The Fallacy of the "Clash of Civiliazations"

Three days of class and seven classes remain in my first semester of college: 2 French classes, my last proseminar session, and two lectures each of Econ and HAC. My last International Relations lecture was Friday. And after my classes are over, I will have six days for study, and then four days for the first four college finals of my life. Then I go home! - to the first Christmas of my adult life.

International Relations has not been my favorite class, especially because of its emphasis on theories that I feel greatly oversimplify very complex issues. In fact, a few times throughout the semester it was mentioned that the goal of these theories in International Relations is in fact to simplify things, because if we tried to take everything into account we'd be historians. Well, I for one WANT TO BE A HISTORIAN.

Despite this disagreement of mine with much of the foundation for the class, we still covered some pretty interesting ideas, including ones with which I've agreed and disagreed. On Friday, we covered ideas about the future of international relations, primarily four different theories:
  1. The world will remain governed by the rules of state anarchy (the "realist" view).
  2. Interconnection and interdependence will increase throughout the world (the liberal view).
  3. The world will continue to be characterized by unipolarity and the dominance of the US.
  4. The world will be characterized by a "clash of civilizations."
Now, although number 2 is the only one of these that I really think is true, I have serious problems with number 4. I will, however, keep things brief, so if you want to learn about Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations theory, please go here or do further research (if you dare).

In my mind, the idea that religious and cultural differences will drive international conflicts to come begs the question of how different people from various cultures really are. Although apparently Huntington divides the world into several different "civilizations," in my discussion section, one of my colleagues (as Professor Dodd would say) stated that she could only really see conflict arising between "western" and "Islamic" "civilizations," so that is the example I will work off. (Can Peter Stanton's disagreement with an idea be analyzed by the prevalence of terms in quotation marks?)

I believe there is far less that separates a typical "Western" person from someone with an Islamic background. Religiously, both cultures are Abrahamic, and although they may both tend to be absolutist, Christianity and Islam are closer in their principles than any other two of the world's major religions. (Argue with me if you will, but I think that's a pretty solid claim to make.) In the last few years I've seen a trend arise of people claiming that Islam is somehow particularly violent or opposed to notions of human rights compared to other religions. Clearly, Christian history is chock-full of violence and oppression. It may seem that much of this barbarism fueled by Christianity is in the past, but perhaps this is because of how Western society became increasingly secular over time. There is little reason to think this can't happen in Muslim areas as well; indeed in many countries it already has.
But beyond this, there is far far more that molds societies and drives people than religion.

Fundamentally, all human values are the same: life, happiness, and everything that brings it. The ability of cooperation to bring these goals to fruition far outweighs the divisions that may exist between people over insignificant differences. The key is that we must emphasize the power of that cooperation and stop pointing out our differences - including creating outrageously unfounded theories that only spread misunderstanding.

Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations theory goes beyond oversimplification; it goes beyond rationality, and it greatly underestimates human commonality.