September 17, 2010
“Clashing Civilizations?” by Edward Said
In Edward Said’s essay “Clashing Civilizations?”, he analyses in detail the arguments of Samuel Huntington in his paper on “Clash of Civilizations”. Edward Said incisively analyzes Huntington’s notion that differences in culture between the ‘West’ and ‘Islam’ will lead to conflicts between the two civilizations. Arguing against large understanding of cultures, Said makes a powerful case for multiculturalism. As he argues in this essay, “A unilateral decision made to undertake crusades, to oppose their evil with our good, to extirpate terrorism and, in Paul Wolfowitz’s nihilistic vocabulary, to end nations entirely, doesn’t make the supposed entities any easier to see; rather, it speaks to how much simpler it is to make bellicose statements for the purpose of mobilizing collective passions than to reflect, examine, sort out what it is we are dealing with in reality, the interconnectedness of innumerable lives, ‘ours’ as well as ‘theirs’.”
Said argues that collapsing complex, diverse and contradictory groups of people into vast, simplistic groups has disastrous consequences. In Huntington’s original piece, he believes that the Muslim culture is more involved in wars and conflict than any other culture. He also believes that the clash of distinct cultures and civilizations is the potential root cause of the reinvigorated conflicts between nations differing in religious beliefs. Said, on the other hand, feels as though Huntington is using labels, generalizations, and culture assertions as reasoning to his thesis. He states, “Certainly neither Huntington nor Lewis has much time to spare for the internal dynamics and plurality of every civilization; or for considering that the major contest in most modern cultures concerns the definition or interpretation of each culture; or for the unattractive possibility that a great deal of demagogy and downright ignorance is involved in presuming...