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Samuel Huntington :Clash of the Civilizations

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    Samuel Huntington :Clash of the Civilizations

    A Head-On Collision of Alien Cultures?
    By The New York Times

    Samuel Huntington has argued that global politics will be dominated by a "clash of civilizations," most likely pitting the West against the Muslim world and other cultures.

    Samuel Huntington, a political scientist at Harvard University, has argued that global politics will be dominated by a "clash of civilizations," most likely pitting the West against the Muslim world and other cultures. Michael Steinberger talked with him.

    Is this the clash of civilizations that you have been warning about nearly a decade?

    Clearly Osama bin Laden wants it to be a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. The first priority for our government is to try to prevent it from becoming one. But there is a real danger that it could move in that direction. The administration has acted exactly the right way in attempting to rally support among Muslim governments and people. But there are great pressures here in the United States to attack other terrorist groups and states that support terrorist groups. And that, it seems to me, could broaden it into a clash of civilizations.

    Were you surprised the terrorists were all educated, middle-class individuals?

    No. The people involved in fundamentalist movements, Islamic or otherwise, are often people with advanced educations. Most of them do not become terrorists, of course. But these are intelligent, ambitious young people who aspire to put their educations to use in a modern, developed economy, and they become frustrated by the lack of jobs, the lack of opportunity. They are cross- pressured as well by the forces of globalization and what they regard as Western imperialism and cultural domination. They are attracted to Western culture, obviously, but they are also repelled by it.

    You have written that "Islam has bloody borders." What do you mean by this?

    If you look around the borders of the Muslim world, you find that there are a whole series of local conflicts involving Muslims and non-Muslims: Bosnia, Kosovo, the Caucuses, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Kashmir, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, North Africa, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Muslims also fight Muslims, and much more than the people of other civilizations fight each other.

    So are you suggesting that Islam promotes violence?

    I don't think Islam is any more violent than any other religions, and I suspect if you added it all up, more people have been slaughtered by Christians over the centuries than by Muslims. But the key factor is the demographic factor. Generally speaking, the people who go out and kill other people are males between the ages of roughly 16 and 30. During the 1960's, 70's and 80's there were high birthrates in the Muslim world, and this has given rise to a huge youth bulge. But the bulge will fade. Muslim birthrates are going down; in fact, they've dropped dramatically in some countries. Islam did spread by the sword originally, but I don't think there is anything inherently violent in Muslim theology. Islam, like any great religion, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. People like bin Laden can seize on things in the Koran as commands to go out and kill the infidels. But the pope did exactly the same thing when he launched the Crusades.

    Should the United States do more to promote democracy and human rights in the Middle East?

    It would be desirable but also difficult. In the Islamic world there is a natural tendency to resist the influence of the West, which is understandable given the long history of conflict between Islam and Western civilization. Obviously, there are groups in most Muslim societies that are in favor of democracy and human rights, and I think we should support those groups. But we then get into this paradoxical situation: many of the groups arguing against repression in those societies are fundamentalists and anti-American. We saw this in Algeria. Promoting democracy and human rights are very important goals for the United States, but we also have other interests. President Carter was deeply committed to promoting human rights, and when I served on his National Security Council, we had countless discussions about how to do this. But to the best of my recollection, nobody ever mentioned the idea of trying to promote human rights in Saudi Arabia, and for a very obvious reason.

    Apart from our closest allies, no country has lined up more solidly behind the United States than Russia. Is this the moment Russia turns decisively to the West?

    Russia is turning to the West in these circumstances for pragmatic and ad hoc reasons. The Russians feel they are seriously threatened by Muslim terrorists and see it as in their interest to line up with the West and to gain some credit with the United States in hopes that we will reduce our push for NATO expansion into the Baltic states and missile defense. It's a coincidence of interests, but I don't think we should blow it up into a big realignment. I think, though, that they are very worried about the rise of China, and this will turn them to the West.

    India and China, two countries that you said would be at odds with the United States, have joined in this war on terrorism. Instead of the West versus the rest, could the clash shape up to be Islam versus the rest?

    Conceivably. You have Muslims fighting Westerners, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists. But one must also recognize that there are a billion Muslims in the world, stretching across the Eastern hemisphere from Western Africa to eastern Indonesia, and they interact with dozens of different people. So you might say they have more opportunity to clash with others.

    The most frequent criticism leveled against you is that you portray entire civilizations as unified blocks.

    That is totally false. The major section on Islam in my book is called "Consciousness Without Cohesion," in which I talk about all the divisions in the Islamic world, about Muslim-on-Muslim fighting. Even in the current crisis, they are still divided. You have a billion people, with all these subcultures, the tribes. Islam is less unified than any other civilization. The problem with Islam is the problem Henry Kissinger expressed three decades ago with regard to Europe: "If I want to call Europe, what number do I call?" If you want to call the Islamic world, what number do you call? Islam may pose problems because it is less cohesive. If there was a dominant power in the Islamic world, you could deal with them. Now what you see is the different Islamic groups competing with each other.