September 26, 2012
Clash of Civilizations v. End of History
McWorld v. Jihad The ending of the Cold War ushered in a new era of international politics. This shift left people wondering about what would emerge as the dominant trend in world politics. Francis Fukuyama famously declared that the ending of the Cold War signaled a victory for Western liberalism and that the spread of Western democracy and government would create the “end of history” (Fukuyama 1989: 6). The optimistic view expressed by Fukuyama was not the only theory of what would happen in the post-Cold War era, as Samuel Huntington opposed the declaration made by Fukuyama by saying that instead of the “end of history”, the world was heading towards the “clash of civilizations” due to a deterioration of American hegemony (Huntington 1993: 91). Over the past fifteen years, Huntington’s views have proven to be much more relevant than those of Fukuyama, resulting in Jihad being a more prominent trend in world politics than the concept of McWorld.
Fukuyama’s proclamation of the end of history appeared to hold true for a few years after it was declared. This was especially true after the immense success of the UN led military action to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1990, exemplifying the success of liberalism and collective security, as Henry Nau describes (Nau 2009: 206). Other examples supporting the theory of Fukuyama’s optimism were the rising economies in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the Oslo Accords which were thought of as a possible end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and international economic integration, such as the formation of the European Union (Packer 2012: A).
However, by the mid 1990’s, pessimism had begun to creep in with a rise in cultural and civilizational conflict, thus making people see Huntington’s thesis as the enduring reality of world politics. Pessimism arose from the Black Hawk Down fiasco in Somalia, where a US Black Hawk helicopter was shot down and eighteen US soldiers were killed, while one of the bodies was dragged through the streets of the Somali capital, Mogadishu (Nau 2009: 11).
Since the disaster in Somalia, there have been countless numbers of cultural conflicts that have taken center stage in the eyes of the world. From 1991-1999, wars in the former Yugoslavia between the various ethnic groups such as the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians were the bloodiest European wars since the end of World War II (Packer 2012: A). Also, there was the Rwandan genocide between the Hutus and Tutsis (Packer 2012: A) along with various other civil wars in African nations such as the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Liberia, and Ethiopia (Packer 2012: B). Cultural conflicts were not limited to Africa, as there have been bloody conflicts in Sri Lanka, Burma, India, Pakistan, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan (Packer 2012: B). In all, these cultural conflicts have left over 25 million refugees fleeing their homes, and that doesn’t even count the number of people who were displaced but still living in their original country (Packer 2012: B).
Civilizational conflict, just as /Huntington had predicted in 1993, has also become as much of the central focus, if not more of the focus of post-Cold War politics than cultural conflict. Huntington specifically focused on the clash between Western civilization and Islamic civilization. Huntington said that the spreading of US ideals to Islamic countries led to a resurgence in Islam, or “re-Islamization”, against the West (Huntington, 1993: 94). To explain his stance on the clash between the West and Islam that would inevitably occur, Huntington cites a large population growth among Muslims, which created a large number of young people unemployed and disaffected, leaving them as easy targets for recruitment into fundamentalist Islamic causes (Huntington 1993: 211). Also, Huntington says that, “the collapse of communism removed a common enemy of the West and Islam and left each the perceived major threat to the other” (Huntington 1993: 211). As far as Huntington was concerned, conflict between the West and Islam was inevitable and it was only a matter of when it might start.
That spark of conflict between the West and Islam that Huntington had eluded to finally occurred on September 11, 2001, with the act of Muslim terrorists hijacking US planes and flying them into the World Trade Center, as well as the Pentagon. Since that day, the dominant focus in world politics has been the ongoing civilizational conflict between the West, specifically the US, and Islam. In response to the September 11 attacks, the US began its “war on terror” by going to war with Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and restore democratic order. Also, the US entered war with Iraq in 2003 to oust dictator Saddam Hussein and end Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program. More recent examples of civilizational conflict between the West and Islam was the recent attacks on US embassies in Libya and Egypt, leaving a US ambassador dead. Another recent example of civilizational conflict is the nuclear conflict between Iran and Israel. In this case, the Israelis feel threatened by the Iranian attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon, and thus demand that the US declare to take action in support of Israel against Iran, even though President Obama has already condemned the Iranians for their action (Washington Post 2012).
The theme that often leads to civilizational conflict in world conflict is Jihad. Jihad has been the negative response to the globalization of Western ideals, also known as “McWorld” (Barber 1993: 6). Barber describes Jihad as “war not as an instrument of policy, but as an emblem of identity, an expression in community, an end in itself” (Barber 1993: 8-9). The theme of Jihad has been dominant over McWorld in the post-Cold War era. It has been Jihad that led to the September 11 attacks, the attack on US embassies in Libya and Egypt, and various actos of terrorism in the forms of car bombings or public executions of Americans. Jihad can be summed up with the Muslim view of Sheik Ghanoushi, “The bottom line, is that our society is based on values other than those of the West” and an Egyptian government official who said that Americans “come here and want us to be like them. They understand nothing of our values or our culture”. Another quote comes from an Egyptian journalist who said, “We are different, we have a different background, a different history. Accordingly, we have the right to different futures.” (Huntington 1993: 214). In other words, Muslims and others around the world resent the idea of Westernization, while ignoring the cultural values and norms of their societies, and in response, have attacked the US and other Western countries in the name of Jihad in order to re-affirm their culture and beliefs. So, while McWorld has often caused Jihad, Jihad has been the more prominent trend because it has had more far reaching and devastating impacts on world politics. The impacts of Jihad would include thousands of deaths of innocents, and war, which has left thousands of soldiers dead. For the few successes of McWorld, such as the rise of Dubai and Malaysia (Packer 2012: B), there have been far more failures which have created Jihad.
With the end of the Cold War, the old focus of world politics was suddenly over, but what was to replace it as the new focus of world politics? Fukuyama said that the end of the Cold war meant a victory for liberalism and proclaimed that the “end of history” was upon us and that conflict would end with the spread of democracy around the world (Fukuyama 1989: 6). This was soon proven to be wrong as Huntington’s antithesis to Fukuyama, the “clash of civilizations”, has been the dominant focus in world politics in the post-Cold War era. The clash of civilizations has brought cultural conflict, as well as worldwide civilizational conflict with it and displayed the dominant rise of Jihad as the opposition to the globalization of McWorld.
Barber, Benjamin R. 1993. Jihad Vs. McWorld. From Jackson Ed. Global Issues 93/94. Guilford, CT: Mcgraw-Hill/Dushkin
Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Touchstone.
Ignatius, David. 2012. Puzzled By a ‘red line’ Demand. The Washington Post
Nau, Henry R. 2009. Perspectives on International Relations. 2nd Edition. Washington DC: CQ Press
Packer, Robert. 2012. Optimism v Pessimism in International Politics. A. State College, PA.
Packer, Robert, 2012. Cultural Conflict in World Politics. B. State College, PA.