International relations is a field of application and study that has in recent years gained impetus owing to the need for maintaining good, friendly, cordial relations with other states in times of widespread global conflict. The study of the field has emerged to understand past relations, prevalent trends as well as future patterns.
Many theories and theses have been propounded to explain and present the many facets of international relations. There are many historical theories that have evolved through time, which still hold true. There are also a few theories that have emerged in the last 30 years or so that could seemingly be more relevant to modern international relations since they exist to explain the present scenario. The Clash of Civilisations theory propounded by political scientist late Samuel P.
Huntington first appeared as an article published in the Foreign Affairs journal in 1993. Applicable to the field of international relations and global politics, the article was elaborated into a theory, exploring issues raised by Huntington in the original piece, as well as identifying the potential cause of and protection against war. The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order was published in 1996. The theory, in its essences talks about a global conflict arising post the breakup of the Soviet Union in a non-Cold War world.
Lucubrating over the same with historical relevance as well as modern day contexts, Huntington deliberates over the role of religion and culture in dividing the world into civilizations, thus presenting a scenario of global tension and possible war. It is important to note that Huntington doesn’t have any clear precise criteria through which he identifies the countries that make up each civilisation. Multiple factors including religion, geographical proximity and language are cited as reasons for the formation of these civilisations.
Another point of significance is that Huntington doesn’t define nor specific the exact number of civilisations anywhere in his book. Thus, the ambiguity of the very term is something that led to much debate about the authenticity of the theory and his thesis. He propagates that conflicts will arise amongst civilisations purely because of their inherent differences. Further, he states that some civilisations are predisposed to dislike another thus leading to constant tensions and a situation perpetually conducive to conflict.
Conflicts between the Western and Islamic worlds are nothing new, and are constant irrespective of who is at the helm of the core states. Huntington believes it is the need of the people to identify, and align themselves with a group of people sharing similarities in terms of appearance, language spoken, manner of living, religion, culture, thought process etc that has led to a clannish mentality the world over, which in turn has led to the formation of these civilisations. Thus, people, and states are more likely to align themselves with other states that they share similarities with rather than one they have nothing in common with.
This leads to a situation of grouping that is visible across the world today where countries that understandably belong to the civilisations (according to Huntington’s division) concord against another set of grouped countries. This is most visible among the Western and Islamic countries. United States of America, along with Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany etc align together and are automatically pitted against Islamic states like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle Eastern states etc.
The Clash theory also talks about the problems caused by the reluctance of the West to identify and accept other patterns of values and political systems which only serves to alienate other civilisations. Huntington believes that the fact that the United Nations, the supreme international body, was built and supported by the United States is an important factor for the country’s indisposition to be accepting of others. The emergence of, in Huntington’s words, ‘challenger civilisations’ poses a great threat to the West’s influence in the global scenario.
In fact, according to him, these civilisations, identified as Sinic and Islam, are at the forefront of the power shift, in terms of politics, military and economics, from the West to other civilisations. The self improving qualities of the core countries which in turn is an influence to the other states that exist within these civilisations, are leading to emergence of these groups while undermining the West’s power. One sees this happening with the growing importance of China on a global scale.
The essence of Chinese military and politics is that it differs vastly from the Americanised systems, thus presenting a different developing cultural perspective to the world that has been dominated by American systems. Another concept that this theory throws up is the acquiescence of all states within a civilisation to the core states. This means their decisions, their way of thinking, their opinions etc matter more and are agreed to by the smaller states. An example presented by Huntington is that of the Sinic civilisation.
He believes that states like Vietnam, North Korea and South Korea will give in to China’s demands and are more inclined to support it rather than oppose it. Huntington identifies the influence of military and economic power, discrimination against people of other civilisations and the imposition of values on people from different civilisations as among the plausible causes of these conflicts. While there have been many who have criticised Huntington’s work as inaccurate, ambiguous and largely West-focused, the theory has been vindicated in the light of many events that have transpired over the last few years.
These include the US invasion of Afghanistan, the 2002 Bali Bombings, the 2003 Iraq invasion, the 2006 Danish cartoon crisis, the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Israel-Lebanon conflict, the Iran nuclear crisis etc. From the time it first appeared as an article in the Foreign Affairs journal, Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash theory generated mixed responses from across the world. While many saw it as the manifestation of a largely American way of thought, others saw it as a plausible explanation, justification and possible solution to the polarisation that had already begun to appear in the various parts of the world.
The theory also brought forth many arguments, some pro, some con. What was particularly noticeable was the number of alternative theories that emerged at the same time. Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami propounded a theory that has widely come to be known as a response – a viable one – to Huntington’s theory. Known as ‘Dialogue Among Civilisations’, the concept gained impetus when the United Nations adopted 2001 as the year of dialogue among civilisations. Of course, the noble effort received a setback in light of the September 11th attacks in America.
The Dialogue theory talks about the acceptance of all cultures, religions and civilisations by all other. A live and let live policy needs to be maintained by all. The theory further states that while clashes or smaller problems that could lead to a clash are unavoidable in a world where so many volatile groups exist, the only logical manner in which these clashes can be avoided apart from accepting each other is through dialogue. It is imperative to note that such a theory has emerged from the leader of a state that is restrictive in every possible manner; where basic rights and freedom aren’t easily available.
Nonetheless, Khatami’s theory can, and should be looked at as a workable paradigm to avoid, lessen, or solve conflicts that arise due to tensions stemming from the basic differences amongst the existing civilisations, especially in scenarios Huntington highlights. If one is to observe the ongoing trend in global politics, in the aligning of countries that share similarities against those that don’t, or who pose a threat to their existence, it would largely be a defence of Huntington’s theory of the world being divisible into civilisations.
It is also noticeable how leaders emerge with these culturally and religiously specific civilisations; people who often become the only voice recognisable to a large majority within the civilisation. These individuals gain a stature beyond imaginable boundaries, are looked up to and are instrumental in decisions that affect the majority among that civilisation, even if they aren’t in positions of authorised power (military, government etc. ) This God-like status allows these individuals to be termed as statesmen.
However, while the term statesmen is generally looked upon with positive connotations, one cannot ignore the fact that each group can chose to identify and claim any individual as a statesman for their own justifiable reasons. Osama Bin-laden, the leader of the Al Qaeeda is perhaps amongst the most well recognised faces in the world. He is also the world’s most dreaded terrorist, on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, is a major target of the US’s war against terrorism and is considered a glorious leader and statesmen by many in the Islamic world.
Bin-laden has a number of beliefs, many of which have translated into actions that are considered by hardcore fanatics as a proper, justified and much needed way of thought. Bin-laden believes that Sharia law is essential for the restoration of the Muslim world, there is need to fight the injustice inflicted upon the Muslim world by USA through terrorism and a need to disassociate from Western way of life. Further he also lists Shia Muslims as enemies of Islam along with Heretics, America and Israel. This shows that Bin-laden has a very stringent belief of what Islam should be like, and should consist of.
It is interesting to note that through his very patterns of thought and behavior how Osama Bin-laden conforms to the concepts and ideas mentioned in Samuel P. Huntington’s theory ‘The Clash of Civilisations’. Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, on the other hand is considered to be a statesman by people from across the world. His many beliefs and actions have indeed made this man one to be revered and respected. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, a much deserved recognition.
Apart from this he has been honoured by many countries with their highest civilian awards. He was at the helm of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, leading the oppressed lot into years of non-violent protest that ultimately led to him being elected the first President of a non-apartheid South Africa. He is an advocate for human rights, the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, the eradication of world poverty etc. Nelson Mandela, a propagator of peace and dialogue thus logically falls under Mohammad Khatami’s theory of ‘Dialogue Among Civilisation’. Understanding Samuel P.
Huntington’s theory of ‘Clash of Civilisations’ and Mohammad Khatami’s ‘Dialogue Among Civilisations’ is of utmost importance to try and put into perspective the present global political scenario. While other theories exist in abundance that may better explain the political atmosphere, the Clash and Dialogue theories stand out purely because of the elements they deal with, which are undoubtedly the driving forces in world politics today.
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