The Clash of Civilizations Revisited (Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard professor, is famous for his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. He was interviewed by Amina R. Chaudary of Islamica Magazine (NPG, Winter 2007)
NPQ | You have argued that as civilization changes in America, it has moved toward focusing on democratic liberalism as an ideology.
Huntington | That always has been the American ideology. Since the revolution of the 18th century, America has basically had an ideology of liberal democracy and constitutionalism, though generally I try to avoid the use of the term ideology to describe this. I talk of American beliefs and values.
When you mention the word ideology, people have communism in the back of their minds, which was an entirely well-formulated ideology and statement of belief. You read the Communist Manifesto and you know what the core of it is. What we have, however, is a looser set of values and beliefs, which have remained fairly constant for two and a half centuries or so. And that’s really rather striking.
Obviously, changes and adaptations have occurred as a result of economic development, industrialization, the huge wave of immigrants that have come to this country, economic crisis, depression and world wars. But the core of the American set of beliefs has remained pretty constant.
If one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence came back today, he would not be surprised about what Americans are saying and believing and articulating in their public statements. It would all sound rather familiar.
NPQ | How is the Muslim world faring in the context of a world that has mostly accepted, if in theory, not practice, liberal democracy?
Huntington | We’ve seen at least the beginnings of rather significant social and economic change in the Muslim world, which I think will in due course lead to more political change. Obviously, Muslim societies, like societies elsewhere, are becoming increasingly urban, many are becoming industrial. But since so many have oil and gas, they don’t have a great impetus to change.
At the same time, the revenue that natural resources produce gives them the capability to change. Countries like Iran are beginning to develop an industrial component.
NPQ | Do you think that the “Islamic civilization” will become increasingly coherent in the future?
Huntington | Certainly we’ve seen movements in that direction. Certainly there are various trans-Islamic political movements, which try to appeal to Muslims in all societies. But I am doubtful that there will be any sort of real coherence of Muslim societies as a single political system run by an elected or non-elected group of leaders.
But I think we can expect leaders of Muslim societies to cooperate with each other on many issues, just as Western societies cooperate with each other. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Muslim, or at least Arab, countries developing some form of organization comparable to the European Union. I don’t think that’s very likely, but it conceivably could happen.
NPQ | You’ve written, “Islamic culture explains, in large part, the failure of democracy to emerge in much of the Muslim world.” Yet large parts of the Muslim world have democracy—Indonesia, Mali, Senegal and even India, with its large population of Muslims. What is the connection, or lack of it?
Huntington | I don’t know what the answer to that question is because I’m not an expert on Islam, but it is striking the relative slowness with which Muslim countries, particularly Arab countries, have moved toward democracy. Their cultural heritage and their ideologies may be in part responsible. The colonial experience they all went through may be a factor in the fight against Western domination, British, French or whatever. Many of these countries were, until recently, largely rural societies with landowning governing elites.
I think they are certainly moving toward urbanization and much more pluralistic political systems. In almost every Muslim country, that is occurring. Obviously, they are increasing their involvement with non-Muslim societies. One key aspect that will influence democratization, of course, is the migration of Muslims into Europe.
In the end it is futile for both our own isolationists and for Islamic extremists to flail out against the Americanization/liberalization/democratization/globalization of the Islamic world. We are indeed evangelicals in the cause of universal liberal democracy and always have been. The periodic pauses in which we tone it down a little just end up being followed by needlessly bloody wars when someone annoys us enough that we re-engage the fight.