The Arab Spring between the End of History and the Clash of Civilization

[This is the second in a series of my notes on the 2013 International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Islamic Reform Movements After the Arab Spring held in Herndon, VA. These notes have only been lightly edited and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. The official proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time.]

The Arab Spring between the End of History and the Clash of Civilization

Prof. Seifudein Adem, Binghamton University

I will compare the ideas of Francis Fukiyama, Samuel Huntington, James Rosenau, Ibn Khaldun, and Ali Mazrui.

I share concern about the use of imprecise concepts in discussing the events in the Middle East. Mazrui’s book Protesting Power introduces a typology of protest: Conservation, restoration (nostalgic seeking of a destroyed past), transformation (disaffection with the existing system), corrective measure (reform of the existing system). We can talk about both protest from below and protest from above.

The “end of history,” inspired by the fall of communism, was popularized by Fukiyama and saw the victory of liberalism foretold by Kant. Critiques changed after 9/11 and again after the Iraq War. An empirical challenge was that it is illiberal democracy, or electoral authoritarianism that was spreading. After 9/11 it was objected there was no movement towards convergence and there was a reciprocal vulnerability” and the center was vulnerable to the periphery, in this case, non-state actors none of whom aspired to Westphalian nation-statehood.

The Iraq War was seen as the last nail in the claim. Fukiyama responded that the vast majority of the great powers “stable prosperous liberal democracies.” Such arguments, including the claim that democracies do not engage in war against one another, were weak arguments. It is easy to draw analogies between democratic peace and theocratic peace.

Huntington’s claim that self-awareness of civilizations must lead to clashes is not logical. Why did Sunni Iraq invade Sunni Kuwait? He himself contradicts it in anticipating a Confucian-Islamic alliance. In any case the major source of arms to the Middle East is the West, not Asia. Before 9/11 this was neglected by mainstream academic discourse. After 9/11 there was a paradigm shift and the rise of the neoconservative administration of GW Bus. The distorting simplicity of us-vs-them and of superior vs inferior civilization made it popular.

Does the Arab Spring vindicate Fukiyama or Huntington or both? The Arab Spring looks like the end of history because “liberty” appears to be the discourse. But Arab Spring is not really for anything, but only against authoritarianism. It is a vindication of James Rosenau’s “skills revolution.” Ibn Khaldun also may be relevant.

In my view history has not ended nor are we in a clash of civilizations. There are three schools of thought on the future of the nation state: that it is in decline, that not much has changed, or that the nation state has been consolidated. There is evidence for each of these positions and I am not prepared to take sides. The end of history idea was very short-lived, but the clash of civilizations has become the main paradigm in the circle of policymakers.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute







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