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Book Review

Samuel Huntington’s right-wing interpretation of the problems facing American society

Zawahir Siddique

Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity by Samuel P. Huntington. Pub: Simon $ Schuster, New York, 2004. Pages: 428. Hbk: $27.

Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, attacked American president George W. Bush on July 21, calling him a meddling "Emperor of Evil" who was backing his (Chavez's) opponents in a referendum in August. Since Chavez survived a coup in 2002, he has often accused the US of wanting to overthrow him, and of supporting his opponents. Apart from being the world's fifth-largest exporter of oil, Venezuela is also a Spanish-speaking country. This book, Samuel Huntington's latest, warns America's policy-makers that they must check the "Hispanization of America" because it could become a major threat to the integrity of the "world's [only] super power".

This most recent book from Samuel Huntington attempts to open a new front in the existing fear-driven perpetual-war scenario. The author admits that the Smith Richardson Foundation and other far-right funding sources have paid him to produce this work: the same sources as back the Dick Cheneys of America and sponsor Huntington's Harvard University professorship.

Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations (1996) tried to persuade the American public to accept that war between the West and Islam is inevitable. In this new book he promotes a "white nativist movement," to be herded by panic and hatred against the proposed new enemy: Hispanics, particularly Mexican immigrants. This book must be regarded as part of a sequence of pro-fascist productions. It began with The Soldier and the State (1957), which complained that the second world war's aim of victory over Axis Germany and Japan hindered the anti-Russian "balance-of-power" objective; it includes the Trilateral Commission study, "The Crisis of Democracy," in which Huntington demanded Hitler-Schacht austerity instead of a constitutional republic. Later came other racist provocations, notably against Muslims, and now this tirade against Hispanics has arrived in America's public space.

Many are awed by Samuel Huntington's status as national-security advisor to the corrupt rulers who run America's government. They may not be aware that in 1986 and 1987, Huntington was twice rejected for membership of the National Academy of Sciences, when he was exposed as a cheap pseudoscientist.

Yale mathematics professor Serge Lang challenged Huntington's book, Political Order In Changing Societies (1968), in which Huntington classified South Africa under apartheid as a "satisfied society," with a purported social-science study of the matter as a reference. After heated controversy, Huntington was quoted in the New Republic as responding that "satisfaction" described "the fact that the people for some reason are not protesting [the regime]. Huntington also claimed that when that study was made in the early sixties, there had been no major riots, strikes or disturbances in South Africa. Professor Lang assembled a 50-page list of clashes in South Africa—such as the famous Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960—and sent copies of his meticulous indictment to each of the Academy's hundreds of members. Huntington's nomination was rejected twice in secret balloting.

In Who Are We? Huntington portrays America as a traditionally racist society, supposedly always allied to British imperialism; he thus seeks to make the bestial ‘war on terrorism' appear natural rather than a usurpation. He chooses interestingly among familiar culinary metaphors for American civic identity, rejecting "melting pot" (too monolithic and suppressive of legitimate differences) and "tossed salad" (too diffuse) for a sturdy Anglo-Protestant "tomato soup": new arrivals contribute croutons and distinctive spices to it, without changing the soup's basic constitution (Anglo-Protestantism).

The widespread adoption of the name "African American" over "black" in the 1980s disturbs him. "Given the pervasive penchant of Americans to prefer single-syllable over multi-syllable names for almost everything, this high and growing popularity of a seven syllable, two-word name over a one-syllable, one-word name is intriguing and perhaps significant."

It is also interesting that the author doesn't take Black Americans seriously in this book. It was the Black civil rights movement that made Huntington's Anglo-conformism possible for millions of non-whites, and yet he takes no hints from that breakthrough and its subsequent breakdowns. "The fabric of American civic trust has been nowhere more severely tried than in blacks' cultural, electoral, legal and public psycho-dramatic renderings of disaffection with white America", he claims.

Huntington feels that the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, demonstrate that America was then more vulnerable to attack than it had been for almost two hundred years. "The last time that something like September 11 happened in the continental United States was on August 25, 1814, when the British burned the White House." Huntington pinpoints "religiously driven militant Islam" and "non-ideological Chinese nationalism" as potential enemies of America.

Huntington declares that America has been enjoying an unchallenged "super power" status since the collapse of the Soviet Union "until September 11". Huntington's intellectual credibility is further undermined when he makes a sweeping statement, typically without supporting evidence: "When Osama bin Laden attacked America and killed several thousand people, he also did two other things. He filled the vacuum created by Gorbachev with an unmistakably dangerous new enemy, and he pinpointed America's identity as a Christian nation." The author also justifies President Bush's terming two Muslim states "the axis of evil" as having its parallel in former President Ronald Reagan's reference to the Soviet Union as "the evil empire". He goes on: "The rhetoric of America's ideological war with militant Communism has been transferred to its religious and cultural war with militant Islam."

Huntington, however, sees "two crucial differences" between the communist movements against "western democracies" and "contemporary Islamist" movements. First, he points out that a single major state supported the communist movements. Islamist movements, in Huntington's perception, are supported by a variety of competing states, religious organizations and individuals, and Islamic political parties and terrorist groups have many different and often conflicting objectives. The second alleged "crucial difference" that Huntington points out is that the communists wanted to mobilize a mass movement of workers, peasants, intellectuals and disaffected middle-class people in order to bring about fundamental change in the democratic political and capitalist economic systems of the western societies into communist states. "Militant Islamist groups", by contrast, thinks Huntington, do not expect to convert Europe and America into Islamic societies. "Their principle [sic] aim is not to change those societies but to inflict serious damage on them."

In one particular paragraph (on page 358), he tries to confuse the reader who is not clear about his anti-Muslim rhetoric. He begins with a statement: "Americans do not see Islam, its people, its religion, or its civilization as America's enemy." He then shifts his focus to "Islamic militants" when he says "Islamic militants, both religious and secular, see America, its people, its religion and civilization as Islam's enemy." Towards the end of the short paragraph, the author says, "Muslim hostility encourages Americans to define their identity as religious and cultural terms, just as the Cold War promoted political and creedal definition of that identity."

The cultural gap between Islam on the one hand, and "America's Christianity" and "Anglo-Protestantism" on the other, as perceived by Huntington, reinforces Islam's qualifications for the status of America's public enemy number 1. "And on September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden ended America's search. The attacks on New York and Washington followed by the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq and more diffuse ‘war on terror' make militant Islam (or more broadly political Islam) America's first enemy of the twenty-first century." This is anti-Muslim rhetoric, incitement and provocation at its most inflammatory.

"America was created as a Protestant society just as, and for some of the same reasons, that Pakistan and Israel were created as Muslim and Jewish societies in the twentieth century." According to Huntington, immigrants become Americans only if "they absorb America's Anglo-Protestant culture and identify primarily with America rather than with their country of birth." This is the litmus-test of what he calls "Americanization of the immigrants." The more powerful stimulus to "white nativism", according to Huntington, is likely to be the threat to their language, culture and power that "Whites" see arising from the growing demographic, social, economic and political roles of "Hispanics" in American society.

The bifurcation of American society on the basis of two languages and two cultures as a major cause of disintegration of America's civil society is well described throughout the book, especially in one chapter, "Mexican Immigration and Hispanization." Bilingual families having more money, the spread of Spanish as America's second language, and English-speaking whites' disadvantages in competition for jobs and promotion because of their lack of fluency in Spanish, are all discussed in alarmist tones. To add to these "threats", the author also highlights "Hispanic" resistance to assimilation into America's "Anglo-Protestant identity", massive immigration from Mexico, and "high fertility rates" of Mexicans (Hispanics) as major challenges to America's "National Identity".

In 1917 Theodore Roosevelt said: "we must have one flag and one language." On June 14, 2000, President Clinton said, "I very much hope that I'm the last President in American history who can't speak Spanish." On May 5, 2001, President Bush celebrated Mexico's Cinco de Mayo national holiday by inaugurating the practice of delivering the weekly presidential radio address to the American people in both English and Spanish. On September 4, 2003, the first debate among the Democratic candidates for President was conducted in both English and Spanish. Aware of the growing Hispanic presence in America, Huntington warns, "If this trend continues, the cultural division between Hispanics and Anglos will replace the racial division between blacks and whites as the most serious cleavage in American society."

Huntington therefore advocates an America not divided by two languages and two cultures, but with one language and "one core Anglo-Protestant culture that has existed in America for over three centuries." In line with this narrow-minded and intolerant racist mindset, he calls for a movement that he labels "White nativism", which according to him "would be both racially and culturally inspired and could be anti-Hispanic, anti-black and anti-immigrant." The author compares the rivalry between Whites and Hispanics in America to that of Muslims and Serbs in Bosnia. "In 1961 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the population was 43 percent Serb and 26 percent Muslims. In 1991, it was 31 percent Serb and 44 percent Muslim. The Serbs reacted with ethnic cleansing." Huntington tries to put the White-Hispanic rivalry into a similar framework. "In 1990 the population of California was 57 percent White and 26 percent Hispanic. In 2040 it is predicted to be 31 percent white and 48 percent Hispanic... As the racial balance continues to shift and more Hispanics become citizens and politically active, white groups may look for other means of protecting their interests."

The income gap between the United States (a "First world Country") and Mexico (a "Third World Country") is the largest in the world between two contiguous countries. The two-thousand-mile border between them makes it impossible to prevent "illegal immigrants" from entering the US, although the white Americans make very difficult and dangerous. Mexico is apparently the only country that the United States has invaded and whose capital it has occupied, placing American Marines in the "halls of Montezuma", and then annexing half of its territory. Mexicans cannot forget these events, and feel that they have special rights in these territories. Huntington's fear of Mexican assimilation is evident when he says that "No other immigrant group in American history has asserted or has been able to assert a historical claim to American territory."

It is worth noting that Huntington's most famous work, The Clash of Civilizations (1996), which induced extensive debate among makers of foreign policy, followed an article that was written in 1993, which triggered a national debate, and which led eventually to this book. Similarly Who Are We? follows his essay on foreign affairs, which was aptly called "The Hispanic Challenge."

From those who want to know about how Huntington projects "political Islam" as the twenty-first-century threat to America, this publication deserves little attention. But for those who are keen to find out about the "Hispanization" of the US, about Mexican immigration and about the possible threats the US faces from the "Hispanic Challenge" in the future, this book is worth consulting, although not everything in it should be taken at its face value, without double-checking elsewhere.

America's recent military expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in its suffering substantial setbacks. Public opinion in the Western world has not been all that favourable to Uncle Sam's ‘war on terrorism'. Now Huntington's "White Anglo-Protestant Nativism" is under immense threat from the "Hispanization of America". Huntington has ignored the growing Muslim population in America, as well as the significance of the "Afro-American" proportion in the demographic composition of the world's only "superpower". What Malcolm X says in the last paragraph of his autobiography (a "racist cancer... is malignant in the whole body of America") is confirmed by the conclusion that Huntington makes when he says that America's integrity is based on its "White Anglo-Protestant Nativism".

Huntington also ignores such Latino responses to Black disaffection as an editorial in San Diego's Mexican-American newspaper La Prensa in 1992 that declared Latinos the new "bridge between blacks, whites, Asians, and Latinos." Latinos, the editorial said, "will have to bring an end to class, color, and ethnic warfare. To succeed, they will have to do what the blacks failed to do: incorporate all into the human race and exclude no one." Thus, according to Samuel Huntington's faulty judgement, growing Black consciousness and the "Hispanic Challenge" are the two inevitable threats that confront "the world's largest democracy".

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 6

Jumada' al-Akhirah 14, 14252004-08-01

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