Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Clash of Civilization, or Something Else

The theses of Mueller and Huntington could not be more in opposition. Mueller states that: “And the particular focus of the paper is on the perpetrators of the violence, on those who actually carry out the killings and depredations. For them, the central motivation forces seem more nearly to reflect banal opportunism than cosmic historical patterns or necessities.” Contrast that with Huntington: “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.” Mueller claims that ethnic violence is the result of bad actors ginning up justifications, while Huntington sees conflict as the natural result of cultures being exposed to one another and fighting it out.

Both Mueller and Huntington seem to discount the idea that conflict is based on resource scarcity. Mueller does not see “necessities” as being the cause of conflict, and Huntington does not see conflicts being based on the “economic” concerns of the combatants. So, how can the points of view of Huntington and Mueller be reconciled?
One way would be to see Huntington’s theory as the “macro” and Mueller’s theory as the “micro.” In other words, cultural tensions exist and they can be inflamed into actual combat, but not until opportunistic politicians fan those ethnic flames. Mueller quotes Judah who makes this exact point: “The answer is that politicians could not have succeeded if there had been no ember [of ethnic tensions] to fan.”

Judah’s quotation also implies that there is a “macro” ethnic hatred that can result in conflict. The precise verb that Mueller uses in the quote is “recruited.” Certainly, the lure of rape and plunder is enough to motivate some men into action, but the forces the leader raises are still selected from within the same ethnic group. Arkan did not go looking for asocial Croatians to join his “Tigers,” he sought out his fellow Serb football hooligans. Unscrupulous individuals can exploit real, existing cultural fears to cause havoc, but it seems like these cross cultural wars only exist in the small scale.

Consider the examples that Mueller cites: Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and consider also the current war of al Qaeda against the West. Huntington argues that there are seven or eight civilizations who will come into conflict and lists them: “Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization.” These are huge agglomerations of people, all of whom are now in proximity given population growth and ease of travel. 600 million “Western,” a billion plus “Hindu,” a billion plus “Confucian.” However, in even the most deadly ethnic wars, there are still only a comparatively few killed. There were perhaps 100,000 killed in Yugoslavia, but the question must be asked if that was a true ethnic war since it occurred completely within the “West?” Was it instead the “Slavic-Orthodox” against the “Islamic?” Perhaps a million were killed in Rwanda, but since they were all within the “African” civilization, was this actually just banal killing and not the clash of civilizations? How significant a civilization conflict is it between al Qaeda, an “Islamic” group and the US representing the “West” when only a few thousand have been killed in the last 6 years out of a total combined population of more than a billion?

Those conflicts occur between different ethnic groups who use the language of civilizational conflict. There does not seem to be evidence that they are the spark or precursors of larger cross-civilization war among the civilizations Huntington cites.