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Islam wants democracy, liberal ethos

Cultural differences are replacing factors like politics, economics and social modernisation as the most important condition for escalation of conflicts, writes Radhieka Mittal.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2006 01:26 IST

Huntington’s paradigm of clash seems convincing, grand and visionary. The study got widespread acclaim and recognition from public, politicians and the government alike. However in the period that followed many empirical studies were conducted to test Huntington’s premises. A large number of qualitative and quantitative academic studies have found that the Harvard professor’s hypotheses do not measure up to the objective reality of the world. Some of the studies are given below with the hypotheses they set out to test.
Hypothesis: Huntington’s divide is between “west and the rest”, particularly between Islam and the West.

Jonathan Fox in his study proves that after the cold war only a small number of ethnic conflicts (6.7%) were between Islamic and the Western civilisations. The study named ‘Islam and the West’ using data on ethnic conflict for 1945 –89 also shows that 33.7% of the civilisational conflicts involved the West Andrej Tusicisny ‘s study published in the Journal of Peace Research in 2004 uses conflict years as a basis of analysis. He uses the statistics from the Uppsala Conflict Data Project to disprove Huntington’s claim. The study shows that the strife between Islam and West remains marginal (only 3.5%of all conflict years.)

Another study by Philip Roeder appearing in the Comparative Political Studies uses ethno- political conflicts in the period of 20 years starting 1980. It claims that conflicts among Islamic, Eastern-Orthodox, and Western civilisations will be of mediocre intensity, like “war of words,” peaceful demonstrations, or even sporadic acts of violence but are unlikely to escalate to the highest levels of violence. Moreover, the borders of Islam were not entirely bloody and the West was not engaged in a struggle against the rest.

Hypothesis: Strongest distinguishing characteristic of Western culture from the Muslim and Orthodox worlds is the values associated with representative democracy.

The results of the working paper “Islam & the West” by Norris and Inglehart. show that contrary to Huntington’s thesis, support for democracy was marginally stronger (not weaker) in Islamic societies compared to the West. The study uses data from the World Value Survey (WVS) to disprove Huntington’s argument. The WVS allows comparison of democratic values across a wide range of Western, Muslim and other nations. Attitudes were compared by the researchers towards three dimensions of political and social values including support for democratic ideals and performance.

Hypothesis: Conflict is more likely between, rather than within, civilisations.
A study of the period 1950-92,“Clash of Civilizations?” says that militarised disputes were not significantly more common among states divided by civilisational boundaries In fact states in four out of the eight civilisations identified by Huntington fought more among themselves than with states in other civilisations. Jonathan Fox, in his study found that both during and after the cold war about 62% of the ethnic conflicts were intra-civilisational.

Giacomo Chiozza’s study of international conflicts during 1946-97 shows that inter-civilisational conflicts are less likely even in the post cold war when civilisation conflict dynamics are more prominent.

Hypothesis: Cold war suppressed civilisational conflicts and these will increase in the post cold war period.

Andrej Tusicisny‘s “Civilizational Conflicts” observes that during the cold war a clash of civilisations appears in 43.9% of the conflict years while this goes down to 33.1 % in the post cold war period. In the study named “Clear and Present Strangers” Henderson and Tucker study the incidence of inter-civilisational war in three periods-pre cold war, cold war and post cold war. The statistical analysis reveals that the cold war did not suppress inter-civilisation conflicts. In fact the study “Clash of Civilization?” on the basis of figures from the Correlates of War (COW), states that the opposite is true -the cold war did not suppress but exacerbated regional conflicts.

Hypothesis: Cultural differences are replacing factors like politics, economics and social modernisation as the most important condition for escalation of conflicts.

The results of Roeder’s study “ Clash of Civilization and Escalation of Domestic Ethnopolitical Conflicts” show that civilisational differences are no more important than ethno-linguist in increasing conflicts. The empirical analysis of the ethno- political conflicts during the 1980’s and 1990’s shows that government policy plays a significant role in aggravating civilisation conflicts. The study by Russet, Oneal and Cox (2000) also affirms this. Statistical analysis of the COW data shows that civilisational differences and similarities are not a major indirect influence on militarised conflict.

Chiozza states that civilisation factor is not sufficient to generate conditions under which differences in religion, ethnic and cultural heritage can lead to a greater risk of conflict He investigates 400,000 observations between 1946 and 1997 in his study.

All the studies listed above do not deny the fact that cultural factors do play a role in world politics, however not one as central as suggested by Samuel P Huntington. These studies find that traditional realist influences as contiguity, alliances, and relative power, and liberal influences of joint democracy and interdependence, provide a much better account of interstate conflict.