Samuel Huntington: A prominent critic of his "clash of civilization" thesis recants





In 1993 the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote an article in Foreign Affairs titled "The Clash of Civilizations?" In that article -- and subsequent book -- Huntington argued that the world was entering a new phase in which cultural differences would become the primary catalysts for conflict. That article provoked fierce debate on a scale perhaps not rivaled until John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt decided to take on the Israel lobby.

As Fouad Ajami notes in a recent essay, Huntington's thesis was provocative at least in part because it "ran counter to the zeitgeist of the era and its euphoria about globalization and a 'borderless' world." At the time of the essay's initial release, Ajami was invited by Foreign Affairs to respond. He took the opportunity to question Huntington's belief that civilizations were monolithic and pointed out that fault lines tend to run through civilizations as much as they run between them. In general, Ajami was more sanguine in his prediction that there was a modernist consensus in the Muslim world and that it would hold.

"Nearly 15 years on, Huntington’s thesis...seems more compelling to me than the critique I provided at that time," Ajami writes. "Huntington had the integrity and the foresight to see the falseness of a borderless world, a world without differences."

"In suddenly embracing Huntington, Ajami embraces a Manichean view of the struggle between East and West," writes Jacob Heilbrunn. That error -- the belief that Islam is a coherent civilization -- "is the very error initially committed by the Bush Administration in announcing a grandiose war on terror, when it is actually battling disparate groups that are independent of nation-states." Heilbrunn, a senior editor at The National Interest, argues that Ajami's treatment of Huntington highlights what he has always found so disturbing about Ajami's "militarized view" of how to deal with Arab world.

Furthermore, Heilbrunn takes a quick tour through Ajami's positions on the war in Iraq and concludes that "the problem isn’t simply that Ajami was wrong in every particular -- the Shi‘a did rise, Iraq did fragment, and Iran has dramatically increased its influence and power -- though that is bad enough. It is that he was dogmatically, arrogantly wrong, dismissing his skeptics as benighted fools. ...


comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list