Is there a clash of civilisations?
In 1992 the American political scientist Samuel P Huntington proposed that after the cold war the fundamental fault line of the future would be along the boundaries of civilisations. These were fundamentally defined by religion and cultural area. He argued that along these boundaries conflict was more common and each civilisation was more likely to fight other civilisations rather than internally. 9/11 was seen by many as proving that this was the case, we really were in a civilisational war with Islam, or at least some of it. Many see there as likely being a long term conflict between China and the USA, which could also be seen as a civilisational war. Even if this is taken only loosely there is much to question about whether it really is the case.
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The most intractable conflicts are at the edge of civilisations
Yes conflicts exist within civilisations but these conflicts tend to be solved comparatively quickly compared to many conflicts across the borders of civilisations. The longest running conflict is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or occupation that is only kept quiet at the point of a gun. The Arab states around about long ago realised they cannot win while Israel ultimately has the U.S.’s backing and the backing of the western civilisation. But there are many lesser known examples. The continuing conflict in Kashmir between India and Pakistan, which is sometimes hot, but mostly a cold war has lasted since independence from Britain. A long lasting civil war is the conflict between North and South Sudan, conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, in the Balkans and the Caucasus. These conflicts are long running and often seem to have no easy way to resolve them. They have continued for generations often retreading the same old ground. Some of them were stifled under communism and the cold war but have come back again now the USSR is gone. There have been long ongoing conflicts in the zones between civilisations for millennia and it is not going to change any time soon.
Many conflicts are based on civilization fault lines
The clash of civilizations theory is supported by the longstanding conflicts around the world that do not make economic sense but could be explained for reasons of a threat from another civilization/ideology that cannot be reconciled. For example, the threat of terror from Muslims is a reason for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A lack of understanding and cultural distance means that these wars are likely to continue.
War on Terror
While it is often proclaimed that the ‘war on terror’, ‘long war’ or one of the various names it has gone through is not against Islam it is difficult that it pits islamists against the west so is a civilisational conflict of a sort. The war may be asymmetric and often not supported widely on either side by the populations of the west and Islamic civilisation but this does not prevent it being a conflict between civilisations. It is undoubtedly a conflict where Islamic militants attack western personnel, property as spectacularly as possible with acts like 9/11 and 7/7. They are openly declaring war against the west. The west is rather less open about being at war with Islam. The west is only at war with the terrorists, but those terrorists happen to be Islamic. The west’s way to conduct the war seems to be civilisational as well. Internal security picks on Muslims for more stop and searches, airport checks, surveillance etc. Externally it involves ‘taking the fight to the terrorists’ on the assumption that we would prefer to fight them in Iraq or Afghanistan than in London or New York. However this really means we are invading Islamic countries and are then surprised when they do not welcome us with open arms. Even if they do not like the extremists the people of these countries do not like the west either, they do not want western troops to remain occupying their country and it is this that drives insurgencies.
The civilization is the most basic and real source of identity
The more similarities there are between ourselves and someone else then the more likely we are to bond with them, vice versa, the more differences there are the more likely we are to be hostile towards them. Civilizations do not need to be precisely defined, there will always be differences between people with infinite variation, but each person almost certainly belongs to one of the particular groups defined by Huntingdon, and this will lead to contact.
This does not have to bring conflict though. We may loosely consider ourselves westerners but that does not mean we have any ill will towards any other civilisation.
The world is rapidly changing
Huntington argues that the qualities of civilizations that distinguish them from each other are the product of centuries and will take a long time to disappear. Globalisation has accelerated enormously in the last few decades, and there are no longer the barriers between cultures that there once were. Air travel makes it easy for people to travel around the world and experience other cultures for themselves and understand the basic similarities between themselves and other civilizations. Immigration brings other races to our own country, and although there is some conflict between immigrants and people who live there already, for the most part, immigrants are able to accept the customs and systems of their host country and assimilate well. If the clash of civilizations has only been the dominant paradigm since the end of the cold war, there is no reason to suggest it should continue for an extensive period.
Different qualities tie people together
The clash of civilizations suggests a singular focus for identity while in actual fact there are many aspects which make up a person's identity: gender, age, religion, race. Heritage vs current nationality. The theory suggests that there are no fractures within the civilizations themselves. The conflicts themselves may not be between civilizations, for example, fundementalist Islam can be seen as a battle against modernity.
Economic and equality concerns could be said to be the basis for percieved civilizational clashes. Since civilizations are generally bound together by similar circumstances, it isn't the fact that they are Islamic or Western but that they share the same problems and thus are united to balance the inequality they face.
Historically most conflict is within civilisations
Yes the wars between civilisations may be bloody and last a long time but historically most conflict is with immediate neighbours regardless of whether they are in the same civilisation or not. We all know about World War I and II, they are mostly conflicts within the west. Russia was not fighting Germany because it felt it was a different civilisation to Germany. Instead it was allied to Britain and France and later the USA, all members of the Western Civilisation with Germany. Throughout the early modern period the west was constantly involved in civil wars with itself. China has often been in conflict with it civilisational partners Vietnam and Korea and has until after the 2nd world war never been in conflict with India.
Who belongs to what civilisation?
How can we argue that there is a clash of civilisations if we cannot even define what civilisations there are and who belongs in each one? Huntington’s definitions may seem obvious but if so why have Japan separate? It could equally belong with the West or with the Sinic civilisation. Why should it be a separate civilisation whereas neighbour Korea who was for centuries even more cut off is part of the Sinic civilisation? Is Russia really that different from the West, and if so is it more different from Europe than the USA, Canada or Australia are?
Why are there three Christian civilisations (West, Latin and Orthodox) when there is only one Islamic so ignoring the divide between Shi’ite and Sunni, or only one Buddhist civilisation when there are three different types of Buddhism: Nikaya, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Equally why is religion the defining factor when many countries are becoming increasingly secular?
If everything works by religion then why is Northern (Protestant) Europe lumped in with Southern (Catholic) Europe. Should Catholic Europe not be considered closer to Catholic Latin America?
How many civilisations there are does not matter that much when deciding if there is conflict between civilisations. Is there conflict between Shi'ite and Sunni, yes as is shown by Iraq, and Lebanon. Is there conflict between the different types of Buddhism? No, but this is because they dont share borders rather than it being simple that there is no conflict between them.
What do you think?