Fox News and the ‘Clash of Civilizations’

Samuel L. Huntington

Samuel P. Huntington

Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington died in December of 2008, but his legacy – unfortunately – lives on with his book, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” an altogether distorted look at (among other things) relations between Islam and the West. The 9/11 attacks seemed to support Huntington’s thesis that a confrontation was inevitable, but as Barack Obama jets off to the G-20 summit and then to Turkey, America’s 44th president is doing his best to contravene Huntington’s thesis.

The most recent evidence – the announcement that the phrase “war on terror” has been excised from Washington’s lexicon – comes on top of Obama’s interview with Al-Arabiya televison (his first one as president), when he refuted George W. Bush’s clash-of-civilizations paradigm. “My job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world,” Obama said, before adding, “that the language we use has to be a language of respect.”

Gone is Bush’s rhetoric of “you’re either with us or against us,” and Bush’s parroting of Huntington’s words, when the 43rd president said about America’s post-9/11 response, “This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.”

The phrase “clash of civilizations” was a catchy marketing term designed to boost sales of Huntington’s book – which it did. The term is still used by pundits and journalists who want to make a quick (distorted) point, as when Fox News’ Greg Burke wrote this lead to describe Muslim population growths in Europe: “A clash of civilizations may be taking place on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it’s also happening a lot more quietly in European cities.”

It’s no coincidence that Burke’s report was published in the days before Obama’s European sojourn, before Obama goes to Ankara to make a major address that says Islam and the West can coincide in peace. Were he alive, Huntington would be in high demand as a TV commentator, for which he’d be asked about Obama’s foray into the Muslim world. Huntington wrote about Obama in his 1996 bestseller – not by name but by extension. Here are Huntington’s words:

Some Americans have promoted multiculturalism at home….Multiculturalism at home threatens the United States and the West….A multicultural America is impossible because a non-Western America is not American.”

The sentences confirm the impression that Huntington’s worries were irrational. Obama is an apotheosis of multicultural America, and his rejection of Huntington’s fear-mongering is a milestone as noteworthy as any other in his so-far-brief presidency.

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