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The Clash of Civilizations - a European perspective
- a lecture given at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul on the 25th of March 2002.

When Friedrich Hegel saw Napoleon ride through Jena on the eve of the battle between the French and the Preussian armies in 1806 he thought he was about to wittness "the end of history". The victory of the French revolution over the Preussian monarchy was to signify the final victorious march of freedom and reason all over the world. We heared similar prophecies in 1989. An American diplomat, Francis Fukiyama, attracted much attention by claiming that we were standing at the threshold to "the end of history". With the collapse of communism western liberal democracy would start a victorious march across the globe, and the world would finally become homogenous with liberalism both in economy and in politics as it´s prominent features.

It did not take long, though, before the tones changed.

In an article entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?" which attracted considerable attention when it appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1993, Samuel Huntington claimed that the global political process was now entering a new era.

During the period of a century and half that followed the signing of the Peace of Westfalia in 1648 and the emergence of the modern international system, conflicts were, according to Huntington, largely between princes - emperors, absolute monarchs and constitutional monarchs - who were attempting to expand the influence of their bureaucracies, their armies, their mercantilist economic strength and, most important, the territories they ruled. An outcome of this process became the creation of the national state.

Beginning with the French Revolution, the conflicts were mainly between nations and people, rather than between princes, according to Huntington. This 19th century pattern lasted until the end of the World War I. Then, as a result of the Russian Revolution and the reaction against it, the conflicts between nations were superceded by conflicts between ideologies, first between communism, fascism-nazism and liberal democracy, and then between democracy and communism.

With the end of the Cold War, the Western phase in international politics came to an end with the focus shifting to the interaction between the Western and the non-Western civilizations.

According to Huntington, the clash of civilizations will occur on different levels. At the micro-level, various neighbouring groups will be getting into states of conflict, which can frequently become violent, along cultural "fault lines", fighting over the control of territories and each other. At the macro-level, states with different cultural ties may struggle for military and political dominance, for control over international bodies, and for power over third parties.

Huntington´s argumentation has seemingly attained support by the tragic events of September 11 and by the Bin Laden´s rhetoric that followed the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon but it contains a number of weak points. Huntington divides the world into "seven or eight major civilizations": Western, containing Western Europe and North America, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slav-Orthodox, Latin American and "possibly an African civilization". Incidentally Huntington does not ascribe any distinctive status to Judaism or Jewishness. In his essay he describes Israel as " a creattion of the West".

Huntington´s division is rather inconsistent. Some civilizations seems to be defined according to religious and cultural criteria while in other cases the key factor seems to be geography. What distinguishes the Western civilization from the Latin American? Both North and South America are inhabited by European immigrants who brought along values that they have retained ever since. While it is true that the American Indian element is much greater in certain Latin American countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador than in the United States, it is equally true that Chile, Argentine and Costa Rica are more European than the United States which is rapidly becoming more Hispanic. In fact both South and North America can be characterized as Western civilizations but with different degrees of other cultural elements.

Are the catholic Philippinians Western or Asian? Huntington is speaking about a Buddhist Civilization but what unites a Thai, a Tibetan, a Mongol, and a Kalmuck living in the Russian Federation?

Where is the Confucian world that Huntington is talking about to be found? In spite of the shared Confucian heritage China and Vietnam have always been enemies. Vietnam deeply mistrusts China´s intentions, irrespective of who is in power in Hanoi and Peking. Similarly, Peking´s efforts to stress the common Confucian heritage to facilitate a re-unification with Taiwan are watched with contempt by Taipei.

Huntington draws straight lines across the maps showing the beginnings and ends of the various civilizations. He acknowledges that the Islamic cultural sphere has an Arab, a Turkish, and a Malayan subdivision but for some reason he ignores the substantial Islamic contingent in Africa and he does not even touch upon the major differences that exist between the Islam in the Indonesian Archipelago, that is strongly permeated by Hinduism and Buddhism, the Islam in West Africa, influenced by animism, and the Islam in its Arab heartlands. Huntington also ignores the fact that the concept of Islamic unity hardly existed 50 years ago. In fact, the Islamic world has been divided ever since the death of the fourth caliph in 661, and this not merely between Sunnites and Shiites but along other lines as well. Islam is a magma - a reservoir containing quite distinct concepts and ideas, ranging from nostalgic-utopian doctrines of salvation to a secularised cultural identity like the one existing in Turkey.

Nevertheless, Huntington conjures up a picture of a green "Islamic International" which, as was the case with the Comintern, exerts control by applying a clear strategy. In reality the interests of the individual states have always gained the upper hand. The Iranian revolution has been regarded as a threat since its very beginning not only in Iraq - Saddam was the first to go to war against the Islamic fundamentalism - but also in the conservative Arab states. Therefore a Sunni International was to be created to stop the ideological bushfire spreading from Iran. But despite their oil resources, the Sunnite monarchies were not more successful than the ayatollahs in their attempts to establish a new political/ religious order.

Islam has become "nationalized" and, in the same way as the Arab front states built up their own Palestinian organizations in an attempt to control the Palestinian nationalism today we can see how the various Islamic organizations propagate a certain brand of Islam, be it Shiism, Wahabism or other in accordance with the national interests of the sponsor country. Thus, e g Saudi Arabia has financed all the Sunni organizations in Afghanistan as long as they were hostile towards Iran - even the radical Hizb-I Islami group. Similarly the FLN regime in Algeria supported the Tunisian fundamentalists in An-Nahda while at home they were trying to crush the local Islamic organization FIS. This organization in its turn could rely on both secret and open support from Tunisia.

Today we can also see examples of the "nationalization" of Islam in the disintegrating Soviet Union where Islamic groups organize themselves within the framework of the new national states rather than in the form of a Central Asian Islamic International. Tajiks and Kazakhs have broken loose from the Tashkent muftiate created once by Stalin since it was considered to have been dominated by Uzbeki interests. The previous muftiate for the Caucasus region has split into five units, and the Islamic Renaissance Party, founded as recently as 1990, proved to be incapable of representing all Central Asian Muslims and quickly splintered into national fractions.

The specific Egyptian characteristics and the fact that the Egyptian identity is much older than Islam were some of the reasons why Sadat was able to break with the putative Arab-Islamic community and recognize Israel. Similarly, Turkey is not going to turn its back on secularism and align itself with Central Asia rather than Europe unless the West forces the Turks to make this choice. Ankara and Istanbul look to Brussels, Paris, London and Berlin, not to Ashkhabad, Alma Ata, or Bishkek.

Huntington defines the Gulf War as a "war between civilizations". In fact, no other conflict has so clearly demonstrated how the interests of the state predominate over the religious sphere. Saddam did not justify his attack on Kuwait in religious terms - he did so only when he was forced to retreat by a coalition formed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Syria, together with American, French and British forces. The Saudi Royal family even managed to mobilize Islamic authorities who in a "fatwa" proclaimed that the fact that American infidel soldiers were defending Mecka was not in conflict with the teachings of Koran.

Iran was biding its time and despite all its anti-American rhetoric it had nothing against "the Great Satan" acting in the interest of the ayatollahs.

Hence, the frontiers of the Islamic fundamentalism have already been drawn up right from the start and there is no correlation between the strategic decisions taken by states and their domestic cultural opposition. Attacks on Christianity are a particularly prominent feature in Saudi Arabia, the primary ally of the United States , which does not permit existence of any Christian churches on its territory, whereas the Christian communities in Syria and Iraq can exercise their belief freely. Political Islam is not a geopolitical game but rather a social phenomenon. The North-South antagonism can of course further discontent which may put on Islams green colour , nevertheless, the much discussed and publicised Islamic world revolution is a myth.

One of the main points Huntington makes is that we now witness the emergence of a Confucian-Islamic axis or "connection": "A central focus of conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states".

The only concrete evidence Huntington produces as support for this remarkable thesis is North Korea´s and China´s arms exports to Libya, Iran, Iraq and Syria. These contacts between two Communist dicatorships and a Libya governed according to Qadhafi´s bizarre "green theories", which all Muslim clerics consider to be herecies, or with the two secular, rival Baath regimes in Damascus and Baghdad, are quite clearly neither expresssions of any ideological affinity nor an Islamic-Confucian plot. It is simply a question of money. Furthermore one of the major domestic problems faced by the Chinese government is the fear that Muslim fundamentalism could spread to the Uigur people in Sinkiang from their Turkic kin in Central Asia and this is the reason why Peking supports the attacks on Afghanistan.

It could be just as well argued that the American and French arms sales to Saudi Arabia indicate that a Christian-Islamic alliance is being built up.

Thus, Huntington´s suggestion of a clash of cultures at the macro level is not soundly based. He seems to be on a firmer ground when he claims that conflicts at the micro level will run along the "fault lines" between cultural spheres. The civil war in Tajikistan and the conflicts in the Caucasus seem to support this thesis and even more so the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia where the front lines largely followed the traditional frontier between the Eastern and the Western Roman Empires and between the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires.

Even these arguments do not bear closer examination, though. Not a single war during the last century was provoked by a clash between civilizations, no matter how they are defined. In 1914 the protestant Berlin got allied with the catholic Vienna and muslim Istanbul against the orthodox Moscow, the catholic Paris, and the protestant London. The orthodox Serbia did fight against the catholic Vienna but it was at the same time at war with the orthodox Bulgaria. The aggressors in the Second World War, Italy, Germany, the Soviet Union and Japan were able to co-operate in spite of their belonging to different cultural spheres and when Hitler attacked Stalin, Churchil and Roosevelt did not ask their new ally whether he was an orthodox christian or a communist.

The majority of the wars that took place after 1945 have been fights within "civilizations": Korea, Vietnam, Cambodja, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait. The longest and most bloodfilled conflict in the Middle East in the eighties did not take place between the Arabs and the Jews but between Muslims - in the war between Iran and Iraq. Poisonous gas has been used by Iraqi Arabs against Kurds and not against "non-believers".

The wars in the former Yugoslavia with their ethnic cleansings were, contrary to Huntington´s theories, no "jihad" but a fight for power and territories fought among atheist orthodoxs, catholics and muslims in shifting unholy alliances . The nationalism coloured by religion had been consciously cultivated together with the social antagonisms and tensions. The conflicts in the former Yugoslavia demonstrate how easily a nationalism can be instrumentalized but they cannot be used as a proof for the thesis of a war between civilizations.

In Bosnia, the Serbs claimed to fight for Christianity against Islam. It is true that the wars in former Yugoslavia followed the cultural boundaries between the Eastern and the Western Roman Empires and that they subsequently developed into a war between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and between Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Islam. But this was primarily the result of the Serbian nationalism combined with the determination of the Communist Party bosses not to surrender their power. The Serbian offensive, aiming at establishing a Greater Serbia, was initially directed against their Christian neighbours, Slovenia and Croatia. In Bosnia the Muslims stood for a secular, civilized society while the Orthodox Serbs demonstrated a bigotry and narrowmindedness comparable with that of the most fanatical exponents of Islamic fundamentalism and in Bosnia as well as in kosovo forces frpm "the Western civilizatin" intervened on the Muslim side..

Civilizations do not control states. On the contrary, states control civilizations and they intervene and defend their own civilization only if it is in the state´s interest to do so.

In the war between Azerbajan and Armenia Teheran has tried to act as a mediator and tended to support the Christian Armenians rather than the Muslim Azeris out of fear that an Azeri victory might strengthen the separatist tendencies among the large Azeri minority in Iran.

What at the first glance can give an impresssion of a clash of civilizations turns when analyzed out to be a rivalry among states concerning resources and territories, for strategic advantages and political prestige. The war against Saddam Hussein was not a war between civilizations - civilizations do not make wars - but a fight for oil and the strategic balance in the Middle East. The antagonism between Peking and Washington over Taiwan, pirate copies of CD-records, or export of arms is not a fight between Confucius and Thomas Jefferson but a conflict between two superpowers.

Huntington defines a civilization as "the broadest level of identification a person can intensively identify with". Only very few persons can "intensively" identify with a notion as wide as the concept of civilization. They seek rather more narrow identities such as nations or ethnic or religious groups. Even though the European identity is nowadays being constantly conjured up nevertheless the investigations carried out by the EU Commission show that more than 70% of the populations in all EU countries see themselves primarily in national terms and that the European identity comes as second.

The civilizations Huntington talks about are not homogenous tectonic plates wearing out one another but syncretistic ones and this not only in the border regions but also in their cores. Even the islamic fundamentalists make use of the Western technologies as was clearly demonstrated on September 11 and they thus show also a way of thinking which is considered to be alien to their culture. To take another example: in 1957 there were 1,7miljon Christians in South Korea. At present the number is 14 - 17 miljon, i e 40 per cent of the population. The frequent strikes are said to be directed against the Confucian values that are considered to have been the basis for the Korean economic miracle which has now faded.

Huntington´s thesis is purely monocausal. He does not at all take into consideration the effects that the free market economy exerts on the political systems and the forces that are set free by the processes of the economic integration. Therefore the assumption that future conflicts will be connected with distribution of wealth within and among the states has a higher credibility. The paradigm of the bi-polar world has not been substituted by Huntington´s "clash of civilizations" but rather, to quote Jürgen Habermas , by "a new incalculability". We can nevertheless wage a prophecy that the future neither will bring the end of history nor a clash of civilizations.

The real clash today is not between civilizations but within them - between Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and jews with a modern and progressive outlook and those with a medieval one. Jerry Falwell, to take one example, told his television audience after the attak on the World Trade Center that America "deserved" to be punished. Abortion providers, gay rights proponents and federal courts that banned school prayers had according to him "made God mad".

According to Huntington Islam has got bloody borders. This statement is not only historically false, it is also dangerous. Islam and Christianity have lived side by side for almost 1400 years, always as neighbours, mostly as rivals and far too often as enemies. In fact, they may be regarded as co-religions since they share the same Jewish, Hellenistic and Oriental heritage. At one and the same time they have been old acquaintances and intimate hereditary enemies, and their conflicts have been particularly bitter precisely because of their common origins. Both sides have been divided more by their similarity than by their differences.

The Islamic culture is not as strange as it often appears in the light of our prejudices and clichés. One of the most widespread myths is that Charles Martel, the ruler of the Franks, saved the West from destruction by his victory over the "Saracens"at Poitiers in 732. The Saracens were driven back over the Pyrenées and returned to southern Spain where a Muslim state then continued to flourish for almost 800 years. This Islamic presence on the European continent did not lead to a collapse of the Western civilization but to a unique and fruitful symbiosis between Islam, Christianity and Judaism which resulted in an unparallelled boom in science, philosophy, culture and art.

At the close of the Middle Ages, both Islam and Judaism were constitutive elements in the formation of Europe. As a result, Islam is at the same time an alien, an original and - due to growing migration - a new element in Europe of today. A Europe that is getting increasingly populated by people who live in a no-man´s land between the different cultures - similarly as the "enanciados" in the Moorish Spain . There are already more than 20 million Muslims in Europe - more than the number of Scandinavian protestants not to speak - and their numbers will increase as a result of the continuing migration. Estimates speak of 60 millions in 25 years. The European Union is therefore no longer conceivable without the " Islamic green" component. Whether it will be possible to construct the "European house" based on the model of Alhambra - the symbol of the multicultural Moorish Spain - is therefore a decisive question for the future of Europe.

If we regard Huntington´s reference to Islam´s bloody borders as an indisputable fact we shall never be able to integrate our growing Muslim population. In that case Huntington´s prophecies of a clash of civilizations might become a reality but not in the form of a military measuring of strength between "the West and the rest" and a new siege of Vienna but as a permanent guerilla warfare in the suburbs of the big European cities turned into ghettos. This is the real risk of a clash of civilizations. To prevent this from happening is the greatest challenge for the European politicians today.

Ingmar Karlsson
Consul General of Sweden and Director of the Istanbul Centre for Turkish-Swedish Cooperation

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