Samuel Huntington Revisited

Asked, in the wake of 9/11, whether this was 'the clash of civilizations you have been warning about for nearly a decade', the now renowned Harvard political scientist, Samuel Huntington, responded that it was clearly intended to be viewed as such.582 There was a danger, he admitted, that further US attacks by way of response on other perceived terrorists could precipitate just that kind of clash of civilisations.583

However, he went on to stress that violence was not inherent in Muslim theology and that, as with all other religions, the sacred texts of Islam were open to diverse interpretations.584 Huntington also noted the fragmented character of the Muslim umma and insisted that no civilisation, whether Islamic or European, was a unitary monolith.585

Of course, Huntington's stark analysis has not gone unchallenged. Thomas Meyer, for example, Professor of Political Science at the University of Dortmund in Germany, argues

Huntington's approach reveals the hallmarks of the ideologies of which it is so critical. It is selective in its real world examples, moulding them to its needs, drawing general conclusions and deliberately omitting anything that does not fit its argument . Huntington treats civilisations as though they consist of nothing but fundamentalism.586

Meyer perceives Huntington's thesis to have gained some plausibility in the light of the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist activities. But he believes that its prominence helps 'to promote the concept of fundamentalism'.587

Meyer does not deny the existence of fundamentalism of various kinds in all cultures but refuses to accept that such fundamentalisms can ever characterise or define the culture, of which they are a part, as a whole.588

Arab politicians, too, have not been slow to enter the 'Huntington debate'. In June 2003, Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, commenced an article in the London Times as follows:

Ever since September 11, 2001, a dangerous view has taken hold in many Western countries. A view fuelled by ignorance and misunderstanding, a view which could destabilise many parts of the world. It is this: that the Muslim and Western worlds are locked in a clash of civilisations. It is a good slogan, but far from the truth. The Arab and Muslim world's dispute with the West is not religious. It is political- and focussed on one issue alone [i.e. the Arab-Israeli problem].589

This whole debate, precipitated by Huntington, begins to resemble that earlier one over Edward Said's famous text Orientalism, published in 1978:590 a basic thesis with some sound and useful points is transmuted into an overblown and exaggerated polemic which then accrues an influence out of all proportion to its initial or actual worth.591

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