The second case of cultural reaffirmation that Huntington discusses is that of Muslim societies which have followed a different path towards the reassertion of their cultural identity. In these societies, religion has been the main factor of cultural distinctiveness and influence. Huntington argues that religion is the main factor which distinguishes Muslim societies from the others, and that the resurgence of Islam “embodies the acceptance of modernity, rejection of Western culture, and the recommitment to Islam as the guide to life in the modern world” (Huntington 1998: 110). As far as the causes behind this resurgence, Huntington talks about the failure of state economies, the large and oftentimes rather young population of these countries, as well as the authoritarian political regimes of these nation states.
In light of these arguments, Huntington predicts great clashes will occur among civilizations. However he also identifies a possible cooperation between Islamic and Sinic cultures to work against the West, i.e. The common enemy. These two opposing camps as he identifies them, are based upon a set of three characteristics that separate the West from the rest of the world. The West has been able to maintain military superiority through the nonproliferation of emerging powers. Secondly, the West has been engaged in a constant process of promotion of its political values such as democracy, freedom, and human rights, values which are not shared by all civilizations. Last but not least, Huntington refers to the restriction of non-Western immigrants into Western societies. These three factors have determined a general feeling of hostility of non-Western countries towards the West as the latter has been accused of attempting to exercise cultural hegemony. As far as the ability of the West to maintain its power and influence, Huntington argues that “The preservation of the United States and the West requires the renewal of Western identity” (Huntington 1998: 318). The ability for the West to remain a global political power, it needs to adapt to increasing power and influence of different civilizations. This is a sine-qua-non condition for the West to preserve its status because in the absence of the ability to adapt, it will decline or simply clash with other powerful civilizations. According to Huntington, this clash of the West with another civilization is “the greatest threat to world peace, and an international order” (Huntington 1998: 321).
The conflict between Islam and the West is discussed from the point-of-view of a historical opposition between these two religions which has been exacerbated in late twentieth century by a set of factors. The growth of the Muslim population is key to understanding the spread of Islam. First of all, this growth in population also meant an increase in the percentage of young people who are easily recruited by fundamentalist organizations. Secondly, an increase in Muslim populations also generated an increase in the already large percentage of unemployment which made many Muslims easy prey for fundamentalists. Another important factor in the conflict between Islam and the West was the renewed sense of importance that the resurgence of Islam gave Muslims who developed a sense of the relevance of Islam compared to other religions, particularly Christianity. There is also the attitude of the West which needs to be evaluated in the context of the conflict. The West has constantly attempted to universalize its values and institutions which it has preached as being the right ones. This has given rise to a wave of resentment within Muslim communities that were also forced to acknowledge their inferiority in terms of state military capabilities. The First Gulf War was a conflict of Muslim origins in which the West intervened. “Islamic fundamentalist groups denounced [the war] as a war against Islam and its civilization by an alliance of Crusaders and Zionists and proclaimed their backing of Iraq in the face of military and economic aggression against its people” (Huntington 1998: 249). This was, in fact, interpreted by Muslims as aggression against Islam, and the war turned into a matter of Christianity vs. Islam.
The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world” (Huntington 1998: 308). The First Gulf War was the first “civilization war” (Huntington 1998: 231). Huntington argues that the Afghan War was generated by the Afghans self-image as the only civilization that was successful in its resistance towards the West.
The war also “left behind an uneasy coalition of Islamic organizations intent on promoting Islam against all non-Muslim forces” (Huntington 1998: 247). In fact, the war also produced a generation of fighters which saw the West as their main enemy, and who was more than ready to die in its attempt to annihilate all that is evil in the world, i.e. The West. This argument can be discusses from the perspective of recent events in the world, more precisely the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the American-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Popular perception of Islam has been shaped by terrorist attacks, which are second only to oil in terms of the main exports of the Arab world. Kidnappings, bombings, car bombs etc. are the result of feeling threatened and a response to what terrorist groups consider the Western conspiracy against Islam (Kamrava: 214). Nevertheless, there is a deeper psychological explanation of this hostility towards the West, one which has been speculated by political elites in search for popular support for their foreign policies, i.e. using these insecurities to their advantage thus emphasizing and making them sound more dangerous and more imminent. A states political life is determined by its political culture. In the case of the Middle East, there are four coordinates which largely apply to most Muslim countries. These four factors which shape political life are Islam, the cult of personality, nationalism, and the Palestinian issue. These intertwine and create a unique mixture which explains political culture in each Arab country. (Kamrava: 216). The negative input of political elites as far as the resentment towards the West adds to the pre-existing feeling of hatred generated by the affluence of material goods and information that the West benefits from as opposed to the Muslim world.
Reaching a conclusion as far as the diffusion and appeal of terrorism in the Middle East is a very tricky matter which requires the capacity to consider a multitude of aspects. Understanding the political and social context of this region is perhaps the key to understanding its apparent violent streak. Scarce access to education and information, very low living standards despite immense richness consisting of incredible oil resources, corrupt and malfunctioning political elites – all these have contributed to the status-quo by encouraging terrorist groups to recruit new members, and people to join. In the Muslim world, despair and religious extremism go hand in hand. To a great extent, these peoples hope and ideals lie in the Koran. The major issue here is that the Koran is wrongly interpreted as to increase the appeal of terrorism which is presented as the only way to redemption; in exchange for their lives, terrorists are made to believe they are complying with the Prophets commandments and finding their way back to pure Islam as prophesied by Muhammad himself.
The paradigm that Huntington first formulated in his 1993 article “The Clash of Civilizations” is now considered to have been somewhat prophetic by a part of the intellectual community. In the aftermath of the Cold War, cultural and religion gain significant importance thanks to the dismantling of the strict bipolar system which marked the years of the Cold War. A new era opens, one which relies on allowing various ethnic, religious and cultural elements to come into the forefront of regional and global politics” (Erdem: Concluding Remarks). Numerous ethnic conflicts and wars after the Cold War such as in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, and Rwanda demonstrate the increasing importance of culture and ethnicity (Ibid). However, one cannot overlook the concepts of interest and power when discussing such conflicts. In fact, in these cases, ethnicity was only part of the problem, in the sense that it was used to trigger and keep the conflict going without it being the only cause for turmoil.
The relationship between the Islam and the West have gained increasing attention after September 11. Another significant aspect is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which has given rise to numerous debates, some of which have been focused on the extent to which the conflict can be considered a “clash of civilizations.” Also, anti-Americanism has significantly increased in the Muslim World after 9/11 and the consequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
There is an ongoing debate as to.