GEOG 128
Geography of International Affairs

Orientalism: The Foundation of the Geopolitical Mindset (Representations of the ‘Other')


The following suggested videos and readings should help you think through the discussion and debate on Said’s Orientalism and critique of Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations. If Flint's (2012) discussion of these sources seems unclear, the following resources should provide more background, context, and points of analysis.

The Clash of Civilizations, by Samuel Huntington

The Clash of Civilizations, by Samuel Huntington (pdf)

The Clash of Ignorance, by Edward Said

The Clash of Ignorance, by Edward Said

The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations (Video)

Click for a Transcript of The Myth of the Clash of the Civilizations Video


I'm going to start, in fact talk throughout about an essay and a book written by Samuel Huntington entitled The Clash of Civilizations. When it first appeared in 1993 in the Journal of Foreign Affairs it had a question mark after it. It announced in its first sentence that world politics is entering a new phase. Three years later, Huntington expanded the essay some would say bloated it to the size of a book without a question mark. The new book which was published last year entitled The Clash of Civilization and the Emerging World Order. My premise is that the essay is better than the book, it got worse the more he added to it. So I'll concentrate most of my attention on the essay, but make some comments about the book as we go along.

Now, what Huntington meant when he said the world politics is entering a new phase was that whereas in the recent past world conflicts had been between ideological caps grouping the first, second, and third worlds into warring entities, the new style of politics which he discerned would entail conflict between different and presumably clashing civilizations. I quote him, "The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics." Later he explains how it is that the principal clash will be between Western and non-western civilization. But he spends most of his time in the two works discussing the disagreements potential or actual between what he calls the West on the one hand and on the other Islamic and Confucian civilizations. In terms of detail a great deal more attention, hostile attention, is paid to Islam than to any other civilization including the West. Much of the tremendous interest subsequently taken in Huntington's essay, I think derives from its timing rather than exclusively from what it says. As he himself notes there have been several intellectual and political attempts since the end of the Cold War to map the emerging world situation. This includes Francis Fukuyama's thesis on the end of history which nobody talks about, so the end of Fukuyama really. The thesis put about during the latter days of the Bush administration the theory the so-called new world order, but there have been more serious attempts to deal with the coming millennium in works by Paul Kennedy for example. I recalled less interesting and more rabid Connor Cruise O'Brien, Robert Kaplan and a book that's apparently making the rounds on campuses on Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin Barber. All these books have done so have looked at the coming millennium with considerable attention to the causes of future conflict. Which has given them all, I think, justly cause for alarm. The core of Huntington's vision, which is not really original with him, is the idea of an unceasing clash. A concept of conflict which slides somewhat effortlessly into the political space vacated by the unremitting war of ideas and values embodied and values in the unregretted Cold War of which of course Huntington was a great theorist. I don't think therefore, its inaccurate to suggest that what Huntington's providing in his work, especially since it's primarily addressed to influential opinion and policy makers, is in fact the recycled version of the cold-war thesis. The complex in today's and tomorrow's world will remain not economic or social in essence but ideological. If that is so, than one ideology the West's, is a still point where the Locust, locust around which for Huntington all other civilizations turn.

In effect then, the Cold War continues, but this time on many fronts with many more serious and basic systems of values and ideas like Islam and Confucianism struggling for sentencing and even dominance over the West. Not surprisingly therefore, Huntington concludes his essay a with a brief survey, not only his essay but his book as well with a survey, of what the west might do must do to remain strong and keep its opponents, keeps its opponent's weak and divided. He says, "The West must exploit differences and conflicts," I'm quoting now, "and conflicts among Confucian and Islamic states to support in other civilizations groups sympathetic to western values and interests to strengthen international institutions that reflect and legitimate western interests and values, and to promote the involvement of non-western states in those institutions." That's a very interventionist and quite aggressive attitude towards others civilizations to get them to be more western. So strong and insistent is Huntington's notion that other civilizations necessarily clash with the West. Relentlessly aggressive and chauvinistic in it's prescription for what the West must do to continue winning. So that with the reader is forced to conclude that he's really most interested in continuing and expanding the cold war by other means rather then advancing ideas that might help us to understand the current world scene or ideas that will try to reconcile between cultures.

Not only will conflict continue, but he says, the conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world. It is a very brief and rather crudely articulated manual in the art of maintaining a wartime status in the minds of Americans and others that Huntington's work has to be now understood. I'd go so far as saying that it argues from the standpoint of pentagon planners and defense industry executives who may have temporarily lost their occupations after the end of the cold war, but have now discovered a new vocation for themselves. But perhaps because Huntington is more interested in policy prescriptions than he is in either in history or in the careful analysis of cultures, Huntington in my opinion is quite misleading what he says and how he puts things. A great deal of his argument first of all, depends on second and third-hand opinions that scants the enormous advances in our concrete understanding and theoretical understanding of how cultures work how they change in how they can best be grasped or apprehended. A brief look at the people and opinions he quotes suggests that journalism and popular demagoguery are his main sources rather than serious scholarship or theory. When you draw on tendentious publicists and scholars, you already prejudice the argument in favor of conflict and polemic rather than a favor to understand the kind of cooperation between peoples that our planet needs. Huntington's authorities are not the cultures themselves, but a small handful authorities picked by him because in fact they emphasize the latent bellicosity in one or another statement by one or another so-called spokesperson for about that culture.

The giveaway for me is the title of his book and his essay The Clash of Civilizations, which is not his phrase but Bernard Lewis's. Is on the last page have Lewis's essay titled the The Roots of Muslim Rage, which appeared in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Lewis speaks about the current problem with the Islamic world. I quote, this is incredible stuff, "It should by now be clear," Lewis says, "...that we are facing a mood and a movement in Islam far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations. The perhaps irrational, but surely historic receptions, of an ancient rival against our," whenever your hear the word our, you want to head for the exit, "...against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the world-wide expansion of both, it is crucially important that we, on our side, should not be provoked into an equally historic, but also equally irrational reaction against our rival." In other words, we shouldn't be as crazy as they are. Of course Lewis is very much listened to at the Council of Foreign Relations the New York review books, and so on and so forth. but few people today with any sense would want to volunteer such sweeping accusations that the ones advanced by Lewis about a billion, a billion Muslims scattered through five continents, dozens of different languages and traditions and histories. Of them all, Lewis says that they are all in rage at Western modernity, as if a billion people were really only one person and Western civilization was no more complicated a matter than a simple.