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Volume 3, No 4, Fall 1993 [back]

Old Enemies New Paradigms

Tanju «ataltepe

An important article on the "New World Order" was published in Foreign Affairs this past summer [Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993]. In the article, titled The Clash of Civilizations?, Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington clearly articulated the perception of the world that had been taking shape since the breakdown of the Soviet Union.

The journal Foreign Affairs and its publisher are quite interesting in themselves: Foreign Affairs is a publication of the influential Council on Foreign Relations. This organization and its publications are the debating grounds for the American policy-making elite. The Council was established at the end of the World War I as a non-governmental think-tank. It represented the concerns of the various factions of the power elite in the formulation of the United States' foreign policy. The previous paradigm of the American foreign policy was based on the ideological competition between the U. S. and the Soviet Union. The article outlining the essentials of this policy was also originally published in the Foreign Affairs. Judging from the response and discussion it generated, Huntington's article can be considered as a similarly important document providing context for policies in the post Cold War world.

To begin with, the title of the article is quite interesting The Clash of Civilizations?. This expression, without the question mark, is one of the section headings in the infamous orientalist Bernard Lewis' 1990 article The Roots of Muslim Rage [The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990]. (This fact has been noted by most Muslim commentators of Huntington's article.) What is interesting to me in this title is the plural use of the word "civilization." The typical Eurocentric thinking usually spoke of one single civilization, namely the Western Civilization. The other civilizations were considered to be subjects of history. The acknowledgment of plurality of civilizations at our time indicates an important shift in thinking. Again, as many commentators observed, the first well-known attempt at the reformulation of the post Cold War Western world view was the declaration of the End of History by Francis Fukuyama, an official of the U. S. State Department, in 1988. Fukuyama was essentially talking about the ultimate triumph of the Western liberal capitalism in the whole world; sort of along the lines of millenarian Christian and Marxist traditions. He nevertheless noted the threat of "Islamic Fundamentalism" as the only --minor-- threat to this ultimate victory. But the immediate developments put Fukuyama's rosy picture into question. Then came the recycled Orientalists like Bernard Lewis who served the "Next Threat to West" which turned out to be the old one, Islam. Huntington starts with a broader perspective; he identifies seven or eight civilizations. However he also identifies Islamic civilization as the main threat to the Western civilization.

Huntington defines civilization as "highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species." Then he goes on to identify the major civilizations that exist today, "Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization." His major claim is that "the most important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from one another."

Western critics of Huntington's thesis focused on the primacy of the nation state [Foreign Affairs, September/October 1993]. They claim that the nation state is still the primary actor on the world stage. Huntington does not deny this but adds that "civilization" will be the paradigm in which these primary actors are going to operate [Foreign Affairs, November/December 1993]. The recent flare-ups of ethnic/religious conflicts were enough reason for many people to question the continued validity of the nation-state model. Huntington is proposing a paradigm in which to explain most of these conflicts rather than a solution to them.

Muslim critics of Huntington [Chaudry Muzaffar of Malaysia in Third World Network Features, Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey in Izlenim, October 1993] saw his article as a diversion in the service of West. As these critics rightfully note, Huntington paints an aggressive picture of the non-Western civilizations --particularly Islam-- while ignoring the (mis)deeds of the Western civilization whose dominance is being challenged.

However, the important issue is not whether Huntington is honest about the non-Western civilizations. The point is that the policy formulation for the U. S. will most likely take place within the paradigm that Huntington offers. Therefore whether one agrees with him or not, it is probably going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Huntington mentions "torn countries" which he defines as those countries "that have a fair degree of cultural homogeneity but are divided over whether their society belongs to one civilization or another." He particularly mentions Turkey in this group. Of course as anyone from Turkey would know, the debate on our Westernness versus Easternness is a familiar one. But it is critical for Islamic world in general and Turkey in particular to understand this new paradigm because the specific policies of the West can be decoded accurately only if we know the general framework that has generated them. As it is taking shape today, West is already conceptualizing --at least for public consumption-- the world in terms of an Islamic threat. In this case, Turkey as a "torn country" becomes a critical policy tool for them. Obviously Turkey is not of the Western civilization, but they would not want it to be of the Islamic civilization either. In this new "clash of civilizations" game, Turkey would best serve the Western interests as an element that is always on the edge, thus an unstabilizing element. We can be sure that the upcoming local elections in Turkey will be watched very closely in this context.

It should also be noted that the torn-country syndrome prevents Turkey from generating a useful paradigm for policy formulation, and as a result future does not look very bright.


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