Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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3.4.1 The clash of civilisations? (i)

For many commentators and politicians, 9/11 typified the new threats presented to states by non-state and sub-state actors in an age where warfare is asymmetrical and where civilians are placed on the front line of conflict. In 1996, well before 9/11, Samuel Huntington (Harvard University) published The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Here he extended an argument he had first presented in 1993 in Foreign Affairs: that wars, previously fought out between states and involving economic or ideological differences, would now be more likely to take place on cultural and religious grounds.

... the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future …. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion.

(Huntington, 1993, p22)

For Huntington, such civilisational differences were particularly prevalent between Muslims and non-Muslims. His argument drew much criticism, particularly from commentators who argued that wars were just as likely to be within civilisations as between them. Critics also observed that the civilisations he identified were not homogenous and should not be considered unitary actors.

Many politicians and commentators saw 9/11 as being a ‘tipping point’ in international politics, if not necessarily a herald of Huntington’s clash of civilisations. At the 2001 Labour Party Conference, held in the shadow of 9/11, Tony Blair made his views plain. He believed that the terrorism attacks in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania had – and would continue to have – a profound impact on contemporary geopolitics.

In retrospect, the millennium marked only a moment in time. It was the events of September 11 that marked a turning point in history, where we confront the dangers of the future and assess the choices facing humankind. It was a tragedy. An act of evil …. This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.

(Blair, 2001)

Blair’s widely shared comments reflected the view that 9/11 heralded the beginning of a different and dangerous world order: terrorist groups backed by rogue states would now present an ongoing threat to the peace of the world and the security of the West. This view was prominent among policy makers who led the ongoing war on terror waged in response to 9/11, particularly in the US and British-led interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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