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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fouad Ajami Remembers Samuel Huntington, Dead at Age 81

I had plenty of things say regarding Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations - a book I brought promptly as soon as I came across it and read it cover to cover (unlike few other books I buy or borrow). Suffice it say much of his thesis regarding the clash between Christian west and Islamic lands has borne out.

Unfortunately Sri Huntington didn't know much about India, so he had little to say about the clash that was already underway between Islamists, and their apologist pseudo-secularists, and the reviving Hinduism nationalism, even if in fits and starts. At best he could come up with an interaction of civilizational clash in the lands of subcontinent. But Islamists and jihadists take him seriously because they know exactly what they are trying to revive - the pre-ideological battles that were routine in the world before Marxism, Communism, and Capitalism came along. And they know Islam (along with Christianity) was at the forefront of all those battles. It's unfinished business for the jihadists.

And the people, such as Amartya Sen, who deride Sri Huntington ignore the Islamic jihadists and are blinded by their own superiority of intellect, despite ample proof - the latest being Mumbai Islamic terror massacres. But the Islamic terror and jihad will not go away by intellectual arguments. The secularists will surely succumb, as they are wont to, as evident in Europe. Will other civilizations fight back?

Here is one thinker of Islamic lands and people who crossed over to Sri Huntington's side after being the first to stand against him. Fouad Ajami's obituary of Sri Huntington.

In an article first published in Foreign Affairs in 1993 (then expanded into a book), Huntington foresaw the shape of the post-Cold War world. The war of ideologies would yield to a civilizational struggle of soil and blood. It would be the West versus the eight civilizations dividing the rest -- Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist and Japanese.

In this civilizational struggle, Islam would emerge as the principal challenge to the West. "The relations between Islam and Christianity, both orthodox and Western, have often been stormy. Each has been the other's Other. The 20th-century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist-Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and Christianity."

If I may be permitted a personal narrative: In 1993, I had written the lead critique in Foreign Affairs of his thesis. I admired his work but was unconvinced. My faith was invested in the order of states that the West itself built. The ways of the West had become the ways of the world, I argued, and the modernist consensus would hold in key Third-World countries like Egypt, India and Turkey. Fifteen years later, I was given a chance in the pages of The New York Times Book Review to acknowledge that I had erred and that Huntington had been correct all along...

He had been a source of great wisdom, an exemplar, and it had been an honor to write of him, and to know him in the regrettably small way I did.

We don't have his likes in the academy today. Political science, the field he devoted his working life to, has been in the main commandeered by a new generation. They are "rational choice" people who work with models and numbers and write arid, impenetrable jargon.

More importantly, nowadays in the academy and beyond, the patriotism that marked Samuel Huntington's life and work is derided, and the American Creed he upheld is thought to be the ideology of rubes and simpletons, the affliction of people clinging to old ways. The Davos men have perhaps won. No wonder the sorrow and the concern that ran through the work of Huntington's final years.