*ZEYNEP DOĞA DEMİREL – APM STAJYERİ, ODTÜ Kuzey Kıbrıs Kampüsü Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü
Samuel Huntington once stated that the main source of conflict in our ‘new world’ will not stem from ideological or economic reasons. Instead, the sources of conflicts and clashes will be based on religious and cultural reasons. According to Huntington that idea was the dominant view of the new world, especially after the Cold War. That said, the following question arises: what if we adapt this view to the current conflicts? And if so, how?
To understand ‘civilizations’, one must understand the meaning of it. In its simplest definition, civilization refers to large-scale entities with a collective form of identification. Civilizations include multiple human beings and social groupings. Also, it combines these social groupings and multiple societies. Therefore, it can be stated that civilizations differ from tribal, ethnic, and kinship groups. Through time, human beings have had multiple civilizations. For
example, Sumerian civilization, Hittites civilization, Hellenistic civilization, Egyptian civilization, Christian civilization, Islamic civilization, and so on.
Civilizations are not only large-scale entities, but also, tend not to disappear through time.
To begin with, a central element of the Islamic civilization is the religion of Islam. Varying widely in practice and societies, each of the branches and sects of the Islamic religion today espouses monotheism. In some respects, the Islamic religion could be viewed as a reform movement arising from monotheistic Judaism and Christianity (Hirst, 2020). On the other hand, the ancient Israelite civilization was the first monotheistic religion and civilization that proclaimed and promulgated the conception of a universal and transcendent God who created the universe and
imposed His will and Law upon it, claimed to rule over all the nations, and had designated the people of Israel as His chosen people (Eisenstadt, 1992). Therefore, the Middle East region have both of these different civilizations with similar aspirations of monotheism. Are they in a clash? The simple answer could be a Yes.
According to Huntington, following the conclusion of the Cold War, global politics shifted away from its Western-centric focus. Instead, it pivoted towards the interplay between the West and non-Western civilizations, as well as interactions among various non-Western civilizations becoming the central focal point. Indeed, the 7th. October Hamas attacks fostered this interplay between the West and non-Western civilizations. Israel, along with its primary supporters – the
U.S., the U.K., and France – align themselves with the ‘Western’ civilization. Conversely, Hamas, Iran, and Palestine position themselves within the realm of non-Western entities. Huntington highlighted six points emphasizing why civilizations will clash. These points highlight the importance of distinctions between civilizations, undergirded by their unique historical, linguistic, cultural, traditional, and religious features, which have frequently been at the center of long and bloody wars throughout history. At the same time, as the West is experiencing a certain degree of decline in its power, non-Western civilizations are making a comeback to the center stage and trying to reshape the world to fit their goals and ideals. Indeed, Hamas, as anon-state actor, perfectly corresponds to this framework, illustrating its ambition to display the resilience of the Palestinian people, aspire to form a state in its own model, and survive within the context of non-Western spheres to achieve these goals and ideals.
Huntington further indicates that as individuals identify themselves based on ethnic or religious factors, they tend to sharply perceive a division between “us” and “them” cutting across diverse ethnic or religious backgrounds.
Variances in culture and religion contribute to disagreements on policy matters, spanning from human rights and immigration to trade, commerce, and environmental concerns. Palestinian nationalism, Islamism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism are the primary pillars of Hamas culture. However, the overarching Zionist ideology of Israel is opposed to and at odds with one another. Indeed, Huntington highlighted that Western concept such as individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, and the separation of church and state form a fundamental part of Western societies. However, these ideas might not hold the same significance or relevance in other civilizations like Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist, Orthodox etc. cultures. The divergence lies in differing value systems and beliefs across cultures, where these Western ideals may not align with or carry the same weight in non-Western societies. In that regard, the following question comes up: Hypothetically , if a state identical to the Middle Eastern culture and religion, aligned with Hamas vision, were to be established in the “Holy Lands” in 1948 rather than Israel, could it still had been engaged in significant conflicts like the ones that occurred in 1948–1949, 1967, 1973, and now? Would the ensuing conflicts have occurred again? Hence, it can be inferred that Huntington’s assertion about differences in culture and religion leading to disputes in policy matters might seem to hold.
In conclusion, the underlying reasons for the Israel-Hamas war are not solely ideological or economic, but entail religious and cultural differences. These two civilizations’ conflict due to the differences arising from the fact that Israel is Western-oriented and thus has a culture that adopts and blends Western values in the Middle East region, while Hamas is on the non-western side residing within a certain brand of Islamic civilization that has adopted eastern values. Due to the clash of religion and culture, one might argue the Middle East region is now witnessing scenes that smack of clash of civilizations. In conclusion, taking my cue from Huntington’s thesis,
“The central axis of world politics in the future is likely to be, in Kishore Mahbubani’s phrase, the conflict between “the West and the Rest” and the responses of non-Western civilizations to Western power and values”.
Eisenstadt, S. N. (1992). Jewish civilization: The Jewish historical experience in a comparative perspective.
Huntington, S. P. (2020). The clash of civilizations?. In The New
Social Theory Reader (pp. 305-313). Routledge.
Kris Hirst (2020). Islamic Civilization: Timeline and Definition. ThoughtCo.