What does Huntington mean by the “global politics of civilizations?” Are we living in a world which can be described, “as a clash of civilizations” or is it “misunderstanding of cultures and misperceptions?”
- The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
- Chapter 10: “From Transition Wars to Fault Line Wars,” pp. 246-265.
- Chapter 11: “The Dynamics of Fault Line Wars,” pp. 266-298.
- Chapter 12: “The West, Civilizations and Civilization,” pp. 301-321.
In chapters 10-12, Huntington discusses the differences across cultures with respect to peace and war, while simultaneously presenting the argument that the root causes share the same sources. It’s the “We are different but if you dig deeper we are more alike than you think” lens. More specifically, he discusses the reasons why wars between clans, tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities & nations have been prevalent in every era and in every civilization. He states that it is because they are rooted in the identities of the people. Cultural identities encompass several aspects including primary economic sources, intensity of religious faith, gender norms, prevailing male ethos in the job market, political issues and basic ideas for how women are viewed. Of these, religious faith, with specific regard to the Muslim faith, tends to be a defining factor for why other faiths can co-exist with each other [Buddhists, Christians & Hindus] and why other religions typically can’t coexist with the Muslim faith. Huntington talks about how Muslim |non Muslim conflict is due to the indigestibility of Muslims. The Islamic faith is absolutist and merges religion and politics to draw sharp defining lines. To this point, it is possible that some people may reject the Muslim faith simply off of methods of delivery rather than the actual beliefs that the people hold. Huntington’s observations in this chapter made me think of cultural identity, standards, assimilation and appropriation. President Donald Trump and Melania Trump are currently in the Middle East. Although the first lady received praise for her conservative attire, she also received criticism for showing her legs and forgoing wearing the hijab in the controversial Saudi Arabia. Most western political officials have typically decided to forgo wearing the head wrap. My observation is that this would be considered rude. Even if Islam is not one’s religion, there should be a certain level of respect from visitors to another country that is required, especially since the U.S. is not on the best terms with many middle eastern countries. We can begin to build bridges and overcome differences by showing that we are willing and able to embrace and understand all people for the mere fact that we all belong to the same [human] race. Understanding and appreciating different cultural identities is key to coalition building and to the establishment of alliances.
In addition, Huntington talks about the power of religion to be the dominate identity that has the most meaningful relation to a given conflict. Most people immigrated to America for religious and economic freedom. Religion has been used as a tool to oppress people, reject certain types of leadership and engage in acts of terror against countries. It seems ironic that an identity that is supposed to unite and structure human behavior is the primary source of war and conflict. More specific to fault line wars, Huntington defines such wars as local wars between local groups with wider connections which in turn promotes civilizational identities among their participants. Local cultures have the advantage of convincingly portraying itself as a victim against another local more dominate force to enlist the assistance of a global hegemon. It all depends on what the depiction is. Western governments are sympathetic to victims of genocide and the Middle East is prone to show support to groups that identify as Muslim.
The connecting piece here is the instance when western countries responsible for colonizing and changing the histories and identities of many cultures feel the need to interject in foreign affairs to act as peace-maker or decision-maker. In the case of Vietnam, the U.S. wanted to stop the spread of communism but underestimated the power of Northern Vietnamese military power. Most American sentiments toward the Vietnam War is that it was war we were not supposed to fight. Even more interesting is that during that time the U.S. was not performing well in the social, economic or political realm. America allocates billions of dollars on defense via the discretionary budget which is twice as large as two other countries’ allocations. It begs the question of civilizations reforming and renewing themselves after external challenges. More specifically, are civilizations capable of reviving and stopping the internal processes of decay? As asked by Huntington in Chapter 12 “Can the West renew itself or will sustained internal rot simply accelerate its end and/or subordination to other economically and demographically more dynamic civilizations?” This very question speaks to the current dynamic between the worlds’ current hegemons- The United States & China. It seems probable that the U.S. will lose it’s world powerhouse position if ties with other affluent countries like Russia start to weaken. This depends on the next steps taken by the President in terms of economic, domestic and environmental & foreign policy. There are still severe economic disparities, racial tensions and violence against women happening on U.S. soil. Can the U.S. government simultaneously implement rigorous progressive social policy while sustaining the U.S. position as number one on the global market stage? How will cultural identity serve to support or hinder the push for domestic and foreign relational harmony?