I set my students an essay on whether conflict between Islam and the West was inevitable, and I was very impressed with their submissions. This is a difficult question and I think the following selection will help formulate a high-level answer.
There has been extensive debate regarding the future of Western relations with the Islamic world. A long history of western interventionism has created a disinclination towards the western liberal ideals promoted by the USA in many states of the Middle East. Where some political thinkers such as Samuel Huntington deem conflict to be unavoidable (due to intrinsic, deep-rooted differences within each civilisation), there is an alternate view that the perceived incapability of the Islamic World to accept liberal democracy is false. This is a contentious issue, but ultimately it can be argued that conflict between Islam and the West is not inevitable.
US Realist Samuel Huntington’s 1993 ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis is central in the debate that conflict between the Islamic World and the West is unpreventable. Huntington presents the view that the fundamental source of conflict in the world will no longer be ideological or economical, but will revolve around culture. He divided the world into nine civilisations – categorised by shared religious beliefs, language, history and institutions as well as other denominators. In the post-Cold War era it is theorised that these civilisations would be the main source of tension, specifically the merging of these cultures, e.g. the West’s attempt to impose democracy into “incompatible civilisations”, like the Muslim civilisation. Hence, Western promotion of liberal universalism in his eyes is essentially flawed, “false: it is immoral: and it is dangerous”, the primary cause of conflict being religious difference. The resurgence of radical Islam has acted as a catalyst for conflict, as can be seen from the 9/11 attacks on the US. The ongoing ‘War on Terror’ has demonised Muslims and led to intervention in both Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, a clear indicator of religious difference leading to conflict. The weakened position of the US, in combination with the resurgence of religious conservatism – particularly in countries such as Turkey, under President Erdogan or Egypt briefly under President Morsi- could make tension unavoidable going forward.
In spite of this, the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis has been widely repudiated, in particular by notable figures such as Edward Said. Post-colonialist Said argues that there is hostile attention paid towards Islam by Huntington: the USA needing a new ‘nemesis’ as a means to provide a continued justification for their significant defence budget and global military presence. Said regards Huntington’s motives to be the continuation of “war time spirit” and the creation of a new enemy after the fall of the USSR in 1991. This can be reinforced by neo-conservative Leo Strauss’ argument that the absence of an external threat would cause the internal collapse of the USA. Said argues that Huntington’s selection of informers and academics – who largely share a similar perspective – cannot give an accurate and impartial view. While recent years has seen the rise of ‘catastrophic terrorism’, there is also evidence of longstanding relationships between Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia (a leading OPEC member) or Egypt (the 2nd biggest recipient of US military aid) and the USA and UK, which have been beneficial to all parties. Predominantly, the relationships and alliances are founded on the trade of oil, but this proves that cooperative relationships are possible and are already fully-functioning between civilisations, as well as trade deals. A liberal would argue therefore that the likelihood of conflict has decreased as the world has grown more interconnected, because states depend on each other for trade and prosperity now on a global scale. The existence of in-state conflict such as civil wars in Sierra Leone (1991-2002) or Syria (since 2011) also demonstrates that conflict between the West and Islam is not necessarily inevitable and disproves the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis.
Political system and beliefs are some of the key differences between the West and Muslim World, making conflict a probable consequence in the decades to come. Islamic law is viewed as intrinsically anti-Western and committed to the removal of Western values from the Muslim world, which isn’t compatible with the western agenda of spreading liberal democracy. The US spent $1.82 billion on measures designed to strengthen democratic institutions in Iraq, which resulted in a return to authoritarian leadership. Anti-Western sentiment was only exacerbated by the interventions into Afghanistan and Iraq, which have essentially failed, and can be viewed to have impacted the rise in radical, Islamist groups being established, such as ISIS. Western interventionism is widely seen in the Middle East as aggression on the part of the West, acting with malign intentions under the pretence of humanitarian aid. Many Muslims criticise the West for operating with favouritism in the manner that it deals with different organisations and states on the global political stage. For instance, the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia are not penalised so as not to interrupt the oil trade deal that has been brokered. This demonstrates how Western prosperity is prioritised over human rights; this highlights the inequality in the global system in a Marxist view. Richer, more developed countries like Saudi and the US have more opportunities, while other nations are made dependent on them. Additionally, the continued Western backing and funding of Israel – in spite of countless examples of the state flouting international law – is resented by the Islamic world and has led to a mistrust in the West, which makes conflict more likely as relations are poor.
Although there has been a resurgence of Islamic law, it is inaccurate to suggest that there is an incapability and aversion in the Islamic World to accept liberal democracy, with this lack of acceptance being perceived to mean conflict is inevitable. The Arab Spring, which began in 2010, involved both violent and non-violent demonstrations and spread across the Muslim World with aspirations of toppling the repressive, long-standing dictatorships of Middle Eastern nations. A key example would be Egypt, where in the wake of the revolution of January 2011, the first democratic, undoctored elections were held and led to the instatement of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the events that followed leading to a return to a military dictatorship, it shows how Western Liberal democracy is not entirely incompatible and conflicting with the Islamic World, and is in fact desired by many. There is a common aspiration to modernise across the Muslim World in order to achieve better living standards. It is evident from the development in infrastructure in the UAE, as well as the 65% of students in Malaysian universities who are female compared to 35% male, that Islam is not averse to modernisation. More restrictive Muslim nations are slowly beginning to reform, like Saudi Arabia lifting the ban on women driving from September 2017. The growth of international and intergovernmental organisations like the UN and African Union and institutions such as the World Bank demonstrates how interdependence has eased tensions between the West and Islam, as there are now common ambitions and interests such as the promotion of economic growth. This evidence implies that while the Muslim World may not desire to directly emulate the Western political model, some desire is present to implement and cooperate with liberal democracy, disproving the idea that conflict is inescapable.
The history of tension between the West and Islam can be seen to make conflict highly probable. UK Realist Bernard Lewis argues that the fall of the Ottoman Empire is viewed as a humiliation by the Islamic World with many desiring to recreate the Golden Age of Islam. In his eyes, since the Western and Muslim civilisations are both selfish and aspire supremacy, conflict is inevitable as long as there is competition. Conversely, Liberal Shadi Hamid considers the rise of mainstream islamist groups (e.g. ISIS) who are attempting to “reconcile pre-modern Islamic law with the modern nation-state”, to indicate tension will undoubtedly take place in the future, as this state of affairs cannot be maintained. Continued Western interventionism in the past century, such as the toppling of democratically-elected Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953, has angered a large proportion of the Muslim World. Intervention is frequently incentivised by a nation’s geographical position or oil reserves, therefore the West attempts to over-dominate these regions, which the Islamic world can rarely counteract or call out. A post-colonialist might argue that this Western view of having authority over the world is a new form of imperialism, which developed after WWII, but it is still morally wrong. Historical tension and differences can be seen to make a struggle between Islam and the West foreseeable.
Notwithstanding, conflict between the two isn’t necessarily driven by the dichotomy in beliefs and values, but by the history of interventionism during the Cold War, which took place with the goal of maintaining two spheres of influence during a period of bipolarity. Actions taken during the Cold War have greatly harmed the development of certain Muslim nations, such as Iran and Afghanistan, and hence relations between Islam and the West are hostile. Bernard Lewis also argues that 9/11 was not a terrorist attack by a minority, but rather a message to the West from all of the Islamic world that they were resisting America’s position and felt the West was responsible for the humiliation and suffering they had experienced after so many years. This would suggest that the cause of the conflict between Islam and the West is due to the interventionist policies of the US and how they obstruct the advancement of the Muslim world, which they are responding to through acts of terror. Lewis is providing a clear justification for the US government’s “War on Terror”. The bigger issue is the Western urge to impose Western liberal democracy in the Muslim world rather than acknowledging their different way of life. While this is successful in some states, it isn’t the perfect final form of human government as Fukuyama suggested in his ‘End of History’ thesis in the early-1990s.
In conclusion, it can be argued that conflict is not inevitable between Islam and the West. Despite the existence of intrinsic, deep-rooted differences between the civilisations, the idea of an eventual ‘Clash of Civilisations’ can be disproved by the idea that the USA requires a ‘nemesis’ to justify the highest global defence budget and prevent internal collapse. Across the Muslim World, the long history of western interventionism has created a disaffection towards western liberal values; however, some elements of liberal democracy are desired and have been adopted. The growth of a globalised, interconnected world means that all states increasingly have shared interests and desire cooperation. This evidence suggests that conflict is escapable in years to come.
History is illustrated with numerous clashes and periods of high tension between Islam and the West, which arise from the likes of the zeal of empire enlargement, to spread ideology and culture etc. Due to the incredible differences between the West and Islam, some have come to argue that the conflict between the two will persevere. Though a more optimistic group has come to posit that conflict between the two isn’t inevitable for various reasons, stemming from globalisation, liberalisation etc. This essay will therefore explore the arguments proposed by the opposing sides to go on to show that the very notion that ‘conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable’ is in error, and thus- conflict between the two isn’t inevitable.
Samuel Huntington, a realist, proposes that the clash between the West and Islam would be inevitable due to the deeply rooted fundamental differences in culture. Huntington proposes that the end of the Cold War triggered the emergence of a new global order where the ‘greatest divisions amongst humankind and the dominating source conflict’ is cultural. This is because culture is what people are most comfortable with and is the most important part of their identity, as such states organise themselves by their culture. While the Western civilisation pride themselves with secularism and liberal values, the Islamic civilisation pride themselves with religion being in every aspect of one’s life and are more conservative with traditions and customs compared to the West. Inevitability conflict occurs because of the Western belief in the universality of Western culture and America’s pursuit to enforce the New World Order. This is likely to be dangerous as it fails to understand that the Islamic civilisations will not allow their cultural values to be overturned by the contrasting Western values. This is exacerbated further as Shadi Hamid, a key liberal, has discovered that there already exists high tension between the West and Islam as the sentiment on the Arab street is one of deep humiliation caused by the West for it is they who defeated the Ottoman empire- Islam’s most powerful period. Edward Said, a post-colonialist views Huntington’s theory as a tool for the West to make the Arab states seem like an enemy to strengthen their military might and legitimise their aggressive actions. Perhaps then conflict between the West and Islam will therefore continue as the Arabs attempt to rebuild the strength they once had to reinstate their might, characterised by culture, while the West tries to spread its culture to the enemy- that is the Islamic civilisation.
Though, liberal thinkers appear to be divided over the debate as Francis Fukuyama, an American liberal, in 1989 wrote a book theorising that the political landscape will evolve to one where all states have adopted liberal values (end of history thesis). Though Marxists may disagree and propose communism to be the final political evolution. Indeed, Fukuyama’s argument has much weight for shortly after it was written, the USSR fell, and the USA was granted a single hegemony to spread its liberal values. Since then even Arabic countries have shown a movement towards liberalism as more have converted from dictators to democracy, and Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia which is at the epicentre of the Islamic civilisation, has recently shown incredible adoption of liberal values- going so far as to letting women drive and the opening of cinemas. Islamic countries have also seen an increase support for the adoption of secularism as Hamid notes, causing there to be great divide between politicians in Arab countries as some support a secular state whilst others do not. Perhaps this will be reconciled with a compromise by both parties, allowing for liberal values to dominate. As liberal democracy therefore is diffused amongst Arab states, it is theorised that there will be no conflict between the West and Islam for their cultural difference- for after all, the dogmatic appeal to culture is being challenged it could be overturned. Additionally, the democratic peace theory argues the adoption of democracy will bring about reduced number of conflict, so conflict between the West and Islam isn’t inevitable.
Perhaps conflict is inevitable due to forever threat of terrorism. Since the 9/11 attacks, we have seen an increase in Islamic extremism. Truly, the 9/11 attacks brought America to its knees and triggered the ‘War on Terror’, which has resulted in a war that is continuing 17 years onwards. It is hard to perceive this war ever coming to a reasonable end. Furthermore, the rise of ISIS in many Islamic states has allowed this radical group to radicalise many who have made, and will continue to make, attempts to bring the West to its knees once more. Truly, committing acts of terrorism for many has been to correct the humiliation caused by the West upon Islam and implications of the ‘War on Terror’. Although ISIS have been defeated, it is impossible to destroy these radical ideas from being present in the minds of many Muslims. As summarised by Hamas: ‘terror will never end’, and this is evident from the terrorist attacks that continue to take place still and is accredited to ISIS. Realists may disagree with the threat of terrorism, as attempted by Fukuyama, as it undermines the sovereignty of the state and therefore try to downplay its significance, though terrorist acts seem to be only on the rise. As such, it is argued that the conflict between the West and Islam will continue therefore, as radicals continue attempts at acts of terror to damage the West to reconcile the damage the West emitted upon Islam throughout history and still continue doing so.
On the other hand, liberal leaders such as Obama and Blair argue that the threat of terrorism isn’t an aspect of Islam, which therefore means that the conflict between the West and terrorism isn’t a conflict between the Islam and the West itself. In the past 5 years Europe has been hit with over 1000 terrorist attacks of which only 2% were conducted by Muslims. Meanwhile, according to the FBI, 94% of terrorist attacks carried out in the US since 1980 has been done by non-Muslims. Due to facts such as these, Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist, and Noam Chomsky, a ‘left realist’, have posited that the perceived conflict between the West and Islam is due to Western policies and invasions that has agitated a minority group. As such it is a flawed notion to argue that there is conflict between the West and Islam therefore, as the conflict is between the West and a minority group of Muslims, rather than Islam itself.
Globalisation arguably had led to an increase in conflict, and as globalisation continues to be more impactful- the conflict will only be elevated. There exist many proponents of the argument ‘globalisation is Americanisation in disguise’, which would therefore imply that conflict between the Islam and the West is inevitable. Globalisation has allowed for American values to dominate the globe in the disguise of TNCs, movies, music etc. to export American values and customs. For example, McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC are all American outlets that can be found dotted amongst Arabic countries. Not only this, but Hollywood film and American television dominates even amongst the Arabic population. Some may see this as a neo-imperialism, especially in the perspective of post-colonialists, as a tool to penetrate the Islamic domain to change their customs and values. It is then quite reasonable to picture that this will have adverse effects, as the American presence starts to change the culture of the Arabic states. Since Islamic culture is highly infused with religion, many are made rebellious to the implications of globalisation therefore on the culture, and importance of religion. As such, this will inevitably lead to conflict between the Islam and the West as globalisation threatens the divinity of religion which Muslims hold so dearly to.
Though it could be argued that globalisation isn’t likely to lead to conflict between Islam and the West as globalisation is a tool for modernisation which the Islamic states are willing to adopt to. Indeed, liberals argue global governance has led to greater cooperation and helped foster understanding and friendship amongst the proposed rivals. This is evident by the numerous IGOs, such as the UN, WB, IMF, which both are members of; and the cooperation in the likes of the Paris Climate Change Treaty- working together to make the world a better place. As there exists such a great deal of cooperation and willingness to co-exist, it is hard to imagine there to be great conflict between the two. Realists posit that states only join IGOs to benefit themselves, so it’s to fulfil their selfish strategies. Though, if anything- there does exist greater interdependence, due to the likes of trade, aroused by globalisation and this makes unlikely for conflict to be desirable as it will result in harm to both parties. Therefore, it is reasonable to view that it is more likely that there will be no great conflict between the West and Islam for they can co-exist, and they are interdependent.
In summary, Islam has suffered over the decades from humiliation caused by the West which has left many Muslims to be bitter of the West. Albeit it hasn’t left the 1.6billion Muslims with a desire to go to war with the West. There does exist groups, such as Al Qaeda, who do resent the West and therefore pursue conflict, though it is unfair to say this clash is with Islam itself. Conflict with the West brews out of political Islam, who seem to inherently be anti-western, which most Muslims do not prescribe themselves to. Instead the 21st century sees a greater deal of cooperation and interdependence that means that the groups must co-exist as liberals suggest. It is sound to view that this interdependence and cooperation will only strengthen over the years as globalisation strengthens as the world becomes more united beyond boundaries and civilisations, and so the likelihood of any conflict between the two are decreasing by the day.
The relationship between Islam and the West is a highly contentious and controversial issue. Samuel Huntington’s theory, Clash of Civilisations, came after the Cold War era. Huntington argues that in a post-cold war world, the main source of conflict will be people’s cultural and religious identities. This was an issue arguably at the height of conversation in 2001, after the 9/11 twin towers attack and was an issue that subdued after American interventionism. However, the rise in international terrorism in years, such as the Manchester attack in 2017, has restarted conversation about the possibility of coexistence between the religion of Islam and the West. The statement ‘conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable’ is extremely simplistic, and therefore cannot be a true statement.
Samuel Huntington highlights that the two civilisations that will clash inevitably are Islam and the West. This can be seen in the preaching of Anjem Choudary, who wants ‘no more’ of things that are the norm in the west, such as pubs, alcohol and the lottery, as they do not fit into Sharia law. The very foundation and core values of the two civilisations cannot coexist, according to Huntington, which means that there will inevitably be a clash. Realists would agree with this, as states compete for global dominance; if two powerful states are competing for the unipolarity (in this case Islam and the West) then conflict is guaranteed. Anjem Choudary highlights the extreme difference between extreme Islam and Western values.
Neo-Liberal thinkers such as Francis Fukuyama would disagree with this as liberal values are becoming increasingly universal. Because of this, there is going to be an eventual decrease in conflict as states grow to accept Western liberal values such as democracy, freedom of speech and secularism. According to Fukuyama’s End of History Thesis, this will lead to an end in ideological conflict as a ‘final form of government’ is reached between states. This can be seen in the political uprisings in the Middle East, labelled the Arab Spring which began in December 2010 and continues today through the Syrian conflict. The dissatisfaction of local population with their governments due to the undemocratic nature of their governments indicates that there will not be a conflict between Islam and the West, as Muslim populations themselves are calling for liberal democracy. Thus, there cannot be a clash between Islam and the West as there will no longer be a conflict of ideology.
It can be argued that conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable because of the nature of Western values. Post colonialists such as Edward Said stress that the West are insistent on seeing societies different to themselves as ‘other and ‘subordinate’. This has meant that states in the West, because of this superiority complex, feel entitled to intervene and undermine the state sovereignty of Islamic states. This was seen in both the 2001 Afghanistan and 2003 Iraq invasions, as the USA intervened in the domestic nature of these states whilst breaking international laws such as the UDHR. Furthermore, Western aggression has led to the rise in Islamist groups as a form of retaliation, for example Al Qaeda was formed as a response to US aggression in Iraq and ISIS is now a globalised version of Al Qaeda.
Whilst there may be differences between Islam and the West in terms of core values, Economic Liberals would highlight the increasingly interconnected state of the world. Globalisation has meant that the world is becoming more interconnected which has led to an increase of interdependence between states. This means that both the Islamic world and the West will to avoid conflict. The Golden Arched Theory of conflict prevention by Thomas Freidman highlights this point. A notable example of this is OPEC. Nine out of the twelve members of OPEC are Muslim countries and yet most of the oil produced is supplied to America. Therefore, conflict between Islam and the West cannot be inevitable as both actors wish to avoid conflict, not out of choice, but out of the interdependence created by globalisation.
The rise in global terrorism suggests that conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable. After all, it was the 9/11 terrorist attack that led to the invasion of Afghanistan to begin with. The resurgence of international terrorism, and the militant nature of Islamic fundamentalism often leads the argument that conflict will occur. The 2015 Paris attack, 2017 Manchester and then Brussels attack highlight this point. The shock and awe tactics of these attacks have grown increasingly barbaric, and this has also led to a rise in neo-fascist groups in the West. Militant threats and behavior under the guise of Islam have also led to the West being forced to retaliate. This can be seen through the War on Terror campaigns in Britain and the US. Therefore, militant Islamic fundamentalism can be said to make conflict between the West and Islam inevitable.
However, it is key to remember that these fundamentalist groups cannot be and are not reflective of Islam as a whole, which means that conflict is inevitable. The existence of groups such as the British Muslims forum indicate the liberal cooperation between Islam and the West. Furthermore, over 50 imams worldwide have publicly condemned IS extremists and their use of ‘barbaric violence’. The Muslim community worldwide does not condone these fundamentalist groups and the conflict that they are causing between Islam and the West. Therefore, conflict is not inevitable because as liberalists would argue, the world currently abides by cooperation and that is what has happened between the majority of Muslims and the majority of the West.
Across the world there are 1.8 billion Muslims, and so if Muslims who all fall under the broad umbrella of Islam suggested by the title all shared the same mentality as ISIS, surely conflict as described by Samuel Huntington would have occurred sooner. The same can be said for the West. The statement is way too simplistic in its categorisation of the world and society, which removes the possibility of it being true.
The source of conflict on a global scale has seen an obvious change in recent years. In the 20th century most major conflicts seemed to start between European powers namely like Germany and Russia alongside the USA and global conflicts remained mainly concentrated in the West in a large formal format. However after the Cold War ended, Russia stopped being a rival to the US and the West people began to look for a new source of conflict now ideological and political differences seemed to have subsided. Samuel Huntingdon and Bernard Lewis provided an argument for new conflicts being civilisational and conflict between the Islam world and the Western world being inevitable due to longstanding differences and building resentment. Some however see these differences and inevitable rivalry as being exaggerated as an excuse for the West to have an enemy to build military power in order to fight and think that conflict is not in anyway inevitable.
An argument that conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable is made by Samuel Huntington. Huntington believes that now the Cold War has ended and political conflicts have dissolved countries are reverting back to deep-rooted civilisational beliefs. The withstanding nature of these beliefs was demonstrated in how countries like Armenia after communism dissolved did not remain Atheist even after many decades being forced to be so but instead reverted back to Islam. As people are a lot more loyal and invested in their civilisational beliefs than political ones Huntington believes conflict will be even more unavoidable and extreme in this new world. The West has a strong belief in the superiority of their ideals and have a need to spread these which is likely to cause conflicts between them and the Islamic world who are not open to accepting the ‘modern’ Western ways of life. Liberals like Fukuyama believe the world is moving in the direction of liberal democracy but Huntington points out this will be impossible without major conflict, he says “Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems; it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous.”. The Islamic world will not find Western ideals compatible with their culture and any attempt to implement them will only lead to building hatred towards the West and a willingness to fight to oppose them. Evidence of this comes from looking at Saeed Qutb who visited America from Egypt and on returning started a movement to stop Americanisation showing the more the Islamic world sees of American culture the more strongly they will wish to oppose its integration into their life.
Despite this, other theorists, namely Said and Chomsky, believe that conflict between Islam and the West is not inevitable as Huntington’s thesis lacks evidence to back it up. Edward Said says there is no backbone to Huntington’s ideas and that his thesis is only used as a tool by America to keep US people on side on maintaining huge military spending. After the fall of the Soviet Union as America’s greatest enemy questions started to rise over the necessity of America’s military spending and over where their focus should be in the future, Huntington’s thesis was used for its convenience as it provided the US with a new enemy, but in reality it is likely false. The thesis is also used by America to maintain Western supremacy and prevent the spread of other cultures, by making it sound as though any attempt to integrate civilisations would cause conflict. Chomsky unpicked the thesis pointing out that the US still maintains a good relationship with Saudi Arabia despite them being arguably one of the most fundamentalist Muslim countries due to their reliance on them for oil so suggesting America’s conflicting with Islamic countries is not ‘inevitable’ where America stands to gain. Similarly Indonesia is a very different country to US but one would never suggest there would be conflict between these countries. Alongside this Huntington points out that the concept of civilisational wars is not new and no evidence to suggest they are now more likely. This suggests conflict between the West and Islam may not be inevitable as one of the main theories that suggests this can readily be refuted.
However it can be argued conflict between the Islamic and Western worlds is inevitable due to longstanding, deep-rooted hatred and competition between the two civilisational groups. This is the argument made by Bernard Lewis who claims conflict is inevitable as the Muslim world sees West as the cause of its ‘humiliation.’ Whilst the West fail to notice the huge impact of history on relations between them and the Muslim world, the Islamic world is acutely aware and see conflict between them and the West as going back centuries. Lewis talks of how Islamic civilisation was once the worlds superior civilisation excelling in all cultural, political and scientific fields until Europe ascended in the 17th century and managed to outperform them. Since then Muslim societies have tried and failed to ‘keep up’ with the West. Lewis, controversially, sees the 9/11 attacks as not just a random terrorist act but a message to West from the Muslim world that they are back and will no longer accept Western dominance. The lead up to conflict has been long and conflict itself is inevitable as the Islamic world will never accept Western ideals and will always view them as a rival and enemy due to history. This was evidenced in how Bin laden managed to rally support by saying ‘our humiliation has been going on for 80 years,’ he needed only to say this for others to understand him and stand by his opposition to the West. This fits with a realist view that states are by nature selfish, competitive and aggressive.
Despite this view many politicians and theorists see this view of the world as a generalisation and exaggeration. Obama, for example, openly gave his view that there is no clash of civilisations only a clash between the West and a minority of terrorists and claimed most of the Muslim world are not culturally against the West. Fukuyama would even go as far to say no clash as ‘end of history’ sees liberal capitalism succeeding and to claim there will be wars due to civilisational differences greatly exaggerates the status and influence of terrorists. Another reason conflict between Islam and the West could be seen as unlikely is due to increasing global discussion; both Muslim and Western countries are involved in organisations such as G20 where differences can be openly discussed and resolved so even if there is some truth in the long-standing rivalry Lewis speaks of full-scale conflict is actually much less likely than has been in the past when states did not have so many platform through which they could understand each-other. This fits with a liberal view which would say that it is possible through intergovernmental organisations for states to learn to resolve differences in order to prevent conflict. They would also argue, alongside hyperglobalists, that countries now are too economically interdependent to viably suggest war. India, for example, is hugely dependent on West so would be against their interests to clash with them. Therefore it is likely theorist like Lewis and Huntington exaggerate the likelihood of conflict between Islam and the West.
However the argument that conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable is also made by Shadi Hamid who, like Lewis and Huntington, says that the fundamental differences between the two civilisations will undoubtably lead to a clash. Hamid mainly focuses on issues of religion and secularism. Recent years have seen the rise of religious movements and religious revivalism especially when it comes to Islam. A defining feature of western imperialism, on the other hand, is secularism; the public private divide between church and state. This view sees religion as a personal choice that has little or no relationship with ‘public square’ and believes public life should be separate from religious guidelines or principles. This view is fully accepted in most parts of West and the West see modernisation as the implementation of secularism worldwide. However post colonialists would point out how this demonstrates how little the West understands about Islamic World. Hamid points out that secularism is not possible in the Muslim world as their religion is intrinsically linked to running of state as prophet Mohammed was head of state. Therefore any attempt to introduce this idea into Islamic culture will be strongly refuted and seen as fundamentally wrong. In fact, Taha a Sudanese, liberal religious thinker called for Western-like division but ideas failed to gain any traction showing how unpopular they are. Any attempt to introduce secularism in the West may lead to polarisation between those that want it and those that do not or simply war with West as people fight to protect what is most important and deeply-rooted in them; their religion.
Despite this point it could be argued the likelihood of conflict between Islam and the West is very small due to internal divisions in the Muslim world. Islamic civilisation divided internally between Sunni and Shia sects and these two have deep-rooted, long-standing histories behind them. This has been Reflected in Syrian civil war with Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia backing different sides and also in the deeply sectarian conflict in Iraq where violent conflict have resulted. This argument suggests the Islamic world is too focused on internal conflict to unite in fighting America. It also suggests it is too much of a generalisation to call the Islamic world one civilisation as their are far more complex and far deeper rooted issues and differences between nations within the Muslim world then their joined resentment towards the US and West.
In conclusion it is easy to conclude conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable when looking at the views of Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington and Shadi Hamid. However when taking a broader perspective and taking into account the evidence or lack thereof for their theories it can be concluded that conflict between the two civilisations is not inevitable. This is due to the interdependence between them and the fact that the majority of people in the Islamic and Western worlds are actually accepting of the other civilisation or focused on more pressing conflicts.
The ‘west’ refers to the set of countries which all share common ideals of liberal democracy and capitalist market economies. These countries often have differing cultures including speaking different languages yet they all share relatively modern values of freedom and equality. Often, the USA is recognised as the leader of this set of countries. Islam, in this context, refers to the group of Muslim countries in the world and the culture they share. Turkey is often cited as the leader of this group due to its size and historical power however this is heavily debated amongst the community. This essay will explore the possibility of conflict between these two groups due to their fundamentally difference in values.
One argument that conflict is inevitable is because of the fundamental ideological differences between the two. This argument was put forward by Samuel Huntington in his ‘Clash of Civilisation Thesis’. Huntington suggests that Islam and the West are inherently different cultures and have different beliefs in the way the world should be run. For this reason, they will always clash when one civilisation expands and attempts export its culture to another civilisation. This expansion is also inevitable in order to assure one’s security and position in the world. The West focuses strongly on personal freedoms and human rights whereas in the Muslim countries there is a different perception of what is morally right and a much larger focus on religion. As Muslims are the fastest growing religious group in the world is likely more and more they will become a threat to USA’s place as the global hegemon. This view is aligned with realist thinkers such as Mearsheimer who belies in offensive realism and that in order to protect one’s own interest they must expand so that they can protect their national security. A core principal of realism is that states should only act in their own interest and this would lead realists like Mearsheimer to believe that the best way to protect oneself is to expand even though it is not necessarily moral because it serves self-interest. This argument is limited however, as it in the clash of civilisations it does say that these countries are able to live peacefully together as long as the countries don’t try to export their culture to each other meaning that conflict is only inevitable if the civilisations try to expand into each other meaning that conflict could be avoided.
An opposing argument, put forward by critics of the clash of civilisations book, namely key thinkers such as Edward Said, says that the view that Islam and the West are fundamentally different is far too simplistic. The argument is that many people in each respective ‘civilisation’ are very different from each other and often have more similar traits to each other. Therefore, this would mean conflict is not inevitable as many people are similar to each other even though they are part of different civilisations. For example, culture in countries such as Turkey and Indonesia aren’t extremely dissimilar than to western culture, often having economic and political ties with the West as well, such as (Turkey) being part of the EU customs union and hence these countries have had relatively little conflict with the west. On the other side there are more religious western countries which may share similarities of strict religious principals with some Muslim countries. Turkey is also often considered the leader of the Islam civilisation and therefore good relations between them and the west may represent a future era of cooperation rather than conflict. This aligns with the Liberal view of the world which argues that cooperation is in everyone’s self-interest due to the key liberal belief that conflict is not in human nature and everyone succeeds the more cooperation there is.
Another argument for the statement is made by Bernard Lewis. Lewis explains that Muslims see the west as ‘the cause of their humiliation’. This is because the West outperformed Islam and Islam has struggled to keep up. Lewis believes that because the West has become more affluent and powerful than Islamic states there is deep resentment in Muslims of the West. A prime example of this can be seen in 9/11. Lewis believes that 9/11 was more than just a terrorist attack, it was a message of anger to the West. Essentially, Islam is in conflict with the West because they are unhappy with the West’s treatment of Muslims and they want to gain back the power they once had. This argument absolves the West from any blame whatsoever and places it purely on the Muslim states. It does not consider that historically both sides have made attempts to expand into each other’s borders through crusades and caliphates. Therefore, the stronger argument is that there is resentment on both sides which will inevitable cause conflict of some form in the future. Lewis’s beliefs root from a similar view of post colonialists who believe that the conflict will be due to states attempt to continue their empire which would involve expanding their borders. Historically both countries have been trying to expand their borders for safety and in the future, they will continue to do so creating conflict.
Although, historically the west has been able to maintain good relations with leaders from Muslim countries. For example, the West has had very good relations with the leaders from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan in the past. The bilateral relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States, which is a Special Relationship, began in 1933 when full diplomatic relations were established. Since then the U.S. has been willing to overlook many of the kingdom’s more controversial aspects as long as it kept the oil flowing and supported U.S. national security policies. This shows that the West has historically been able to work alongside an Islamic country and not try to enforce its rule in the country. This would also suggest that any resentment towards the West is not from entire countries but from small groups of individuals such as the Taliban or Al Qaeda. This was the view of former US president Barak Obama who believed that the conflict against Islam was with a restricted number of extremists and the general Islamic public were not hostile towards the West. Marxists such as Fredrich Engels would argue that this cooperation of the Saudis supplying oil to the West only serves the rich oligarch land owners in Saudi Arabia and they continue the oppression of the poor working class. Marxists would argue that this will create tension in the lower classes and will lead to the overthrowing of the system by the lower classes. This core belief that the rich are oppressing the poor will lead them to believe that conflict is inevitable when eh poor fight back against the system that favours the rich.
Another argument for the statement is the growing hatred towards the West due to its actions towards Israel and the Palestinian people. The US gives Israel around $3bn in aid annually, largely military, each year. Although its gives its biggest support politically, The US has used its veto power over 42 times against draft Security Council resolutions pertaining to Israel in order to protect Israel form UN sanctions. Many Muslims are strongly opposed to the Israeli government due to the illegal settlement building and the blockade of Gaza. This alongside thousands of years of historical conflict due to disputes over land and religious beliefs have led to many actions against Israel such as the ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Boycott Israel’ movements. The west, the USA in particular, has very strong ties with Israel due to the fact that the USA receives new improved technology from Israel and Israel is one of the only countries in the region that supports liberal democracy and therefore the USA sees them as strong allies that promote their values. Even though Israel and USA’s alliance promotes cooperation a liberal such as Robert Keohane may argue that this relationship stands in the way of intragovernmental organisations being able to effectively globally govern as USA simply use their veto power when any resolution is attempted to be made concerning Israel. A neo liberal would also argue that Israel are not allowing free markets in Palestinian economies and are therefore oppressing the Palestinian people by not allowing them to thrive using trade. The Israeli’s would however argue that they cannot allow free trade due to safety concerns surrounding the building of tunnels.
Finally, it can be argued that conflict is not inevitable due to globalisation. The increased interdependence between countries means that states are less likely to come into conflict with each other as it would damage them as well. Examples of globalisation can be seen in both the West and Islam, for instance Egypt, Turkey and Malaysia all have branches of McDonald’s in them. The USA goods exports to Turkey were $9.4 billion and the imports were valued at $8.0 billion in 2016. Furthermore, with the continuing decrease of shipping cost it is likely that these trade figures will increase, improving relations between the two states. As these states are leaders of their civilisations it is likely the rest of the region will follow suit and the West’s trade as a whole will increase with Islamic countries. The more trade between the civilisation the more incentivised they both are to avoid conflict meaning that conflict is not inevitable.
In conclusion, I believe that conflict is inevitable in some form yet not necessarily in all-out war. The tension caused by actions in the middle east will always cause conflict so until that dispute is resolved I believe there will always be conflict between Islam and the West.
Samuel P. Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ theory proposes the idea of how in a post-Cold War world the main source of conflict will not be nation-states, but instead a clash between different civilisations, due to differences in culture and religion, particularly highlighting on Western civilisation and Islam. While this source of conflict can be exemplified in the rise of political Islam, evident through the Islamic world’s growing nationalistic agenda, and the West’s hard lined ‘war on terror’ following the 9/11 attacks, conflict between Islam and the West is not as inevitable as Huntington suspects. This is partially due to the influence of globalisation in creating a sense of complex interdependence both culturally and economically and the growing epidemic of secular views and the appeal of democracy among Islamic societies.
Huntington ultimately ascribes Islam the main source of conflict with the West in his ‘Clash of Civilisations’ movement. In recent years this clash has been witnessed in the rise of political Islam, characterised by its fundamentalism. This evident in the growth of extremist groups such as Islamic State and Hamas in the Levant and Boko Haram in Nigeria who use these beliefs as their anti-west agenda as a means for inflicting terror. Islamic State who are arguably the most notorious terrorist group in recent years, have proven their hostility towards the West through barbaric tactics such as the filmed beheading of British journalists. The ability for extremist groups to expand and exert their influence on a global scale, particularly within the West, triggering multiple terror attacks such as the 7/7 terror attacks in London and the Charlie Hebdo attack in France, reflects how conflict between the Islam and the West is inevitable. This rise in political Islam has reflected a shift towards Islamic fundamentalism, which is not synonymous with the West’s secular beliefs and thus catalysing conflict between both civilisations as Huntington predicted.
On the contrary, while the popularity and influence of extremist groups has grown rapidly, this is unreflective of the general Islamic population. In recent years we have witnessed the appeal of western values in the Islamic world, showing that conflict is not inevitable. In 2011, a series of uprisings occurred across North Africa and the Middle East in what was known as the Arab Spring. The main aim of the uprisings was to overthrow the oppressive totalitarian systems in place and install representative democracies, similar to those established in the West. The Arab Spring was successful in the case of Egypt which successfully overthrew the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Due to the heavy use of social media, Western media heavily publicised the situation, reflecting a sense of cooperation. Furthermore, the appeal of democracy across the Middle East also reflects a step towards Western values and a potentiality for coexistence between western civilisations and Islam. Furthermore, the Arab world is further adopting Western values on civil rights and liberties as shown in Saudi Arabia overruling the law which prevented women to drive. The fact that the public view on the west across the Middle East is softening and even suggesting a slight appeal to their values, shows that conflict is not inevitable as either side can adopt similar values and ideas without undermining religious beliefs.
While there is evidence of potential lack of conflict, Bernard Lewis agrees with Huntington’s clash of civilisations theory, pointing out that conflict is inevitable and the clash of civilisations is very much so real. The Islamic world do not view the West in admiration or as the superior ideology, but rather see them as the cause of the Muslim world’s humiliation. This can be seen in the West’s support towards Israel, along with the dissolution of Islamic States from during the Cold War, e.g. Afghanistan, which due to the initial invasion by the Soviets and the USA, has left the state in destruction and a power vacuum. Therefore, in the Muslim world there is a sense of resentment towards the West for being the cause of their current problems and also for causing the once thriving Islamic civilisation to go downhill following European intervention in the 17th Century. Due to this, conflict for Lewis between Islam and the West is not only inevitable, but has already been launched. The post-colonisalist Homi K. Bhabha, would approach Bernard Lewis’ argument of how Islam resents the West as an example of the West viewing itself as a superior civilisation over Islam, allowing itself to justify their action within the Islamic world. As the West have a stable interest in the Muslim world for oil and Israel, they can either choose to intervene strongly or leave it alone and as the Muslim world would cause backlash over the intervention which is expected to occur, conflict is most definitely inevitable for Lewis.
Although Bernard Lewis argues that the Islamic world have a strong sense of resentment towards the West, causing conflict to occur, this is not necessarily the case as due to global governance, both the West and Islam have had to cooperate with one another to sustain order and peace globally. Through organisations such as the United Nations, an effort has been made to prevent conflict from occurring both within the Middle East as well as between the West and the Islamic world. The UN Security Council have passed many resolutions against conflict related to authoritarian regimes, along with recently placing sanctions on nuclear threatening states like Iran by banning them from participating in any activities related to ballistic missiles and tightening the arms embargo. Liberals justify this aim for global governance as the intuitive nature of either civilisations to cooperate. Conflict for liberals is not inevitable as both the West and Islam are aware of the repercussions of conflict, and naturally seek to maintain strong ties with one another to prevent global disasters and conflict, as demonstrated by multiple treaties and agreements between global leaders. This shows that conflict is avoidable and that both the West and Islam are cooperating through the means of global governance to sustain peace.
However, one can argue that the West’s aggressive foreign policy towards Islam through the means of the ‘War on Terror’ is proof that conflict is inevitable between the West and Islam. Post-structuralists like Michael Foucault would argue that that the language of the term ‘war on terror’ is used as a means to further demonise Islam and in turn justify the West’s interventions in the Middle East following the 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration carried out a coercive approach to combatting terrorism by tightening security measures internally along with carrying out a series of aggressive foreign policy missions. The war on terror is a clear example of how conflict is inevitable as demonstrated in the US interventions of Iran and Afghanistan which left both to be defined as rogue states along with resulting in a death toll of almost 500,000 Iraqi’s since the USA’s initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. Furthermore, the war on terror faces heavy controversy in its promotion of conflict between the West and Islam due to Guantanamo Bay and its unlawful imprisonment of suggested terrorists. Since its opening 73% of detainees have been Muslim, none of which have been granted fair trials before detainment, unless cases were opened suggesting a violation of their rights to habeas corpus. Thus, the war on terror suggests an evident force of action by the west against Islam, proving that conflict is inevitable.
On the contrary, conflict is between either civilizations is often exaggerated, particularly as the growing impact of globalisation has actually promoted complex interdependence. With trading causing countries to be increasingly dependent on one another, organisations like OPEC have meant that the West now depends on the Islamic world for key resources like oil. Nine out of the twelve members of OPEC are Islamic countries, and with the organisation controlling 61% of the world’s oil exports, it is inevitable for Islam and the West to cooperate with one another as opposed to clashing. Furthermore, globalisation has also meant an integration of cultures between either sides. In the United Arab Emirates, 88% of private school students are enrolled in schools offering an American or British curriculum and American TV channels such as MTV have also launched their Arabian version of the channel across the Middle East. Ensuring that either side maintain strong relationships with one another to promote trade is a priority for both the Islamic world and the West, therefore any form of conflict would be avoided.
While there are many factors suggesting that conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable, the increasing effort for cooperation between either civilisation to prevent conflict due to the influence of globalisation and the efforts of global governance have proven successful in softening relations between Islam and the West. Furthermore, the amount of conflict that actually occurs in real terms only amounts to significant wars such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the largely publicised terror attacks that have occurred, suggesting that the potential for conflict is a lot less unlikely than presumed. Thus, conflict between Islam and the West is not inevitable.