World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2010

  • The "Clash of Civilizations" Revisited

    Wednesday 27th January 2010 - 8:30pm - 10:00pm

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  • The "Clash of Civilisations" Revisited

    "The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural [rather than ideological or economic].” – Samuel Huntington

    How far does a "clash of civilizations" continue to persist as part of our perception?

    Key Points


    • The debate over Samuel Huntington’s thesis has outlived Huntington himself.
    • Huntington’s argument that cultures will necessarily clash is contested, yet his underlying assumption that civilizations matter is axiomatic
    • Political and media elites often exacerbate perceived differences between cultures
    • Liberal, moderate voices are often drowned out by extremists, who colour the perception of a given culture
    • Biology describes all human beings as fundamentally rational. Acknowledging the rationality of other cultures is an essential element of stemming conflict

    Synopsis


    Since his 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington’s thesis that civilizations would inevitably collide has inspired undying debate. Some argue that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: his thesis sparks suspicions based on bias and ignorance, which leads to confrontations. Others contend that Huntington was fundamentally wrong, that all humans are basically rational and will seek to avoid conflict.

    Most participants, however, took a more nuanced view. Political and media leaders have incentives to create the perception of conflict with rival cultures, and a few extremists can help them make their case. A regime might claim a suicide bomber means that an entire culture poses a present danger; a news organization will naturally cover the bomber’s act, rather than the peaceful existence of millions of his or her co-religionists. Perceived economic injustice also fuels cultural conflict.

    To counter these trends, the vast majority of people in all cultures, who are broadly liberal and moderate in their views, must shout down the extremists. Each culture must recognize the fundamental rationality present in the others and must seek to create space for dialogue based on that rationality.

    Discussion Leaders


    Cheng Siwei

    , Chairman, International Finance Forum (IFF), People's Republic of China; Global Agenda Council on the Future of China

    Raghida Dergham

    , Senior Diplomatic Correspondent and Columnist, Al Hayat, USA; Global Agenda Council on Negotiation & Conflict Resolution

    Naif Al Mutawa

    , Founder and Chairman, Teshkeel Media Group, Kuwait; Social Entrepreneur

    Richard Nisbett

    , Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor, University of Michigan, USA; Global Agenda Council on Decision-making & Incentive Systems

    Josh Tenenbaum

    , Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

    Moderated by

    David Kennedy

    , Director, Institute on Global Law and Policy, Harvard Law School, USA; Global Agenda Council on Global Institutional Governance


    Disclosures
    This summary was prepared by Ben Skinner. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum.

    Copyright 2010 World Economic Forum
    No part of this material may be copied, photocopied or duplicated in any form by any means or redistributed without the prior written consent of the World Economic Forum.

    Wednesday 27 January

    Keywords: conflict, peacemaking, culture, media

    Recommended reading for: Civil Society Leaders, Women Leaders, Media Leaders, Non-Governmental Organizations, Young Global Leaders

     

Speakers

  • Richard Nisbett Richard Nisbett
    Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor, University of Michigan, USA

    1966, PhD, Columbia University. With University of Michigan: research interests focus on reasoning a...

  • Cheng Siwei Cheng Siwei
    Chairman, International Finance Forum (IFF), People's Republic of China

    Economist. MBA, UCLA. Formerly: Vice-Minister of Chemical Industry; Director, Department of Manageme...

  • Josh Tenenbaum Josh Tenenbaum
    Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

    1993, BSc, Yale; 1999, PhD, MIT. Currently, Associate Professor, Computer Science and Artificial Int...

  • Raghida Dergham Raghida Dergham
    Senior Diplomatic Correspondent and Columnist, Al Hayat, USA

    Since 1989, with Al Hayat: author of weekly column on international political affairs; Senior Diplom...

  • Naif Al Mutawa Naif Al Mutawa
    Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, THE 99, Kuwait

    Naif Al Mutawa is the Creator of THE 99, the acclaimed comic superheroes born of an Islamic archetyp...

Moderated by

  • David Kennedy David Kennedy
    Director, Institute for Global Law and Policy, Harvard Law School, USA

    Formerly: Vice-President and University Professor, Brown University. Currently, Manley O. Hudson Pro...