Farewell from President Gül to the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis
Speaking at the Istanbul World Forum on Friday, President Abdullah Gül warned that the current turmoil across the Middle East could presage an era of medieval darkness similar to Europe’s Middle Ages. According to him, a “clash within the Islamic civilization” due to the ethnic and sectarian identity politics in the region would be more detrimental to all than a “clash of civilizations.” Actually what President Gül stated is the announcement of the end of the “clash of civilizations” thesis which was put forward by Samuel Huntington in 1993.
The thesis argues that the clashes in the world would only be among different civilizations, the most violent one to be between the Western and Islamic civilizations. This claim was widely accepted for a long time and made its peak during the ideological vacuum in the aftermath of the Cold War.
September 11 attacks played into the hands of Huntington, deepening the rift between the two civilizations even further. Yet, things did not work as expected in the 2000’s. Sects under the same religion and hence the same civilization started to clash with each other. As President Gül underlined, identity politics based on ethnicity, religion and sect has come to the fore in the Middle East, causing an unprecedented Sunni-Shia tension.
Yet, this is not the only reason why the “clash of civilizations” thesis fell from grace. In the last three years, Arab nations all belonging to the “Islamic Civilization” took to the streets and asked for democratic values which supposedly belong to the “Western Civilization.” This has created a big common cluster between these two civilizations which were expected to clash with each other.
“Westerners” were introduced to the notion of Islam on September 11, 2001. Those terrorist attacks made them link Islam with Taliban and al-Qaeda, namely the radical Islamists. Hence the Arab uprisings caught the Westerners unawares. The very same Muslims who used to take a plane and bring the Twin Towers to the ground, are now getting organized on Twitter and Facebook and rushing to the squares to demand their rights. Masses on the Arab streets do not want either radical Islam or dictators anymore. Modernization had brought the individual to the fore. Since a regular Arab has just started to take his destiny in his own hands, this is only the start of the “Arab modernization.” Arabs have stepped into the “Western civilization”.
It is widely argued that the ouster of the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by a military coup declared the end of the so called “Arab Spring.” True that the Arab world’s elusive democratic transition has been ruined by either the incompetence and clumsiness of the newly elected politicians such as in Egypt or the existing dictators such as in Syria. Still, this does not mean that the process has expired. Arabs have woken up and made it clear they will not give up on democracy till “spring”
Let’s name this thesis as the “blend of civilizations.”