Understanding the Clash of Civilizations

saddam hussain samo
Saddam Hussain Samo on Understanding the Clash of Civilizations

The Clash of Civilizations is a theory, proposed by Samuel Huntington, that people’s culture and religious identity will be the primary source conflict in the post cold war era. According to him, economic interests and ideological differences will no longer be the cause of the conflicts in the new world. The conflicts will be among the civilizations. He also divided the world into 7 or 8 civilizations and highlighted their boundaries as fault lines. He first gave his idea in an article published in the Foreign Affairs titled “The Clash of Civilizations” in 1993. Afterward, he expanded his article into a book, which was published in 1996.

Scholars are divided on his thesis. Some support the work of Huntington, while others completely reject his concept. Many prominent scholars have written books to deride his idea. His thesis became famous after the series of incidents that were carried out by Islamic extremists groups like Al-Qaeda against the West including 9/11, March 11, 2004 train attacks in Madrid, the July 7, 2005, subway attacks in London and so on. Many proponent of the theory started to consider the attacks by religious terrorist extremist against the US and Europe as “The Clash of Civilizations”

The theory also provides a number of reasons that why the future conflicts will be between the civilizations.  The first reason highlighted by the theory is cultural and religious differences among the civilizations. Huntington is of the view that these differences will cause conflicts. He insists that while ideological differences can be compromised, cultural differences cannot. Capitalists can become Communists, but Frenchman cannot become a Nigerian.  He further said, “a person can be half-French and half-Arab…it is difficult to be half-catholic and half-Muslim.” The theory also argues that, historically, “difference among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.”

The second reason mentioned by Huntington is globalization. Yes, we believe that globalization improves our lifestyle by bringing economic and political integrity. It also creates peace among the nations by engaging them in business activities. Huntington thinks differently. He believes that the process of globalization promotes Xenophobia and cultural contempt.  Undoubtedly, many incidents have taken place, now, that clarify his arguments. Brexit can be considered as an example. The local people voted against globalization and asked their government to withdraw from the European Union. The emergence of Trump in the US and his policies against the globalization to please his countrymen is also another classical example. On 22nd July 2011, a local resident of Norway carried out attacks against its people and demanded the withdrawal of immigrants from the country. These all events prove the fact that globalization has created xenophobia and can be reason for future conflicts among civilizations as proposed by Huntington.

Huntington points out economic modernization as the third point that will cause conflicts. After the cold war, new international laws were framed to improve economic cooperation among the countries. As a result, the lifestyle of people improved that altered their traditional living style. The theory considers the separation of people from their long-standing local identities as a problem and cause of conflict. Some people will resist the change and turn to fundamentalist religion to fill the gap.  Undoubtedly, it is true. Many people have resisted the change in their traditional lifestyle by physically resisting the economic modernization. For instances, many extremist Muslims and organization consider the capitalist system introduced by the West as un-Islamic and have resisted it by joining the militants groups to make Islamic countries to run purely on their religious principles.

The fourth factor that will cause the conflicts as explained by the Clash of Civilization is the rejection of the Western culture. It is known fact that when a country turns super power, it tries to impose its own values in other nations. For instances, Soviet tried to impose its own culture in Afghanistan that triggered the war. It made girls education compulsory and and banned dowry. Islamist viewed those reforms as imposition of secular Western values and resisted them. As a result, groups of mujahedeen were formed that opposed Soviet values and ultimately caused Soviet Afghan war in 1979. In the same way, the clash of civilization argues that now the conflict will occur with the West for imposition of its Western culture.

Thus, these are the four major reasons, a part from others, explained by Huntington to claim his thesis to be perfect. However, it is also imperative to study the ideas of those who have rejected this theory.

Stephen Walt rejects the theory on the following grounds:

  • Walt argues that states always act in their self-interest and ignore cultural affinity to pursue the self-interest.
  • Cultural differences between the civilizations do not necessarily lead to conflicts just as cultural similarities do not guarantee harmony.
  • The theory does not properly explain why the loyalties in the post cold war era are actually shifting from the national level to the civilization level.  If it is shifting than why the shift in loyalty will necessarily lead to violence.
  • He concludes that the present condition is not a clash of civilization, but continuation of pattern of nation states conflicts.

Benazir Bhutto rejects the theory by providing the following arguments in her book:

  • She says that the conflict between Islam and the West is not a clash of civilization, but rather it is conflict between moderate and extremist forces within the Islamic world.
  • According to her, the economic modernization leads to the demand for the democracy and individual autonomy. The democracy rejects extremism and does not go on war with another democratic government. Hence, it brings peace instead of conflicts.

Thus, the clash of civilizations thesis of Huntington receives both acceptance and rejection. It is up to the readers to accept it or not based on their individual reasoning capacities.

The article is cited from the chapter titled “Is the Clash of Civilizations inevitable?” of Benazir Bhutto’s book namely Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West. It is highly recommended to read her book for the further understanding of the topic. This article is, therefore, dedicated to her.


  1. Well explained with strong references. love these points.1 Capitalists can become Communists, but Frenchman cannot become a Nigerian. 2 According to her, the economic modernization leads to the demand for the democracy and individual autonomy. The democracy rejects extremism and does not go on war with another democratic government. Hence, it brings peace instead of conflicts.


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