Unit 4D Clash of civilisations



  • Rise of identity politics
  • declining significance of traditional ideological and class solidarities
  • growth of particularisms (based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, religion
  • attack on liberal universalism
  • political emancipation through cultural self-assertion and re-definition of identity
  • Religion as a global issue – rise of religious movements; Examples:


      • Islamic revolution (Iran 1979),
      • Hezbollah and its links with the Palestinian Liberation movement,
      • HAMAS
      • Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt,
      • Taliban – Afghanistan + Pakistan,
      • Al Qaeda, Islamic State
      • Boko Haram – Nigeria,
      • Al – Shabab in Somalia and Kenya
      • Bosnia, Kosovo,
      • Sikh + Hindu ethnic/religious tensions,
      • Sinhalese Nationalism in Sri Lanka,
      • Tibet,
      • New Right in USA,
      • Northern Ireland, Catholic/Protestant,
      • Liberation Theology (Latin America 1960s-1980s)
    • explaining the rise of religion and ‘desecularisation’
    • failure of universalist ideologies – communism, neo-liberalism etc
    • Impact of cultural globalization
      • clash of civilisations thesis Bernard Lewis ‘Roots of Muslim Rage’ (1990)  Samuel P. Huntington (1993) Foreign Affairs Article The Clash of Civilisations? Later published as a book (1996) minus the question mark. Benjamin Barber Jihad Vs McWorld, (1995)
      • Islam vs the West?
        • rise of Islamic fundamentalism;
        • advance of Islamism in Iran and elsewhere;
        • the ‘war on terror’ as a civilisational conflict between Islam and the West?
      • backlash against neo-colonialism, rejection of the hegemonic ambitions of the West, End of Cold War -V – Fukuyama End of History and the Last Man (1992) spread of a) free markets, b) democracy c) human rights
      • Huntington builds on the premise that the “most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural.” This in itself is deeply flawed as there is no precision in the term and no peer reviewed corroboration for the preeminence of culture over ideology, politics or economics.
      • ‘civilisations’ as global actors; Huntington claims that conflicts between rich and poor countries are unlikely because the latter “lack the political unity, economic power, and military capability to challenge the rich countries.” Ironically, this contradicts his own thesis about the most serious challenges to the West emanating from Islam and China. China’s principal threat to Western interests is economic not cultural.
      • basis for conflict between and among civilizations -It has been America’s policy to ostracize countries in the Periphery as rogue states if they do one or more of three things: resist US hegemony, possess or are developing long-range missiles, and they possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction.
      • Nearly all the “rogue states” are quite small; the list includes Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Cuba and Libya. There is no cultural uniformity in this list of countries thought to pose a risk to US interests.


  • criticisms of clash of civilization thesis
  • Controversial thesis
  • widely criticised as a mono-causal thesis that lacks scholarly rigour, cultural awareness and historical accuracy. (Edward Said: The Myth of the Clash of Civilisations)


      • The “civilizational” wars actually originate in the usual sources: the anarchy of states, and conflicts over people, territory and resources; culture enters into these conflicts only later as the rival parties mobilize support among the larger population. Cultural factors are not therefore the primary cause of conflict.
      • Although Huntington claims that religion is “a central defining characteristic” of civilizations, the correlation between his civilizations and religion is quite weak. The West, Orthodox and Latin American civilizations are all Christian.
      • Huntington’s main thesis claims that conflicts between two states after 1989 are more likely if they belong to two different civilizations. This is not supported by the evidence.
      • A recent study by Jonathan Fox shows that a comparison of all ethnic conflicts during the Cold War, and the period since, shows a modest decline in the ratio of inter-civilization conflicts to intra-civilization conflicts.
      • There is as much intra-civilisational conflict as there is between cultures. McCormick argues: ‘It is clear that a clash within civilisations helps to explain the Arab Spring more than a clash between them’.  
      • Similarly when it comes to US relations with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Indonesia Noam Chomsky observes that there is no clash of civilizations there.
      • The post-Cold War period marked a new intensification in the reach of global capitalism. The bywords of this new regime are: free trade, liberal exchange markets, privatization, national treatment of foreign capital, and globalization of intellectual property rights. This has produced rapid immiseration of large parts of the Periphery, the erosion of indigenous capital in much of the Periphery, and widening disparities between the Core and Periphery.

Past Paper Questions (15 Marks)

How and why has religion become more important in global politics?

Why have some modern wars been classified as new wars?

Why are asymmetrical wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan so difficult to win?

What is the Significance of Religion as a Cause of Conflict in the Modern World?


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