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Was Huntington, right? Is there ‘Civilisational Conflict’ between ‘Islam’ and the ‘West’?

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Type of Academic Paper – Essay

Academic Subject – Philosophy

Word Count – 3000 words

The State of Civilisational Conflict between Islam and the West

According to Kirk (2011), civilisation refers to an organised way of life of a people characterised by different societal elements including customs, beliefs, symbolic communication forms, social strata, political activities, and the general culture of the particular society with a perception that these attributes should either distinguish it from or help it dominate the natural environment. Huntington (2002) established there are a number of world civilisations that include the Eastern world, Western world, Orthodox world, Latin American, and the Muslim world civilisation. These civilisations, he contended that were the major civilisations, which according to him play a major role in shaping the ideologies and general direction, towards which the global geopolitical direction moves.

However, Kirk (2011) contends that over the years there have been conflicts between different world civilizations because of the differences that exist in the perception of the cultures and religious affiliations associated with different civilization. In addition, Bowker (2006) argued that some of the civilizations consider themselves superior to others resulting in situations of civilizational conflict. Civilizational conflict is therefore the clash of the world’s civilizations based on the differences of various identities they ascribe to in terms of religion as well as culture.

Post-Cold War Paradigms

Huntington vs. Fukuyama

The pre-cold war saw civilisations divided along ideological lines including the difference in different societies’ subscription to either communism or democracy. Samuel Huntington, a political scientist, in his studies on Clash of Civilisations, argued that the International politics of the post-cold war era would be engraved in cultural characteristics of civilizations and not political, ideological, or economic factors. Simply, Huntington held that differences in religion and other cultural elements would form a key basis upon which most civilisations would “clash.” Conversely, Francis Fukuyama, a former student of Huntington, held that the post-cold war years and the future at large would see the “end of history” as the cultural differences would not emerge against the stronger liberal democracy that these civilisations were warming up towards.

Islam’s bloody borders

Further, apart from the cultural identities being the basis of the conflicts, Huntington predicted that the interaction between different civilisations and particularly that between western and non-western ones would be at the heart of this era’s conflicts, terming them conflicts between “bloody borders.” He further clarified that specifically occurring between Islamic and non-Islamic states . Huntington emphasizes that this would be even fuelled further by the religious differences these two civilisations ascribe to.

 

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Western Civilisation

Western civilisation encompasses countries belonging to Western and Central Europe, Canada, The United States, Australia, and Oceania. Madhok (2005) claims that the most profound characteristic identified with this civilisation is the fact that the countries embrace a Catholic-Protestant culture, also referred to as Western Christian Culture. In addition, this civilisation identifies heavily with the Western Culture which comprises various themes/ traditions with a heritage of different linguistic groups ranging from Roman, Greek, Jewish, Slavic to Celtic cultures. The cultural concept of Western civilisation thus comprises of different elements that shaped the total way of life of the people ascribing to it.

Salient Features in Western Civilisation

Firstly, as established by Fox (2005), the Western culture majorly observes the Judeo-Christian tradition of monotheism meaning that they believe in the existence of one god. As such, it relies on the Bible as its basic text, which is believed to be divinely inspired and needs to be wholly understood without only picking parts that one wants to identify with.

Secondly, from the study by Reeh (2016), it is noted that the Western culture has over the years held the belief that political authority should be separated from the spiritual authority in what is phrased as “the separation of Church and State.”

Third, Western civilisation cherishes upholding the fundamental human as well as political rights enshrined in the constitutions of the various countries that identify with its culture. Among them are the freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and the general respect for the rule of law. Furthermore, Gordon (2017) stated that freedom of assembly, he noted, the right for the enjoyment of representative government, the right to vote, and application of the law equally to all as some of the political rights that are so much entrenched in western culture.

Lastly, studies by Henderson & Tucker (2016) revealed that the west values so highly the family unit, private life sanctity, as well as free economic activity. This is well seen through the fact that people are given the freedom of accumulation and transfer of individual property free of intrusive regulation by government authorities. These beliefs, customs, and values of western culture play a big role in the way it perceives what is right from wrong. Consequently, any culture that seems to go against these norms is perceived to be not only retrogressive but also infringing on human rights thus condemned.

Muslim World

Also known as, the Islamic world, Huntington (2002) explained that Muslim civilisation refers to the community of Islam as a whole (Ummah), which comprises all societies that practice Islam as a religion. By 2015, statistics showed that Muslims make about 23% or over 1.7 billion of the world’s population. In the modern world, Islamic civilisation refers majorly to those countries in which the religion is widespread though there is no specific rationale for inclusion.

Salient Features in Islamic Civilisation

The Quran is the basic text that all Muslims lookout for guidance and forms the basis for their belief in Muhammad’s prophetic mission. According to Berman of greatest importance is the fact that the Muslim world is based on the Islamic faith that is strongly identified with its principles and values fostered by the Quran. Subsequently, this civilisation is monotheistic thus emphasising believing in one God, Allah. Additionally, Mungiu & Mindruta (2002) contended that the concept of reciprocal responsibility, which demands of an individual to take part in the community charity and protection, Jihad also is contended as one of the key facets of Islam. The religion holds that Jihad should be practiced for Allah’s sake . Therefore; it should not only be used to fight for the cause of Allah, but also for defending both Islamic land and the protection of the Muslims themselves. In addition, it should be noted that the characteristic of leadership, as emphasized by Berman (2003), is well captured in the Muslim world and that they are commanded by Allah to appoint their leader. Furthermore, this leader ought to be respected by all as long as in so doing, s/he strictly follows the laws of Allah. However, the appointed leader should not be considered infallible in equal measures as the prophets.

Colonialism

According to Sayyid (2014), there has been a rise in disagreements as regards different religious matters, something that has resulted in the emergence of other schools of thought and religious branches within Islam. This is because there has been much European influence as well as post-colonial domination on the Muslim world in the modern era leading to the adoption of various economic and political models from these European powers leading to a gradual change of the original Islamic culture.

At the start of the 15th century, Huntington (2002) stated that the European powers extremely affected the Islamic culture with involvement in most parts of the Muslim world, particularly in countries located within Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe. This was mainly due to the mercantile initiatives perpetrated by these colonial powers that resulted in many social upheavals within the Muslim world. Colonial masters referred to heterogeneous Muslim societies as anti-modern, monolithic, and anti-intellectual. Consequently, some of the Muslim societies, as noted by Russett, et al (2000) resisted these colonial powers resulting in religious nationalism while others reaffirmed even more traditionalist ideals and inclusive cultures. Conversely, other Muslim societies went on to adopt the modernity that had been ushered by their respective colonial powers.

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Religious Nationalism

Sen (1999) established that Western culture has over the years, held the belief that political authority should be separated from the spiritual authority in what is phrased as “the separation of Church and State.” However, the Islam religion, according to Ellingsen &Tanja (2000), is believed to have manifested politically to become Islamism thus growing strongly in most parts of the Muslim world as political Islam. In turn, Islamic parties have emerged taking power in most of these countries up to the state and/or national level. Consequently, according to Madhok (2005), Islamist movements have thus come up in countries such as Pakistan, Iraqi, Libya, and Algeria among others, which often manifest into militant Islamic groups some associated with complex views as regards democracy while others accused of engaging in Islamic terrorism.

The West and Islamic Fundamentalism

Huntington (2002) established that the West’s perception of Islamic fundamentalism is that political Islamism advocate for revolutionary ideologies and thus associates it with terrorism and other acts of violence. However, the Islam world argues that in the practice of their faith, there exist two branches; the Islamic Reformists encouraging the return to basic traditional fundamentals of Islam religion such as peace, love, and compassion, and Islamic political activists who propagate violence, fanaticism, and extremism, which contradicts the Islamic precepts.

However, the Islamic reformists, according to Said (2004), still hold that achievement of the “true path to Islam” is only possible if the development of socio-political systems is based on Islamic teachings and ideals articulated in Quran and Sunna. As result, there exists no separation between the state and Islamic religion matters in most Islamic societies, which are largely described as Muslim states. Consequently, most Islamic societies, as noted by Berman (2003), have strived to emerge out of what they perceive to be colonialism or neocolonialism in order to avoid the Western influence that they feel is designed to erode the basic values of Islamic civilisation. This in turn has led to a rise of civilisational conflict between the West and Islam.

Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations (COC)

According to Huntington (2002), the COC hypotheses held that the cultural and religious identity of different societies would be the main trigger of conflict between civilizations in the era of post-cold war. This was in the wake of some other theorists having indicated that liberal democracy, human rights, and market economy free of capitalism as the only ideological differences that existed in the worlds of civilisation after the cold war era. Huntington thus contended that while the era dominated by ideological differences had ended, the new way for the propagation of civilisational conflicts would be the existing cultural disharmonies of different civilisations. He further expounded that future conflicts were to be aligned along cultural axes thus the concept of some civilisations ranking higher than others in terms of cultural identity would become essential in determining the occurrence of future conflicts.

Huntington’s Explanations as to Why Civilisation Would Clash

First, Huntington explained that differences between civilisations were too basic in the sense that they differed from each other along the lines of language, culture, tradition, language, religion, and history, These inherent differences were products of centuries forming the foundations of the major world civilisations thus meant that they would not end soon. Secondly, the world was becoming smaller and thus interactions throughout the world were on the rise hence intensifying “civilisation consciousness” fostering awareness of the differences and commonalities that existed among civilisations. Thirdly, because of economic modernization and social change, people were distanced from lengthy local identities. Consequently, religion had come in to replace that gap thus providing the basis for identity as well as commitment that surpasses national borders uniting civilisations. The rise of world civilisations’ consciousness was being catapulted by the West’s dual role. The West was at the peak of power confronting non-western civilisations, on one hand, while among the non-Western civilisations was the phenomenal return to the roots that kept on surging their desire, will, and resources for shaping the world in their own non-western ways.

In addition, the differences and characteristics among different cultures were less mutable thus not easily compromised as compared to political and economic differences. Nevertheless, there had been a surge in economic regionalism and hence the success of this element would reinstall civilisation-consciousness. However, the regionalism of economies would only prosper if it were envisioned within a common set of civilisations.

 

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Evidence of Huntington’s Predictions in Modern Day International Politics

Doctrinal “clash”

Even though Huntington’s statement that “bloody borders” would characterize the Islamic States was deemed judgmental rather than empirical as regards its merits as a civilization, the emanating west’s engagement with Islamic states has not been as a result of the doctrinal differences between the two civilisations ascribe to. The fact that the west has been siding with some Muslim nations for example Bosnia, Chechnya, and Kosovo prove this point. In addition, if the statement by Huntington were to be taken to be judgmental of Islamic civilisations, then it would raise significant questions about the American invasion of countries like Iraq. Most would hold that both two civilisations could be similar in all fundamental ways regarding conflicts.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine, as cited by Sayyid (2014) can be deemed to identify doctrinally with Huntington’s sentiments given that it is a clash of two civilisations: Islamic and Jewish. Studies by Sen (1999) classify this clash to be more of a product of the need for the two to protect their respective kinsmen from the imposition of the others’ values and practices through other political scientists attribute it to struggle for power

Political “clash”

Huntington held that the manifestation of conflicts would be through two forms, which comprise of core state and fault lines. Fault line conflicts would occur at a local level between adjacent states but affiliated to different civilisations or within the same state hosting populations ascribing to different civilisations. This hypothesis may to some extent form the crucial basis of some of the conflicts occurring in today’s world. The conflict between Israel and Palestine for example, as cited by Sayyid (2014) identifies with this hypothesis given that it is a clash of two civilisations: Islamic and Jewish. However, studies by Sen (1999) classify this clash to be more of a product of the need for the two to protect their respective kinsmen from the imposition of the others’ values and practices as well as a struggle for power.

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Conclusion

In general, Huntington predicted more frequent, bloodier, and longer civilisational conflicts in the post-cold war era compared to the period before and during the Cold war itself. However, on the contrary, findings by Roeder (2003) revealed that there was a reduced intensity of severity of civilisational wars because countries affiliated to Western civilisation found fewer reasons to fight in the post-cold world war. This is attributed to the fact that struggles related to ideological differences and decolonization had been settled as well as religious differences did not hold much impetus for the continuation of the war at a similar level. In addition, Roeder (2003) established that, in relation to battle-related deaths, the post-cold war inter-civilisational conflicts seem more violent when compared to those within civilisations. In addition, conflicts between civilisations in the post-cold world war remain as severe as they were during the cold world war.

Of great importance is the fact that the Islamic civilisation has featured in most of the civilisational conflicts especially with western civilisation both during and after the cold world war. This consistency may partly be attributed to both colonialism effects as well as to Huntington’s hypothesis that major religious differences between civilisations would continue to propagate civilisational conflicts in the post-cold world war with the exception of other ideological differences especially in relation to the beliefs held by extremists causing mayhem in Muslim states.

References

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