IN 1993, in an article in Foreign Affairs entitled, “The Clash of Civilizations,” Harvard political science professor Samuel P. Huntington, presented the hypothesis that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. Huntington argued that future wars would be fought not between countries, but between cultures, and that Islamic extremism would become the biggest threat to world peace.
Huntington expanded his thesis into a book in 1996, titled The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
In the volume, he argued that while the age of ideology had ended, the world had only reverted to a normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict. In his thesis, he believed the primary axis of conflict in the future will be along cultural lines.
In line with Huntington’s ideas, many concluded that the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States was proof that Huntington’s thesis was coming to pass. They saw a clash between the Muslim world and the Christian world.
The Muslim civil war
Not surprisingly, Huntington’s thesis has been challenged.
In his book, Longitudes and Attitudes (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2002), Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times contends that the clash today is much different from what Huntington predicted.
He wrote: “The real clash today is actually not between civilizations, but within them, between those Muslims with a modern and progressive outlook and those with a medieval one…
“The civil war within Islam, between the modernist and the medievalists, has actually been going on for years –particularly in Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Pakistan. We need to strengthen the good guys in this civil war. And that requires a social, political, and economic strategy, as sophisticated and generous as our military one.”
Center of Shiite-Sunni war
Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post goes much farther. He adds fuel to the fire with a full commentary on the Muslim civil war.
I quote his comment at length here because he reviews the situation against the imminent defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It is an advanced lesson on the geopolitics of the conflict in the Middle East.
Krauthammer wrote: “The great Muslim civil war, centered in Syria, is approaching its post-Islamic State phase. It’s the end of the beginning. The parties are maneuvering to shape what comes next. Everyone knows that the Islamic State is finished…
“It is being squeezed out of existence. Its hold on Mosul, its last major redoubt in Iraq, is nearly gone. Raqqa, its stronghold in Syria and de facto capital, is next. When it falls—it is already surrounded on three sides—the caliphate dies.
“For Iran, Syria is the key, the central theater of a Shiite-Sunni war for regional hegemony. Iran (which is non-Arab) leads the Shiite side, attended by its Arab auxiliaries—Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shiite militias in Iraq and the highly penetrated government of Iraq, and Assad’s Alawite regime. (Alawites, being a non-Sunni sect, is often associated with Shiism.)
“Taken together, they comprise a vast arc—the Shiite Crescent— stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean. If consolidated, it gives the Persians a Mediterranean reach they have not had in 2,300 years.
“This alliance operates under the patronage and protection of Russia, which supplies the Iranian-allied side with cash, weapons and, since 2015, air cover from its new bases in Syria.
“Arrayed on the other side of the great Muslim civil war are the Sunnis, moderate and Western-allied, led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan—with their Great Power patron, the United States, now (post-Obama) back in action.
“At stake is consolidation of the Shiite Crescent. It’s already underway. As the Islamic State is driven out of Mosul, Iranian-controlled militias are taking over crucial roads and other strategic assets in western Iraq. Next target: eastern Syria (Raqqa and environs) …
Our preferred outcome is radically different: a loosely federated Syria, partitioned and cantonized, in which Assad might be left in charge of an Alawite rump.
“The Iranian-Russian strategy is a nightmare for the entire Sunni Middle East. And for us too. The Pentagon seems bent on preventing it. Hence, the Tomahawk attack for crossing the chemical red line. Hence, the recent fighter-bomber shoot-down.”
Stakes for Southeast Asia
The Muslim civil war does not involve the Muslim countries of Southeast Asia. Homegrown jihadists, however, go to the Middle East to study how to become more effective terrorists.
As a third document for study regarding the relevance of events in the Middle East to the Philippines and Southeast Asia, I recommend to readers a study paper prepared by Joseph Franco, an associate research fellow at the Centre of Excellence of National Security (CENS), a unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. Interestingly, Franco is Filipino. He used to work as a researcher and analyst for the top leadership of the Philippine Armed Forces. He sounds as though he would be more useful here at home.
The following passage from his paper should be of special interest to Filipino policymakers:
“Increased IS influence may inadvertently be overlooked by security services who are waiting for the formal declaration of a wilayah in Mindanao. The failure to appreciate available intelligence has brought about the current violence in Marawi. Rather than an outright threat reduction, the fall of Mosul and Raqqa may only herald a new phase of jihadist violence in Southeast Asia.”
Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines would do well to remember that they are functioning and thriving democracies in their region, whereas most of the Middle East are autocracies or failing states.
Scholars like Fareed Zakaria believe that the problem of Muslim fundamentalism and terrorism is not religion. “The real problem does not lie in the Muslim world, but in the Middle East.” The Arab world is only a small part of the world of Islam. Many of the dysfunctions are located in the region.
It is significant that in every country involved in the Muslim civil war, there are tens of thousands of Filipino OFWs. Philippine management of migrant labor must start to consider the deadly perils of the civil war. It is mindless for the government to just perpetually look at the rubble and wait for news on whether Filipinos have fallen victim to conflict.