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The Clash of Civilizations vs the Clash of Ignorance

The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the views of Samuel Huntington and Edward Said on the sources of geopolitical conflicts in the modern world. In his article, Huntington claims that future geopolitical conflicts will be not ideological or political in nature, but cultural (Tuathail, 2006). Said, in turn, argues against this statement, showing that the concept of civilization discussed by Huntington is faulty and too simplistic to explain the forces affecting geopolitics (Tuathail, 2006). The comparison of the two articles can help to explore the authors’ viewpoints and develop a personal analysis of the Huntington discourse.

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The main point of similarity between the two articles is that they consider the same subject. In fact, the article by Said appears to be a response to Huntington’s arguments and views. In the first article, Huntington presents and defends his claim that “the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic […] the dominating source of conflict will be cultural” (Tuathail, 2006, p. 136).

The author posits that the differences between cultures and religions are so profound that it would not be possible for people to overcome them. Furthermore, Huntington explains that cultural and religious variations create civilizations, and the clash of two primary civilizations – the West and Islam – will be the cause of the next significant conflict (Tuathail, 2006). However, this idea is contested by Said, who argues that the so-called civilizations are too broad and diverse to be unified around a single cultural ideology or religion (Tuathail, 2006). Hence, the arguments presented by the two authors are opposing.

It is also important to highlight another difference between the two articles. The article by Huntington was first published in 1993, following the global recession and the fall of the Soviet Union. The piece by Said, however, was published in 2001 after the terror attack of 9/11 and the initiation of the U.S.-led war on terror. In Said’s context, the ideas presented by Huntington sounded almost prophetic, as the idea of the clash between the Middle East and the West predominates his article (Tuathail, 2006).

Still, Said raises a crucial point by stating that the terror attack and terrorism, in general, are perpetrated not by civilizations but by radical individuals (Tuathail, 2006). This argument alone contradicts Huntington’s hypothesis of civilizations by showing the heterogeneity of cultural and religious values within a single civilization.

Besides contrasting Huntington’s hypothesis, Said also offers his own interpretation of the future of geopolitics. According to the author, the main problem lies in people’s desire to find a simple explanation for the complexity of our current reality (Tuathail, 2006). In other words, Said acknowledges that it is easier for people to attribute radicalism to an entire civilization than to acknowledge the multitude of views and interpretations existing within the same culture.

Another argument put forward by Said is that people in the modern world are far too interconnected to exist as separate civilizations, and thus the idea of the clash of civilizations becomes highly unrealistic (Tuathail, 2006). Therefore, it is more important for people to learn to coexist with other cultures as part of one global society than to attempt creating and maintaining an ‘us versus them’ world.

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A careful examination of Huntington’s piece shows that there are both truthful and doubtful ideas in his article. On the one hand, the reasoning behind Huntington’s hypothesis is partly correct. The author mentions the increased communication and connectedness between people of different cultures, as well as the influence of economic modernization on people’s local identity. These claims appear to be true when considering the changes that have occurred over the past decades.

On the other hand, Huntington fails to account for the differences and fluctuations within the so-called civilization. It appears that Huntington’s hypothesis is based mainly on the assumption that civilizations exist in a vacuum and are resistant to external influences and change. However, this is definitely not the case since more and more people from the same civilizations express opposing viewpoints. For instance, the war on terror was widely supported by people of the Western civilization, but now, many American and European people are openly critical of the conflicts in Syria and Iran.

If Huntington’s view of the clash of civilizations was correct, this would not be the case. It is evident now that people are becoming increasingly diverse in their viewpoints, and their attitudes and beliefs are no longer shaped by culture or religion. Differences in age, level of education, income, and even exposure to information all factor into people’s views about the world, religion, and society, which, in Huntington’s view, distinguish one civilization from the other.

Overall, the two articles present some interesting points about the future of geopolitical conflicts. Huntington focuses on the notion of ‘the clash of civilizations,’ whereas Said views this hypothesis as an oversimplification. A more in-depth analysis of Huntington’s claims shows that the author fails to account for the forces shaping individuals’ views and attitudes. Civilizations are not as homogenous as Huntington sees them, and thus Said’s views appear to be more realistic.


Tuathail (Toal), G., Dalby, S., & Routledge, P. (2006). The geopolitics reader (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

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