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on 17 September 2017
great bookgood
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The Cold War ended about a quarter of a century ago. Its end ushered in a great hope for the future of humanity, a future that many had hoped would be free from wars and other devastating conflicts. The liberal Western democracy seemed to be marching triumphant, and with an exception of a few holdouts (China being the biggest and most important one) its future, and the future of the world order based on its principles, seemed assured. In the memorable phrase of Francis Fukuyama, history was over. However, various ethnic conflicts in Europe in the 1990s (primarily in former Yugoslavia) and the impact of Islamic terrorism at the beginning of the 21st century, disabused many of these sanguine notions about humanity’s future.

“The Clash of Civilizations” opened my eyes to the whole different way of looking at the World and the main geopolitical forces that shape it. Or rather, it focused my attention on the main groupings of the global powers and the way that these groupings influenced international relations. This whole approach has a lot of intuitive power, and it really manages to capture a lot of international tensions and conflicts that we have been seeing over the past couple of decades. In a way, there is nothing surprising about this. The clash of civilization has always been the main driving force behind the fundamental historical developments, and the Cold War was just (in Huntington’s view) an interlude that may prove to be an aberration in the long march of history.

I was completely new to the whole field of civilization studies and this book provided me with a lot of new material to think about. Huntington is very clear that what often passes for “universal” human values are in fact an invention of the Western civilization. Those values have only marginally been able to penetrate other civilizations, and Huntington comes across as fairly ambivalent about the whole prospect of westernizing the entire world. He is sympathetic, at least in principle, to the idea that it’s possible to have modernization without Westernization. There have been a few examples of civilizations that had managed to modernize, oftentimes at a breakneck speed, without implementing a full-scale westernization of their societies. However, most of those civilizations had also reached eventual roadblocks, and to this day I don’t know of any civilization that has been able to outperform the West in terms of long-term development.

One of the most controversial aspects of Huntington’s book has been his very critical look at the Islamic world. Unfortunately, his dire predictions about the clash(es) with the Islamic civilization have proved more than prescient, as the beginning of the twentieth century has clearly demonstrated.

Even though this book makes a very persuasive case for the general outline of the future global geopolitical groupings and tensions, I have been far less impressed with the exact prediction of how these wars start, evolve, and resolve themselves. For many of these assertions and predictions Huntington uses the war in Bosnia as the exhibit A. Huntington overemphasizes the role that Muslim nationalism and ideology played in fomenting that conflict, and presents the roots of the hostilities (much as did most of the Western media at the time) as “bottom up” and grounded in “centuries of hatred.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. I was born and raised in Bosnia, and my family and I have been “displaced” by that conflict. Huntington’s account of what happened there does not ring true in the least. Yes, there have been animosities and tensions between different religious/ethnic groups that span generations, some of which I’ve experienced firsthand, but that in and of itself was not nearly at the level that would lead to the bloodiest and most inhumane war in Europe since the end of World War II.

Another aspect in which I feel the book falls short is in its appreciation of the way that ideology will drive future conflicts. It could be argued that the conflicts that have been subsumed under the collective label “Arab Spring” (especially the ones in Egypt and Syria) have more to do with the various ideological currents (secularism vs. Islamism for instance) than with a clash of civilizations as such. Furthermore, within the West itself we are increasingly witnessing cultural splits that are profound and wide-ranging enough that we might indeed be witnessing a bona fide civilizational fissuring. Consequently, the scope and nature of the “culture wars” might progress far enough that they themselves become a major source of inter-civilizational tensions.

This is a truly remarkable book that is still relevant almost two decades after it has been first published. It is written in a very lucid and engaging style, and it was a pleasure to read. Any serious student of international relations, whether you agree with Huntington’s insights or not, ought to read this book.
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on 27 June 2017
The book was written in the end of the nineties, but it still very relevant, a lot of predictions came true, a lot of what the author was pointing out became a point of contention now. The book is indeed very actual, and his perception on Islam was absolutely correct but not much talked about. This book is essential to anyone who has any interest in talking about geopolitics. brilliant book.
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on 16 August 2017
An excellent and well known academic book. Not an easy read however. Take it in small chunks is my advice.
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on 14 June 2017
Very small print, will try to get a hard-back from the local library
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on 24 May 2017
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on 8 May 2015
Everything as expected, Excellent choice, great purchase.
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on 26 July 2005
The analysis, published 1993 by Huntington, has refocused attention after the 9/11 Islamic terrorist attacks - and there seems to be no end: Madrid (3/11/04), bombings in Istanbul (11/20/03) and now in London (7/7/05) or the ritual assassination of Dutch filmmaker and writer Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam (11/2/04). And therefore there is no end of tv-discussions how to react. The foreign policy aide to the US State Department speaks of so-called "fault-line-wars", which exist between the cultures (religions) and will give endlessly smoldering. As examples the hunter Huntington specifies among other things the Gulf War and Afghanistan. The hotspots today are on the fault lines between the religions in Chechnya, the Middle East, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Bosnia. In Yugoslavia the Serbs where supported by Russian diplomatics while Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Libya provided arms to the Bosnians. Yugoslavia is an example of what happens to a country where religious factors become the means for identifying oneself. And it could develope worse: Koran-Sura 9, verse 5: "Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them. And seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them, in every stratagem [of war]." Islam teaches that Muslims must not befriend Jews and Christians. Surat Al-Maidah 5:51 says, "O ye who believe, take not the Jews or the Christians for your friends and protectors. They are but friends and protectors to each other." In the chapter about how to stop those "break-line-wars" Huntington writes: "The force along cultural break lines may stop for a while completely, but it rarely ends really." "These problems become still more complicated, if the cultures involved do not have a core state." Hierarchy-creditor finishing sentence of this important chapter: "A break line war cooks from down highly, a break line peace seeps from above down". We hope, Huntington will know with security, who at the end is "above". Another unsentimental, very tough-minded Huntington analysis: "The conflict can disappear fast and brutally, as a group extinguishes the other one." The fact that cultural difference could brought to coexistence, into an equilibrium, supported by a progressive deliberated secularization of all denominations (accompanied by a sober transformation of all too denomination-linked educating systems) - such trains of thought we unfortunately miss in this provoking sermon, mainly dominated by a military perspective...
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on 21 March 2014
Samuel P Huntington's dark classic “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”, first published in 1996, comes with positive blurbs from Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, hardly lightweights on the darker side of things. The 2003 edition spouts a cover showing a Muslim flag alongside the star spangled banner, to boost sales, no doubt. Huntington's work is controversial, both among the official optimists á la Fukuyama, Clinton and Dubya who believe that America-with-a-capital-A will spread “liberal democracy” and “free market” economy all around the world, and those who prefer a dialogue between civilizations to a clash (or support one of the non-Western civilizations).

However, Huntington's work is actually *less* bellicose than I expected. Somewhat surprisingly, the author calls for a multi-polar world! Of course, it's a multi-polar world of a more “realist” kind than the harmonious co-existence most of us would have preferred. In Huntington's version, “fault line wars” between countries of different civilizations are never far away, and in a worst case scenario they may even lead to a new world war. The solution is a new balance of power between “core states” (the regional great powers of each civilization), the most important of which are the United States, Russia, China, India and Japan. The “core states” are also responsible for policing the rogues and rednecks of their respective civilizations, to make sure that “fault line wars” are kept to a minimum. Thus, the Russians should police the Serbs, India should police the Tamils, and (I suppose) the West should cool down the Croats or the Ukrainians. (Are we?) While this may sound like a constructive proposal, Huntington believes that the scheme will work only if Western civilization becomes less multi-culturalist and more centralized around the United States, the core state par excellence. Otherwise, the West will be eaten by its competitors. While talking about Western “democracy”, “individualism” and even “pluralism”, Huntington presumably wants less of each, i.e. a return to the good ol' days of the Cold War at its coldest. Huntington also sees Latin America as an appendage to Western civilization, which is – of course – ridiculous, until you realize that it's probably code for Latin America remaining within the U.S. sphere of influence (i.e. on its “back yard”).

One reason why Huntington considers Islam threatening, is that the Muslim world lacks a stabilizing core state, making it potentially more chaotic and dangerous than, say, Orthodox civilization (which is dominated by the stern hand of Mother Russia). The author discusses four possible claimants to the throne of a Muslim core state: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and Turkey. He reaches the interesting conclusion that Turkey is the most serious contender for the role. Saudi Arabia, while economically strong, is militarily weak and too dependent on U.S. support for its national security. Egypt has an enormous population and the necessary religious clout (the Al-Azhar University, the closest thing the Sunni Muslim world has to a “general synod”, is situated in Cairo), but it's too dependent on both U.S. and Saudi economic aid. Iran is Shia Muslim, and hence a problematic choice of core state for the dominant Sunni Muslims. Thus, from the viewpoint of Realpolitik, the United States should presumably attempt to promote Turkey to a role similar to that of China, India, Russia or the U.S. itself. It's interesting to note that Huntington mentions Jewish civilization only in a footnote, and discusses the Israel-Palestine conflict mostly in passing…

Otherwise, Huntington's book is marred by an annoying Islamophobia (I don't usually use that term, but here is feels apt – see further below). In a section on “Islam's bloody borders”, the author claims that since 1928, the United States resorted to violence in only 17,9% of its conflicts, while Muslim states employed violence in 76,9% of the cases. This is, of course, pure poppycock. I wonder whether the Vietnam War and the Korean War are included in the 17,9% figure? Weren't those wars more important than, say, the Sand War between Algeria and Morocco in October 1963 or the Libyan-Egyptian War in July 1977? I also wonder whether the high Muslim percentage includes the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Armed Forces, the Somali invasion of Ethiopia or the Iraqi invasion of Iran, which were all aided and abetted by the United States? This brings me to my next point: as a superpower during the Cold War, the United States *didn't need* to respond by violence in most cases *since it had vassals who did it for them*. As an old Cold Warrior, Huntington constantly covers up the American tracks before 1989-91. Thus, the Indonesian attack on East Timor becomes a “Muslim” war against “Christians”, when in reality it was an American-supported attack on a leftist government. Huntington also cites a source which blames the war deaths in Bosnia on the Bosniak Muslims!

Huntington's take on the Balkan Wars is particularly galling. The Bosnian Muslims were probably the most secularized Muslims in the world. The remaining multi-ethnic communities in Bosnia supported the Muslim-dominated government in Sarajevo. Their Serb and Croat adversaries were essentially fascist. No multi-ethnic community supported Republika Srpska or Herzeg-Bosna. Despite this, Huntington complains about Bosnian Muslims buying arms from Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and clearly regards U.S. support for Sarajevo as a bizarre, “liberal” mistake. The Bosnian Muslims, after all, aren't part of “our” civilization. Essentially, he supports the Croats and (perhaps) even the Serbs! Here we see Islamophobia at its worst: apparently, not even secularized, Western-oriented Muslims have the right to defend themselves against genocide… To Huntington, Muslim Bosnia is really a new Iran in the middle of Europe! The Balkan Wars also *disprove* Huntington's main thesis about the post-Cold War reality being a clash of civilizations. He tries to cover up the salient fact that the Western powers originally preferred the *Serbs* to both Croats and Muslims, while his theory predicts the opposite (at least in the Croat case). (That the Western powers originally abetted the Serbs might sound counter-intuitive, but it's nevertheless true. However, a detailed discussion about this lay outside the scope of this review.)

Events after the book was published hasn't been very kind to Huntington's main thesis either. While a “clash of civilization” undoubtedly does exist, it's often trumped by fissiparous nationalism or purely Machiavellian considerations. Huntington himself mentions a number of anomalies: Orthodox Georgia being anti-Russian, Sinic or Confucian Vietnam being anti-Chinese, and U.S. support for the Bosnian Muslims. A few others relevant in 1996 would have been Catholic Slovakia's support for the Orthodox Serbs rather than the Catholic Croats, or Orthodox Romania and Bulgaria's support for NATO and the EU. Since then, we could mention: American support for Muslim Kosovo, American support for Muslim rebels in Libya and Syria, Iranian support for the secular regime of Syria (which is dominated backstage by a “Shia” sect even Iran considers heretical), Sunni Kurds and Shia Arabs cooperating with Western troops in Iraq against Sunni Arabs, and a closer alliance between the United States and Vietnam against China. There are even a few conflicts were ideology still play a certain role, such as the Latin American “pink tide” versus U.S. interests, and (of course) the Cuban-American stand off. Perhaps North versus South Korea could also be put in this category. Ironically, the more obvious “clashes of civilization” are usually other ones than those predicted by Huntington. He treats the Muslim world as one civilization, but today, it increasingly looks divided into two distinct civilizations: the Sunni and the Shia. A prediction: when the U.S. finally leaves Iraq, Iran will take over most of that Shia-dominated country. The worst gaffe is Huntington's firm belief that the Ukraine will remain a united country! Here, clearly, we are dealing with an almost paradigmatic case where the author's thesis is proven correct: a conflict exactly following the Orthodox-Western divide. Two other predictions: Catholic Europe will enter a period of more intense conflicts with secular/ex-Protestant Europe (creating problems for a Catholic West Ukraine); non-Arab Sunni Muslim states will react against Wahhabi “Arab cultural imperialism” (creating *openings* for the West to ally itself with the non-Arab Muslims).

Of course, it's uncharitable to expect a book written in 1996 to correctly predict every detail, so my main objection is really the one mentioned further above: it seems that the “clash of civilizations” haven't become the main trend, but is rather just one of several different trends, each about as strong as the other. To crack a joke: Huntington has been “mugged by Machiavelli”.

Does this mean that “The Clash of Civilizations” is not worth reading? No, I wouldn't go that far. In fact, the book contains a lot of interesting material which is even more relevant today, in the aftermath of the Arab spring and its spectacular failure, than it was in 1996. Here, Huntington's observations are often prescient. Thus, he points out that fundamentalism and modernism are *related* phenomena in the Muslim world, with fundamentalism being a peculiar form of Muslim “modernization”. Democratization in the Muslim world leads to the strengthening of fundamentalism, just as democratization in other non-Western societies strengthen nationalism, not the pro-Western liberals. Modernization, democratization and Westernizations don't always go hand in hand. Usually, the opposite is the case, as non-Western civilizations feel less dependent on Western cultural models, after having successfully assimilated Western technology (China, Japan and Iran are good examples). There is more than one path to modernization, with the Western path (while desirable from Huntington's perspective) being only one of several possibilities. Changing the culture of a civilization, while possible, is nevertheless extremely difficult: witness the failure of Turkish secularism or Soviet Communism. The author is also right that political ideology (in the narrow Western sense of that term, at least) plays a far less significant role in today's conflicts than during the Cold War, which was cast as a conflict between American capitalism/democracy/liberalism and Soviet or Chinese Communism, itself a Western ideology. Instead, religious and cultural traditions come to the fore. (Of course, this could conceivably change in the future. Apart from the “pink tide”, I note that the main insurgent movement in India is Maoist, not Muslim! It's not small, either.)

“The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” might be immensely problematic in many ways, and it's obviously written by a man whose political affinities I hardly share, but it's nevertheless interesting and well worth reading. OK, kids, don't use this review for your college exams…
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VINE VOICEon 15 April 2007
This book was written as a prophecy about what the author felt would characterise the C21st. Now that we are nearly a decade into the C21st, we have the ability to look back and see if he was right. If yes, then this book was prophetic and its lessons should be learned. If not, then he is wrong, and the book is little more than an airport novel.

On one or two dimensions, Huntingdon has been extraordinarily accurate, predicting that Islamic extremism would become the number one security threat to the West in the C21st. Ominously, he predicted that the West would be driven to attack nations that possessed WMDs in the fear they would pass them on to terrorists. This is the Bush doctrine, written before Bush was even an elected official, never mind President. Equally ominous, he predicted that Islamic radicals would rally to the cause of any Muslim state attacked in such a way, and the influx of foreign insurgents into Iraq confirms this. Interestingly, the author predicts that the Taliban and Al Qaeda would be very prominent in the C21st, yet never actually names the organisations by name (in the case of Al Qaeda because it did not adopt its current name until several years after the book was written).

Huntingdon is slightly inaccurate in his prediction that China would become more bellicose and confrontational. At least so far, China has been warm towards the West, with trade deals and cultural exchanges flourishing. Another weakness of the book is his rather arbitrary definition of societies, and his notion that a "core state" would drive forward its respective civilisation. This is not the case, with supra-national agencies taking the place of "core states".

Overall, the book is highly recommended. However, given its relative age, it would be advisable to buy a more recent book on geopolitics as well, to top up the introduction that this book provides.
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