The Clash of Civilizations was written by Samuell Huntington in 1993 and is one of the most famous articles that instigated a debate in International Relations at the beginning of the post-cold War era. With the end of the cold war, scholars around the world were trying to make sense of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the triumph of liberal order led by the US. While Francis Fukuyama was overjoyed with the triumph of the liberal International system and pointed out the cold war as the end of history as no other order can challenge the liberal norms of democracy and free trade΄ Sameul Hungtinton presented a different thesis and predicted that the new world order will be dominated by the clash of civilization where the main source of conflict will be along cultural lines and in future, countries will be grouped along civilizational lines as the civilizational identities will be extremely important.
The major 8 civilizations i.e. Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic Orthodox, Latin America, and African Civilization will largely shape the world. The post-cold War states will not fight on the basis of ideologies or economics but on the growing difference in their culture and civilization.
As the desires of states to expand economies and gain territories have been met due to economic globalization, a free market economy, and fixed territorial boundaries recognized by other states. The future conflicts will be fought on new sources of civilizational fault lines i.e. culture and religion. Each Civilization will have a core state often possessing nuclear power and there will be conflict between and among these civilizations. The conflicts of the future will be fought o cultural fault lines because history is evident that basic differences have generated the most violent conflict. The globalization process has shrunk the world, and increased interaction between different cultures is increasing the consciousness of states resulting in awareness of differences. The long-standing local identities of people are vanishing due to modernization and religion is filling the gap as evident through the rise of fundamentalist movements. He also argues that the civilizational consciousness has increased due to the dual role of the West and there is an evident confrontation between the West and the non-west. Along with that, the states don’t compromise on their cultural differences rather than political and economic ones. And another important reason is the increase in economic regionalism that is resulting in civilizational consciousness and states are naturally inclined towards states that share common culture and civilization.
He foresaw a civilizational clash between the West and the Rest where the non-western states will challenge the global economic and military power of the West and its ideas of liberal democracy that it spread in the non-western world through international institutions that it has created. He describes the potential of conflict along civilizational identities and highlights short and long-term implications for the West. He suggested that the West should align closely with states that share a common culture and limit the expansion and strength and exploit differences between Islamic and Confucian civilization, and strengthen the institutions that promote Western ideals and advocate the membership of non-Western states in the short term. In the long term, the West should identify the civilizational commonalities of non-western states and try to co-exist with those non-western states.
The thesis of Samuel Huntington was a unique thesis to predict the future cold war era.
The possibility of conflict between various states that will align on civilizational identities was highlighted and this instigated a debate where some scholars approved his hypothesis and others rejected it.
He also assumes the unchanging character of duality between West and Non-West, US and them. His rhetoric of clash of civilizations is more of a polemicist and perpetuates a war of all against all. He defines Islamic civilization reductively where they are just focusing on fault lines and challenging modern Western civilization. The 2001 attack on symbols of Western liberal democracy (World Trade Center and Pentagon) by non-western Islamic elements (Al-Qaeda) have been observed through the lens of a clash of civilization between the West and Islam.
The rise in Global Terrorism and the emergence of new groups like Al-Shadaab, Boko Haram, and Islamic State challenge the Western values of liberalism and modernism.
The literal translation of Boko Haram “Western Education is forbidden” shows that future conflicts will revolve around these lines. China has risen as one of the largest economies and its continuous advancement in military technology represents a stunning increase in the power of the Sinic Civilization that may shift its policy of peaceful rise and challenge Western hegemony in the future. However, the thesis cannot be generalized as there is a large Muslim population living in non-western states peacefully and respecting the values and culture of their host. Although, there are some shreds of evidence of a clash between Islam and the West but generalizing it as Islam in conflict with Western values will be non-pragmatic. Moreover, he assumes that in the 21st century, states are satisfied with their fixed borders and economic emancipation and tilt towards the states with common civilizational lines, yet it is evident that states today are acting more with respect to their national interest and the whole world is shifting from geo-politics to geo-economics. The Arab states have sidelined their cultural sympathies with Palestine and pursued their economic goals and interests with Israel through Abraham Accord. Moreover, China’s growth in these 40 years is more through economic emancipation towards different regions of the world than sticking just to states with a common culture. The Russian and Western leaders are confronting more for their sphere of influence than for their cultural preservation.
In short, Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations prediction is more relevant when the interaction of non-state actors with states is observed particularly the behavior of terrorist groups towards the Western world. But when we analyze the state-to-state relation it is still dominated by competition and cooperation in economic and political terms. And cultural differences and commonalities are sidelined when it comes to national interest and survival as seen by the tilt of Arab states towards Israel, and China’s growing investment in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia under the flagship project of BRI.
A possible likely clash was there in the past and is present even today between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia and the rise of Islam-o-phobia in the West is also a manifestation of growing differences between various civilizations on cultural and religious terms.
The future will unfold how these differences are highlighted to the extent that they turn into a violent conflict or clash of civilizations.
The Author is Researcher at the Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK, working on Comprehensive Security and Strategic Stability. She is also an M.Phil. Scholar at Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad.