Harvard educator Samuel Huntington, the most controversial political scientist of the past two decades, breathed his last on December 28, 2008. A prophetic genius to some and an evil war-mongering ideologue to others, it is an opportune time to revisit the controversial works of Huntington.
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 civilised liberal democracy globally, and b) Emergence of a nonconflictual world civilisation.
Huntington's Civilizational Clash theory (1993) challenged both assumptions of Fukuyama. Regarding Fukuyama's presumed triumph of civilised liberal democracy globally, Huntington emphasised 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 civilisation, Huntington emphasised that conflicts were not over, but future conflicts would likely be fought along civilisational 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 civilisations: Indian, Chinese, Asian, Islamic, Western etc., Huntington emphasised that, instead of converging towards universal liberalism globally, human consciousness within these civilisations is increasingly parochialising: people are becoming increasingly conscious of their cultural, religious or civilisational values and differences.
His thesis gets a significant space for Islamic resurgence, simply because religious revivalism among Muslims in recent decades much outweighs the rejuvenation of civilisational or religious consciousness among 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 analysed how different civilisations 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 emphasises 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 US 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."