The "Clash of Civilizations" Revisited
Wednesday 27th January 2010 - 8:30pm - 10:00pm
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?
• 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
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.
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
David Kennedy, Director, Institute on Global Law and Policy, Harvard Law School, USA; Global Agenda Council on Global Institutional Governance
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
Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor, University of Michigan, USA
1966, PhD, Columbia University. With University of Michigan: research interests focus on reasoning a...
Chairman, International Finance Forum (IFF), People's Republic of China
Economist. MBA, UCLA. Formerly: Vice-Minister of Chemical Industry; Director, Department of Manageme...
Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
1993, BSc, Yale; 1999, PhD, MIT. Currently, Associate Professor, Computer Science and Artificial Int...
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
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...
Director, Institute for Global Law and Policy, Harvard Law School, USA
Formerly: Vice-President and University Professor, Brown University. Currently, Manley O. Hudson Pro...