11.1 Is a clash of cultures inevitable?

1. In what ways is the clash of civilizations thesis persuasive?

  • The main argument of the clash of civilization thesis is that it is civilizations, rather than ideologies, that drive international relations in the post-cold war world. Contemporarily, the Western civilization is understood to stand in conflict most prominently with the Islamic civilization. The expanding scope of the 'war against terror' is taken as a key illustration of this argument.
  • In this sense, political Islam is considered a key force in international relations, against which policies are placed.

2. In what ways is the clash of civilizations thesis undermined by historical and contemporary patterns of international relations?

  • The thesis is undermined by the significance of colonialism as a key element in shaping contemporary international relations. Rather than a clash among civilizations, conflict between the West and its former colonies is better understood in context of the colonial relations inherited from the past, which, moreover, have been crucial factors in the emergence of more radical political Islam.
  • Furthermore, the clash of civilizations thesis denies commonalities among societies. In an era in which the movement of people across the globe is so stark, it is inaccurate to speak of fixed and stable majority and minority identities anywhere.

3. Is this a debate worth having, or is the clash of civilizations thesis stated too broadly to be resolved?

  • Those who adhere to the clash of civilization thesis find its validation most notably in the changing actors and spheres of international relations in the aftermath of the cold war, where policies appeared to revolve less around the negotiations of two superpowers, but were more dispersed and regionalized.
  • Many, however, believe that the thesis is too simplistic in its focus on culture, which consequently overlooks the more complex politics of globalization. These authors believe that the contemporary era is less about civilizational struggles than it is informed by discussions over political goals, boundaries and shared global influence.