The 'Clash of Civilizations' and American Intervention in the Middle East

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In
his article "The
Clash of Civilizations
," Samuel Huntington's thesis is
that global politics has entered a new phase. According to Huntington,
previous phases of global conflict were dominated by princes, nation
states, and ideologies, respectively. All of these conflicts were
within Western civilization. However, with the end of the Cold War,
Huntington argues, non-Western civilizations "join the West
as movers and shapers of history." Conflict in this new phase
of world politics, according to Huntington, will center on clashes
between civilizations, which he defines as "the broadest level
of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes
humans from other species." This thesis relates directly to
Western relations with Islamic civilization in the Middle East.

Huntington
offers many persuasive arguments to defend his thesis. Differences
between civilizations, he says, are basic and fundamental. For example,
differences in political ideology can be resolved; this is not often
the case regarding differences in religion and culture, two important
characteristics that differentiate civilizations. This argument
helps explain America's problems installing democracy in Iraq. Western
civilization emphasizes secularism and political democracy. Many
Muslims, however, do not believe in separation of church and state
and want to live under Islamic law. We can view this conflict, therefore,
as one between civilizations.

Globalization
intensifies this problem because it has decreased the world's size.
In a small world, differences are more visible. As the world modernizes,
many communities begin to lose their local identities, and religious
fundamentalism steps in to fill the void. Religious fundamentalism
unites people across national boundaries, and this is particularly
evident with Arabs in the Islamic world, who often see American
interventions in the Middle East as attacks on Islam itself instead
of attacks on a single state.

As
further proof that civilizations are clashing, Huntington cites
economic regionalism. He argues that "economic regionalism
may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization."
The Economic Cooperation Organization, which includes non-Arab Muslim
countries like Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, provides an example.
These nations joined together largely because the believed that
the European Community would not accept them. Other regional economic
organizations such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and
the Central American Common Market prove that countries with similar
cultures are more likely to succeed in economic cooperation.

Huntington
argues persuasively that conflict on the "fault line"
of Western and Islamic civilizations has occurred for 1,300 years.
He defends this assertion by citing Muslim intrusions into Europe
in the seventh and eighth centuries, the Crusades, and a host of
other historical conflicts between the West and Islam. This conflict,
he says, will worsen. As proof, he cites the fact that many Arabs
were proud of Saddam Hussein for fighting the West in the Gulf War
and were angered and humiliated by the American military presence
in the Middle East after the war.

"Kin-country
syndrome," Huntington's term for civilizations uniting across
national boundaries, helps prove his thesis. During the Gulf War,
as mentioned above, many Arabs cheered Saddam Hussein. Despite a
strong rivalry between Iraq and Iran, Iran's religious leader encouraged
Muslims to pursue a Holy War against the West. By 1993, domestic
pressure had forced all of the coalition's Islamic nations, with
the exception of Kuwait, to bow out.

Huntington
supports his thesis by citing Muslim accusations of a Western "double
standard." Muslims throughout the Islamic world criticize the
West for not intervening to protect Bosnian Muslims from Serbs and
for failing to punish Israel for violating U.N. resolutions. He
argues that this proves his thesis because, when civilizations are
in conflict, double standards should be expected. It should come
as no surprise that the West utilized force against Iraq but fails
to force its kin countries to behave.

This
article helps explain America's lack of success in Iraq. America's
occupation has failed because American leaders have failed to understand
the fact that fundamental differences between civilizations exist.
Islamic civilization and Western civilization differ drastically
in their views on the relationship between church and state, men
and women, freedom, and authority. In his conclusion, Huntington
calls for Western leaders to "develop a more profound understanding
of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying
other civilizations…" American Iraqi policy has largely ignored
this advice, and continuing the occupation and/or invading Iran
could provoke a catastrophic clash of civilizations that would kill
thousands. To avert this, America must withdraw from the Middle
East and allow Arab governments to run their own affairs.

Work
Cited

Huntington,
Samuel. "The
Clash of Civilizations
" Foreign Affairs 72.3 (Summer
1993): 22–49.

October
14, 2004

Andrew
Young [send him mail] is a
junior history major at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro,
Kentucky.

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