Monday, January 2, 2012

Huntington’s Clash Revisited - By DAVID BROOKS - THE NEW YORK TIMES

Op-Ed Columnist

Huntington’s Clash Revisited

Published: March 3, 2011
Samuel Huntington was one of America’s greatest political scientists. In 1993, he published a sensational essay in Foreign Affairs called “The Clash of Civilizations?” The essay, which became a book, argued that the post-cold war would be marked by civilizational conflict.
Josh Haner/The New York Times
David Brooks
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Human beings, Huntington wrote, are divided along cultural lines — Western, Islamic, Hindu and so on. There is no universal civilization. Instead, there are these cultural blocks, each within its own distinct set of values.
The Islamic civilization, he wrote, is the most troublesome. People in the Arab world do not share the general suppositions of the Western world. Their primary attachment is to their religion, not to their nation-state. Their culture is inhospitable to certain liberal ideals, like pluralism, individualism and democracy.
Huntington correctly foresaw that the Arab strongman regimes were fragile and were threatened by the masses of unemployed young men. He thought these regimes could fall, but he did not believe that the nations would modernize in a Western direction. Amid the tumult of regime change, the rebels would selectively borrow tools from the West, but their borrowing would be refracted through their own beliefs. They would follow their own trajectory and not become more Western.
The Muslim world has bloody borders, he continued. There are wars and tensions where the Muslim world comes into conflict with other civilizations. Even if decrepit regimes fell, he suggested, there would still be a fundamental clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. The Western nations would do well to keep their distance from Muslim affairs. The more the two civilizations intermingle, the worse the tensions will be.
Huntington’s thesis set off a furious debate. But with the historic changes sweeping through the Arab world, it’s illuminating to go back and read his argument today.
In retrospect, I’d say that Huntington committed the Fundamental Attribution Error. That is, he ascribed to traits qualities that are actually determined by context.
He argued that people in Arab lands are intrinsically not nationalistic. He argued that they do not hunger for pluralism and democracy in the way these things are understood in the West. But it now appears as though they were simply living in circumstances that did not allow that patriotism or those spiritual hungers to come to the surface.
It now appears that people in these nations, like people in all nations, have multiple authentic selves. In some circumstances, one set of identities manifests itself, but when those circumstances change, other equally authentic identities and desires get activated.
For most of the past few decades, people in Arab nations were living under regimes that rule by fear. In these circumstances, most people shared the conspiracy mongering and the political passivity that these regimes encouraged. But when the fear lessened, and the opportunity for change arose, different aspirations were energized. Over the past weeks, we’ve seen Arab people ferociously attached to their national identities. We’ve seen them willing to risk their lives for pluralism, openness and democracy.
I’d say Huntington was also wrong in the way he defined culture.
In some ways, each of us is like every person on earth; in some ways, each of us is like the members of our culture and group; and, in some ways, each of us is unique. Huntington minimized the power of universal political values and exaggerated the influence of distinct cultural values. It’s easy to see why he did this. He was arguing against global elites who sometimes refuse to acknowledge the power of culture at all.
But it seems clear that many people in Arab nations do share a universal hunger for liberty. They feel the presence of universal human rights and feel insulted when they are not accorded them.
Culture is important, but underneath cultural differences there are these universal aspirations for dignity, for political systems that listen to, respond to and respect the will of the people.
Finally, I’d say Huntington misunderstood the nature of historical change. In his book, he describes transformations that move along linear, projectable trajectories. But that’s not how things work in times of tumult. Instead, one person moves a step. Then the next person moves a step. Pretty soon, millions are caught up in a contagion, activating passions they had but dimly perceived just weeks before. They get swept up in momentums that have no central authority and that, nonetheless, exercise a sweeping influence on those caught up in their tides.
I write all this not to denigrate the great Huntington. He may still be proved right. The Arab world may modernize on its own separate path. But his mistakes illuminate useful truths: that all people share certain aspirations and that history is wide open. The tumult of events can transform the traits and qualities that seemed, even to great experts, etched in stone.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 4, 2011, on page A27 of the New York edition.

HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
March 4th, 2011
11:34 am
Brooks wrote: "The Islamic civilization, he wrote, is the most troublesome. People in the Arab world do not share the general suppositions of the Western world."

I am not saying he is wrong or right, just remember the fact that the countries with most muslims are India, Indonesia, Pakistan and then Iran after Egypt. Only Egypt is an Arab country.
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
Neil D
March 4th, 2011
11:41 am
Could it be that the clash is within civilizations and not between them? The partisan clash in the USA and the now obvious clash between the old arab dictators and their own people is the better model. I think the clash is (or ought to be) between religious and secular people and between the business elite (crony capitalists and dictators) and the working classes within each civilization.
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
March 4th, 2011
11:41 am
I think the imposing role played by women, with and without a veil, in the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya - not forgetting Iran in the recent past - is a highly significant factor in the debate on whether some cultural values may be universal. The importance accorded to the status of women remains the vital litmus test of a society's desire for real democracy.
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
Hong Kong
March 4th, 2011
11:43 am
I always thought Huntington became incoherent when he started trying to define his broad cultural generalizations. What is Asian culture? Japanese? Chinese? In what way are those similar cultures? What is Western culture? Italian? American? Ditto. And if you know Indonesia - the wold's largest muslim country with a unique culture - the idea of a common Islamic culture embracing all 1.6 billion muslims looks kind of silly.

With luck, we are just beginning to understand the diversity of Arab culture too. just looking at these revolts on the news, it is clear an Egyptian is not the same as a Lebanese or a Moroccan. It makes one quite hopeful that their futures are not predestined.
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
Paris, France
March 4th, 2011
11:43 am
@ Mike van Horn : Arab crowds want freedom and pluralism : "These aren't American values or Western values, but the things 90% of all people want when they get the chance." Yes, I do agree with you. I would add that these things are exactly what the Enlightment fought for and what religions, Christianisty as well as Islam, have tried so hard to destroy, up to now.
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
V L Rao
March 4th, 2011
11:47 am
While the tug of Islamic identity is very strong, Muslims do have a strong nationalist outlook. The Malays in Malaysia and Indonesia, the Banglas in Bangla Desh, the Arabs spread over many countries, the Turks, the Kurds again spread over many counties, the Iranians, the Pakstanis- all have stong nationalist urges, in spite of their common religion. The Arab culture of the Qoran does have a strong influence on these peoples, but their nationalist outlook is stronger.
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
March 4th, 2011
11:58 am
An interesting column.

One could also look at Japan which pretty much thoroughly "Westernized" after WWII. However, Japan did pick and choose what aspects of western culture it wanted to adopt. So today, though Japan is "westernized", it is still very much Japan.

I think the same sort of thing will happen in the Arab world.
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
east of eden
March 4th, 2011
2:01 pm
The possibility that Arab and African cultures might not turn to Western-style democracy and thinking should come as no surprise. The West has supported the antithesis of democratic values by supporting dictators and thugs throughout Africa and the Middle East for decades.

Any intelligent person would view the hypocritical sham of Western liberal thinking and decide to go in a different direction. After having lived under Mubarak and the various other criminals the West has propped up, a reasonable person could only surmise that liberal democracies are really only a shell game created to usurp oil and other resources.

How stupid do you think the Arab and African cultures are?
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
Joel Bergsman
St Leonard, MD
March 4th, 2011
2:01 pm
I would add that Huntington, and also you David in this column, err in conflating "Muslim" or "Islamic" with "Arab." If I recall H's paper, the things that he (rightly or wrongly) attributed to majority Muslim societies in fact apply almost exclusively to Arab societies -- not, e.g., to Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh...
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
Paul Green
Washington DC
March 4th, 2011
2:13 pm
A relevant observation that Mr. Brooks does not make in his critique of Huntington's analysis is that the relative lack of nationalism in the Islamic world is, at least in part, a consequence of the fact that the political map of that part of the world is largely a legacy of European colonialism.
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
Baytown TX
March 4th, 2011
7:06 pm
Guttenberg: Christian Reformation
Internet: Muslim Reformation
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HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
Berlin - Chicago
March 4th, 2011
7:09 pm
I find it interesting that people are so obsessed with discussing whether or not these countries will end up democratic or not, as if it is our concern anyway. Unless we work harder to achieve true democracy in our country, we have no business pushing our brand of "democracy" on others, or even wishing it upon them. I'm sorry to point out, but a country run by the rich, and for the rich is not a democracy. It is self-determined, but self-determination isn't the only prerequisite for a democracy. Until we figure this stuff out, how about we let them build what they want?
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