Clash of Civilizations in China?

China's Xinjiang Province where Muslim Uighurs live

Time to re-read Huntington?  His controversial and path-breaking Foreign Affairs article of 1993 and subsequent book posited that the post-Cold War era would be one of conflict and “fault line wars” among the world’s major civilizations:  Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, and Latin American and possibly African…

Is the current unrest in China’s western Xinjiang Province that my colleague David Kampf highlighted in a recent post one of the fault line wars at Islam’s edge?  In its western colonial expansion, China conquered this province in 1759 and incorporated it by the end of the 19th century.  Today, a New York Times article reported that Beijing has banned political gatherings that occur in mosques in the major city, Urumqi.  The province lies in Central Asia, which is a border region between the Confucian, Orthodox, Islamic and Hindu civilizations.  (Look at the map above.)  Countries with sizable Muslim populations, including Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, either border Xinjiang or are close by, as are Russia and Mongolia.  

Of the conflicts in the world today, many of them smack of Huntington’s civilizational conflicts, others do not, and still others involve such cultural elements in some ways.  Orthodox Russia’s disciplining of Orthodox Georgia may not appear to involve a clash of civilizations, but Bush’s Western civilization was perceived as trying to add Georgia and the Ukraine to its team.  Likewise, Abkhazia, with its Muslim Abkhaz minority, was used as a pawn by Russia to cut Georgia down to size.  The conflicts in the Middle East seem civilizational (especially between Israel and the Arabs), though some, e.g. between Sunnis and Shia and Sunnis and Kurds, look to be intra-civilizational.  The conflict in the Sudan looks to be a civilizational one between Islam and sub-Saharan Africa.  President Obama was in Russia trying to smooth over the civilizational conflict between the West and Orthodox Russia, in an effort to join forces in another civilizational conflict, the one to prevent Muslim Iran from getting the bomb, technology it received from its civilizational brethren in Pakistan (A.Q. Khan) and from the non-civilizational ideological relic of the Cold War, North Korea.  Even in Iran, which is experiencing civil strife, there is a civilizational element — a conflict between reformists who want to cooperate with other civilizations and hard-liners who want to lead Islamic civilization in a confrontation with the West.

Theories always simplify our complex world, but Huntington’s is compelling nonetheless…

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