Culture And Diplomacy

HAMBURG: In a world without a compass, few slogans enjoy as much popularity as the "Clash of Civilizations", promoted by Harvard professor Samual Huntington.

At first glance, Huntington's thesis appeals: conflicts of the future, he predicts, will no longer be waged between hostile ideologies but between antagonistic civilizations. Men will battle for their beliefs, cultural and religious identity; conflicts will occur on the fault lines between civilizations, particularly between Chinese, Islamic, and Western civilizations. His nightmarish scenario: a coalition between China and Islam forms against the West, and a nuclear warhead, transported by a Chinese-Iranian missile, is fired from Algeria into France. Of course, Huntington points out such scenarios need not become real. But he warns of their increasing likelihood.

For those seeking a coherent theory for future crisis, the "Clash of Civilizations" is tempting. Are we not witnessing -- around Africa's great lakes, in the Balkans, the Gulf and Central Asia -- ethnic frictions and religious fervor bringing fire and destruction on enemies? Is it not true that values which the West believed universal are rejected as unfit by Asia's confident new leaders? Are these same values not derided by Islamic fundamentalists in rebellion against Western modernity?

It is this unease that Huntington taps. If his analysis were merely wrong, one could brush it aside as just another piece of academic irrelevance. But it is dangerous because it conveys respectability to deep-rooted prejudices against other cultures and races. Although the author of "The Clash of Civilizations" claims he wants better understanding between civilizations, he fans the flames he pretends to want to put out by preaching that conflict stems not from the barrel of a gun but from the pulpit of a creed.