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[Opinion] Huntington’s Insight

Posted December. 29, 2008 04:35,   


Samuel Huntington, a former professor at Harvard University who wielded huge influence on U.S. politics and diplomacy, died Wednesday at the age of 81. The distinguished scholar authored or co-wrote 17 books on the U.S. government, democracy, coups and immigration over his 58 years at Harvard. His most famous book is “The Clash of Civilizations” published in 1996. In the book, Huntington said that after the end of the Cold War, military conflict has erupted between countries due to a clash between civilizations rather than ideology.

When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit in 2001, Huntington’s theory, which had been criticized as “belligerent logic centered on the U.S.,” regained fame. Al Qaeda showed a fundamental antagonism against Christian civilization symbolized by America. The clash of civilizations theory affected neoconservatives, including Johns Hopkins University professor Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama set forth his own theory called the “theory of strong states,” which was used to justify the Bush administration’s war against terrorism and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In “The Clash of Civilizations,” Huntington criticized Islamic civilization, citing two thirds or three fourths of clashes between civilizations were struggles between Muslims and non-Muslims, and that Islam and militarism apparently have a relationship. Three days after Huntington’s death, Israel ordered massive air strikes on the Gaza Strip. Israeli jets dropped 100 tons of bombs in the Hamas-controlled area, killing and injuring more than 1,000 people. The casualty figure is the biggest number in Palestine since the third Arab–Israeli War in 1967. The strike was in retaliation against Hamas’ rejection of an extension to the armistice treaty and rocket attacks on southern Israel.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Hamas is responsible for the air strikes since it broke the armistice. Not so sympathetic to Israel was Egypt, which arbitrated the armistice. The Egyptian government called the strikes an “unprecedented massacre.” Turkey blasted the strikes, saying they constituted a riot that smashed up international peace. Countries are having differing views on the strikes, depending on which civilization they belong to. The conflict between Israel and Hamas entails a flurry of other complicated issues, including economic hardship in Palestine stemming from the Israeli blockade, as well as a prolonged territorial dispute. The root of the struggle, however, is the exclusionism of Islam and Judaism, which have fought each other in the Middle East for thousands of years. This example is a case where Huntington’s insight shines.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)