Clash of civilizations? Modern conflicts and their roots


After the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the world entered a new era due to the victory of western ideology, but conflicts between countries do not seize to exist. While arguing the continuance of disputes between civilizations has always been unignorable when it comes to the cause of conflicts in human histories, Samuel P. Huntington assumed that the fundamental root of conflicts in the modern world is the "clash of civilization." As Huntington's theory may appear to be logical to some extent, one could argue it is not reasonable to understand the whole international system solely basing on cultural factors. This essay will analyze the impracticality of interpreting international relations using Huntington's theory. Firstly, it will point out the weaknesses of Huntington's thesis from different perspectives and build on the central argument by criticizing Huntington's main assumptions. The second paragraph will focus on identifying the reasoning behind Huntington's theory while evaluating the theory's implication in reality as a counterargument. Finally, the essay will rebut to its original stance using real-life examples to support the main argument stating that it is unreasonable to understand post-Cold War international relations in terms of a "clash of civilizations."


Civilization is still lacking a widely accepted definition nowadays, and that is the primary cause of unconvincing Huntington's theory. Huntington's assumption merely defines civilizations as cultural entities that differentiate themselves from each other according to objective factors such as language, history, and religion. They are all, to some extent, heterogeneity. However, the underlying premise of this definition, suggesting non-colonial interactions between western and non-western civilizations, only emerges with the end of the Cold War. It might be seen as fallacy according to historical fact. The long-standing silk road recorded the balanced trades between the East and the West. Thus, historically speaking, the West was not and has never been the only hegemon in the world. This example demonstrates the theory's inability to acknowledge the fact that civilizations are fluctuant instead of fixed.


Furthermore, while dividing civilizations worldwide, Huntington overlooked the distinctions among individuals, thus overly simplified those categories used to describe the current world. Huntington broke down the world into eight civilizations, and this essay will draw attention to the categorizing of Indonesia. Being placed under the category of Islamic culture, Indonesia's population is undergoing a series of Islamification. However, Indonesian has been facing a large-scale ethnoreligious dilemma since 1998 due to their ethnicity and the state's plurality nature. The example of Indonesia per se establishes the idea that each individual and cultural group possesses uniqueness and should not be generalized into one classification; it also points out Huntington's failure in identifying cultures' diversity. 


In "Clash of Civilization," Huntington wrongly preserved the Cold War's ideology: the parties involved are either enemies or allies. He merely replaced the "us" or "them" opposition with one under the name of "western" or "non-western." However, disputes of ideologies and conflicts of accumulating cultures are incomparable, let alone replacing the former with the latter. This presumption extended the sense of hostility between different civilizations, especially amid the western and Islamic cultures, as Huntington mentioned. Within this perspective, wars are considered inevitable under any circumstances due to the nature of cultures: differences lead to conflicts, and conflicts lead to wars. The argument above indicates Huntington's intention of creating an image of a particular enemy, even though this method of constructing unity would have been viewed as unnecessary with the fall of the Iron Curtain. 


Moreover, many assumptions and beliefs of Huntington have also been criticized as being western-centric, or even more so, discriminative. Huntington suggested that civilization can only be progressed when it is leaning closer to western culture, and the value of the West is universally superior. This essay will take democratic development as an example. According to Huntington, modern democracy originated from western societies, and it has generally been the result of western colonialism when establishing in non-western cultures. This argument manifested Huntington's underlying concept of western supremacy by suggesting that the contemporary democratic regime is the best political system, and the rest of the world should "join the West."


Samuel P. Huntington proposed the "Clash of Civilization" as a mere prediction of the post-Cold War international situation, and, to some extent, his prediction is proved accurate. In his argument, he did emphasize and forecast the seriousness of the warfare conflicts. The misunderstanding between Muslim society and western society increased after 911 took place, and terrorist organizations arose misusing the name of "Jihad," also known as the Holy War, as a measure to combat the West. Furthermore, the ongoing tension among China and the United States also proves Huntington's assumption, suggesting that the non-western countries would focus on developing military competences to counter the West. 


Nonetheless, there are flaws in these arguments. While describing Islamic-Western disputes, Huntington used merely a small part of the Islamic community, known to the rest of the world as "extremists," to represent Muslim society. This underlying presumption ignored the individualistic characteristics of varied cultures, demonstrating its lack of accuracy even in the cases he successfully predicted. Huntington also connected the Confucian and Islamic civilizations militarily to support his thesis; however, as previously mentioned, his standpoint remained biased. From the evidence proposed above, one could suggest that his predictions of the international interactions are still considered unconvincing. 


Even though the "Clash of Civilization" might seemingly able to explain some contemporary international events form the surface, there are still certain shortcomings when taking a closer look into global matters. Therefore, to conclude, it is unreasonable to understand international relations based solely on Samuel P. Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations." 


Writer: Charlotte Lee