How Relevant Is the Debate Between Huntington and Said to Understanding the Contemporary Examples of Terrorism, State and Non-State?

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  • Topic: September 11 attacks, Terrorism, Islam
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How relevant is the debate between Huntington and Said to understanding the contemporary examples of terrorism, state and non-state?

Samuel P. Huntington formulated a theory named, ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, which was published in Foreign Affairs, summer 1993.[1] His theory was based on the changing source of conflict in global politics. Huntington believed that the reason for significant conflict would no longer stem from ideological or economic origins; it would be due to cultural conflict.[2] Civilizations – an advanced state of social development- vary from each other by factors including language, tradition, culture, history and most importantly in this case, religion. The diversities of each civilization are now the basis for conflict, Huntington argues. The clash of civilizations formulated widespread opinion and criticism from public figures and elites. One such individual who refuted Huntington’s Clash of Civilization theory was Professor Edward Said. The debate began with Said’s October 22, 2001 article published in The Nation, The Clash of Ignorance.[3] This article was a direct response to Huntington’s theory. Professor Said argued The Clash of Civilizations oversimplified the explanation of global conflict between nations. However with current examples of terrorism and political unrest occurring prior to the publication of The Clash of Civilizations in 1993, the relevancy of such theories can now be discussed in 2010.

Discussing the relevance of The Clash of Civilizations does not need to be brought forward to 2010 for analysis. September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were by far the most significant single event after the Cold War. It was here in which America’s foreign policy was brought to attention and particular its policy towards the perpetrators who originated from the Middle East. The world’s superpower, in the United States was proven it too could not escape the forces of the current international situation. Interestingly, preceding the September 11 attacks, Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations was predominantly discussed to see if any correlations existed. Huntington himself added to the debate by publishing an article titled, ‘The Age of Muslim Wars’ features in the Newsweek publication of December 2001.[4] Huntington makes revisions to his original, primary statements which featured in ‘The Clash of Civilizations.’ Huntington says that civilizational conflict is possible but not inevitable while previously he stated that is was indeed inevitable.[5] Straying further from the ideas made previously in 1993, Huntington now recommends that bitterness towards the west could now be reduced if the US made changes to their policy toward Israel. These contradictory affirmations made by Huntington, indicate a progression to modern or contemporary ways of deciphering the core basis for terrorism.

The need to get a clear understanding of why the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred, Western media directed attention to the ‘Islamic roots’ for a possible explanation. Consequently terms such as ‘Islam’, ‘Islamism’ and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’[6] became regularly reported in the media. This attributed to a public generalisation of all Islamic people are terrorists. The events of such attacks on the United States subsequently lead to U.S invasion of Afghanistan. Contrary to Huntington’s theory of the dominating sources of conflict will be cultural, the US gained substantial support from the Muslim communities. Turkey and Iran have also supported the U.S in their campaign to stop the war on terror. However Huntington does not take into account the issues of global justice or origins of colonialism.

In simplistic terms, global justice describes an individual believing they have a greater responsibility towards their family member, friends and acquaintances than they would towards a stranger or an unknown figure. For a political standpoint, global justice describes the longstanding conflict...
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