In 1993, Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued that the wars of nation-states and ideologies, the wars of the 20th century, would be replaced by wars of culture. It will be a “clash of civilizations”.1 Whether we agree with him or not, some of the events of 2001 and so far in 2002
lend some credibility to his argument. Most of the wars of the past and present, however, have not been fought strictly among opposing civilizations. Within each of the major civilizations there are smaller groups united by a common language, history, religion, culture, value system and perception of self. This defines the “ethnic group”. We have certainly seen this intra-civilization fighting over the years and today. The 1990’s witnessed some of the most violent ethnic conflicts of the century, some of which were residual effects of the colonial and imperial systems of the 19th and early 20th centuries (Israel/Palestinian conflict, East Timor, tribal fighting of Afghan warlords, Zimbabwe). Others were movements of self-determination; secessionist and independence struggles for autonomy and/or statehood (Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Basque). These movements often united a people based on ethnic lines. Although there are exceptions (Nepalese Maoist rebels, Korea, Columbia), ideas such as communism or “Yugoslavism” were no longer what drove people to conflict; ethnicity was now the spark. Has the nature of modern ethnic conflict evolved into the larger ‘clash of civilizations’, uniting the intra-civilizational ethic groups against another united civilization (culture) opposing theirs, as we begin the 21st century? Are Islamic Iran and Iraq ready to put aside the past and unite in the fight again ‘the West’ or against ‘Orthodoxy’? Huntington claims that these great struggles will begin on the fault lines of civilizations.
To understand the civilizational fault lines of this century a student of history must: know the ethnic make up of the last century; comprehend the fundamental differences of those groups; analyze what role identity (ethnic or national) has played in the century’s major wars and what effects those wars have had on conflicts of today.