FOUNDATION T R A N S C R I PT
THE MY TH OF ‘ THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS’
The Myth of ‘The Clash of Civilizations’
Executive Producer & Director: Sut Jhally Editor: Sanjay Talreja Featuring a lecture by Edward Said Professor, Columbia University and author of Orientalism Introduced by Sut Jhally University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Media Education Foundation © MEF1998
2 PART ONE – INTRODUCTION Thank you very much. I'm going to start, in fact, talk throughout about an essay and a book written by Samuel Huntington entitled The Clash of Civilizations. When it first appeared in 1993 in the journal Foreign Affairs, it had a question mark after it and it announced in it's first sentence that world politics is entering a new phase. Three years later Huntington expanded the essay, some would say bloated it, to the size of a book without a question mark. The new book which was published last year, entitled The Clash of Civilizations and the Emerging World Order. My premise is that the essay is better than the book. I mean it got worse the more he added to it. So I'll concentrate most of my attention on the essay but make some comments about the book as we go along. Now, what Huntington meant when he said that world politics was entering a new phase was that whereas in the recent past world conflicts had been between ideological camps, grouping the first, second and third worlds into warring entities, the new style of politics which he discerned would entail conflicts between different and presumably clashing civilizations. I quote him, "The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics." Later he explains how it is that the principal clash will be between Western and non Western civilization, but he spends most of his time in the two works, discussing the disagreements, potential or actual, between what he calls the West on the one hand, and on the other, Islamic and Confucian civilizations. In terms of detail, a great deal more attention, hostile attention, is paid to Islam than to any other civilization including the West. In much of the tremendous interest subsequently taken in Huntington's essay, I think derives from its timing rather than exclusively from what it says. As he himself notes, there have been several intellectual and political attempts since the end of the Cold War to map the emerging world situation, and this includes Francis Fukuyama’s thesis on the end of history, which nobody talks about, so the end of Fukuyama really. (laughter) And the thesis put about during the latter days of the Bush Administration, the theory of the so-called New World Order. But, there have been more serious attempts to deal with the coming millennium in works by Paul Kennedy for example, Eric Hobsbawm, less interesting and more rabid Conor Cruise O'Brien, Robert Kaplan and a book that's apparently making the rounds in campuses on Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin Barber. All these books have looked at the coming millennium with considerable attention to the causes of future conflict, which has given them all, I think justly, cause for alarm. The core of Huntington's vision, which is not really original with him, is the idea of an unceasing clash, a concept of conflict, which slides somewhat effortlessly into the political space vacated by the unremitting war of ideas and values embodied in the unregretted Cold War of which of course, Huntington, was a great theorist. I don't think therefore it's inaccurate to suggest that what Huntington's providing in his work, especially since it's primarily addressed to influential opinion and policy makers, is in
3 fact a recycled version of the Cold War thesis that conflicts in today's and tomorrow's world will remain not economic or social in essence but ideological. And if that is so, one ideology, the West, is the still...
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