Contemporary debate: The Clash of Civilizations
Samuel Huntington, Amartya Sen, Ayan Hirsi Ali and Mohammed Khatami.
By Ishita Acharyya.
Published as an article in 1993 in Foreign Affairs, and subsequently as a book, the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ is Samuel Huntington’s renowned theory that the most significant source of conflict in post-Cold War era would be along the lines of culture and identity, and that the “bloody borders” of Islam could pose the greatest threat to Western civilization.
In June of this year Foreign Affairs magazine revisited this debate, publishing not only Huntington’s original essay, but also the responses of critics and Huntington’s own replies. In answering his critics, Huntington reaffirms the “need for a new model” to decipher the contemporary changes of world politics and order, and posits his ‘Clash of Civilisations’ theory as the best model on the market.
Critics of this theory include Amartya Sen, who, in his 2006 book, Identity and Violence, challenges the absolutist definition of identity that Huntington’s theory rests upon. Amartya Sen posits that although political violence is the result of dogmatic allegiance to nationality or ethnicity, they need not primarily define individuals’ identities.
Ayan Hirsi Ali’s most recent book, Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through The Clash of Civilizations, has once again brought the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to the fore. It has been classified by some as a tribute to Samuel Huntington’s theory. As always, Hirsi Ali stirs impassioned debate with her critiques of Islam – that it is too conservative and places unrealistic expectations on fallible people - are premised on the idea that Western culture and Islam are truly dichotomous.
In keeping with this month’s theme, it is interesting to note that Hirsi Ali found the legality of her immigration to the Netherlands and her Dutch citizenship to be the subject of scrutiny in 2006, when the veracity of her application for political asylum in 1992 was in doubt.
In response to the Clash of Civilizations, the then President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, introduced an antithetical theory titled Dialogue Among Civilizations in 2000. Khatami contended that cultural and moral exchange between “civilizations” was perhaps more important for the integrity of politics than the sensationalized notion of the inevitable “clash” between civilizations.
By Ishita Acharyya.