By Ben Domenech
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the well-respected author and Dutch politician, had a widely-linked column in the Wall Street Journal this week on the late Samuel Huntingtonâ??s old whacking stick, the so-called Clash of Civilizations. She writes, in part:
â??The greatest advantage of Huntington's civilizational model of international relations is that it reflects the world as it isâ??not as we wish it to be. It allows us to distinguish friends from enemies. And it helps us to identify the internal conflicts within civilizations, particularly the historic rivalries between Arabs, Turks and Persians for leadership of the Islamic world.â?
We all tend to make mistakes in examining politics in this rapid-fire era, particularly when elections fade so quickly from memory; political tides change so rapidly, and technology has so many ramifications (who had the best YouTube campaign in 2004? Answer: no one, YouTube didnâ??t exist yet). One of the most common errors is the adoption of overboard collectivist terms when speaking about what are more properly understood as individual actors, or conflating the behavior of factions with that of nation-states.
Rarely does one individual symbolize the entire direction of state intentions (this mistake is made most frequently today regarding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), and rarer still does an organized faction behave according to the same restrictions and with the same calculating procedure as a nation-state.
In reality, of course, we can only make true predictions about the behavior of nation-states by looking at the longstanding factors informing state decision-making processes â?? alliances, financial concerns, internal weaknesses, external pressures and so on.
This brings us to Huntington, whose 50-point font phrase â??the Clash of Civilizationsâ? seems destined to be misapplied in perpetuity. Huntingtonâ??s view of the world was, of course, summarized in an article he published in 1993 where he predicted that culture, not interests or ideology, would account for the major conflicts of the future: