BEIRUT: In a few months span, British citizens voted to exit the European Union and American voters elected Donald Trump to the White House. Both events took the world by surprise, rattling financial markets and casting doubts over the modern world's new political order.
The European Union, as a post-World War II entity, was conceived as a purely economic union with one goal in mind: to cement peace based on the notion that economically interdependent countries are more likely to avoid conflict. With time, the Union evolved into something more. It came to represent the dream of a political, social and economic order that transcends narrow national interests; the dream of a world with open borders where people of different cultural backgrounds share a collective future.
In this context, the vote for Britain to leave the EU could be interpreted as more than a mere reaction to 'failed' economic policies or a vote to reinstate the UK's national sovereignty and protest the Union's "over-regulations." It is an indication that people are gradually losing faith in the values that this pan-European identity embodies. It is a vote in favor of redrawing cultural lines or what Samuel P. Huntington called the Clash of Civilizations in an article published by Foreign Policy in 1993.
The election of Trump, just like the Brexit vote, could be interpreted along the same lines. The controversial businessman's historic win might indicate the beginning of a new era in world politics in the context of what Huntington argues in his article.
A new world where the fundamental source of conflict will not be primarily ideological or economic as witnessed in the cold war era between capitalism and communism but rather cultural, Huntington says.
The new world, Huntington adds, would witness a clash of civilizations—civilizations defined as being the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity.
"A civilization is a cultural entity. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious groups, all have distinct cultures at different levels of cultural heterogeneity," he explains. Based on Huntington's theory, it is no surprise that Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric has won the hearts of middle class white American voters.
Ironically enough, news of a Trump win coincided with a statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenging the EU to halt membership talks with Ankara. His comments came as the EU prepared to publish a report on Turkey to assess its standing as an EU candidate country amid mounting criticism of Ankara's clampdown on media freedoms. In his article written 23 years ago, Huntington cited Turkey as an example of a country with a fair degree of cultural homogeneity but one whose society is divided over whether it belongs to one civilization or another.
"The late twentieth-century leaders of Turkey have followed in the Ataturk tradition and defined Turkey as a modern, secular, Western nation state. They allied Turkey with the West in NATO and in the Gulf War; they applied for membership in the European Community. At the same time, however, elements in Turkish society have supported an Islamic revival," Huntington says.
These cultural divisions, Huntington concludes, will prevent Turkey from joining the EU. "Turkey will not become a member of the European Community, and the real reason, as President Ozal said, 'is that we are Muslim and they are Christian and they don't say that,'" Huntington explains in his article.
In France, where the Islamic State has struck with disastrous consequences on several occasions, and where North African immigration continues to generate increased hostility among French people, the "battle over culture and identity" will be essential in determining the outcome of the upcoming presidential election, said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
If Huntington's theory is anything to go by, it would be foolish to downplay the odds of a National Front Party leader Marine Le Pen win.
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