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Where Huntington Got it Wrong: Myth of Clash of Civilizations

Where Huntington got it wrong was that there was no clash of civilizations but a clash within civilizations. He also misunderstood Islam

Introduction

Where Huntington got it wrong was that there was no clash of civilizations but a clash among the civilizations. He also misunderstood Islam. Many experts such as Samuel P. Huntington believe that a conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable.

Since the publication of his magnum opus, The Clash of Civilizations (1996), the debate has become more pronounced and controversial. It is since many disagree with his thesis that Islam is an out-of-the-world faith that does not fit in the West.

Many other social scientists like Giles Kepel, Bernard Lewis also believe Islam and the West stand together as the matter is to antimatter. Where Huntington got it wrong was that he ignored the unfolding intra-civilizational fissures in the 21st century

1. Arab’s Conquests, Crusades, Fall of Iraq (1258) and the Toppling of the Ottoman Caliphate

Arab’s conquests, Crusades, fall of Iraq (1258), and the toppling of the Ottoman Caliphate mark the apogee of tensions between Islam and the West. One can recall the past animosities between the two civilizations starting from Arab expansionism in Asia, Africa, and Europe, after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The Moors had almost routed France, and Italy before they were defeated at Tours in 732 AD by Francs. Crusades, the so-called medieval military expedition between Islam and Christianity are the forerunner of today’s conflict between the two civilizations.

Credit for this video goes to Palestine Diary: According to the theory of The Clash of Civilizations, conflicts in the post-Cold War world would be primarily fueled by people’s cultural and religious identities.

All Muslims regard those fighters and leaders as next only to prophets and companions. Saladin is one such example. Western heroes like Richard the Lionheart, are the antagonist in Islamic history.

Furthermore, Muslims regard Christians as the masterminds of the loss of the 1258 war, the Fall of Iraq, and recently the toppling of the Ottoman caliphate.

The Roots of Muslim Rage (1990) and Islam and the West (1993) by famous historian Bernard Lewis regards Islam and the West as irreconcilable. He claims Islam and the West can never coexist in the modern globalized world as it has never happened since the dawn of Islam.

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2. Where Huntington Got it Wrong: Issues Political or Economic, rather than Civilizational

Issues between Islamic and western civilizations do exist but they are often taken out of proportion and out of context. The Arab Conquests, Crusades, the Fall of Iraq (1258), the toppling of the Ottoman Caliphate, and other events were political and economic rather than civilizational.

3. Palestine Conflict, Arab-Israel Wars, and Suez Canal War

The Palestine-Israel conflict is also a fault line for future conflicts. The Arabs and the West-led Israel wars of 1948, 1963, 1973, 1978, and many other clashes show strong undercurrents between the two religious philosophies. The USA-planned 1953 topple of the Musaddaq government in Iran, the 1956 French and the English onslaught over the Suez Canal, France Algeria bloodbaths, etc. do not bode well for the future.

Where Huntington got it wrong was that these conflicts were mainly political or economic, rather than any clash of civilizations.

Huntington’s Thesis of the Clash of Civilizations is a Hoax

Samuel P. Huntington’s magnum opus, The Clash of Civilizations(1996) pinpoints Islam and the Chinese civilizations as incompatible with the Western system and ideals. His fateful prophecy is that future conflicts will be between/among civilizations, in particular, Islam and the West.

His arguments are no different from Lewis’s in his The Roots of Muslim Rage (1990) that Islam strongly opposes the cultural traditions of the West. He believes although Islam is not a monolithic block, the whole civilization stands united against Christianity.

Giles Kepel on Islamic Civilization

Giles Kepel in his “Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam” also regards Islam as a recipe for disaster for the Western economic and social system. To him, Islam has no respect or space for infidels (anyone who’s non-Muslim). He calls this so-called wild idea “dialectics of Jihadism.”

Therefore, he believes terrorist groups like Alqaeda, Taliban, ISIS, etc. are popping up everywhere. This school of thought is so strong that a forceful backlash has resulted, in Islamophobia.

It was this thing that killed over 40 innocent worshippers in Christchurch’s attack on a mosque in 2019. The issue of Purdha might otherwise have gone unheard, is a contentious issue all over the West. Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, Charlie Hebdo, and Geert Wilders reveal a clarion call and challenge to Islamic civilization. The ever-rising support of parties of the Right Wing also has roots in it.

Where Huntington Got it Wrong!

All this appeals to the imagination, it is not the whole truth. Although, there has never been a confluence of the two civilizations yet they have been meandering near each other. Where Huntington got it wrong was that there is not a yawning gap between the teachings of the two religions.

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But that is not part of the debate. There is needed a nonpartisan analysis grounded in actualities and undeniable rationales. The clash of civilizations is a hoax because of the following points:

1. Nation-State System Divides Civilizations

Firstly, where Huntington got it wrong was that the existing nation-state system and nationalism divide civilizations. The idea of the nation-state is so mighty and invincible that it does not seem to die down anytime soon. Therefore, the notion of civilization is flawed and misleading.

Commenting on the Clash of Civilization, Edward Said stated, it was not a clash of civilization but a clash of ignorance. North and South Korea both belong to the same civilization, but they are sworn, enemies. South Sudan and Sudan are other examples of how the clash of civilizations is a hoax.

2. Hardliners and Islamic Parties are Losing to Liberals

Where Huntington got it wrong was that the fundamentalists and hardliners in Muslim countries can take over the governments like in Iran. He believed they will lock horns with the West also seems improbable and unconvincing. Let’s take the example of Pakistan, globally, 5th biggest and 2nd largest in the Islamic world.

Although there religious scholars like Maudoodi and his party Islamic League (Jama’at e Islami), and the sermons of Dr. Israr Ahmad do exhibit aversion to the West, it is not strong enough to overthrow the system.

In fact, the Islamic parties are losing popularity and their seats in parliament are nosediving in each election. In Saudi Arabia, there is no sign the government goes to war against the West. They are rather trying to acclimatize with the Western system.

In almost every country, the religious zealots are losing ground and becoming liberal. Although the Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan, it has a lot to do with corrupt governments of the past and the failed socio-economic and political policies.

3. Less than 5% People (Muslims) do not Pose any Threat to the Western Civilization

Where Huntington got it wrong is that the ratio of Muslims in the West is even less than 5%. It means the whole debate seems overcooked and erroneous. The recent documentary The Economists, How Islam in the West is Changing shows how the new generation of Muslims is different and closer to the Western system rather than Islam.

Conclusion

To conclude, the clash of the Western and Islamic civilizations is a buzzword nowadays and the debate is getting hard to handle. There are two schools of thought, one believes Islam and the West will go into conflict as they have never been affable in the past. Where Huntington got it wrong is that Islam, a faith of around 1.8 billion people in 5 continents, is not compatible with the West.

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This group is fearful of Muslims living and coming to the West. Islamophobia and blasphemy are an outgrowth of this idea. While the others, mainly the liberals believe Islam is a mainstream religion and is compatible with the West. They support Muslim immigration and show cooperation with them. What needs to be done is to find a peaceful solution to this.

This debate is, to an extent, overcooked and there is no need to fear Islam or Muslims. Muslims too need to develop a positive image. Where Huntington got it wrong is that the Western system is from millennia will remain forever. It is not brittle as some folks think. 

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By Rizwan Bosan

I am a ghostwriter and blogger. My 3.91 GPA in English graduation earned me a gold medal. I also hold a degree in advanced writing from the University of California.

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