By: Amanda Jarrett

As a human being positions oneself within their immediate community, it becomes more difficult to identify with an individual within another community. One person may associate predominantly with their cultural history while another individual may see religion as the most significant aspect of their identity. There is a difficulty of comprehending the reasons why one may identity one way or another is far too complex to understand in the context of our culturally diverse world. In order to comprehend those outside one’s initial community there must be some level of association that can allow for their own classification, reflecting a human desire to confine the abstract. Huntington establishes a term that encompasses the meaning of a cultural identity, civilization, while examining the inherent strife between competing entities. More specifically, there is a discussion about the tensions between Western civilization and Islamic civilization. Lewis amplifies this discussion by considering the moral foundations between the two civilizations, referencing Westernization, modernization, and secularization. The perspectives that Huntington and Lewis reflect is the nature of the West and its minimization of the actuality of the ‘Orient.’ Their approach of study demonstrates the larger issue of how knowledge is produced about certain civilizations and how those civilizations are represented. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations?” will be used for his discussion of civilizations, clashes along their fault lines, and the conflict between Islam and the West. Lewis’s “The Roots of Muslim Rage” will coincide with Huntington’s argument will dive deeper into the moral foundations of his claims in relation to the confrontation of Islam against the West. In addition to these articles, there will be a critique of their implications through the usage of Said’s “Clash of Ignorance,” his introduction and afterword of “Orientalism,” Naim’s “The Outrage of Bernard Lewis,” and Hirsh’s “Bernard Lewis Revisited.” Through these critiques, there will be an introduction to the concept of Orientalism along with a discussion of its relevance, a conversation about the production of knowledge and who has the power to influence it, and the strategic location of both Huntington and Lewis.

            Within the beginning stages of Huntington’s piece, he mentions that a consequence of the end of the Cold War is a shift from ideological warfare to world that is divided by cultural clashes. These conflicts occur between civilizations, which he defines as “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species” (Huntington, 24). This definition includes the association to objective elements such as history, language, customs, institutions, and religion. The element that one associates with for their categorization into a civilization is the one they most fiercely identify with. Huntington makes a generalization that religion is the highest tier in cultural groupings, which can be observed in most of his names for the seven, or eight, separate civilizations: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and perhaps African (Huntington, 25). He then continues by highlighting the fault lines between these civilizations. Along these lines, there is a clash between one civilizations ideals, customs, and moral values and a different civilization. This conflict is inherent due to the acceptance of an assumption of values by the other and therefore perpetuates the narrative of an inability to compromise.

Both Huntington and Lewis place an important focus on the specific clash between the West and Islam. One of the early example of the West attempting to bridge the moral gap between them and Islam was with the Crusaders, bringing Christianity and Western modernization with them. Though, in the centuries following this endeavor, the Ottoman Turks managed to push back against the West. Lewis demonstrates and elaborates on this tension by explaining why there is a push back from the Islamic civilization on the West. He states that there was an effort to reform Islamic institutions to ones that reflected the West, due to their admiration of Western success. It was only after the Islamic world failed to adapt Western institutions that their “mood of admiration and emulation has […] given way to one of hostility and rejection” (Lewis, 59). The Islamic civilization began to feel humiliation and a level of severity to their inferiority, declaring secularism and modernism enemies of Islamic fundamentalists.[1] Lewis implies that Islam is unable to evolve in its ability to interact with secular liberalism due to its fundamental moral foundations and values, therefore can never properly modernize. One cannot reach Western morality without reaching a certain level of development. Lewis furthers his argument for the tension between Islam and the West by explaining Islamic hatred for Americans. “America was the ultimate example of civilization without culture: […] materially advanced but soulless and artificial; […] technologically complex but lacking the spirituality and the vitality of the rooted, human, national cultures of the Germans and other ‘authentic’ peoples” (Lewis, 52). There is a sense that Americans have lost touch with their moral foundations since they seem to value material development more than spiritual growth. Lewis also implies that the Islamic world detests Americans because they no longer have a culture due to the secularization of their government—the separation between church and state—which is the very concept they declared as an enemy of Islam. In consideration of the arguments brought forth by both Huntington and Lewis, there needs to be an evaluation of the implications of their essentialization of Islam, the production of knowledge from the West, and the positioning of the authors.

Said’s concept of Orientalism addresses the essentialism of the Islamic civilization by the Western narrative and how its perpetuation reinforces the power relation between the ‘Occident’ and the ‘Orient,’ the West and the rest.[2] Said describes Orientalism as a way of acknowledging how the West lessens the reality of the ‘Other’ by reducing them to a hegemonic culture.[3] In doing so, the West dwindles the knowledge production of the Orient’s history and renders it insignificant.[4] Both Huntington and Lewis are liable for reproducing stereotypical knowledge of the Islamic civilization in terms of their inability to modernize because of their discontent with secularization. Naim further supports Said’s commentary on the power over knowledge production through this distinctive passage: Lewis places a monolithic, monochromatic Islam against the West, whose “every action […] is contextualized in history, actions on the part of the Muslims are only ‘textualized’ within what he calls ‘the classical Islamic view’” (Naim, 114). Naim is exposing the narrative that Lewis was trying to create, placing limits on the understanding of the Islamic culture in order to display the West in a more favored light. In addition to Naim criticism, Hirsh quotes Lewis when he stated that the Islamic civilization is centuries behind the West, though “‘that doesn’t mean [the West] is more advanced, it means that it’s gone through more’” (Hirsh, 18). By making this statement, Lewis rejects Arab historical identity, taking away their experiential reality. Hirsh did not hesitate to point out that this narrative produced by Lewis circulates within the West. In acknowledgement of the essentialism of Islam and the dominant narrative the West is producing through the control of knowledge production, the strategic location of Huntington and Lewis are important for understanding their power of positioning.

Strategic location references the “author’s position in a text with regard to the Oriental material he writes about” (Said, 20). Huntington’s ignorance for the reality of the Orient is demonstrated through his weak relation to the subject. Lewis showed a more thorough understanding of the culture he was describing but failed to isolate his own bias from his arguments.[5] There was an inability of Huntington and Lewis to not only understand their own biases, which were based on their positioning in the West, but also the restraint of their own knowledge due to the limitation of their experiences with the ‘Orient.’ Lastly, Huntington’s attempt to place a limit on the boundaries of cultural entities neglects to recognize the cross-fertilization of cultures through “wars of religion and imperial conquest” (Said, “The Clash of Ignorance”).

In summary, Huntington and Lewis attempted to define the ‘Other’ in relation to their Western selves by inherently positioning themselves as superior to the ‘Orient.’[6] Their arguments for the cultural clash between Islam and the West is based off of their Western perspectives and productions of knowledge, which lead to the essentialization of the Islamic civilization. Said’s concept of Orientalism helped deepen the critique of Huntington and Lewis. Though through their attempt and desire to reduce culture to a simple binary system they ended up exposing the plurality and internal dynamics of every civilization.


“Afterword.” Orientalism, by Edward W. Said, Vintage Books, 1979, pp. 329–352.

Hirsh, Michael. “Bernard Lewis Revisited.” The Washington Monthly, vol. 36, no. 11,                 2004, pp. 13–19.

Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, vol. 72, no. 3,                                 1993, pp. 22–49.

“Introduction.” Orientalism, by Edward W. Said, Vintage Books, 1979, pp. 1–27.

Lewis, Bernard. “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” Atlantic, 1 Sept. 1990, pp. 47–60.

Naim, C. M. “The Outrage of Bernard Lewis.” Social Text, no. 30, 1992, pp. 114–120. Said, Edward W. “The Clash of Ignoranc

[1] “The war against secularism is conscious and explicit, and there is by now a whole literature denouncing secularism as an evil neo-pagan force in the modern world and attributing it variously to the Jews, the West, and the United States” (Lewis, 59).

[2] “Orientalism depends for its strategy on this flexible positional superiority, which puts the Westerner in a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand” (Said, 7).

[3] “Hegemony, an indispensable concept for any understanding of cultural life in the industrial West” (Said, 7).

[4] “Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (Said, 3).

[5] “Lewis never developed a feel for what modern Arabs were thinking, especially after he began to adopt strong pro-Israel views in the 1970s” (Hirsh, 18).

[6]  “European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self” (Said, 3).