Foreign Policy Blogs

Samuel Huntington Was Wrong

Terrorism is not a Clash of Civilizations, but a Clash of Time

Samuel Huntington forever changed the face of international political discourse when he published The Clash of Civilizations. It redefined the world not along political boundaries or geographic features, but along the delicate fault-lines of civilization and culture. In his 1993 article, he writes:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics.

Huntington was wrong. As we progress further and further in to the post Cold-War world, it is becoming clear that we are not entering an era where civilizations are at war, but time itself. The rise of terror, America’s ‘War on Terror’, and other conflicts are not being waged along cultural lines, but between those who seek to progress towards the future and those who seek to revert to the past.

The war in Iraq, Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, tensions in Saudi Arabia, rise of authoritarianism in Russia; all of these conflicts are not between civilizations, but within civilizations. That is single greatest flaw in Huntington’s approach. The battle between reversion and progress does not take place externally, but from within specific cultures.

The war on international terrorism is not a war between western nations and their Muslim enemies, but between modern Islamic governments and terrorist organizations wishing to return to the eighth century. The same is true in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. There is no renewed cold-war between Russia and the United States, but a cold-war within Russia between industro-capitalist democrats and those wishing to return to the glory days of the mid 20th century. In America, the much-hyped ‘Culture War’ between secular leftists and traditional conservatives has been waged since the 1960s. The list goes on.

While alliances are indeed forged along similar cultures and tongues, they are not maintained so easily. On the flip of that coin, it is a simplification to argue that nations of varying civilizations will inevitably conflict. For the time being, religion and location and culture and history are irrelevant. The only question to be asked is: Who’s going my way?



Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;