January 5, 2008


The Clash (FOUAD AJAMI, 1/06/08, NY Times Book Review)

In the 1990s, first in an article in the magazine Foreign Affairs, then in a book published in 1996 under the title “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” he had come forth with a thesis that ran counter to the zeitgeist of the era and its euphoria about globalization and a “borderless” world. After the cold war, he wrote, there would be a “clash of civilizations.” Soil and blood and cultural loyalties would claim, and define, the world of states. [...]

Shortly after the appearance of the article that seeded the book, Foreign Affairs magazine called upon a group of writers to respond to Huntington’s thesis. I was assigned the lead critique. I wrote my response with appreciation, but I wagered on modernization, on the system the West had put in place. “The things and ways that the West took to ‘the rest,’” I wrote, “have become the ways of the world. The secular idea, the state system and the balance of power, pop culture jumping tariff walls and barriers, the state as an instrument of welfare, all these have been internalized in the remotest places. We have stirred up the very storms into which we now ride.” I had questioned Huntington’s suggestion that civilizations could be found “whole and intact, watertight under an eternal sky.” Furrows, I observed, run across civilizations, and the modernist consensus would hold in places like India, Egypt and Turkey.

Huntington had written that the Turks — rejecting Mecca, and rejected by Brussels — would head toward Tashkent, choosing a pan-Turkic world. My faith was invested in the official Westernizing creed of Kemalism that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had bequeathed his country. “What, however, if Turkey redefined itself?” Huntington asked. “At some point, Turkey could be ready to give up its frustrating and humiliating role as a beggar pleading for membership in the West and to resume its much more impressive and elevated historical role as the principal Islamic interlocutor and antagonist of the West.”

Nearly 15 years on, Huntington’s thesis about a civilizational clash seems more compelling to me than the critique I provided at that time.

The main problem with Mr. Huntington's thesis is not that there is not and won't be a clash (clashes), but in failing to recognize that the clash has been ongoing--the Long War--and how uneven the fight is. Islamicism is just one last -ism that's falling rather quickly to the West--which, it's likewise important to note, does not include continental Europe, where rationalism/nazism/communism/secularism too lost the clash. The most salient fact about the Islamic world is that over half of Muslims already live in democracies--at various stages of development--and nearly every Islamic state is liberalizing rather than becoming less Western. Once the Ba'athist regime is toppled in Syria and the Pakistanis put down their Tribal Areas there will be no remaining major issues. Time and a little diligence will take care of the rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 5, 2008 8:27 AM
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