Samuel Huntington's thesis on "The clash of civilisations" of 1993 provoked a plethora of varied responses. A Professor at Harvard University, Huntington wrote in order to voice his predictions and warn the world of an upcoming clash of cultures, most notably between the West and Islam. The recent reaction in the Middle East to America's self-styled 'war on terrorism' provides a timely case study for this debate. While an affinity will often exist between countries with similar cultural characteristics, great differences within 'civilisations' and the existence of national interests make unity unlikely. Certainly, cultural differences alone will not be enough to cause a clash. However, anticipating such an outcome and dividing nations into groups according Huntington's civilisations will only make the outcome more likely. Huntington also fails to convincingly outline why he believes different 'civilisation' values are irreconcilable, apparently unchanging and almost immune from each others' influence. This paper argues that the basic premise of Huntington's contention can only be supported if it is defined as the West being pitted against extreme fundamentalist Islam, characterised by political and military aggression.
The concept of a "clash of civilisations", however, is far more complex than this and requires more sophisticated analysis than just mere cultural reduction. While elements of Huntington's thesis may have merit and indeed may be perceived to have been vindicated by the events which occured on September 11, the heterogeneity of both the West and Islam needs to be acknowledged in any serious consideration of a 'Clash of Civilisations'.
Huntington's view is based on a concept of clashes in religion and ideology (as discrete, homogeneous entities), manifest in irreconcilable social, economic, and political stances, and actioned through military and political aggression. From this perspective, the contrast between Western and Islam cultures can no doubt be used as an argument for the inevitability of a clash between the two cultures. However, Huntington's view is too simplistic in the way that it describes cultural stereotypes. Cultures per se are difficult to define "partly because they are too complex and dynamic." Neither the West nor Islam is monolithic or homogeneous. Rather, each comprises and encompasses a range of perspectives and 'sub-cultures'.
Huntington's thesis is premised on an assumption of a predominantly pluralistic culture and attitude to religion in the West, directly opposed by one xenophobic fundamentalist position which underpins the Islam religion and by implication, all Muslim states. This is not accurate, however, as Islam manifests itself in many different ways. The West accommodates a range of religious expression and faiths, promotes free choice of religion, and relies more on the 'individual' in the political spectrum. Conversely, Islamic states are seen as mono-religious, do not...