Written by Shahid Mazhar Shabab
With the advent of the ‘End of History’1 on the 25th of December 1991, a Harvard Professor teaching in the department of government, Samuel P. Huntington rebutted that even though the age of ideological, economic or political warfare has concluded another form of worldwide conflict would emerge... ...
His theory, “The Clash of Civilizations”, stated that post- Cold War clashes would be based upon religious, ethnical and cultural differences between Civilizations (collection of states sharing similar cultural, ideological, religious or historical ties)3. Thus, on paperback, the world was diffused into 9 civilizations: Western, Orthodox, Islamic, African, Latin American, Sinic, Hindu, Buddhist and Japanese4. In this new world the most pervasive, important, and dangerous conflicts will be between people belonging to different cultural entities. Violence between two entities from different civilizations will trigger other states and groups from their respective civilizations to rally behind them causing an escalation in what might have been a small skirmish between two tribes.
Figure- Map of the Civilizations 5
The history of the West is notorious for utilizing hard power to subjugate a majority of the other Civilizations therefore asserting their legitimacy as being the most powerful Civilization.6 However, its power is declining. As the West tries to assert its values and to protect its interests, non- Western civilizations either ‘bandwagon’ with them or resist them using their own economic, military or influential prowess.7 The Resurgence of Islam is looming. Terrorism, Demographics, Western Decadence and Zeal are all contributing.
Huntington’s paradigm seems to be unravelling accurately with Islam beginning its defiance against a crumbling west and a ‘civilization’ being born with diversified millions sharing a common religion. Or is it? This essay, “To what extent does Huntington’s Theory of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ apply in the context of the inception of IS [Islamic State]8 and its current regime?”, will examine the chess board that Huntington has set, by looking into what he has predicted for The Islamic Civilization in Post- Modern Global Politics and whether it has approximately come to pass by examining the foundation of IS in Iraq, analysing his book on the theory and enquiring a scholar adept in geo- politics. These have led to evaluating the legitimacy of IS as an actor in the paradigm because some categorize it as a terrorist organisation while pragmatically it has grown beyond that distinction, whether it can be coined as the core representative of the Islamic Civilization by looking at its primary and superficial agenda, its members, its adherence to the actual laws of Islam and whether its Muslim compatriots recognize it as a rightful Caliphate (A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph —a person considered a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community);9 the criticism, seen through the lenses of this issue, of Huntington’s Theory itself and how it may not apply as it paints the entire Muslim world with having a single agenda. This paradigm has been one of the benchmarks for visioning contemporary politics with the world’s most influential nation adopting it as their foreign policy.10 Thus, proving or invalidating this paradigm with the recent happenings in Iraq may aid us to predict the unpredictable nature of post- modern identity politics.
Huntington, as he stated, established his paradigm as a guide for the future. With the US surviving the Cold War, its victory produced “not triumph but exhaustion.”11 The backdrop of his theory stems from the decadence of the West.12 Statistically he has shown the Western Civilization, comprising of Northern America (excluding Mexico), Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand,13 has been on a sharp decline on the basis of the huge loss in territory and population, the reduction in the Western share of the global economic product and the decline of the military capability of the West.14 Thus a power shift15, also predicted by Joseph Nye, is inevitable. But where does he look to? His answer lies in the Resurgence of Islam16 and the Emerging Economic Advancement of East Asia.17 With the advent of modernization, Huntington argues that the revival of religion is mandatory. The second half of the twentieth century saw this exact trend rather to the surprise of many who foresaw a world leading to secularism. Religion again acquired a stronghold in the politics of a state due to the modernization of society, economics and culture. The identity of the people became disrupted when they moved to the city from the countryside, they also felt separated from their roots, with new jobs and relationships. They, as Huntington states, needed “new sources of identity, new forms of stable community, and new sets of moral precepts to provide them with a sense of meaning and purpose. Religion, both mainstream and fundamentalist, meets these needs.”18 Similarly Communitarianism dictates that “a pride in one’s culture, and especially a public acknowledgement of one’s cultural identity, gives people a sense of social and historical rootedness. By contrast, a weak, fractured… sense of identity leaves people feeling isolated and confused”.19 Charles Taylor also advocated the construction of the self and how the “politics of recognition is underpinned by the assumption that human beings make sense of the world through broad networks of values that are constructed between people with the same cultural background.”20 Thus, it has a domino effect, with the self-assertion of individuals leading to the bolstering of the identity of the entire society. The advent of Islamic Fundamentalism21 in most Islamic governments and a demographic, which bolsters a massive youth bulge, has done the same, therefore the formation of an Islamic Civilization is imminent.
The future is envisioned to have consecutive conflicts between two belligerents, The West and The Islamic World. Core nations through these conflicts will strive to exert their influence in shaping global developments, the actions of IGOs and lastly, territory, which is thought to occur occasionally between states of differing civilizations who participate in direct fault line conflicts.23 The conflicts between Islam and The West is bound to increase in the early twentieth century, as he forecasted, not from the previous territorial expansion Casus Belli but more on issues such as weapons proliferation, human rights and democracy, control of oil, migration, Islamist Terrorism, and Western Intervention.24 The following are the variables in an intricate equation which, as found in his book, should result in the Islamic Resurgence and the clash.
The Rise of IS and its Regime:
The inception of IS in Iraq has been heavily centred on the Sunni- Shia divide that has torn the country. As per Dr. Syed Mahmud Ali, the Muslim community (Ummah) has been divided for centuries. Not only are there two sects but multiple schisms within each sect. During the British imperialist regime in the Middle East after the 1st World War, the principalities of Iraq had an elite ruling class of Sunnis installed. During the reign of the dictator Saddam Hussein, the majority Shia populous was oppressed by the government. After the end of the First Gulf War on 28th February 1991, about 100 000 innocent civilians were killed by the Iraqi security forces.25 During the US intervention to overthrow Saddam, the Sunni elites plus the army were disbanded around May 2003 by the ‘invaders’.26 With the abolishment of the dictatorship, support quickly swayed towards the Shiite Al Maliki government. Shia rule was finally born “but it was anarchic because the Shias had not ruledIraq for decades, they had no record, no historical practice and experience.”27 During this period, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi of the Salafi Jihadist organisation Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad initiated rallying all the incarcerated Sunnis. Later, merging with Al Qaeda, they formed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) with an agenda to drive American and Coalition Forces out and stop a Shiite government takeover.28 On June 7, 2006, Zarqawi was killed but the group thrived with other Iraqi militant organisations. After a few changes, Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi assumed leadership after April, 2010.29 In 2011, AQI forged an alliance with Syrian Salafi- Jihadi organization Jabhat al- Nusra. AQI aided the group against the regime of Bashar al- Asad but stealthily occupied strategic areas such in al-Raqqa and Dayr el-Zour provinces, including oil facilities.30 Thus, expanding its influence inSyria and in April, 2013 merging with the latter and establishing The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It split from Al Qaeda and continued its expansion in Syria and Iraq with the capture of Fallujah in January, 2014 and Mosul later in March. “The funds seized through these invasions, combined with income from foreign donors and from criminal activities such as smuggling and extortion of local businesses, gave ISIS an estimated $2 billion in assets. As of September 2014, experts estimated that ISIS’s oil revenues alone brought in between $1 million and $2 million per day.”31 On June 29, 2014,ISIS changed their name to The Islamic State (IS), declaring a Caliphate and calling all Muslims to swear fealty to the new Caliph Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi. Now IS operates an “Islamic State” under Shariah Law32, It also runs courts, schools and services, flying its black-and-white flag over every facility it controls. In Raqqa, it even started a consumer protection authority for food standards.33 The main objective of IS has been to prevent a Shiite takeover of the Iraqi government which was unsuccessful. After Nouri Al- Maliki came to power the agenda of IS has been to collapse the Shiite government and establish a Fundamentalist Sunni Muslim State in Iraq and Greater Syria which it finally achieved with the inception of the Caliphate.34 By proclaiming itself as the Caliphate on the 29th of June, 2014, IS claims to represent the Ummah.
Currently the ‘state’ boasts a contingent of around 20,000 to 31,500 within Iraq and Syria in 2014.35 Plus, there have been reports of foreign multi- racial fighters not just from Muslim nations but also Non- Muslim states who have been recruited into the IS military.36 With an active army, they have also reaffirmed their own borders, a general populous and a working government, as stated above, under Shariah Law. These are some of the attributes of statehood earned by IS with the exception of one, the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states.37 Until now many states and the UN have classified IS as a terrorist organisation.38 Its regime has seen numerous human rights violations such as slavery, sexual violence, war crimes, religious and ethnic cleansing, maltreatment of citizens, kidnapping, destruction of religious and cultural property, mass executions and uncountable other abuses.39 As stated before it sources itself with oil but it also gains money through territorial conquests and criminal activities, such as kidnapping, extortion of local businesses, robberies, and smuggling rather than a functioning taxation system. Plus, there is a hefty amount of donor money coming in from nearby Sunni nations and individuals who join. Manpower, goods and also money are funnelled through Syria. With these resources in hand, IS has established government structures and ordines. “On the ‘state’ level, the government is headed by three councils: the Shura Council (A consultative council), the Military Council, and the Security and Intelligence Council.”40 Baghdadi oversees all the activities of these councils. He oversees all religious and political life in the Islamic State. “It also manages humanitarian aid and often comes to control vital basics, like bakeries, water treatment plans, and power plants.”
From the aspirations Huntington made, one could assume IS is the beckoning core of the Islamic Civilization. However one might seek to establish the legitimacy of such a claim on the first and foremost variable. Is a legitimate state? From the evidence above, IS has achieved multiple recognitions of statehood but lack a number of fundamental characteristics. It is unable to enter into diplomatic relations with any other states and as per Dr. Syed Mahmud Ali, it has failed to promote the legitimacy of its rule by having an election thus it cannot be defined as a modern state.42 However, a Caliphate system selects the leader based on his piety without the need for an election plus the realist Huntington argues that to the Islamic Civilization, the idea of a ‘nation state’ has been considered less significant than the unity of the religion 43 so it can be agreed that ISIS in the case of being a legitimate ‘actor’ does adhere to the paradigm.
If assumed IS is a legitimate state, the formation of this actor contradicts Huntington’s assumptions. Though he predicts the development of Islamic Fundamentalism in most Islamic states he does not applaud the inception of an Islamic Resurgence to ‘Terrorism’, his paradigm explicitly states “The Resurgence is mainstream not extremist...”44 There will be conflict between the two belligerents on the issues of terrorism as written above. He envisions the middle- class and a massive youth following 45 as the forerunners for the rise of Islam contrasted to a 43 year old man from a low class upbringing.46 Even though currently IS attracts vast number of youths from all around, the formation of the ‘state’ was mainly through the hands of zealous, battle hardened former Iraqi officers.
One of the primary factors in the formation of IS has been the sectarian divide in Iraq between the Sunnis and Shias. This extensively disagrees with the Huntington paradigm. The sectarian violence that has shadowed IS’s rise to power, if IS are to be considered the core representative of Islam, opposes the conventions of supporting one’s kin.48 “Islam is highly divided… that there is a Clash of Civilizations but within Islam.”49 This statement is embodied in the actions of IS who still continue to target Shiite followers or Yazidis within their boundaries. IS is therefore against its own kind and disagrees with the model of Civilizational politics.
Not only have Western states categorized IS as a Terrorist Organization but even a few of its Muslim Brethren. Saudi Arabia 50, Egypt 51, Malaysia 52, Turkey 53, Jordan 54 and many more. This raises the question of the legitimacy of IS as an acceptable core state for the entire Islamic World. Clearly, IS faces animosity from its fellow Civilizational brethren therefore going against the mould of Huntington.55 The ‘Caliphate’ is null and void and IS merely adopted the title to use the framework of Islam to justify their crimes or activities just like the Ottoman Empire used the synonymous title to vindicate their imperialistic tendencies in the Middle East.
The current regime of IS also sees the actor authentically violating the actual code of Islam. Even though it boasts an administration under Shariah Law, the multiple human rights violations and oppression against the Yazidis and Iraqi Christians go against the authentic teachings of the Quran, the Holy Scripture of the Muslims.57 This in turn again restricts their legitimacy as the core state of a Civilization based upon the culture of religion. Its failure to adhere to the principles pragmatically deem it an unsuitable representative of an entire religion. This reduces the legal authority of the actor, which is one of the key components of Max Weber’s tripartite classification of authority that determines the legitimacy of the rule. Previously, it was also discussed how IS lacked traditional authority by not adhering to the Westphalian model of a modern state, another component essential to Weber’s theory of legitimacy.
The Clash is hardly close to fulfilment. Considering the assumption that IS is a legitimate core state, the war it is embroiled in with the West has seen both the sides clash for the control of oil, as stated before IS has attained many oil fields and refineries some of which The US and coalition forces have destroyed using air strikes;58 for the reproach to Western Intervention, IS has it as their main agenda to eliminate all Western presence in Iraq. The following causes of conflict do coincide with the theory. However it proves that Huntington made the mistake of culturalism, meaning he failed to recognize the extent to which cultural identities are shaped by political and social circumstances. Conflict between IS and the West may be “more an expression of perceived economic and political injustice rather than cultural rivalry.”59 Plus, the belligerents are not the Islamic Civilization and the West in these conflicts. For it has been proven that IS does not represent the civilization and the Coalition forces include multiple Islamic nations thus categorizing these conflicts beyond the realm of Huntington’s paradigm.
It can be concluded from the statements authored by Dr Syed Mahmud Ali, the various articles and journals that the inception of IS and its current regime do disagree with Huntington’s paradigm. Huntington’s forecasts of an Islamic Resurgence did not occur, the extremist resurgence disagrees with his theory and the pioneers behind the Caliphate do not match the young revolutionaries envisioned by him. The Caliphate also lacks the essential ingredient of statehood even though Huntington being a realist suggests that it is not a requirement. The primal reason for the failure of IS to fit Huntington’s vision lies in the legitimacy of the actor in the eyes of its kin which has been emphasized throughout his book to be the central aspect of the Civilizational ties that exist. Thus, this proves his civilizational model of international relations redundant with the multiple Muslim nations expressing individual interests rather than rallying under IS. The conflict which ensues involves the West but the formation of the Caliphate involved the oppression of its fellow Shia Muslims and currently it fights its brethren who have allied with the enemy, which according to Huntington is absurd.60 It would be interesting to further investigate why Huntington adopted such a one- dimensional approach to contemporary politics with non- state actors and individualism. Also what is the context behind his work and his realist perspective on international relations? But in conclusion IS lacks recognition, legitimacy and twists the word of the Quran to its own will proving the failure of Huntington’s paradigm in predicting the role of the Muslim World and the West in 21st century politics.
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[Shahid Mazhar Shabab is a student of A Level under International Baccalaureate curriculum in UK]