Magazine article USA TODAY

The "Clash" Grinds On

Magazine article USA TODAY

The "Clash" Grinds On

Article excerpt

In 1993, SAMUEL HUNTINGTON wrote his controversial Foreign Affairs article, "The Clash of Civilizations?"--arguing that future international conflict fault lines would be shaped by global cultural divisions. Huntington followed and developed the discussion with his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of Worm Order. He began a longstanding debate that primarily took place in classrooms and editorial pages. The 1993 Foreign Affairs issue contained a set of articles that attempted to rebut Huntington's main thesis, that Islam and the West would be in a conflict that was religious and cultural in nature, not political or economic, the sources of most major global conflicts in the past.

"People were variously impressed, intrigued, frightened, and perplexed by my argument that the central and most dangerous dimension of the emerging global politics would be conflict between groups from differing civilizations," he said in the Preface to his book. "Whatever else it did, the article struck a nerve in people of every civilization."

The debate continued, but slowly reduced in intensity. Neither the left nor the right was willing to accept it as the recovery from the Cold War unfolded. The right was enjoying the status of the U.S. as the globe's number-one power, with Russia clearly suffering from its diminished position and China just on the horizon. The left saw Huntington's argument as provocative, insensitive to Muslims, and, generally, politically incorrect. There was uniform resistance to any acceptance of the theory.

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed all of that. Fouad Ajami, the lead critic in the Foreign Affairs compendium on "Clash of Civilizations" apologized to Huntington. The left-leaning critics tried to sidestep an acceptance of Huntington's theory by arguing that the enemy was not Islam, but "Islamic radicals." In rhetoric, at least, even the Bush Administration bought into this argument, avoiding bringing the larger conflict into a national U.S. context. Moderate Muslims, the contention went, did not support the violence represented in continuing attacks--large physical attacks as in Great Britain, Spain, and Indonesia; numerous smaller attacks and attempts around the globe and in the U.S. itself; and verbal and symbolic attacks from ayatollahs and Middle East presidents.

Nonradical Muslims, for the most pail stayed out of the cross-civilization fray, but really are not neutral in this battle. A 2006 Pew Poll conducted a large-scale survey of Muslims in six Muslim and four Western countries, inquiring about attitudes toward Islam and the West. Headlining the significant outcomes: in none of the 10 Muslim populations did a majority believe that Arabs or Muslims carried out the 9/11 attacks; in each of the Muslim populations, a solid majority displayed support for Osama bin Laden; while non-Muslim Britons show the least anti-Muslim attitudes in Europe, Muslims in Great Britain are the most anti-Western and least accommodating toward Jews, the place of women, and Muslim responsibility for Sept. 11. Subsequent polls continue to show similar results. Hostility reigns, if not open warfare.

Moreover, all is not quiet on the Western front. NATO forces continue to combat Taliban, Haqqani, and other forces portraying themselves as Islamic in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. …

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