Chapter 4 – The “clash of civilizations”

This expression was popularized by Samuel Huntington to indicate, shortly after the Cold War, that conflicts would henceforth be played out with Islamists and Confucians.1 Actually, the clash of civilizations was related much more to what had been felt in the past, in the Asian and African worlds.

Only Japan was able to come up with an appropriate response to the danger of white imperialism, which was to learn from the European school. This was helped by its insularity, its national cohesion (all Japanese Catholics, previously evangelized by the Portuguese, perhaps three hundred thousand of them, had been eliminated), and by Emperor Meiji’s ability, with the support of two samurai clans, to impose a revolution from the top on a highly disciplined society.

Elsewhere, the clash was experienced with distress and incomprehension. Why were these foreigners so powerful? Nonetheless, foreign domination not only brought humiliation and exploitation, it also spread, willy-nilly, radically new ideas. This was admirably summarized by a long, relevant text by Maxime Rodinson, who wrote:

“Europe, at the same time that it was digging its iron heel heavily into the peoples of the continent, was also showing something else. It was the oppressor’s much-hated country. But at one time or another, it revealed a model, even several models of liberation. To the elites crushed by despotism and hopeless before it, the West exhibited a model of government in which all subjects could make actions in favor of their interests and aspirations felt institutionally. To all those who had been broken by so many centuries of resignation, it gave the example of a world of perpetual protest. As this face of the Western world unveiled, it was understood that fighting for a better state or society was possible.2

Discovery and adoption of the oppressor’s values happened gradually, which means that several generations can be distinguished within the resistance movements.

  1. Huntington, Samuel P. (1993), “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, summer, pp. 22-49.
  2. Rodinson, Maxime (1972), “Marxisme et tiers-monde”, in Marxisme et monde musulman, Seuil, Paris.