Clash of civilizations or clash of interests?

Samuel P. Huntington began this ongoing debate when he argued that “the fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future” in a controversial 1993 essay for Foreign Affairs. One of the main cleavages Huntington identified was between the West and Islam, which he doubted was capable of embracing liberal democracy. In ...

603858_BBCIslamWest_Feb07_graph2_05.jpg
603858_BBCIslamWest_Feb07_graph2_05.jpg

Samuel P. Huntington began this ongoing debate when he argued that "the fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future" in a controversial 1993 essay for Foreign Affairs. One of the main cleavages Huntington identified was between the West and Islam, which he doubted was capable of embracing liberal democracy.

In the new issue of FP, former Bush speechwriter David Frum argues that the events of the last few years have vindicated* Huntington's thesis:

As they turn against the Iraq war, Americans seem also to have rejected the sunny assumptions about the Middle East upon which it was founded. Bush argued that terrorism was the work of a tiny handful of extremists, repudiated by the vast majority of Middle Easterners. His fellow Americans no longer believe him. More and more are coming to believe that Islam really is inherently hostile to democracy and the West. Civilizations are clashing. Paul Wolfowitz has lost. Sam Huntington has won.

Samuel P. Huntington began this ongoing debate when he argued that “the fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future” in a controversial 1993 essay for Foreign Affairs. One of the main cleavages Huntington identified was between the West and Islam, which he doubted was capable of embracing liberal democracy.

In the new issue of FP, former Bush speechwriter David Frum argues that the events of the last few years have vindicated* Huntington’s thesis:

As they turn against the Iraq war, Americans seem also to have rejected the sunny assumptions about the Middle East upon which it was founded. Bush argued that terrorism was the work of a tiny handful of extremists, repudiated by the vast majority of Middle Easterners. His fellow Americans no longer believe him. More and more are coming to believe that Islam really is inherently hostile to democracy and the West. Civilizations are clashing. Paul Wolfowitz has lost. Sam Huntington has won.

And in a recent web exclusive for ForeignPolicy.com, former senior intelligence officer Col. W. Patrick Lang, Jr. says that it’s actually these sunny assumptions—widely held by Americans—that were wrong in the first place. 

But lots of people still disagree with Huntington outright. A new poll by the BBC World Service and the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that “the global public believes that tensions between Islam and the West arise from conflicts over political power and interests and not from differences of religion and culture.” Most of those surveyed blamed “intolerant minorities” for causing the clash between Islam and the West. That doesn’t make them right or Huntington wrong, but it’s an encouraging finding nevertheless (Political scientist Marc Lynch agrees, but sees some worrisome countervailing numbers). Much more detail here.

*UPDATE: David Frum writes in with a clarification: “I don’t say that events have vindicated Huntington’s thesis, but rather that events are leading Americans to believe it—a tendency I myself happen to think mistaken.”

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