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Ana Paula Lisboa

[ Ana Paula Lisboa ]   Veja o Perfil Completo deste Colunista
Estuda Comunicação Social, adora escrever e acredita na comunicação como formuladora de conceitos.


What to fight for?

‘The clash of civilizations’

In his article ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’ (1993), Samuel P. Huntington states that the post-Cold War world is entering a new phase in which the main sources of conflict will be cultural, not ideological, not social, not political and not economical. Huntington also explains that these conflicts may not occur between national states, but rather between ‘civilizations’ and elucidate that “conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world” (Huntington, 1993, p.22).

For Huntington, dividing the world in terms of ideological, politicaleconomic systems (e.g. capitalism, socialism, democratic, non-democratic)in terms of economic development (e.g. First, Second and Third Worlds) is not appropriate anymore. Grouping countries according to their culture and civilization would be significant.
But what would be these ‘civilizations’? Samuel Huntington defines them as cultural entities and presents his concept:

“A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humansother species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people” (Huntington, 1993, p. 24).

Besides defining what a civilization is, Huntington goes further and tries to define the borders between them. He “has found his civilizations whole and intact, watertight under an eternal sky. (…) With a sharp pencil and a steady hand Huntington marks outone civilization ends and the wilderness of ‘the other’ begins” (Ajami, 1993, p. 33/34). Huntington predicts that the world will be shaped according to the interactions between some major civilizations: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin America and (possibly) African civilization.

Huntington’s thesis was criticized and according to Appadurai is based on a:
 “Primordialism with a macro-geographical base. [It overlooks] the vast amount of global interaction between civilizational areas, it erases dialogue and debate within geographical areas, and it deletes overlaps and hybridities. In a word, it evacuates historyculture, leaving only geography. It is based on a functionalist logic that overlooks the role of political agency and historical processes” (Appadurai, 2006, p.115)”. 

Stating that the world will be separate by civilizations is similar to regress on imperious and kings times. Edward Said confirms that:  “efforts to return the community of civilizations to a primitive stage of narcissistic struggle, needs to be understood, not as descriptions about how in fact civilizations behave, but rather as incitements to wasteful conflict and un-edifying chauvinism” (Said, 1998, p.11).

Huntington seems to have the notion that civilizations are uniform, like a gigantic solid unit, and assume that “there&39;s complete homogeneity between culture and identity” and that “is to miss what is vital and fertile in culture” (Said, 1998, p. 7). Edward Said wisely analyses that there are two types of culture: one official and one unofficial. The official culture “provides definitions of patriotism, loyalty, boundaries, (…) belonging” and “speaks in the name of the whole”. The unofficial culture was ignored by Huntington. This second type can be called counter-culture, is alternative, dissenting, formed by various kinds of outsiders (the poor, immigrants, workers, rebels, artists) and perhaps unable to be categorized inside any civilization.

No cultural faction is homogeneous: within each state, each nation and each continent there are huge differences, and to pick so different cultures/countries/peoples categorized as a single civilization is to over generalize. Defining the official borders of a culturecivilization requires “compression, reduction, exaggeration” (Said, 1998, p.7). As if he could decide which group/nation/culture is a ‘civilization’ based on stereotypes, on his thoughtsimpressions.

For example, there is the Western and Latin American case, that he categorizes as ‘closer civilizations’: “it is clearly in the interest of the West to promote greater cooperation and unity within its own civilization (…), to incorporate into the West societies in Eastern Europe and Latin America whose cultures are close to those of the West” (Huntington, 1993, p.49). Latin America perhaps should be considered Western due to the fact that the colonization was European, coming mainlyPortugal and Spain, and France in French Guiana. The United States and Canada are considered Western and were also colonized by European countries, primarily England and, in the Canadian case, also France. Why is North America considered part of Western civilization and why is Latin America considered close, but not entirely Western? And maybe America, as a whole, should be one different civilizationthe West. These wanderings in defining what country/culture/peoples are could be endless, and yet not reach consensussatisfactory result, and this is what happens to the delimitations of Huntington.

Huntington does not ignore the national states, but give them less importance as the future conflicts would not occur between states, but along the “cultural fault lines separating these (major) civilizationsone another” (Huntington, 1993, p. 25). According to this author, the differences between civilizations are basic, are result of centuries and exist in the way people view several aspects of life (such as religion, state, society, family, liberty and hierarchy), and he believes that these divergences are significantly more fundamental than distinctions among political ideologies and regimes.

It is important to think in what most directly influences people&39;s lives. Would this be tradition and culturepolitical and economic systems? It is possible to see that economic and political consequences (e.g. infrastructure, freedom, democracy, life quality, education, resourcesthe lack of them) can more easily be observed in the ‘real world’, than consequences of tradition and culture, such as beliefs, habits and social background. Economics translate peoples’ life quality, and this is the national state reality, and not the beliefs and habits.

What to fight for?

To Samuel Huntington, conflicts between civilizations are a certainty, they do not cease. Taking a closer look at the world of today, it is not hard to conclude that probably there are more reasonable motivations to clash, and reasons based on ‘civilizational’ causes (e.g. fundamentalism, cultural differences, de-westernization etc.) can be used as excuses.
Economic interests (not only money, but also natural resources and any other source of wealth) are front-runners to motivate efforts and conflicts. As has assumed Fouad Ajami, “Huntington would have nations battle for civilizational ties and fidelities when they would rather scramble for their market shares, learn how to compete in a merciless world economy, provide jobs, move out of poverty” (Ajami, 1993, p.38).

Huntington mentions that “conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations has been going on for 1,300 years. (…) This centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline” (Huntington, 1993, p. 31-32). Nevertheless what Samuel P. Huntington did here was giving examples of clashes (the contemporary ones) that were not (exclusively) motivated by cultural differences, but due to economic interest.

E.g. the Persian Gulf War that happened in 1990 after Saddam Hussein, then president of Iraq, accused Kuwait of causing the decrease in oil prices (what has brought loss to Iraq), returned to old issues of territorial limits between the two countries (Iraq demanded the return of a territory that belonged to Kuwait, but was claimed to be part of Iraq in the past.), and required (1 million dollars) financial compensation. As Kuwait has not paid the compensation sought by Iraq and did not conceded the territory, the Iraqi government sent troops to occupy Kuwait, taking the oil wells.

It is quite obvious that this was a fight caused for an economic factor, regardless of being between two Arabic countries. What happened after this was also a question of finances. The United Nations (UN) asked the immediate removal of Iraqi troopsKuwait, what was disobeyed. Then, authorized by the UN, The United States together with other countries (England, France, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia) attacked. Is this really a sign of the ‘centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam’ because of civilizational differences? Is it a sign that these six countries were advocates of world peace on behalf of the UN?
Or is it just a sign that these other countries, both Westerners and Easterners, disagreed that Iraq dominated the Kuwaiti oildisagreed with the increase in oil prices? The money (oil) was one (if not the) main reason.

This pattern can be seen in more recent events. The original justification for the invasion of Iraq by The United States in 2003 (that ended in December last year) was the developing of mass destruction weapons (that would threaten the world and were condemned by the United Nations) and Saddam Hussein&39;s suspected collaboration with Al-Qaeda (never confirmed). Again, with the endorsement of the UN, The United States and England, with the help of Australia, Denmark and Poland, invaded Iraqi. However a nuclear power like North Korea had its threats facing the USA with promises of dialogue. Is it because Iraq is ‘swimming in an ocean of oil’ and not North Korea? This may be uncertain, but is the best known speculated cause. If the USA got the oil is another story, as they were frowned by several countries because of the ‘oil reason suspect’.

The clash of economy

“Yet this ‘culturalization’ of conflict is as wrong as it is dangerous. It is wrong because while the origins of some disputes are certainly cultural, prolonged conflict is always much more complex, involving factors that are not only cultural but also economic, political and ideological (Rizvi, 2011, p.223)”

Cultural, traditional, ‘civilizational’religious differences are less strong than political, ideological, and most important of all, economic factors in the current world. The interest, greed and money became what moves conflicts, whether between ‘civilizations’national states. According to Huntington, economic regionalism (as regional economic blocs) is growing and reinforces civilization-consciousness and may be successful only in a common civilization (Huntington, 1993, p. 27). One example for this would be the European Union and Economic Cooperation Organization among the non-Arab Muslim countries.

Despite of this, Adam Tarock mentions the successful Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) formed between Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and the Confucian and Muslim countries of Southeast Asia plus some Latin American countries, and also military pacts signed between the USA and non-Western nations, such  as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Turkey. This indicates that economic reasons are not (necessarily) linked to cultural reasonscivilizational origins.

Huntington describes how Turkey is a ‘torn country’ because is defined by its leaders as a modern, secular, Western national state, and, at same time, is a Middle Eastern Muslim society. Moreover, allied with the West, tried to enter the European Community (Huntington, 19993, p.42). But why would be this? It is not because the Turkish people dream to be ‘Westerners’, it is because, as any other country in the world, Turkey has financial purposes, and joining the European Union (EU) would economically bring great benefit to this country, regardless of beingnot a Muslim state.

Mexico is categorized as having a similar behavior:
 “Just as Turkey abandoned its historic opposition to Europe and attempted to join Europe, Mexico has stopped defining itself by its opposition to the United States and is instead attempting to imitate the United States and to join it in the North American Free Trade Area” (Huntington, 1993, p.42).

All this is not because the Mexican people want to be like the USA peoplebecause Mexico is a ‘torn country’, it is because there are economic interests. The focus here is on the dollar, a valued currency, on gaining profit, on development.

“Contrary to Huntington&39;s assertion, in the post-Cold War world economics and ideology, and not civilization-to-civilization, still matter greatly in relations between nations” (Tarock, 1995, p. 7). Tarock is also assertive to say that “if the Western and the non-Western worlds do confront each other in coming years, this will be an economic and ideological conflict and not a civilization conflict” (Tarock, 1995, p. 16).

“Huntington’s analysis remains superficial. In spite of the broad-range existing research on ethnicity his analysis does not considerer that cultural, and as a rule, religious factors are rarely of great relevance at the very beginning of a conflict escalation. Socio-economic problems with no prospect of a solution are more important” (Senghaas, 1998, p.130).

Unsolved problems (e.g. poverty, violence, lack of infrastructure, corruption) were evident inside the revolts of the Arab Spring, a wave of demonstration in the Arab world against pre-existing dictatorial systems, for more freedom, democratic representation, economic equality and the use of national resources for the benefit of many rather the concentration of money in the hands of few.

People have basic human needs as food, water, electricity that only can be fulfilled in the current time using cash. Thus, human needs are intrinsically related to financial questions: people need money to have better living conditions, therefore unemployment and decentralization of income are also problems presented in the Arab Spring.

“What ultimately counts for people is not political ideologyeconomic interest. Faith and family, blood and belief, are what people identify with and what they will fight and die for” (Huntington, 1993, p. 85). The contrary to  Huntington’s preaches has been seen since the beginning of the Arab spring that began in December 2010 when a Tunisian young guy, unemployed, set fire to his own body as a protest against living conditions in the country. This desperate act triggered all other events in the Arab Spring, starting in Tunisia and then in Egypt - and people are fighting, in short, for better living conditions, in other words, for better economic conditions.



Any attempt to predict the future of human history is uncertain and imprecise, but some merit should be given to Samuel P. Huntington’s ideas in ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’ Although the ‘civilizations’ and the ‘civilizational borders’ may not be as he assumed, cultural differences were and are a reason of misunderstanding and other problems.

Peoples have to learn how to deal with diversity, eitheranother country, civilization, religion, ideology, politicseconomy: “For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others” (Huntington, 1993, p.49). This coexistence may be focused also on economical questions

In this term paper was made the attempt to justify the thesis “Cultural aspects are secondaryeven irrelevant to classify the world and to justify conflicts: civilizations are not the best way to divide the humankind and international clashes (or clashes between civilizations if they exist) most of times occur for economical interests”.

The arguments here shown are in favor of the thesis, but for future studies should be a improved option to (quantitative and qualitative) deeper analyze series of international conflicts to prove (or even disprove) the hypothesis. Furthermore, other alternatives of classification/categorization of the world (beyond Huntington’s concept of civilization) should be considered and studied.

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