Huntington's Prophecies: A Tribute to an Outstanding Political Genius
04 Jan, 2009
- With Marxist-Communist regimes collapsed ending the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama argued in his influential thesis, The End of History, in 1989 that liberal democracy may signal the end-point of humankind's ideological evolution and the final form of governance, which would eventually be adopted globally. Fukuyama's thesis had two seminal assumptions: a) Triumph of civilized liberal democracy globally, and b) Emergence of a nonconflictual world civilization.
Huntington's Civilizational Clash theory (1993) challenged both assumptions of Fukuyama. Regarding Fukuyama's presumed triumph of civilized liberal democracy globally, Huntington emphasized that "Law and order", "the first prerequisite of Civilization", were evaporating or under threat everywhere—China, Japan and the United States included. Globally, "Civilization seems in many respects to be yielding to barbarism... a global Dark Age possibly descending on humanity," he wrote. Opposed to Fukuyama's proposed emergence of a nonconflictual world civilization, Huntington emphasized that conflicts were not over, but future conflicts would likely be fought along civilizational fault-lines over cultural or religious differences, not between states over ideological (political) or economic reasons. "The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future," he predicted.
Identifying seven to eight major civilizations: Indian, Chinese, Asian, Islamic, Western etc., Huntington emphasized that, instead of converging toward universal liberalism globally, human consciousness within these civilizations is increasingly parochializing: people are becoming increasingly conscious of their cultural, religious or civilizational values and differences.
His thesis gets a significant space for Islamic resurgence, simply because religious revivalism amongst Muslims in recent decades much outweighs the rejuvenation of civilizational or religious consciousness amongst other peoples. Islam has Bloody Borders, Muslims are involved in majority of the world's conflicts, said Huntington and evidently so. "The overwhelming majority of fault line conflicts, however, have taken place along the boundary lopping across Eurasia and Africa that separates Muslims from non-Muslims," he writes, adding, that "wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors."
Although Huntington analyzed how different civilizations would likely interplay in reshaping the world-order in the emerging era, his analysis regarding Islam has become a bone of contention. Critics have attacked his whole thesis as a forced construction of an inevitable Islam–West conflict, nonexistent in reality. His Clash of Civilizations, argues British academician Francis Robinson, is based on "the old Western polemic against Islam, Western fears of Islam, and a strong dose of Orientalism." Robinson emphasizes that "there is a long history of the Muslim and the Christian civilizations drawing on each other, and being enriched by each other, and this is a process which, whatever the rhetoric, still continues." With Communism brought down, many critics have argued that argued that the inherently hegemonic and militaristic West needed a new enemy: Huntington's thesis was an effort to invent one. It set out "to identify "new sources" of international conflicts in the post-Cold War world," claims Dr. Ismail Hossein-Zadeh of Drake University. Edward Said, the renowned anti-Orientalist, mockingly called Huntington's thesis "The Clash of Ignorance". He concluded: "'The Clash of Civilizations' thesis is a gimmick like 'The War of the Worlds,' better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time."
After the September 11, 2001 (9/11) attacks in the United States, media became abuzz with Huntington's thesis: his supporters saw his prophesies being fulfilled; his opponents intensified their attacks on him for deliberately creating a paradigm that may fuel a fateful Islam-West conflict. His more avowed conspiratorial critics suggested that, prompted by Huntington's thesis, the U.S. administration carried out the 9/11 attacks for advancing America's hegemonic interests: the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, for example. Ayaan Hirsi Ali coined Huntington's dilemma as follows: "Foretelling the future can be fun for astrologists, prophets and crystal-ball gazers. For academics, it is not. If you get it right, you will be damned like Samuel Huntington. If you get it wrong, you will be called a certified idiot."
Many critics have trashed the idea of Civilization Clash, especially one between Islam and the West. Christian Europe, not Islam, they argue, has been historically intolerant to non-Christians—Jews in Europe, Muslims in Spain. At the same time, Christians, Jews and even Heathens found tolerance, peace and prosperity in Muslim lands. In the abhorrent colonial era, they assert, Christian West captured much of the Muslim and non-Muslim lands. Islam, therefore, can pose no threat to the West. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton asserted that the West has no problems with Islam. To this, Huntington retorted: "The relations between Islam and Christianity, both orthodox and Western, have often have been stormy. Each has been the other's Other. The twentieth century conflict between Liberal Democracy and Marxist-Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relations between Islam and Christianity."
The avid critics of Huntington are either ignorant or in denial to assert that there was no problem between Islam and the West. A historical investigation proves Huntington thoroughly correct. Islam's birth under Prophet Muhammad was conflictual with the Pagans, Jews and Christians of Arabia: Pagans were annihilated during his life-time; Jews were expelled or slaughtered and enslaved; Christians were attacked, forcibly converted, or prohibited to baptize their children to turn them all Muslim.
After the prophet's death, Islam's conflict intensified and spread far afield against peoples of all creed, color and race. In two decades, Islam came in conflict with the Christian West when Muslims attacked Mediterranean Islands in 652 CE; it has remained so except for rare brief respites. Who can deny the Muslim occupation of Spain, Sicily, Greece, Hungary, East Europe and the Ottoman attempts to overrun Central and West Europe twice as they seized Vienna in 1529 and 1683? Who can deny the existence of the Crusades, the European colonial occupation—in which Islamic countries became the dominant victim?
Huntington foresaw a solidifying Muslim vs. non-Muslim conflict globally, although the idea of Islam-West conflict has become a buzzword. Undoubtedly, his prophecies vis-à-vis Islam have been turning a reality, if it haven't been so already. More astonishing is his prediction regarding other civilizations, other religions. Hinduism—historically an apolitical, tolerant creed—is becoming increasingly political, jingoistic and militant. While Hindu-Muslim clashes have been rife over the decades, often fueled by Muslims, militant Hindus in recent months have attacked Christians in various parts of India, killing a number of them. Buddhists, the most pacifist creed, is also becoming increasingly political, jingoistic and even militant. Buddhist monks rallied last year for making Buddhism the State Religion of Thailand. Militant Buddhists in Sri Lanka, instigated by monks, have been increasing their attacks on Christians; annoyed by Christian proselytization, they have been attacking and persecuting Christians. A Buddhist mob, led by monks, destroyed a church in July 2008.
The whole gamut of Huntington's thesis—i.e., emergence of conflicts amongst different peoples inspired by cultural and religious differences—is turning a reality; it will only get worse in coming decades. Even Huntington might have been surprised that his prophesies started turning a reality so soon. He knew the role cultures would play in shaping the emerging world-order. That's why he probably opposed the Iraq invasion not to antagonize another culture, although his many critics have held him culpable for fueling the whole conflict.
The Clash of Civilization is not Huntington's only theory that has proved prophetic. His first book, "The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations", published in 1957, endorsed the role of civilian authority over military institutions. Although attracted repulsive reviews at the time, it turned highly influential meriting a 50th anniversary symposium.
"He tended to have views that were unconventional and remarkably prescient. He would have a finger on the pulse of where events were headed," Boston Globe quotes James Perry, Huntington's former graduate student. And undoubtedly so!
He was a prophetically genius political scientist of our time. It may take a while to fill his shoes.