. This was not necessarily due to a clear-cut improvement in the way in which the United States developed in previous decades, but rather as a result of the disappearance of the second pole of power that had been the U.S.S.R. From this point-of-view, the inevitable question arose as to where the world of politics and international relations would develop given the fact that the era of the nuclear armament was nearing its close and there was no clear definition of the new threats on the horizon.

Huntington uses the term civilization to signify "a cultural entity. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious groups, all have distinct cultures at different levels of cultural heterogeneity" (1993). Even if there are clear differences even between the cultures present in the same country, these aspects are not taken into account as representing distinct cultures as they tend to share a common historical background or state organization. As presented by Huntington though, civilizations do not depend or are not characterized by the number of individuals but rather by their uniqueness and dynamism. These are the elements that are taken into account when determining the sustainability of Huntington's theory.

Another important aspect underlined by Samuel Huntington in his article relates to the identity of the actors of the international scene. This discussion was extremely important at the time especially because of the massive transformation that was taking place in the early years of a completely globalized world. More precisely, the issue on the role the national state as a rational and main actor on the international scene would play in global politics was also dealt with by Huntington. This aspect is important because it pointed out that the state would no longer be the most important actor on the international scene and more importantly would not be the only actor (Huntington, 1993, p. 25). This point drew the attention on the way in which the rules of the game would change under these circumstances particularly because the world until that point had been accustomed with a bipolar world where the realist international relations theory would reign supreme despite other liberal and institutional approaches to the theory of international relations. The lack of rational actors on the international scene automatically drew the attention on the way, in which politics would be conducted, from other perspectives, and by other actors such as the NGOs, the IGOs, and the big multinational companies.

Huntington's argument of the imminent clash between civilizations is based on what he considers to be "basic differences" between civilizations that related to history, language, culture, tradition, and religion (Huntington, 1993). He views religion to be the most significant difference and the one that would eventually provide the rift between civilizations. This is largely due to the fact that religion has provided for a civilization the core values of the society, starting from regulating the family life to the life in the society and organization and functioning of the state. This difference is most obvious in the relation between Christianity and Islam. More precisely, while the former provides a clear separation between the state and the Church, in the latter, the state is Islam and the teachings of the Quran are the laws that provide the social and state framework in an Islamic republic. Further to his argumentation, Huntington considers that the nature and intensity of the interactions between civilizations will augment the differences between civilizations. Among other arguments, the economic advancement and development plays a crucial role in the way in which civilizations would interact in the future. These would draw a different status of development throughout the world and would foster economic regionalization.

Almost two decades later, the theory presented by Huntington, although not without flaws, appears to be valid and characterizing the world today. There is a clear differentiation between the Christian world and in particular the western world and the Islamic one. This has been obvious during the latest confrontations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although the U.S. led operations in both these theaters of operations promoted a change of law and the consideration of democracy as the new guiding principles for the state, it is very difficult to ascertain the degree in which democracy as perceived in the western world would match the realities of a society that is still led by the teachings of the Quran. One example would be the role of women in the Islamic society as opposed to that in the Western society. While the Western world promotes even positive discrimination to ensure a wide participation of women in politics, in the Islamic world the woman has very well delimitated attributions that most of the time do not include a social life outside the home. Electoral participation is therefore not even considered as an option by most Iraqi women or Afghan ones. This example only points out the degree of difference between cultures and civilizations.

The theory provided by Samuel Huntington, as mentioned previously, must be placed in the wider historical context of the immediate period following the end of the Cold War. Although the arguments point out a series of undeniable truths such as the visible differences in civilization, from culture to religion to state organization, there are those that consider the theory to be in fact based on basic assumptions and not substantial considerations. In this sense, Huntington is countered by Ronald Inglehart who argues "Samuel Huntington was only half right. The cultural fault line that divides the West and the Muslim world is not about democracy but sex. According to a new survey, Muslims and their Western counterparts want democracy, yet they are worlds apart when it comes to attitudes toward divorce, abortion, gender equality, and gay rights-which may not bode well for democracy's future in the Middle East" (2003). Therefore, although there is a clear difference between Westerners and the Muslim population, this is related to a sense of mentality that can, in time and with due consideration for historical backgrounds and sensitivities, be changed and adapted. According to Inglehart, these aspects can be negotiated and settled without a clear clash of civilizations.

Another aspect that can be taken into account to question the sustainability of Huntington's theory is related to the actual potential cause of the clash of civilization. Therefore, Sankaran Krisna does not reject the potential occurrence of the confrontation based on the rifts between civilizations. However, it…[continue]

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