Tuesday, June 15, 2010

William Pfaff 'Recalls' Huntington's Civilizational Theory of Conflict

Samuel P. Huntington
"When Cultures Conflict"
World Economic Forum 2004
Davos, Switzerland
(Image from Wikipedia)

I happened to read in a paper -- never mind which -- a recent column by William Pfaff in which he 'remembers' Samuel Huntington's thesis on the "Clash of Civilizations," which he refers to as:
. . . the colossal error of the late Samuel Huntington in asserting that the "next world war" would be a war of civilizations -- actually, his grandiose extrapolation of the war between Israel and the Arabs. The Israelis were invested with the honor of embodying western civilization while Arabs, who make up only a fifth of the world's Moslems, were conflated with all the world's Moslems, most of them actually Asians and Africans.
I've read Huntington on this theory, and I don't recall him specifying that the "next world war" would be civilizational. I think that rather than specifically predicting such an overwhelming global conflict, he instead warned of civilizational conflicts on the horizen after the Cold War's end and offered some means of avoiding such conflict through civilizational dialogue and understanding, a point often neglected in polemical allusions to his theory. And he certainly didn't invest the Israelis with bearing the standard of the West, for he saw Judaism as the basis for a civilization separate from the West, namely, Jewish civilization. Nor did he imagine that all Muslims were Arab.

I'm surprised the Pfaff would mischaracterize Huntington's ideas in such a distorted manner, but I must say that I often have a similar impression in reading Pfaff's columns, that his mind is a sort of Procrustian bed into which issues must be forced to fit by trimming or stretching -- though not quite so radically Procrustian as Chomsky's mind, of course, which can stretch one death from a US bombing in Sudan to an atrocity worse than the nearly 3000 deaths from Al-Qaeda's attack on America.

No, Pfaff is no Chomsky, for he's sometimes right on the money, as with his warning about accepting Georgia into Nato, i.e., that such an agreement "has war built into it," but he's more often too ex-centric in his views for me to accept his analyses unsalted.

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