Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Clash of Civilizations (3rd most popular review)

Too Big a Chunk of Reality?

(*****)  132+ / 20 -

I remember noticing the essay on which this book was based, in an international newspaper several years ago. Though I knew nothing of the author at the time, I don't think it took me more than a paragraph or two to realize, first, "This is a major argument," second, "It has some validity," and third, "This is going to make a lot of people mad." The book is, of course, far more nuanced and detailed than the article. I do not agree with every point Professor Huntington makes, but it certainly carries through on the promise of those first few paragraphs. This book is one strong and rather iconoclastic model by which to understand international relations in the coming years. Even if you disagree with it, or find it offensive, this is definitely a book worth reading, or if you're a teaching, assigning your students to read and attack or defend.

I do not think some attacks that appeared on Amazon (not all arguments) on Huntington's approach to Islam were quite fair. I didn't see anything "pathological" or "paranoid" about his arguments, and he explicitly stated, time and time again, that Islam was not at all "monolithic." Actually, I think he is sometimes overly cautious and understated on the subject, in effect making all kinds of excuses for the militant character of Islam, and holding out the hope that it will mellow. Anyone who knows how Islam is perceived by non-Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa, India, or China, or is aware of the military career of Mohammed, can only be amazed how prevalent p.c. attempts to deny the obvious seem to be. (A phenomena we have seen with other absolutist idealogies.) Instead of trying to browbeat anyone who tells the truth about Islamic militarism and lack of freedom, why don't Muslim intellectuals change the realities? (If they can.)

It is true, Huntington did not clearly define what he meant by "civilization." It seems odd to designate countries that have been taught atheism for eighty years, "Orthodox," for example. But I think the basic categories are sound, however we quibble about semantics. I see the relationship between China and the West as more ambivalent, though, in other words more potentially positive, than Huntington . . . While Huntington discusses other variables, one of the main assumptions of this book is that powers clash. He generally seems to avoid dogmatism on the nature or intensity of the clash. So I agree that some tension in the relationships he describes is fairly inevitable, though I by no means ascribe to Real Politic or any deterministic or cynical view of human relations.

Agree or disagree, Huntington's is a thesis that deserves careful consideration. It contains some hard truths, but as the Preacher said, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy."

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