Diplomacy: Revisiting the Huntington Thesis

By Gabriel Salguero 06-12-2009

Much has been said about President Obama's speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, Egypt. As I heard it I reflected on what the Obama administration's diplomacy meant in light of Samuel Huntington's book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Clearly, one speech does not guarantee anything. Nevertheless, it may set the tone for a U.S. diplomacy that understands the consequences of Huntington's assertion that the world is on a collision course with the rise of fundamentalisms in different religions and civilizations.

The question then become, "What is the role of diplomacy with the real threats of nuclear proliferation and oppressive dictators and governments?" Diplomacy, at its best, is not the abdication of standing for human dignity, freedom, and love of neighbor. Nor is it the refusal to speak with people or groups with whom you have fundamental disagreement. At the heart of diplomacy is the refusal to give in to the idea that differing cultures are always doomed to collide. This being said, there must be a place for standing against all those things that threaten human life and dignity anywhere in the world. This is where the Huntington thesis can be well served with the dialectal theological reflections of Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr understood well that in a world where human power can manifest itself with world-destroying power, power must be reigned in. Diplomacy is not the abdication of power but the reigning in of power. Diplomacy does not mean that evil will not be confronted. Rather, diplomacy seeks to call on all means of communication and pressure before resulting to military power.

Does this mean that diplomacy will work with dictators, despots, and crazed rulers all over the world? Absolutely not. Even with the presence of another way, nations and rulers can choose the way of hatred, violence, and war. The history of humankind has shown that evil lurks and manifest itself in every generation. Still, the hope is that every generation would learn and pray so that in our day we can "beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks." Until this day comes we must preach and teach a gospel that calls us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God.

I pray that Jesus' message of loving our enemies and doing justice will make Dr. Huntington's thesis an unfulfilled reality.

Rev. Gabriel SalgueroRev. Gabriel Salguero is the pastor of the Lamb's Church of the Nazarene in New York City, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary, and the director of the Hispanic Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also a Sojourners board member.

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