‘Clash of Civilizations’ author dies, thesis lives on

December 29, 2008

Political scientist Samuel Huntington, whose controversial book “The Clash of Civilizations” predicted conflict between the West and the Islamic world, has died at age 81, Harvard University said on Saturday. You can see our story here.

In his 1996 “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” which expanded on his 1993 article in Foreign Affairs magazine, Huntington divided the world into rival civilizations based mainly on religious traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism and said competition and conflict among them was inevitable.

His thesis was one of the most influential, controversial and widely debated in foreign affairs circles in the past decade or so.

His focus on religion rather than ideology as a source of conflict in the post-Cold War world triggered broad debate about relations between the Western and Islamic worlds, especially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

Huntington famously asserted that Islam has bloody borders.”

“In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame,” he wrote. ”This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines.”

Fifteen years later, tensions between India and Pakistan are near the boiling point in the wake of last month’s attacks in Mumbai by Islamist militants; an Israeli military offensive has killed more than 300 people in Gaza over the last three days in the deadliest violence in the territory in decades; hundreds died in Muslim/Christian clashes in Nigeria last month; and the United States finds itself bogged down in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But next month America will swear in its first black president, a Christian whose Kenyan father had an Islamic background. And there has been an outburst in recent months of inter-faith dialogue and initiatives, including at the street level in tense places such as Nigeria.

What do you think? Are civilizations doomed to clash, especially if they are divided by religion? Or can cooler heads prevail?


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I think it is long past time we recognize that Islam is an archaic, nihilist philosophy/religion that has no place in the modern world.

Posted by W | Report as abusive

So what is your suggestion we do with the 1.4 billion Muslim’s today, since according to you they have no place in the modern world?

According to Islam “there is no compulsion in religion”. Everybody has the right to practice their religion.

Prophet Muhammad(S)preached tolerance by practice. While he was preaching the new religion in Mecca, a women would regularly taunt him & threw garbage on him when he passed by. When one day she did not do that, he got concerned and went to her house to inquire if she was alright. Again, when Mecca was conquered by Muslims (after suffering years of mistreatment at the Meccans hands) there was no bloodshed, as was the custom of those days. He was famous for honesty & trustworthiness.

The most important teaching of Islam is to promote justice. Conflicts like Israel-Palestinian problem, the Afghanistan conflict, the right of self-determination in Kashmir, the Chechniya war etc etc are primarily there because people are fighting for justice.

For example, the Palestinians fighting for their rights from Israel are fighting for justice and include both Muslims & Christians. The Afghanistan conflict started by the Russian invasion of 1979 and was really a conflict of ideologies, namely communism vs capitalism.
If religion was the only reason of clashes between people, Iran & Iraq would not have fought a seven year war (both have Shiite Muslim majorities).

The huge corporations of today & the vested interests of the Defense Industries are more to be blamed for wars of today.

Posted by Nasir | Report as abusive

Clash is inevitable,there will be a class of people who will use religion as a tool of deprivation & create this war.Whenever any civilization makes vast progress like the western society there will be weaker society like Islam,Hindus & Buddhist who will feel completely threatened.Most people desire peace,but a particular religion has been distorted & its followers find solace in violence to seek their rights.Many things will defy loic & passion zest will be tested.After the religious clash there will be racial clash,racial clashes gradually will subside, but the competition of gods can never be overcome since both victors & vanquished will be poisoned with after life benefits if not the current life.I agree on W assessment.

Posted by Tommy | Report as abusive

How I wish Samuel Huntington is alive today ,so he can analyze the further clash in civilizations caused by the Mumbai terror attacks and the Israel attack on Hamas.Islam- as everyone agrees- is in the center stage of every religious clashes around the world.Islam need a Powerful and Righteous leader soon,a leader who can change people having radical views,a leader who can attract people,a great leader like Martin Luther King junior,like Mohandas Gandhi.Such a leader should immediately come to power in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia,quicker,before Pakistan and Middle East achieve instabilty.Else India and Israel will be nuked sooner and it really seems like a possibility in the near future.(US will be the first preference to the terrorist leaders but Pakistan does not have inter continental missiles much to the US’s delight)..

Posted by mitchell | Report as abusive

Dear Pakistani Citizens! your country was responsible for Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan. Your country served as a base for Taliban and other jihadi outfits to fight against USSR. You have seen the purest form of Islamic rule given by the Taliban. Do you want to your country move backwards say 500 years. Do you want to live without TV/Music or any entertainment?. Do you want public execution in your cities?. Do you want women to be treated like herds of sheep?. I guess Pakistan still hasn’t gone to that stage. Still there are enlightened muslims there. If you continue to support jihadists it will surely come back to haunt you and you all will experience what people of Afghanistan experience from 1996-2001.

Posted by Sudhir | Report as abusive

- Posted by W

Bush, is that you?! W its bigotry and failure to separate the individuals from religion. The same warped interpretation the Taliban are guilty of. I’m a practicing Muslim and follow my religion Islam, and am not party to the Muslims you myopically see on TV. I could very well make the same claim to Western governments being driven by a Christian right theology and cause of many problems in the world. That’s being naive and simplistic. The same with your comment.

Mitchell, that’s a very fatalistic view to have. But your point is valid. Good leaders are needed and a series of steps need to be satisfied to move forward globally. I thought Musharraf would be that leader for Pakistan…I was wrong. Still waiting…

Posted by Saf | Report as abusive

All muslims should gather and decide that the pharses in quran regarding the JEHAD should not be used casualy They should also ensure that the mothers of all muslim children are educated and are not merely understanding the interpretations of quran made by men and mullahs

Come on Saf,My view is not fatalistic. I haven’t emphasized the subjugation of all events or actions to fate or inevitable predetermination. I have said if there is no great leader then the nuking is possible.Maybe Zardari will turn out to be a great leader,who Knows? Saf,you have to see some self styled defense analysts in Pakistani TVs,they openly insult India.Many of the things they say are historically incorrect,for example even today well educated Pakistanis believe 1965 Indo-Pak war war was started by India and that India lost the war,so that’s the victory day for Pakistan. A defense analyst called Zaid Hamid-supposed to be a Mujahideen before- openly called for a Jihad with India and that too was aired on TV..Saf,you have to read some blogs by Pakistanis,God!they are really violent.I am not saying all.But at least one fourth of them I assume.They absolutely hate India,according to some of them the purpose of creating a N-weapon by Pakistan is to hit India and Israel at least once.I don’t think the civilian Government is thinking that way,but the way the army prepares for the war you can tell a large of people inside army and ISI wants to inflict terrors on India.As I have said these conflicts can be prevented only by a humane and powerful leader.

Musharraf is definitely not a powerful leader.If he was powerful and patriotic,he should have at least stayed in the active Politics ,fearing nothing.I too wished,like you,that it would have been good if he was more Powerful.But it now looks like that guy has given up and is seeking asylum in some Western Nation.Lets hope Zardari brings peace to the subcontinent.

Posted by mitchell | Report as abusive

Ed Stoddard,

I just want to know why my comments has not passed through the filter.I have been very moderate in my assessment. I am very concerned today more than ever in my entire life that the threat of terrorism emanating from distorted religious practice is visible & support W assessment even it it defies logic.

Posted by tommy | Report as abusive

Civilizations can co-exist in peace in today’s world. If we take a look at the Muslim civilization we know that Muslims in early time faced termendous hardships in the time of Prophet Muhammad(SAW). But Islam has always preached tolerance and it has given a message of peace. Islam is a complete code of life, it has set rules for everything. Muslims across the world need to live their life according to Islam, then Allah will help them.
Also, Muslims from Pakistan to Phillipines and Saudi Arabia to South Africa across the globe must stand up to let the world know what Islam truly stands for. Today due to different media campaigns Islam is being maligned. I must say at least the Islamic civilization poses no threat to any other civilization and has all the reason to exist peacefully.


Posted by Umair Malik | Report as abusive

I would like to add a few more things, the Islamic civilization has contributed many positive things. The Oneness and worship of One God(Allah), the beautiful architecture and Arabic scripts(fonts), dress code, the muslims in early days were very advanced in science and technology while Europe was still languishing in darkness. Even today, the system of beliefs, values, culture, the respect given to elders and old are all the positives of Islamic civilaztion. Islam has given special rights and stature to women.
There is indeed a need for inter-faith dialogue so people can better understand about Islam. In reciprocal, Muslims also need to better understand other civilizations.

Posted by Umair Malik | Report as abusive

Sam is wrong

The West was/is in need of a new enemy/evil, sinds their old “evil” the sovjet union collapsed.

So the West can continu their hegemony and expansionism doctrine. Futermore the Military Industrial Complex, the Financial cabal and the rest of the corporate cabals needed the new Islamic “evil” to make money and justify their existence.

Posted by Jack Michigan USA | Report as abusive

Sudhir wrote:
“Dear Pakistani Citizens! your country was responsible for Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan.”
I guess you simply need to shut the heck up and mind your own damn business. The people of Pakistan know what is good or bad for them. We are not supporting anyone. We are a nation and are facing challenges like any other country and dealing with them. May I ask you, who is responsible for opening up half a dozen consulates in Afghanistan and funding terrrorists in Baluchistan and destabilize Pakistan? Surely its India.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

Huntington is wrong.

The clash of civilizations is not between the Christian West and the Muslim East. It is between a Godless secular North and the religious South.

I should know, I’m French. At school, they used to teach us that it’s OK to slaughter thousands of human beings, provided it’s in the name of the French Revolution.

Posted by Luc Bomel | Report as abusive

Umair. Please give it a rest.

I guess that’s the problem you are talking about Mitchell? I already said your point is valid.

I’m a pessimist myself. I know what you’re saying. I know the army and ISI mentality. I know the religious and nationalistic fervor. I know the state of mind my people are in which are sadly reflected in the media and are given a forum. I know of the revisionist history that is passed on amongst generations. Most Pakistanis don’t know about Operation Grand Slam. Hell, most don’t know about Jinnah’s life and ideals.

Why read blogs by Pakistanis, when a few small posts by them HERE disturb me already? Not all of course, but you know who I’m talking about.

Zardari’s no messiah. Actually I had expected high competency from him (and lots of corruption) despite his history. He’s failed on the competency part (but not the corruption!).

There’s been a rift of attitudes within the Army and ISI and ordinary Pakistanis. The question of loyalty is arising. I don’t think the people of Pakistan wants to believe the Maulvi mentality our Security forces indoctrinated themselves into which some civilians actually believe and follow. I’m hoping support starts waning for these fanatics and people realize they’re not in our best interests. There’s been some great moves by both the Civilian government and Army, such as the change of personnel in the ISI and disbandment of its political wing.

So with the new personnel and the weeding out of the old fanatic types, there’s ‘some’ progress. Considering now its the secular types in power (Musharraf before, Kiyani now) of the forces, the nuclear arsenal is in better hands than it was a few years ago. Gilani seriously seriously scared the world with his unbelieving statement ‘See, we are responsible country’! Horrible PR.

So Mitchell hope that clarifies some of my position. And lets hope there are less scary blogs which lack Haqeeqat (Truth). Thanks.

Posted by Saf | Report as abusive

Ya I think I must have been very much pessimistic. Thanks for the talk anyway. The news here is that Lakhvi’s(LeT commander)role in Mumbai Attacks is proved. If Pakistan can bring him to justice,then the bilateral relations will definitely improve.
I very much believe if a powerful leader can come to solve the problems in South Asia,it has to be a Pakistani,not an Indian. Our Indian Ministers are simply not good diplomats .Time is running out and even Zardari proves to be corrupt,I still believe he is that leader South Asia is hoping for. I hope as the time passes, he will learn from his mistakes and manage to snatch power from the army and the ISI and pave way for peace and prosperity.


Posted by mitchell | Report as abusive

You’re pinning your hopes on Zardari to be a great leader? Now you’re being too optimistic. lol. ;)

Posted by Saf | Report as abusive

I have never read Samuel Huntington books but the propositions are very interesting. I think it can be expanded to certain wider perspectives. Clash of Civilisations are broadly based on religion but more importantly it is conceived on the social fronts – probably due to the huge disparity between societies and countries. One simple assessment is that all the unrests start from regions which are poor and socially deprived with high unemployment rates. These factors are further aggravated by the growing imbalances of wealth in the world.

If we take the case of Muslim countries- have we ever seen any such country truly democratic – except few from South Asia?? The huge social difference between – highly rich (elites) & ordinaries (innocent citizens) – of such conservative Muslim countries compounds to the accelerating division of civilisations. They export it because that is the only thing they know. And this is only way they could control a region especially when their foes are very dominating on the financial front!!!

My own feeling is that such clashes will not happen in either extremely poor regions or very rich countries. When a region is prospered to certain level, people with vested business and religious interests start to manipulate normally clam and peace loving ordinary people. Kashmir in 1990s, Indonesia in 2004s, Thailand in 2006, Serbia & Bosnia problems are few examples. I am not saying there aren’t any issues in those places but the aggressiveness starts when a region flourishes to certain laudable levels. In that sense in the coming years it will be very interesting to see what will happen to China.

So source of this indifference is LUST for MONEY. Kuwait War, Iraq War, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Latin America unrests – probably all points to some sort of holy alliance between devils in arms – not based on religion but based on common interests!

Posted by Teby | Report as abusive


I did not read all the comments, just scanned most of them, but I find most of them impassioned and inane (funny those two notions seem to compliment each other a lot on comment boards), but I want to address religion.

Don’t you get it? One can equate Islam and Christianty in guilt. All religions are myths – see Joseph Campbell. They are also instutitions of enormous power – illegitimate power.

And to the idiot who said its a clash between the Godless secular North and religious south, – implying derogation to the former- secularism and atheism are not explicit notions, they are the rational conclusion to a critical approach to the world; they are the pluralistic and pragmatic liberation of the dogmatism and superstition that has been responsible for most of the devastation and suffering of human history. Again, they are defined by negative attributes – what they are not.

What does it mean when you say you are practicing Christian or Muslim? It means you follow a set of arbitrary rules passed down to you. Nationalism, religion, these are social constructs that make us ignorant.

I do however, think Huntington’s argument has great symbolic and metaphorical value, as it becomes truth to those who hold hard beliefs and act out these contradictions. But also, read Edward Said’s criticisms of the ‘clash of civilizations’

Posted by Freethinker | Report as abusive

The Hangtington’s clash theory is distorted. The world is not moving to a clash, but an islamic renaissance. As Allah has said, Islam will be victorious against all ‘isms”, Islam is destined and deserves to win against all other ideologies.

So this is not any clash, but a mere change of choice and options by the world public for islam against capitalism, communism or christianity.

Islam is the only ideology that has succesfully withstood the tide of time and the attacks from other ‘isms’ and prove itself as a timeless, eternal, universal, undoubtable solution for the sustenance of humanity.

About Hamas and Israel, lets be free. As Israel has murdered 1200 innocent palestinians, Hamas has now the granted right to kill back 1200 innocent israelis, if not possible then 1200 innocent americans (because they have assisted the israeli army), if not possible then 1200 innocent britons (because they have assisted the israeli army), if not possible then 1200 innocent canadians(because they have assisted the israeli army), if not possible then 1200 innocent indians (because they have assisted the israeli army). That is as simple as this!!.

Long live armed islamic struggle
Long live martydom

Posted by Ashik | Report as abusive

In my opinion religion is wrong word given to each sect, panth, majhab, doctrine and belief. The proper word we may derived are in the different dialect in the mother tongue is of the duties and rights in the society by ways and manners in their life, as livelihood, culture, tradition, spirituality.

We know that the people are living on the life values of reciprocal, interdependence, integrated and coordinated relationship based society in the prevailing situation as per law of nature since the inception of earlier life. There was no uniform code of conduct, as like that of absolute freedom e.i. mono-culture based life values, imposed by capitalism and religion in the present time.

In our Indian popular word is DHARMA and in the other dialect it is their own word. We should make it clear that their is difference in religion and DHARMA or different names in dialect of the mother tongue (rights and responsibility to the society). Religion and DHARMA or different names in dialect of the mother tongue (rights and responsibility to the society) are not synonyms. DHARMA or different names in dialect of the mother tongue includes all sects, doctrine and panths and while they are being names as religion which is not correct.

Actually their is nothing which is to be called as religion. The word is letter given by European.

There is no conflict and clash between Dharma and different sects, they are the part. As per religion definitions, (which is wrong interpretation and translation of DHARMA) all sects are independent and are called religion. In this way there is war of supremacy among all sects. This is one of the root cause of social conflict between different society and civilization and if still we will stick to that dogma then we should have to prepare our self for great disastrous awaiting us.

Posted by bhupashoot | Report as abusive