The Clash of Civilizations

Posted by Mike Merritt in Politics, Religion, Society on

I am back up at school now, and among other classes, I’m taking one called “Culture and National Security.” For our first reading assignment, the professor gave us a text copy of an interview from a television show called Think Tank with Ben Watterberg. The episode, entitled “When Cultures Collide” features an interview with Samuel Huntington, known for his theory that post-Cold War conflicts would no longer feature nation-states, but rather civilizations. The basic thesis is that no longer will two or more nation-states, say the United States and Russia, battle for ideological dominance in the world, but rather that this fight will return to clashes rooted in antiquity, say Christianity against Islam, or Western values against the value system from other parts of the world.

I like to think that Huntington’s theory is starting to prove true. Yes, the current conflicts of our time officially have been the U.S. (and its allies) against Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and to a small extent, Cuba (though we don’t actively engage them in conflict anymore), but for most of these conflicts, I think it represents something deeper. The Korea and Cuba conflicts are still ideological for the most part, but what about that of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran? Here we have three countries where the norms and traditions are very foreign to somebody who lives in a Western nation. There are traditions and laws that somebody coming from the Americas or Europe might consider old fashioned, sexist, racist, or just plain barbaric. The fact that many do not understand the differences and why they exist already place a barrier between us and them, without creating any physical conflict at all. Likewise, people in the predominantly-Muslim nations may view our culture as something they do not understand.

The differences become a problem when you have disagreements over the validity of some or all of a culture’s customs. For example, there might be one group of people who would like to do nothing more than either directly change, or influence change to those traditions. The other group of people do not want to change their traditions, and view any attempt by the first group to do so as a violation of their rights as a human, and in the case of governments, as a violation of their sovereignty. At the same time, however, the second group might also like to enact change in the traditions and values of the first group.

This is nothing new. Groups of people have tried battling for culture change since human civilization became the defining feature of our species. I give you the Crusades as one example of different cultures trying to battle for dominance. The Catholic Church was worried about the spread of Islam to Jerusalem and other regions, so they tried to push it back. Even today, Christians, Jewish people, and Muslims still fight for influence in that land, even if they’re not physically battling for it (sometimes). Thus, this kind of culture clash has been going on for centuries, well before the existence of the modern nation-state.

The clash has happened before, and it continues today. A nation such of that as the United States may wish to spread values it sees as critical, such as democracy, to a region which may or may not see these vaues as important. This is different from Cold War-era clashes, where the fight was between capitalism and communism, very much political ideologies. While these things can be ideological, if your culture (or parts of a culture) does not view democracy something they are willing to accept, they’re likely to speak out against anybody who may wish to introduce them, especially if it is to be done by force. However, democracy is not the only kind of value that is at stake. There are also things like customs and religion, which, in the context of today’s world will inevitably be changed to some extent in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. However, some groups, such as Hamas, Al-Queda, and others, view this as an invasion into their value system. While I know this view is not held by everyone in that region, this is what they think.

Now, while discovering what may be the underlying reason for current culture clashes is great, some people may not be able to understand it, since understanding the differences between cultures can be understandably difficult. What is easier to understand is political ideology, hence the term Islamic facism, or the idea that terrorists would like to do nothing more than suppress the peoples who they claim they are fighting for. I think they term is a lot of bologa, because it appears to equate the entire religion with the ideology of fascismt. Even if it is unintentional, it’s bound to confirm some people’s beliefs that Islam is an old fashioned religion that suppresses people, which just isn’t the truth. It would seem that the U.S. government does not think the term ‘terrorist’ is strong enough to explain its case for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and instead needs to use a term for which everybody knows the meaning. I think they picked the wrong term, but that’s my opinion.

In conclusion, the clash of civilizations is a feature of the world that has existed since civilizations started discovering eachother. Sometimes, the clash end up turning into a sharing of customs or religious ideals. Other times, however, the clash can end up being a struggle for influence, and can even end up being the end goal of a war. While the clash between Western values and those of other regions has never really ended, it did take a backseat to the ideological clash between capitalism and communism. However, the end of the Cold War allowed the culture clash to move back to the foreground. Samuel Huntington has proposed that all future clashes will concern different cultures and values, rather than ideology, and I think he’s right. We have already seen this with the battle to bring some Western ideals to Islamic nations, and I think we will see this type of clash become prevalent for years to come.

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