Capitalising on the 'Clash of Civilizations' to curb terrorism

Capitalising on the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to curb terrorism

If fundamentalism can be created it can also be disintegrated through peace education, in the same way draconian and incomprehensible ideologies such as Fascism and Nazism were defeated.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Tendaishe Tlou

Terrorism is as old as mankind itself. Whilst there have been many theories about the salience of terrorism, the most ground-breaking is Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’. Since the deplorable 9/11 attacks, this theory seems more prescient, showing how discord between civilizations is becoming the greatest threat to human security. Recent deadly terrorist and rebel attacks in France, Lebanon, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic, plus the possibility of such occurrences in Malawi and Tanzania in the near future, provide ample ground for the theory to be tested. Since the end of the Cold war there has been a considerable shift from inter-state conflicts to intra-state wars along ethnic, racial, gender and, most recently, religious clashes, fomenting more terrorist activities than previously. After America and Europe, Africa is now the new terrorist battlefield. Terrorism is spreading like a wild fire. Yet opportunities lie within this ‘clash’ of civilisations to obtain peace and human security.

The importance of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ for analysing terrorism in Africa is its focus on religion; arguably at the epicentre of most terrorist movements and violence today. It is interesting to note that terrorism is the most obvious example of Huntington’s ‘clash’ (1993); one which presents a different challenge. Coincidentally, terrorism illustrates or provides evidence of competition and conflict between contradicting religious values, cultures and ideals (Kristoff, 1997) to the extent of insighting killings. Though thousands are dying on a daily basis, states are failing to quell the spread of terrorism, and are thereby losing their relevance for maintaining national security. France, like the United States, was caught napping, despite its participation in the war against ISIS in the Middle East. In the face of globalization, identity politics is becoming particularly prevalent between Muslims and non-Muslims, especially Christians. Although these elements have long been perceived as the cause of conflict between humans throughout history, religion has since intensified the suspicion, hatred and animosity between radical Muslims and the rest.

The dynamism and intensification of Islamic fundamentalism is the source of many terrorist attacks, such as those in France and Lebanon in 2015. Such violence is borne when “fundamental issues of identity” are at stake, yet such fanatism is salient in all religions and mostly associated with the youth. Although relations between Christians and Muslims have been historically difficult, the current confrontation suggests that the ‘clash’ has reached its peak. Esposito (1992) is of the view that their (Christianity and Islam) historical dynamics often find the two communities in competition and locked in deadly combat for power, land and souls. For example, Boko Haram wants to establish a theocracy based on fundamental Sharia law in Northern Nigeria, which clashes with both non-Muslim citizens and the State.

The same goes for Al-Shabaab and Janjaweed which wants to establish its own territory in Somalia and Sudan, respectively, hence the ongoing war and atrocities. They can be defined as mere fanatics who are exploiting historical grievances between Muslim and Christian communities which are ubiquitous in human co-existence. In the same vein, Solomon (2012) posits that the radical Islamic sect is responsible for the escalating scale and intensity of terrorist attacks, who were given their name by lamenting citizens because they operate under the auspices of a belief dubbed ‘Western education is forbidden and sinful.’ This is why the cult is wreaking havoc across North-Eastern Nigeria without repeal.

To curb terrorism, youth energy has to be redirected to positive outcomes and their ideas/needs have to be taken into consideration. Islamic fundamentalism is the misdirection of energy and radicalisation of religion which has historically co-existed with others. Historically, both Christians and Muslims have been wrongfully massacred for one fundamental reason or the other. Yet, this presents the world with an opportunity to work hand-in-hand with peace loving Islamic people that have dissociated themselves from terrorist movements such as the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. Historically, all religions have historically co-existed. In Tanzania and Malawi, there are millions of Muslims and Christians; however there has never been protracted religious violence since time immemorial. For example in December 2015 there was a cohort of Muslims, during the Mandera bus attack in Kenya, which stood up for Christian bus passengers under siege and stopped a massacre by saying ‘kill us all or let them (Christians) go (The Independent Reporter,2016).’ The protagonist Salah Farah, who sustained bullet wounds during an altercation with Al-Shabaab militants, died in January 2016. He died because he refused to be separated from and tried to save Christians. He is the true epitome of a ‘brother’s keeper.’ This kind of attitude save lives and presents an opportunity for peace within the clash of civilisations. It must be borne in mind that most Muslims are not radical and they do not justify what terrorist novices are doing.

No religion celebrates the killing of people, for example the beheading of 12 journalists in Libya by ISIS (Al-jazeera, 2015) or the killing of humanitarian workers by Al-Shabaab in Somalia. These are just overzealous youths who see no value in humanity and are pursuing their self-interests. If fundamentalism can be created it can also be disintegrated through peace education, in the same way draconian and incomprehensible ideologies such as Fascism and Nazism, propounded by Mussolini and Hitler, respectively, were defeated. The War on Terror and the use of military power is not the answer; it only pushes the world to the brink of war. Humanity will only be doing what terrorists expect of them when governments order and escalate bombings. This century has seen the world making positive strides in human security which entails that terrorist violence has no place on this world. Farah’s gesture should be an example to the world to co-exist as one community and promote religious harmony and tolerance. Humanity prevailed before, it will prevail again.

Tendaishe Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in human rights, environmental security, peace and governance issues. He holds a BSc (Honours) Degree in Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education and a Post-graduate Certificate in Applied Conflict Transformation. He works with various NGOs and Government Ministries in Zimbabwe and South Africa. 

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


  1. Al-Jazeera (2015) “Breaking News: ISIS Beheads 12 Journalists in Battle for Libya’s Sirte,” Al-Jazeera,06/04/15.
  2. Esposito, J (1992), “The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?”, Oxford Press, New York.
  3. Huntington, S (1993), “The Clash of Civilisations,” Journal of International Affairs, Volume 73,3.
  4. King Jr, M.L (1963) “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Centre for African Studies, Pennsylvania University.
  5. Kristoff, N.D (1997), “Japanese Cult Planned U.S Attack,” International Herald Tribune, Paris.
  6. Solomon, H (2012), “Counter Terrorism in Nigeria,”, RUSI Journal, Routledge, London.
  7. The Independent Reporter (2016), “Muslim Man Dies After Protecting Christian Bus Passengers From Al-Shabaab Terror Attack I Kenya,”, The Independent,20/01/16,Kenya.

Interested in writing for TransConflict? Contact us now by clicking here!

What are the principles of conflict transformation?



5 Responses

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons