Current global affair and the increasing conflict has led me to explore further an issue that has gained popularity after it was forgotten for a while. Its the topic of Clash of Civilisation (COC).
COS is a theory developed by the late Samuel Huntington in the 90s of the last century. He introduced his controversial hypothesis first in an article published in Foreign Policy (also available here ), with the core of it being the following:
It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations. The clash of civilisations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future.
Huntington however claimed that the major conflict in the future is going to be between the West and Islam, after Communism has been defeated in the Cold War.
He claimed that the theory started to manifest itself through the Balkan conflict, although personally I’m not sure how to think about that, especially that the NATO, spearheaded by the US, intervened seemingly in favour of the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbian Christian Orthodox who were close Allies to Russia. So it seems there have been, as much ‘alliances’ between civilisations as there has been clashes in the Balcan conflict. But to be fair, the war had started in 1992 and he published his theory in 1993. Then again, it is also fair to put some question marks on the predictive power of the theory.
The theory reemerged again through the rise of Al Qaida, and the attacks agains the US embassies of Nairobi and Dar Al Salam, reaching its peak in 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq. The War on Terror was supposed to be a war against Islamic extremism, however after Al Qaida and other terror groups killed way more Muslims than Westerners, the COS theory lost dramatically its alleged ‘interpretive’ power of world conflicts related to Islam .
Nevertheless, the rise of ISIS as the strongest terrorist group in the world, and then later the establishment of the Islamic State (IS) allowed the Islam vs. West narrative to pick up again. The horrible terror attacks in Europe conducted by ISIS, the refugee crisis, and the misconduct by some refugees at the same time nurtured the right wing political movements in Europe, and lead to events with the potential to destablise international security like Brexit and the failed coup d’etat in Turkey.
Decision of the new US president Trump however fueled this narrative even further. The current travel ban on Muslims from specific countries to the United States created a huge divid not only in America, but also in the international public opinion.
There seems to be an emphasis of the Trump administration to single out Muslims as the source of problems when it comes to terrorism, which dangerously follows a COS logic. What is worrisome about such logic is what Zbigniew Brzezinski highlightes in his foreword of the 2011 version of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, when he says:
I came to realize that his grand thesis and overarching synthesis provided insights vital not only for understanding contemporary world affairs but also for intelligently shaping them.
I think its very dangerous for an ill defined and vague theory such as COS to shape world politics. Sadly enough, Huntington was an influential political scientist who spend almost half a century teaching at Harvard University and was the coordinator of Security Planning for the National Security Council. I wonder how much war this theory and similar ideas might have caused since they were published.