How is Huntington’s myth ‘there is a clash of civilizations’ used in the post-September 11 discourse on the ‘war against terrorism’ ?
What must go without saying in order for each
of these discourses to function, i.e., to be persuasive?
The posed question deals with the investigation of the use of Huntington’s myth ‘there is a clash of civilizations’ in the discourses referring to the horrible events on September 11. Hence, several different questions have to be answered, as they are: How does Huntington himself link his myth to the ‘war against terrorism’ ? Which parts of Huntington’s myth are used in which way and by whom? Do the users of his myth support or neglect Huntington’s original thoughts and do they exert their source deliberately or unconsciously? What do the users of Huntington’s myth and Huntington himself fail to mention, which is necessary to let the theories function? And eventually, which theory after all is the one most fitting the facts?
Answering the questions, I will argue that the myth is used over the whole discourse, concerning September 11. Interestingly, parts of Huntington’s myth are both employed by proponents and opponents of Huntington, sometimes even without recognising it. Instead of speaking of different discourses, one should more precisely say that there is only one huge discourse with different outgrowths and directions. The various arguments are closely linked. Sometimes even opponents use Huntington as their basis in different ways. Therefore, none of the posed arguments – as Huntington’s myth itself – can function and be persuasive on its own. It will be argued that, what causes the clash is not just difference – as Huntington suggests – but the vain attempt to create equality. This is the basis for all arguments with regard to September 11. However, if creating equality is the cause of the terrorist attack, it is neither the existence of different cultures, the powerful behaviour of the US nor the violent roots within the Muslim world which can account for the reason of the terrorist attacks. It is in fact the process of globalisation and the consequential disappearance of cultural power which causes the actual problem.
To support my argument I first want to explain, how Huntington himself brings in his thesis in the post-September 11 discourse. Secondly, I deal with the different possibilities of how to behave after the attacks both in the Western and the Islam culture and whether these different solutions are based on Huntington or not. I will then refer to the question of how this ‘clash’ came about and will give three different solutions for this. Interestingly, all are based on the problem of globalisation and that trying and not being successful to create economic equality causes difficulties. Finally, I will deepen my thoughts about the malfunction of globalisation as the reason for terrorism and will link Huntington’s myth with my thesis.
2. The discourse on the ‘war against terrorism’ and the ‘clash of civilizations’
Through the desire to help, and shocked speechlessness after the assaults of September 11, people all over the world tried to find logical and useful explanations for what has happened through handy formulas. Therefore, on the one hand, the myth of the ‘clash of civilizations’, already drawn up by Samuel Huntington in 1993, seemed to give a reason for the tremendous events. On the other hand, people warned of the risky unreflecting use of Huntington’s argument.
In an interview with ‘The Observer’ Huntington himself knotted his myth with the events of September 11 as follows: “Clearly, Osama bin Laden wants to be a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. The first priority for our government is to try to prevent it from becoming one.” (Huntington, Oct. 2001, The Observer). Hence, as Huntington even puts it himself, bin Laden wants exactly the same, Huntington foresaw with his thesis eight years ago. Therefore, Beaumont even draws a comparison between the two as he says that “ironically the outcome he [bin Laden] envisages is one he shares with the right-wing US historian Samuel Huntington who – like bin Laden – believes that, by their inherent, contradictory cultural values, conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable” (Beaumont, Oct. 2001, The Observer). I would venture to go a step further, arguing that in reference to Huntington, after the attack, people speak of the events as a clash between the Islam and the West, and therefore in turn help bin Laden with the help of Huntington to attain his goal of polarisation. In a very demagogic-styled article, Copold for example, as a supporter of Huntington, speaks of his essay as “based on real-world facts” and of the clash itself as “a consequence [.] no more avoidable than the sun’s rising in the east tomorrow morning” (Copold Oct. 2001, The Texas Mercury).
In the aftermath of the events of September 11, both supporters and opponents of Huntington also refer to his earlier warnings that “it is pointless to expect people who are not at all like us to become significantly more like us; this well-meaning instinct only causes harm” (Kaplan Dec. 2001, The Atlantic). Interestingly, Huntington himself now makes exactly the mistake, he warned of before. Instead of prosecuting his former argument just as his supporters do, he argues that promoting democracy and human rights in the Middle East through the US “would be desirable” (Huntington, Oct. 2001, The Observer). Although he knows, that this intention would not be easily realisable, he does not come up with any other possibility to bring democracy to the Middle East.