Samuel Huntington interview – he speaks on the ‘clash‘ identity

by Samuel Huntington
10 October 2006
Cambridge, Massachusetts — For 13 years, three words have dominated the discourse on cultural, international, and religious affairs as they relate to foreign policy in our times. The “clash of civilizations,” as argued by Harvard University Professor Samuel Huntington, has stirred heated debate across the globe, but particularly among many Muslim nations. His theory is often interpreted to proclaim a fundamental incompatibility between the “Christian West” and the “Muslim World.” The scale of impact it has had on global politics is sometimes difficult to comprehend. Islamica Magazine spoke to Samuel Huntington about the ‘clash’ identity and the Israel lobby.

Islamica: I’d like to begin with a general question on your book “The Clash of Civilizations.” Your theory on the clash of civilizations argues that “current global politics should be understood as the result of deep—seated conflicts between the great cultures and religions of the world.” This thesis gained momentum as a result of Sept. 11, and now the war against terrorism is often defined in terms of the West against Islam as a fundamental clash between these two civilizations. Do you feel that your thesis is accurately used when describing the war against terrorism as a war of the West against Islam? If not, what modifications to that application of your theory would you make?

SH: The argument in my book on the clash of civilization was well reflected in that short quote saying that the relations between countries in the coming decade are most likely to reflect their cultural commitments, their cultural ties and antagonism with other countries. Quite obviously power will continue to play a central role in global politics as it always does. But usually there is something else. In the 18th century in Europe, the issues to a large extent involved questions of monarchy and monarchy versus the emerging republican movements, first in America and then in France. In the 19th century it was basically nationality and people trying to define their nationalism and create states which would reflect their nationalism. In the 20th century, ideology came to the fore, largely, but not exclusively, as a result of the Russian Revolution and we have fascism, communism and liberal democracy competing with each other. Well that’s pretty much over. The other two (fascism and communism) have not entirely disappeared but have been sidelined certainly, and liberal democracy has come to be accepted, in theory at least, around the world, if not always in practice. So the question really is what will be the central focus of global politics in the coming decades and my argument is that cultural identities and cultural antagonisms and affiliations will play not the only role but a major role. Countries will cooperate with each other, and are more likely to cooperate with each other when they share a common culture, as is most dramatically illustrated in the European Union. But other groupings of countries are emerging in East Asia and in South America. Basically, as I said, these politics will be oriented around, in large part, cultural similarities and cultural antagonism.

Islamica: So, if your thesis entirely explains relations between states post 9/11, then how do you situate the alliance between, for example, Pakistan and the United States against Afghanistan for example, or similar types of relationships?

SM: Well, obviously Pakistan and the U.S. are very different countries, but we have common geopolitical interests in preventing communist take over in Afghanistan and hence, now that Pakistan has a government that we can cooperate with, even though it is a military government, we are working together with them in order to promote our common interests. But obviously we also differ with Pakistan on a number of issues.

Islamica: You said in your book, “For 45 years, the Iron Curtain was the central dividing line in Europe. That line has moved several hundred miles east. It is now the line separating the peoples of Western Christianity, on the one hand, from Muslim and Orthodox peoples on the other.” Some scholars have reacted to such an analysis by stating that making such a dichotomous distinction between the West and Islam implies that there is a great uniformity within those two categories. Additionally some argue that such a distinction implies that Islam does not exist within the Western world. I understand that this is a criticism you have often received. In general, how do you react to such an analysis?

SH:The implication, which you say some people draw, is totally wrong. I don’t say that the West is united, I don’t suggest that. Obviously there are divisions within the West and divisions within Islam — there are different sects, different communities, different countries. So neither one is homogenous at all. But they do have things in common. People everywhere talk about Islam and the West. Presumably that has some relationship to reality, that these are entities that have some meaning and they do. Of course the core of that reality is differences in religion.

Islamica: Is there any reconciliation or point of convergence between, as is often described, both sides of this “Iron Curtain”?

SH: First, you say “both sides,” but as I said, both sides are divided and Western countries collaborate with Muslim countries and vice versa. I think it’s a mistake, let me just repeat, to think in terms of two homogenous sides starkly confronting each other. Global politics remains extremely complex and countries have different interests, which will also lead them to make what might seem as rather bizarre friends and allies. The U.S. has and still is cooperating with various military dictatorships around the world. Obviously we would prefer to see them democratized, but we are doing it because we have national interests, whether it’s working with Pakistan on Afghanistan or whatever.


Samuel Huntington is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University and author of many renowned books including “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (1996). The full article is available on Islamica Magazine‘s website on This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Islamica Magazine, September 2006,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.
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