Will Islam Breed and Bomb Its Way to Global Dominance?
Just three years ago President Obama said that “we are living in the most peaceful era in human history.” But are we? Currently four major wars rage, killing at least 10,000 people per year. Another six have a yearly death toll of at least 1000. There are almost 30 other “low-grade” conflicts that kill hundreds each year. The only continents without some kind of war are Australia and Antarctica.
Competition short of armed conflict is a major aspect of the modern world, too. (Much to the chagrin of globalists.) China operates as a strategic adversary of the US. Russia opposes the US at almost every turn. Iran can’t make up its mind whether to just sponsor terrorist groups, or take the US on directly. India and Pakistan coexist, barely, in a regional Cold War with hundreds of nuclear weapons aimed at one another. Three-quarters of the world’s terrorist groups are Muslim, and three of the major wars listed above are between Muslims factions.
A New Cold War, of Civilizations?
During the Cold War (1945-91) the worries were simpler. But they were potentially a lot more catastrophic: would the US and USSR ever fight a full-scale nuclear war? When the latter collapsed (thanks in large part to Ronald Reagan’s policies), many thought the world would turn into a Coke ad. Secular utopia had arrived. The poster boy for this attitude was Francis Fukuyama. In his book The End of History and the Last Man, he argued that after the Cold War no one would seriously dispute the superiority of Western liberal democracy as the most desirable system. The entire world would embrace it, and we’d all live happily ever after.
But others thought differently. Most notably, Harvard professor Samuel Huntington lectured on what he called “The Clash of Civilizations.” He published this under the same name in 1993’s Foreign Affairs. By 1996 it had expanded into his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. It’s hard to overestimate this idea’s importance, and also the degree of vitriol it’s received. Look through just the first several pages of the almost 7 million Google entries for the topic. Most are critical, if not angrily dismissive. Some critiques of Huntington are intellectual. Others are simplistic. But the fact critics still feel the need to discredit the man’s concept 25 years on shows his ongoing importance.
Why so serious about a dead white male Democrat Ivy League professor? Because he said that civilizations are based on culture and religion. And that post-Cold War armed conflicts would be cultural and religious. Huntington infuriates both the Left and the liberal international relations establishment. The left hates any hint of differences between cultures. Someone might get the idea that Southern Baptist supper clubs are better than stoning or widow-burning, after all. Meanwhile, political scientists tend to agree with Bono about the causes of war. Blame greed, not god(s).
Fuzzy on the Details
Huntington originally proposed eight civilizations. These were Western, Orthodox, Japanese, Confucian, Latin American, Islamic, African and Hindu. He later added a Buddhist one. Here is the map.
I tell students in college history classes that Huntington’s outline is imperfect. He sees the Islamic world as united. But Sunnis and Shi`is are even now killing one another. And Arabs, Persians and Turks have different languages, food and customs. Huntington accepts the ummah as a reality.
But then he divides Christian civilization along religious and cultural lines. The West is mostly Protestant. Latin American is majority Catholic. And don’t forget the Orthodox Christians. Also, why is only sub-Saharan Africa “African?” That part of the continent could easily be another Christian community. Over in East Asia, why is China “Confucian” when it’s home to more Buddhists than any other nation? And so it goes.
The Global Game of “Risk”
Still, Huntington’s heuristic is useful. It allows a Risk game-level look at global geopolitics. Especially when one fine-tunes it a bit. For example, let’s compare and contrast the core power of each civilization. The US leads the West. Russia heads the Orthodox domain. Japan and India are sole powers within their groupings. China is the 800-pound “Sinic” panda. Brazil dominates Latin America. Turkey sits atop the Islamic world. South Africa edges out Nigeria as the leading African power. And Thailand is Buddhist civilization’s standard-bearer. Looking at these core powers tells us something about the civilization as a whole. Plus, it’s much easier to mine data on individual countries than on entire civilizations.
Three major metrics for comparison are military power ranking, GDP size, and birth rates. (The lower the number, the higher the ranking.) Military and economic power are indications of immediate power. Let’s examine those first.
- US: #1 military, #1 GDP
- China: #3 military, #2 GDP
- Japan: #6 military, #3 GDP
- India: #4 military, #5 GDP
- Russia: #2 military, #12 GDP
- Brazil: #13 military, #9 GDP
- Turkey: #9 military, #21 GDP
- Thailand: #26 military, #25 GDP
- South Africa: #32 military, #31 GDP
Western civilization tops global military power thanks mainly to the US. But consider that France, the UK and Germany are also in the top ten. Even Italy is #11. This increases the West’s lead ever more. The same holds for Western economic dominance. Germany, France, UK, Italy and Canada are all also in the GDP top ten.
Other civilizations have potent non-core powers, too. Vietnam, both Koreas and Taiwan bob heavily in China’s wake. Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are dual-threat Islamic states trailing Turkey. Venezuela is potentially a rival to Brazil, if it weren’t knee-capped by socialism. But no other Huntingtonian bloc comes close to the West in the two key dimensions of military and economic strength.
Far-called, Our Navies Melt Away. On Dune and Headland Sinks the Fire.
But armies and bank accounts are fleeting, over long enough periods of time. The West’s 500 year dominance may end. And sooner rather than later, in historical terms. Why? Because of demography — which, if not destiny, is still hugely influential. Birth rates for the leading countries of each civilization are in most respects the converse of military and economic power.
South Africa leads in this category, followed by India, Turkey, Brazil, the US, China, Russia, Thailand and Japan. And in this respect other countries, particularly in Europe, drag down the West. Thirty-seven of the 50 countries with the lowest birth rates are in our civilization. Which civilizations are growing the fastest in population? The Islamic and African ones.
According to Pew, Islam will surpass Christianity as the world’s largest religion sometime between 2060 and 2100. Christian African population growth, coupled with the possible further expansion of Christianity in China, might prevent that. But at current trends, Muslims will outnumber all other religions in a few decades.
Lo, All Our Pomp of Yesterday is One with Nineveh and Tyre!
Numbers alone do not determine a civilization’s power. But as Stalin, or maybe Mark Twain, said, “quantity has a quality all its own.” Will Islam’s population growth stay within current borders? Or will it spill over to adjacent lands, making them part of the ummah, too? If so, then Huntington’s (in)famous line that “Islam has bloody borders” will become more pressing.
Orthodox Christian civilization’s is perhaps 10% Muslim. In addition, by mid-century Muslims will make up as much as 10% of Europe’s population. They will also surpass Jews as the second-largest faith in the US. Europe already has places where only Muslims dare to tread. And look at the divisive power wielded by just two Muslim members of the US Congress.
Such are examples of another Huntington prediction: “conflicts and violence will also occur between … groups within the same civilization.” For now the West holds unrivaled military and economic power. In that sense “the West and the rest” (another Huntington phrase) is accurate. But Islamic civilization has two powerful weapons of its own: the willingness to kill, and to breed. Babies and jihad. And both are utilized outside, as well as inside, the Islamic world. Islamic civilization’s birth rate and zeal may just beat the West’s advantages in guns and butter, in the long run.
Timothy Furnish holds a PhD in Islamic, World and African history. He is a former US Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to US Special Operations Command. He’s author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth; history professor; and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s “War Stories: Fighting ISIS“).