Clash of the Civilizations: Islam and the West

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Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations?:
Islam and the West

When taking another glance at Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations?”, the provocative nature of his arguments and the fervent scholarly debate that followed are hardly surprising. Although, for myself, I remain troubled by one important question. Is Huntington completely wrong, as many propose, about a rising conflict between the nations of Islam and those of the West in the post cold war era? Huntington contends that the future will boast conflicts between and within civilizations. More so, cultural issues will bring on these conflicts with a particularly divisive role being played by religion.

With that said, it is my contention that Huntington is not completely wrong about the evolution of conflict between these two. Though I feel his groupings of civilizations into eight defining entities to be arbitrary and over generalized. My research and focus will be strictly on the aforementioned conflict between Islam and the West, for which I feel are appropriately categorized, though further research should be done on the capacity of violence between sects within religions. Most importantly I will evaluate his claims of conflicts occurring across what he describes as “cultural fault lines” and to what extent do cultural phenomenon affect the current political climate between the two. Could there be other elements not being discussed that carry the potential for conflict?

In regards to conflict, Huntington describes conflict occurring on both the micro and macro levels. (Huntington, 1993:29) At the micro level, conflict occurs between “adjacent groups along the fault lines between civilizations…over the control of territory and each other.” (Huntington, 1993:29) On a larger scale, macro conflict will be that “states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power, struggle over the control of international institutions and third parties, and competitively promote their particular political and religious values.” (Huntington, 1993:29) Keep in mind that he contends these conflicts will happen across cultural fault lines. In other words, conflicts are rooted in civilizations differences when it comes to “history, language, culture, tradition, and most important, religion.” (Huntington, 1993:25)

Given his contentions on conflict, my research has come up with two intriguing propositions. It must be mentioned that the data being reflected is judged on whether they are civilizational or non-civilizational, considering that Huntington divides the world into eight major civilizations: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and African. (Huntington, 1993:25) Also due to Huntington’s predisposition to religion as a guiding force, the study cited religion as a civilizational divide when possible. (Fox, 2001:461)

First, of the 104 post-Cold War era civilizational conflicts, “about 80.8% involved Islamic groups, Western groups, or both”. (Fox, 2001:464) Though this is not necessarily unique, because during the Cold War this figure was at around 83.1%. (Fox, 2001:464) Although an increase does occur with consideration that during the Cold War around 39.4% of conflicts involving the West were with Islamic groups, post-Cold War it jumps to 55.9%. (Fox, 2001:464) This finding would be “consistent with Huntington’s argument that civilizational conflict between Western and Islamic civilizations will increase in the post-Cold War era. (Fox, 2001:464) In addition, the majority of civilizational conflicts as a whole involved Islamic groups, with the Cold War era making up around 60.7% and the post-Cold War era around 65.4%. (Fox, 2001:463)

What seems to be overlooked is that between the Cold War and post-Cold War there is an increase of 15 civilizational conflicts, Islamic groups are involved in 14 of those and 6 are with the West. (Fox, 2001:464) This is also in contrast to a...
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