A brief look at the track record of regions where Islam is the dominant religion reveals that it had been intolerant of other religions perceived to be subversive to its cause. Irrespective of the merit in such a rationale, Huntington is nevertheless accurate in pointing to Islam’s turbulent relations with other religions. Islam is not only a school of religious thought that people exercise in private. In Islamic societies, its influence pervades much deeper into the social and economic fabric, making the modern Western notion of separating ‘state and church’ close to impossible. Even today, Islamic societies follow their own unique banking system – one that is steeped in orthodoxy and tradition. The social organization with its emphasis on patriarch and the relatively subordinate status ordained to women are all antithetical to the more liberal societies. This makes conciliation between Islam and progressive, liberal thought that much more difficult. On a macroscopic scale, these incompatibilities add up to make the existing ‘fault lines’ with other civilizations some of the most volatile. In the last decade itself, one could find plenty of instances where this dynamic of conflict had played out in the interactions with Islam-dominant parts of the world.
Huntington’s thesis, when studied in the backdrop of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, throws up interesting results. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, which has been a controversial historical event, has even divided the supposedly singular civilization of the West. Soon after the George Bush administration announced its plans to invade Iraq, the erstwhile allies of the United States such as France and Germany expressed displeasure and opposition. Even before American marines set foot in Iraqi soil, the American public expressed its opposition to the war by participating in mass demonstrations. These developments have exposed the flaws in Huntington’s thesis. For example, how could the United States of America, which is an integral part of the Western civilization, find itself alienated from most of its former allies and also from the general public? The protesters identified the common humanity between themselves and the thousands of potential Iraqi victims of the war. Clearly, this demonstrates that the universality in humanity is so much stronger than artificial constructs like West, Islam, the Orient, etc. Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, James Dobbins makes a salient point:
“The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the ongoing war in Iraqis not one that the United States can win. As a result of its initial miscalculations, misdirected planning, and inadequate preparation,Washington has lost the Iraqi people’s confidence and consent, and it is unlikely to win them back. Every day that Americans shell Iraqi cities they lose further ground on the central front of Iraqi opinion” (Dobbins, Jan 2005).
The other area of armed conflict in the Middle East region is Palestine, where the United States supported Israeli leadership maintains strict control. In this case, a study of the historical background to the conflict raises questions of Huntington’s thesis. For example,Israelis an artificially constructed nation-state that was conceived in the aftermath of the holocaust. To accommodate the subsequent influx of Jews from across the world, the Israeli leadership (with military and political support from the United States) had forcefully displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinians, who are legitimate in claiming Israel as their native land. So, the fault line that appears here is in no small measure induced by the political leadership of Western Civilization. Hence, the source of military conflict in the Middle East is due to the West’s designs of world domination and strategic control of energy resources, rather than due to Islam’s tendency to develop ‘bloody borders’ or due to incompatibility with an alien civilization.
Huntington, Samuel P, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Published by Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Edward Said, The Clash of Ignorance, retrieved from <www.thenation.com/doc/20011022/said> on 12th May, 2009
Dobbins,James,Iraq: Winning the Unwinnable War, Foreign Affairs, January, 2005.