A WORLD IN CRISIS Is There a Cure?
Chandra Muzaffar 1 | A WORLD IN CRISIS Is There a Cure?
A WORLD IN CRISIS Is There a Cure? Chandra Muzaffar International Movement for a Just World
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No part of this e-book may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, including photocopying, recording, Internet or any storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from International Movement for a Just World
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Dedicated to Fred Dallmayr and Richard Falk, friends and mentors, who possess a deep understanding of the profound significance of a spiritualâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; moral response to the crises of our time.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 LEAD ESSAY- A WORLD IN CRISIS: THE RELEVANCE OF SPIRITUAL- MORAL PRINCIPLES
CHAPTER 2 THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR ---AND THE PRAWN BEHIND THE STONE
CHAPTER 3 PEACE AND RAPPROCHEMENT OR VIOLENCE AND CONFLICT?
CHAPTER 4 THE DECLINE OF US HELMED GLOBAL HEGEMONY: THE EMERGENCE OF A MORE EQUITABLE PATTERN OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS?
CHAPTER 5 MUSLIM SOCIETIES, ISRAEL AND THE WEST
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PREFACE This book is structured differently from my other publications. There is a lead essay, three supporting essays and an interview. The lead embodies the central message of the book. Humankind is confronted by multiple crises linked to the environment and the economy, to politics and militarism. The quest for global hegemony; the bias towards the powerful and the wealthy in most societies; the failure of elites in particular to adhere to moral values and principles; and the prevailing materialistic worldview, are among the principal causes. What is the solution? Is religion the answer, as propounded by thinkers and political leaders in various parts of the world? As long as religious practitioners are preoccupied with an exclusive notion of religious identity, I argue, they will not be able to address the crises of our time. They will have to go beyond religious boundaries and connect with the essence of faith which is a firm belief in a truly universal, inclusive God --- a belief which in turn defines our true identity and destiny. It is a belief that tells us who we are, where we are from, why we are here, what our mission is on earth, and where we would go from here. It underscores the role of the human being as trustee on earth bearing all the responsibilities and rights that are integral to that role. If this notion of the human being as bearer of a sacred trust has not emerged strongly in any religion, it is partly because religious teachers seldom interpret text and tradition with the goal of empowering the human being. It is when the human being is empowered that she becomes conscious of her direct relationship with God. That relationship is fundamental to God Consciousness. In my lead essay I see signs of this emerging. These are the signs of hope which convince me that the human family will be able to overcome the crises it faces --- Insya’Allah. It demands commitment, courage, integrity and perseverance on our part as trustees. The other three essays in the book deal with various aspects of a world in crisis and the spiritual-moral cure that I espouse. The first for instance shows how diabolical the pursuit of global hegemony is. The global war on terror has been manipulated to achieve its nefarious agenda. The second essay explores global peace --- global hegemony is one of its greatest barriers --- and suggests that it will only be accomplished if God Consciousness becomes part and parcel of the transformation of both the individual human being and society. The third essay reflects on the possibility of the emergence of a nonhegemonic world and why moral values such as justice, compassion and empathy will be fundamental in that new setting. My online interview with a young Iranian journalist also addresses issues emanating from global hegemony and the role that a spiritual-moral worldview could play in shaping our response to current challenges. Finally, a word about the title of this book. I ask, “Is there a cure?” to“ A world in crisis” partly because the term “ crisis” though widely used in the social sciences today has a special link to illness and disease and I thought it would make sense to juxtapose the word “cure” with “crisis.”
Chandra Muzaffar. July 2013. 2013.
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This is JUST’s first e-book. I am specially indebted to Ms. Nurul Haida bt Dzulkifli, my Personal Assistant, and Ms Fah Yen Yin, JUST’s Program Coordinator, for their earnest efforts in ensuring that this novel attempt at publishing an e-book succeeds. In making the book available to the online community and readers at large, Al-Malik Abdullah, another JUST staff member, will also be rendering assistance which I appreciate very much. A big “Terima Kasih” to everyone. Needless to say, the shortcomings in A World in Crisis Is there a Cure? are my -- and mine alone.
CM Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. July 2013
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Lead Essay CHAPTER 1 : A WORLD IN CRISIS : THE RELEVANCE OF SPIRITUAL-MORAL PRINCIPLES The essay below was first delivered as a public lecture at the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University on the 1st of October 2009 and later published as a chapter with the same title in Ecologies of Human Flourishing Donald K. Swearer and Susan Lloyd McGarry (editors) (Cambridge Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, 2011)
The world is faced with multiple crises. We shall begin by offering our reflections on them and attempt to probe their underlying causes. These causes will prompt us to ask: Is religion the answer to the crises that challenge us? We shall argue that if religion is to play an effective role it will have to undergo a profound transformation. This will be followed by some discussion on the nature of this transformation before the presentation concludes on the assuring note that there are signs of hope on the horizon. THE CRISES We shall focus upon seven inter-related crises. Their significance cannot be emphasized enough. However, with the exception of the first two---the environmental crisis and the economic crisis --- many people may not even acknowledge the rest as crises. Nonetheless, if a ‘crisis’ is defined as “a time of danger or great difficulty”, there is no reason why they cannot be classified as such. THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS An important segment of the human family has awoken to the environmental crisis. The dire consequences of global warming are registered on the radar screens of not just environmentalists but also politicians, economic planners and media practitioners. How global warming affects climate change, vegetation, agricultural patterns, and human habitats, has been the subject of numerous studies. However, efforts at curbing carbon emissions that cause global warming at both national and global levels have been rather weak and feeble. It appears that our planet is too deeply mired in an economic and industrial system that is over dependent upon the burning of fossil fuels 1 This in turn is linked to yet another dimension of the environmental crisis: the rapid depletion of non-renewable resources. The view that is gaining currency is that “known and likely reserves of readily accessible oil and natural gas will last a few more decades”2. What happens to our civilization when we run out of these resources--- resources which have
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helped to sustain us? Add to this the rate at which we are destroying genetic diversity and wild species and losing soil fertility and we have an idea of the catastrophe that awaits future generations, unless present trends are reversed. THE ECONOMIC CRISIS ` The environmental crisis cannot be separated from the economic crisis since the manner in which renewable and non-renewable resources are utilized and consumed is related to an economic system that is clearly biased towards the upper echelons of society. The widening chasm between those who have a lot and those who have a little within nation-states and across the globe is one of the gravest challenges facing humankind today. It has been estimated that the “top 10 percent of the world’s people possess 84 percent of the world’s wealth, while the rest are left with the remaining 16 percent.”3 More than 3 billion people “live on less than $ 2.50 a day. Of these, about 44 percent survive on less than $ 1.25 a day, according to a new World Bank report issued on 2 September 2008. Every day, more than 30,000 people die of malnutrition, avoidable diseases and hunger. Some 85 percent of them are children under the age of 5.”4. If the chasm between the have-a-lot and the have-a-little has become even wider in recent years and if abject poverty continues to cripple the lives of millions and millions of human beings especially in the Global South, it is partly because there has been much more emphasis upon the liberalization of financial markets, the deregulation of economies and the privatization of public goods since the mid-eighties. This trend in global and national economies, euphemistically described as neo-liberal capitalism, clearly benefits the few at the expense of the many. Neo-liberal capitalism can be traced back to the abrogation of the Bretton Woods system by the United States in 1971 and the decision to leave the determination of exchange rates to the markets in 1973. This led to increased market volatility which in turn opened the door to massive speculation, accelerated no doubt by the ever expanding reservoir of capital from the eighties onwards, and the computer revolution. What this means is that there is a powerful speculative --- more precisely, casino--dimension to contemporary capitalism.5 More than 90 percent of global financial transactions are linked, in one way or another, to speculative capital. Speculation has triggered off the rapid exit of capital from markets, ruined many an economy and left millions of people destitute. In recent years we have witnessed the pain and suffering it has caused to the poor in countries such as Indonesia and Argentina. Even the “sub-prime mortgage crack in the US housing market during the summer of 2007” which led to “the collapse of major banking institutions, precipitous falls on stock markets across the world and a credit freeze”6 was a consequence of rampant speculation in capital and currency markets that had its roots in banking deregulation and excessive liquidity creation. Tens of thousands of Americans who have lost their jobs have now become the latest victims of unfettered, casino capitalism. It is cruel, inhuman, unjust capitalism of this sort, often pandering to the greed of a few that convinces men and women of conscience that there has to be an alternative to the present economic system. The economic and environmental crises should be understood in the larger context of other crises that also raise fundamental questions about priorities and policies, on the one hand, and values and worldviews, on the other. One such crisis is related to politics and power.
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POLITICS AND POWER There is an intimate nexus between politics and power and economic and environmental issues since it is political elites who more often than not determine priorities and formulate policies that impact directly or indirectly upon the economy and the environment. In most cases, their priorities and policies reflect the prevailing power structures which embody the interests of the upper echelons of society rather than those of the weaker, poorer sections of the populace, in spite of the spread of democracy and elections in recent times.7 This implies that while it may be a little easier to hold political leaders accountable today than two decades ago, it does not follow that the interests of the upper echelons --- specifically the elites--- do not preponderate over the rest of society.
It is partly because political elites and their interests continue to dominate the landscape that abuse of power and corruption remain formidable challenges in many parts of the world. Even in Britain, the ‘mother of democracies’, there have been revelations of late of abuse and misuse of power among cabinet ministers and legislators 8. It underscores once again the importance of ethics in public life. At the global level, the situation is infinitely much worse. In the name of promoting democracy, the US elite has for a long while abused its power by invading and occupying other lands, usurping their resources, and killing millions of people who stand in the way of the elite’s pursuit of global hegemony. Needless to say, this hegemonic power has often flouted international law, denigrated international institutions and ignored global public opinion with impunity.9 If it has got away with such arrogant behavior, it is mainly because democracy has not been institutionalized in international affairs. Might rules over right in global politics. MILITARY MIGHT AND SECURITY This dictum is mirrored in the US’s global military power. Hundreds of US military bases gird the globe.10 Its military power extends from the depths of the ocean to the outer reaches of space. There has never been a military power like the US in the entire history of the human race. It should come as no surprise therefore that the US accounted for 58 percent of the global increase in military expenditure between 1999 and 2008. Worldwide military expenditure in 2008 stood at an estimated 1.46 trillion US dollars. This represents a 4 percent increase in real terms compared to 2007 and a 45 percent increase since 1999. Apart from the US, China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Brazil, South Korea, Algeria and Britain have all increased their military expenditure over the last decade. 11 Burgeoning military budgets have not brought about more security. Military conflicts continue unabated in many parts of the world. Terrorism, which is used as the justification for expanding military expenditure in many instances, remains a major threat to the human family. In fact, military strikes by the US and its allies appear to have spawned more terrorist operations in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. 12
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MEDIA AND POPULAR CONSCIOUSNESS If the truth about escalating military expenditure and how it contrasts with the neglect of the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s poor is not widely known, it is largely because it has not been highlighted in the mainstream print and electronic media. In a sense this is understandable since the media is after all part and parcel of the power structure and has a crucial role in preserving and perpetuating its influence and impact. 13 The emergence of cyber media --- a small section of which challenges global hegemony--- has not changed the overall pattern of power. Instead of consciously developing a new awareness about the danger of global hegemony with all its ramifications, and its relationship to other global crises, the media everywhere appears to be encouraging the growth of a shallow, superficial sensate culture that glorifies personalities from the world of sports, entertainment and politics. At the crux of this sensate culture is of course the culture of conspicuous consumption. The media, which derives so much of its revenue from advertisements placed by companies promoting their goods and services, is at the forefront of the dissemination of a global culture of consumerism that spans oceans and continents. THE CULTURE OF CONSUMERISM Consumerism, it has been said, is the religion of our time. It has to be clarified at the outset that by consumerism one does not mean the fundamental human need to consume in order to survive, and indeed to flourish. One appreciates that consumption goes beyond the rudimentary necessities of life and would encompass legitimate wants and desires that bring joy and happiness to the human being. By consumerism we mean excessive, unrestrained consumption of goods and services which transgresses the norms of moderate spending that is cognizant of the well-being of the general public. In concrete language, possessing two or three pairs of shoes is not a problem. But why should one own twenty or thirty pairs of shoes at one time? A two hundred dollar wrist watch may not raise eyebrows; but a twenty thousand dollar watch is certainly an example of conspicuous consumption. It is the obsession with buying and buying and buying, which is disturbing. Our concern, it should be apparent, is with extravagance and opulence, with lifestyles which have jettisoned restraint and moderation and other such virtues. The conspicuous consumption of the upper class and a segment of the middle class in both the Global North and the Global South is obscene. It is greed, plain and simple. 14 It is a manifestation of narcissism, of the ego, of self-centeredness. The public as a whole does not realize that the prevailing culture of consumerism is partly responsible for the environmental crisis, that it is linked to the unequal distribution of economic and political power in society, that it skews the allocation of resources against the poor and powerless. In fact, the conspicuous consumption of the upper echelons of American and British societies is one of the reasons why their elites seek to control oil and other resources belonging to other people, as well as strategic sea-routes far away from their own countries. In other words, the global culture of consumerism also helps to explain global hegemony.
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RELATIONS BETWEEN CULTURES, RELIGIONS AND CIVILIZATIONS Global hegemony is one of the barriers to harmonious relations between cultures, religions and civilizations. This is especially true in the interface between the centers of power in the West and the Muslim world. 15 Because of attempts, notably by the US elite, to control and dominate West Asia and North Africa (WANA) --- the region is the world’s biggest exporter of oil—a lot of Muslims are unhappy with US foreign policy in the region. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, helmed by the US, was one of those episodes which exacerbated relations between the US and Muslims. More than the fact of occupation, it is --- as we have mentioned—the killing of people, especially women and children which has intensified negative feelings towards the US elite. Of course, it is not just Iraq, or Lebanon, or Somalia or Afghanistan--- all countries which have witnessed American military involvement in one form or another--- that has created so much bad blood between the US and the Muslim world. For many Muslims the deepest wound inflicted upon the Muslim body politic remains the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the consequent dispossession of the Palestinian people. Since the US and the West in general provide material and moral support and patronage to Israel, there is a widespread perception in the Muslim world that the US is biased against the Palestinians and Muslims. What has aggravated further West-Muslim ties is the reaction of a fringe within the Muslim world to the injustices perpetrated by the US elite. We have alluded to the acts of terror committed by this fringe. The terrorist network called Al-Qaeda whose tentacles seem to stretch from Indonesia and Pakistan to Germany and Morocco has distorted Islamic teachings to legitimize its nefarious agenda of murder and mayhem. Its activities have reinforced the image of the Muslim as a terrorist in the eyes of the ordinary American or European. Of course, equating Muslims and Islam with violence and terror has a long history behind it. It is part of the deep-seated, prejudiced stereotyping of the religion and its adherents in Western Christian circles which dates back to a thousand years. Muslim conquest of parts of the West from the 8th century onwards, the European crusades against Muslims from the 11th to the 13th centuries, and Western colonialism, have all contributed to this. Negative stereotypes about the West and sweeping generalizations about Christians and Jews are also rife in the Muslim world. They are more pervasive today than in the past. Given this background, it is not difficult to comprehend why there is a profound crisis in the relations between the centers of power in the West and the Muslim world. There are other crises of some import --- apart from the seven analyzed here--- that we will not be able to examine in any detail. Formal education today for instance gives much less emphasis to character development and the assimilation of values compared to schools of yesteryear. 16 At the same time, higher education has become more profit oriented. Similarly, health care systems in a number of countries have embraced the magic of the market and appear to be less concerned about the welfare of the patient. This raises fundamental ethical questions about the role and responsibility of the medical professional.17 The other institution that has undergone significant change is the family. The family—the basic unit of society---has lost some of its cohesiveness. The demands of the market and the rise of individualism have impacted negatively upon intra-family ties. What this implies is that the family is no longer an effective conduit for the transmission of moral values from one generation to another. 18
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From the various crises that we have examined, it is apparent that there are certain fundamental causes behind them. What are these causes? We have identified four causes which are presented below.
FUNDAMENTAL CAUSES Global Hegemony Global hegemony is undoubtedly one of the fundamental causes responsible for the various crises that we have looked at. In an increasingly globalized world, it would be foolish to ignore or to downplay its significance. 19 It is partly because of global hegemony that there have been wars and death and destruction. Global hegemony is linked to overwhelming global military power with all its catastrophic consequences for humankind. Global terrorism is one such consequence since it is to a large extent a reaction to occupation which is a manifestation of hegemony. Global hegemony has thwarted the emergence of global democracy and accountability. It has a mutually reinforcing relationship with the mainstream global media. It is the media which has made hegemony appear normal and natural. Because of the economic forces behind global hegemony and the vested interests related to them, disparities in wealth and income between the global ‘have-a-lot’ and the global ‘have-a-little’ have widened considerably. Casino capitalism for instance is a product of global hegemony. Even the culture of consumerism, as we have seen, has become pervasive because of global hegemony. Consumerism, in turn, impacts upon finite resources and our environment. Global hegemony is a barrier to inter-civilizational understanding and harmony.
The Bias towards the Powerful and the Wealthy But it is not just because of global hegemony that the world is in crisis. In the governance of most states there is a bias towards the powerful and the wealthy. This has happened right through history. It is this bias that is partly responsible for environmental degradation and resource depletion. Often, the interests represented by the powerful and the wealthy prevent the enforcement of effective solutions to the environmental crisis. If social and economic disparities within nation-states have increased, the wealthy and the powerful cannot be exonerated from blame. We have shown that their dominance persists within the political arena--- in spite of electoral democracy--- and is often mirrored in the media. It is the elite from among the powerful and the wealthy who decide to expand the military budget of the state, often at the expense of the well-being of the people. Needless to say, the powerful and the wealthy are part of the culture of conspicuous consumption and have a direct stake in perpetuating it.
Failure to Adhere to Moral Values and Principles Apart from the bias towards the powerful and the wealthy within the nation-state, and global hegemony, the failure of humankind as a whole--- or more precisely, specific groups of people--- to adhere to essential moral values and principles may also explain the multiple crises we face today. In every crisis without exception, it is the non-adherence to certain values that appears to be one of the fundamental causes. For instance, in the case of the
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environment, both a lack of a sense of justice and a lack of restraint are partly responsible for the mess the world is in. A lack of a sense of justice would also be a principal reason for the current economic crisis which reveals how little compassion the rich have for the poor. The abuse of power and the prevalence of corruption which we had alluded to in our analysis indicates a lack of integrity and honesty on the part the political elite. Likewise, the wanton display of military might, like the terrorist response to it, prove that both parties have scant respect for life. By the same token, the media that sidelines glaring facts about military expenditure or hegemony at the global level, or ignores revelations about corruption and incompetence within the domestic sphere, betrays its professional responsibility to tell the truth to the public. Similarly, the culture of consumerism is, as we have noted, reflective of a mentality that eschews moderation just as negative stereotyping of, and prejudices against, ‘the other’ suggests an utter lack of respect for cultural, religious and civilizational diversity. So far we have looked at how the dearth of certain moral values and principles is partly responsible for various crises. In many instances, it is more than the lack of certain moral values; it is the active presence of disvalues, of vices that aggravates the crisis. The environmental and the economic crises, like the crisis of consumerism, expose the pernicious, pervasive danger of greed. In politics, both at the national and the global level, there is a great deal of self-centeredness which descends quite easily into selfaggrandizement. Indeed, there is an intimate nexus between self-aggrandizement and the push for global hegemony which invariably embodies a degree of arrogance. Self-centeredness as a behavioral trait is also promoted and disseminated by the media. The media, as we have hinted, massages the egos of celebrities. In a sense, in the tensions between cultures, religions and civilizations, one can also trace the insidious influence of the ego, the collective cultural or religious or even civilizational ego.
Worldview? This brings us to the last of the fundamental causes. Unlike the other causes, this is not readily obvious from our analysis of the various crises. It is best understood by asking some searching questions about each of the seven crises that we have examined. Would the environmental crisis have occurred if the dominant perspective on nature and its resources had been different--- if we saw nature as part of that divine creation to which we belong, if we appreciated that transcendent link between humankind and the environment? 20 Would we have adopted such a rapacious attitude towards our finite resources if we viewed them as a temporary gift given to us in trust during our brief sojourn on earth? In other words, isn’t the environmental crisis a product--- to some extent at least--- of a worldview that emerged from the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century that saw nature as an object distinct from the human being that had to be conquered by the latter for his own narrow benefit? Turning to the economic crisis, would humankind have allowed such huge disparities to develop between the have-a-lot and the have-a-little if it viewed the human family as a single entity anchored in divine unity? To achieve that unity within the human family, isn’t it true that justice and equality would have been the vital prerequisites? Would the global economy become a casino driven by speculative capital if it was guided by a vision that eschewed gambling and the unrestrained accumulation of wealth and profits?
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Would there be so much abuse of power in both national and global politics if politics were guided by a vision of service and sacrifice, if politicians regarded their power as a trust that has to be used judiciously in accordance with the loftiest standards of morality? Would a political leader flaunt his power if he were deeply conscious of how puny and transient his power was in relation to the Omnipotent Power of the Almighty? 21 Would the President or Prime Minister of a country abuse his power to conquer other lands and dominate other people, to kill and to maim innocent children and women, if he genuinely believes in the sacredness of life, of all life? Shouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t we expect a person who values the sacredness of life to subscribe to that spiritual gem in Judaism and Islam that states that if you killed a single human being --- without cause---it is as if you have killed the whole of humankind and that if you saved a single human being it is as if you have saved the whole of humankind? Likewise, media practitioners who are deeply conscious of their moral responsibilities and are attached to a transcendent view of life that goes beyond themselves will be averse to lying, distorting and exaggerating through their media outlets. They would see their written or spoken word as a sacred bond between them and their audience. If the dominant worldview acknowledged the importance of limits to consumption especially within the upper echelons of society, if restraint and moderation were essential attributes of oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lifestyle, would we be confronted by the challenge of a culture of consumerism today? If our worldview were not centered upon continuously enhancing materialistic comforts, would there be greater sharing and giving in a culture that is profoundly cognizant of a larger spiritual purpose and meaning to life? Would a different worldview that celebrates religious and cultural diversity and respects the other have succeeded in minimizing tensions between different cultures, religions and civilizations? Isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t it because the current worldview is uneasy with the religious and cultural other, and often seeks to dominate the other, that it has not been able to forge unity out of diversity? Even if we reflected on the other three crises that we referred to briefly, connected to education, health care and the family, it is possible to argue that the accompanying worldview is part of the problem. If the worldview were different, it is quite conceivable that character building through the absorption of moral values would be the main mission of education rather than preparing the young solely for the market. Similarly, health care would be seen as the divine art of healing, not another business enterprise! By the same token, the spiritual and moral ties that bind a family together would come to the fore within a different worldview that is less susceptible to pressures from the market and the culture of individualism. Our fourth fundamental cause which asks whether our dominant worldview on the environment, the economy, politics and so on is one of the reasons why the world is in crisis, brings us directly into the realm of religion. For the alternative worldview that we have put forward here in very general terms is a worldview that is enshrined in most religions 22. It will be discussed in greater detail in the course of this analysis. For now let us see how religion will be able to respond to the four fundamental causes of the seven crises that we have examined.
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IS RELIGION THE ANSWER? The fourth cause--- worldview --- we have already dealt with. We have shown how a worldview that inter alia, appreciates the profound relationship between the human being and his environment, the sacredness of life, the primacy of truth, unity within the human family, respect for the other as part of the divine gift of diversity, justice and equality as divine values, the limits of power, and the nobler purpose of life beyond consumerism, may have been able to avert the multiple crises facing humankind. We shall now turn to the other three causes in ascending order. It goes without saying that moral values such as justice and compassion, integrity and moderation, respect and restraint, so vital for overcoming the various crises, are fundamental to the various religions. Those vices which are partly responsible for the crises --- greed, self-centeredness, arrogance--- are also condemned in the different religions. This persuades us to suggest that if the vices identified by religion can be curbed and the values embodied in it can be harnessed, we may be able to overcome the crises of our time. If the economic, environmental and other related crises are caused partly by a systemic bias towards those who command wealth and power, then religion is an antidote of sorts. Most religions, at the level of ideas and philosophy, are not inclined towards the powerful and the wealthy. They take to task those who abuse power and oppress people. In Christianity and Judaism, as in Islam and Buddhism, there is denunciation of those who are obsessed with the untrammeled accumulation of wealth. Many religions express support, sympathy and solidarity with the poor and powerless. Indeed, the lives of all the founders of the established religions and the biographies of the prophets and great sages bear testimony to their love and compassion for the marginalized and the poor. These were simple, honest men, with meager material possessions who had no desire for the glitter and the luster of power and wealth. It is equally significant that religions are opposed to hegemony, whether local, national or global. The underlying principle is that no human being or institution should control or dominate another. In Islam for instance it is through conscious, engaged surrender to God and God alone, that the human being liberates herself from the control and domination of other individuals or institutions or even oneself. It is because the idea of liberation is rooted in the Qur’an itself that Muslims have consistently stood up against colonialism. In this regard, it is important to observe that the first transnational movement against colonialism was initiated by an outstanding Muslim reformer, Syed Jamaluddin Assadabadi, also known as Syed Jamaluddin al-Afghani, in the latter part of the 19th century.23 Islam, it should be emphasized, is not the only religion that rejects global hegemony. It is possible to interpret values and principles contained in the basic texts of most religions to show that they are averse to control and dominance by some external power. In this regard, there is an insightful passage from the illustrious Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu (4th century b.c.e) that establishes the philosophical basis for opposition to hegemony. It reads, “Those who would take over the earth and shape it to their will Never, I notice succeed. The earth is like a vessel so sacred. That at the mere approach of the profane It is marred. And when they reach out their fingers it is gone.”24. It is worth reiterating that there is, indisputably, a whole gamut of ideas, values and principles in the world’s religions that addresses the fundamental causes of the various crises that confront humankind. To put it differently, faith is a magnificent resource in our
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endeavor to overcome the multiple crises of our time. Besides, it is important to remind ourselves that for the vast majority of the human family, religion has always been a crucial point of reference in their attempt to make sense of the vicissitudes of life. Indeed, even in societies where religion seemed to have receded from the public square, there is a religious resurgence of sorts 25.
RELIGION IN REALITY While there are values and principles in the world’s religions that address our multiple crises, the critical question is this: do the millions and millions of followers of the different religions, and the religious elites that they listen to, focus upon these crises and the values and principles related to them? Before we try to answer that question, it is important to clarify that my response will be conditioned to some extent by the fact that I am a Muslim and it is the realities obtaining in the Muslim world that I am most familiar with. Nonetheless, I have transcended religious boundaries and not only in the public square; even in my private space I have crossed religious lines and interacting with individuals of different religious persuasions has been so much a part of my own reality. To return to the question, it is quite conceivable that a lot of practicing Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and people of other religions see their faith as the panacea to all the ills that have befallen the world. Among Muslims in particular, the rallying cry has been “Return to the Quran and Sunnah” which in many instances is augmented by the call to “Reestablish the Sharia”.26 This, they feel, is the only way of overcoming the crises that confront humankind. For the advocates of a global Islamic Caliphate, the return to the Quran and the Sunnah (way of the Prophet Muhammad), and the implementation of the Sharia, have been the cornerstone of their ideology. Since the Islamic Caliphate is a fuzzy idea, it would be more useful if we took a brief peep at how Muslims who see their religion as the panacea, address the various crises that we have analyzed. We have already observed that it is the occupation of Muslim lands and the usurpation of their resources which lie at the root of the present inter-civilizational crisis between the West and the Muslim world--- a crisis that has earned the wrath of Muslims everywhere. Muslim religious elites and a range of other Muslim groups have also been vehement in their condemnation of US helmed global hegemony in general; its hypocritical postures on democracy; the propagation of what is perceived as a Western ‘lifestyle’ and Western values; the global consumer culture; and biases in the global media, in that order. Global economic disparities, and, in recent times, the global financial crisis, have also been subjected to trenchant criticism. On the global environmental crisis however, Muslim religious elites have been less vocal. In contrast to these elites, a number of Buddhist monks and nuns in Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan have demonstrated their commitment to the environment through various grassroots activities.27Among some Hindu activists in India, the crisis that has elicited a response of sorts is the penetrative, pervasive influence of Western culture and lifestyle among the nation’s middle and upper classes. Segments of Hindu society have also been reacting to alleged Christian proselytization which is a dimension of the crisis between cultures, religions and civilizations in today’s world. There are individuals and groups within Christian Orders and among lay Christians in the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka
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and Indonesia who are not only opposed to global military and economic hegemony but are also deeply concerned about the environmental crisis and the culture of consumerism.28 Though religious elites and religious people are concerned about the various crises that challenge us, it would be wrong to conclude that the global environment or the global economy or the global military structure is their main focus. They continue to be preoccupied with the rites and rituals, the practices and the traditions, the forms and symbols of their respective religions. In other words, preserving and perpetuating --- and sometimes, propagating---their religion is what religious elites do most of the time. By doing this, they are helping to protect the religion’s identity. Protecting their religion’s identity has become the central concern of religious elites in a world in crisis. A lot of their followers are also committed to this goal. This is especially true of the global Muslim community. Part of the reason is because Muslims feel that they are under siege; hence the need to defend their identity. It is not just invasion and occupation and other acts of aggression of recent years that have heightened Muslim insecurity and compelled a section of the community to re-assert their identity in all sorts of ways. Attacks on the integrity of the community through books and cartoons and films and speeches--- most of the time emanating from the West--- have also made the average Muslim more conscious of his identity. There are many other reasons why Muslim identity consciousness has escalated in the last couple of decades.29 Greater identity consciousness among Muslims --- understandable under the circumstances--- has nonetheless been a bane upon the community. It has strengthened the obsession with text and tradition, dogma and dictum, prohibition and punishment especially among the religious elites. They see it as a way of preserving the inner character and outer image of the religion. Of course, by assuming the role of protectors of the religion’s identity, these elites have enhanced their power. Since the community itself looks upon these elites as the only legitimate interpreters of the religion --- the ones who have the right to decide what is permissible and what is prohibited --- their moral authority is unassailable. Indeed, the interpreters of the divine word have become divine! When some dogma or practice, some prohibition or punishment, has been rendered sacrosanct by religious elites, it will be impossible to probe text and tradition in order to understand the significance of an underlying principle or value. And yet, it is these underlying principles and values that should be drawn out of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and from Islamic laws and rules as they had evolved over the centuries, to enable us to formulate solutions to the multiple global crises that confront humankind. All religions will have to do this: analyze texts, discard rules and edicts which contradict universal values and principles in the philosophy of the religion itself, and then apply those values and principles to new challenges and new situations.30 We shall return to this point later. For now let us provide examples of how we can address the underlying causes of some of our global crises through the application of values and principles without being bound to a specific text or tradition. We have shown that greed is one of the primary causes of the environmental crisis and the economic-cum- financial crisis, and is partly responsible for the growth of a culture of consumerism. The Qur’an condemns greed and narrates the story of the avaricious Qarun (chapter 28:76-82). Muslim religious elites never tire of reciting the story of Qarun but they do not realize that to curb greed one has to develop mechanisms,
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institute laws and nurture a culture that is revolted by greed. It is revealing that contemporary religious elites have not played any role in creating structures or shaping cultures that will combat greed anywhere in the Muslim world. Similarly we know that one of the principal causes of our crises is global hegemony and Muslims have been resisting it mainly through violence. While it is true that the Qur’an permits the victims of aggression and oppression to resist with the aid of arms, what is important is not so much the use of arms as the fundamental principle of resistance itself. Religious elites and a significant section of the Muslim community have given more emphasis to the use of arms based upon a literal interpretation of the Quranic text. If they had grasped the significance of the underlying principle, they would have built instead a culture of non-violent resistance. Peaceful, but active and dynamic, resistance to global hegemony may be more effective in securing the liberation of Muslim countries under occupation. After all, two semi-autocratic regimes in the Muslim world --- one in Tehran, the other in Jakarta--- were overthrown by the people through peaceful means.31 We tend to forget that in the struggle against British colonialism in the Indian sub-continent, the Pathan chieftain, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, chose the non-violent approach which he was convinced was “the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.”32 It is obvious that Muslim religious elites and perhaps the majority of Muslims are not prepared to understand and practice their faith at the level of fundamental principles and values and would rather adhere to literal interpretations of text and to the legalistic tradition in the religion. This is also true--- albeit to a lesser degree--- of the followers of most other religions. Since it is the failure to uphold fundamental spiritual and moral principles and values that is one of the underlying causes of the multiple crises confronting humankind, we view the Muslim’s present approach to religion as a liability, rather than an asset, in the struggle to overcome the crises of our time.
TRANSFORMATION: A SPIRITUAL-MORAL WORLDVIEW If an obsession with dogma and rituals, with forms and symbols, is the challenge, how does one change the mindset? How does one transform the popular understanding of, and approach to, religion? Before we attempt to answer these questions, let us make it very clear that we appreciate the role of rituals and practices, forms and symbols in religion. Prayer as a practice for instance has tremendous value. It links us to the Divine, to the Eternal. It reminds us of the true meaning and the real purpose of life. It strengthens our resolve to do good. It keeps us on the straight path. However, when the performance of the prayer becomes mechanical, its inner value recedes into the background. The mere performance of the prayer is then equated with the person’s moral worth and value. All the rites and rituals associated with the prayer assume greater significance than the meaning and purpose of prayer. This is when the forms associated with a religious practice become more important than the substance of the practice. It is this that we are critical of. It is this that has to change. Perhaps one way of changing the popular understanding of religion is to emphasize once again the essence of faith. And the essence of faith is the belief in God. It is this belief that tells us who we are; where we are from; why we are here; how we should live here; and where we will go from here.33 It is the belief in God that underscores that perennial truth, that we are mortal, that life is transient. For believers it means that we must endow this
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precious gift of life with meaning, with purpose, with beauty, that goes beyond the self. We must do good, for it is our good deeds--- and our good deeds alone--- that will serve us in the hereafter. It is giving substance to this belief in God and in goodness that makes the human being a vicegerent, a trustee--- a concept that is embodied in not just the Abrahamic religions but also in various schools of Hindu Thought and in Sikhism. It is as vicegerent that the human being protects the environment, uses finite resources with great care, ever cognizant of the needs of unborn generations of the future. As we have observed, as trustee, the human being will be profoundly conscious of the sanctity of life and desist from building and perfecting weapons of death. He will strive to eradicate the vast economic and social disparities that separate groups and classes and create a just and egalitarian order in which the dignity of each and every person is paramount. Equally important, he will ensure that ethnic prejudices and stereotypes are eliminated, while religious and cultural diversity is celebrated as God’s cherished handiwork. Indeed, fostering a strong bond of respect and empathy among people of different faiths, and within the entire human family, would be the mission of the vicegerent since unity, and the peace that ensues from it, are lauded virtues in the eyes of God. It follows from this, that for those who believe, it is their faith in a truly universal God --- not a God that is monopolized by this or that religion---that will inspire them to bring diverse communities together to share the joys and sorrows of life. What this means is that religious communities should cease to want to own God. No religious community should claim that it is the sole possessor of the Truth, that the only way to know God is through its revelation, or through its Prophet or Messenger. Since God is the Absolute Truth, we should all be humble enough to see ourselves as pilgrims in the journey towards that Absolute Truth that is beyond human comprehension.34 One of the reasons why a truly universal conception of God is still weak in the different religious traditions is because of our tendency to view God through a particular religious prism, often colored by its own theology and history. Gradually, this theological and historical understanding of God becomes more dominant than the universal vision of God itself. As some Zen Buddhist put it in another context, “The finger points at the moon; but one gets so engrossed in the finger that one forgets the moon.” Or, in the words of the illustrious Muslim intellectual, the late Ali Shariati, “Now we all know that religion means path, not aim; it is a road, a means. All the misfortunes that are observable in religious societies arise from the fact that religion has changed its spirit and direction; its role has changed so that religion has become an aim in itself. If you turn the road into an aim or destination --- work on it, adorn it, even worship it generation after generation for hundreds of years, love it and become infatuated with it so that every time its name is mentioned or your eye glimpses it you burst into tears; if you go to war with anyone who looks askance at it, spend all your time and money on decorating, repairing and leveling it….if you do all of this, generation after generation, for hundreds of years, what will you become? You will become lost!”35 What Shariati is saying in effect is that instead of treating religion as a path that will lead the human being to God we have begun to regard religion as an end in itself. We worship religion, not God. The transformation that we are committed to seeks to bring us back to the worship of God, and to the comprehensive universal spiritual-moral worldview associated with it.
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The question that one may want to raise at this point is this: how is such a God-centric worldview relevant to religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism when these religions do not subscribe to the belief in God? It is not possible to explore in depth how these religions stand in relationship to the concept of God in this essay. Nonetheless, a cursory glance at the subject would reveal that the Buddha himself did not repudiate the idea of God which is why 20th century Buddhist icons like Buddhadasa Bhikku have spoken of an impersonal God who is “ omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal and absolute, thus having all the necessary qualities of the “ Supreme Thing” ”36. In philosophical terms, scholars have argued that “Extinction (Nirvana) or ‘the Void’ is but God subjectivized, as a state of realization; God is but the Void objectively realized as Principle.37 Similarly, in Confucianism, there is a notion of living in accordance with the Will of Heaven. Just governance rests upon the Mandate from Heaven. (38). Perhaps what is more significant is that in the thinking of a lot of ordinary Buddhists and Confucianists, there is something that lies beyond this life, a Transcendent Reality of sorts, some Divine Power that somehow impacts upon them, and to Whom they have to be accountable. What we are suggesting is that in all religions there is a spiritual-moral dimension which has to emphasized. It is spiritual because it acknowledges the Transcendent and the Divine and links the Divine to this transient existence. It is moral because it bestows primacy upon values and virtues such as justice and freedom, kindness and compassion. The two concepts are linked because the spiritual is the ultimate source of the moral while the moral derives its strength from the spiritual. In the religious curricula for schools and universities, it is this spiritual-moral dimension that should be brought to the fore. The media should also help to develop this universal God-centric spiritual-moral worldview by applying it to concrete situations. Most of all, it would be wonderful if there were at least a few voices from within religious circles with strong theological credentials that articulated this spiritual-moral message with reason and passion instead of merely conceding the ground to those religious elites who are preoccupied with perpetuating a narrow notion of religious identity that revolves around prohibitions and punishments.
It is not just a question of strengthening the spiritual-moral dimension within a specific religion. The spiritual-moral dimension could well become the basis for dialogue and interaction among different religious communities. Even though their perspectives on God or the Divine maybe dissimilar, there are some parallels in the way in which different religions accord importance to the Transcendent Reality. Among some religions, there may also be parallels related to the hereafter, and judgment in the hereafter. However, within the spiritual realm, the parallels that are most striking are those linked to mysticism in the past. Whether it was a Muslim or Christian or Hindu mystic, they adopted a universal approach to religion. The substance of faith was more important to them than its form.39 At the level of moral values, the similarities among the different religions are even more remarkable. We have shown how they share a common moral position on the fundamental causes of the various crises that confront humanity. If we examined their positions on the seven crises we have analyzed, we would discover many similarities among the different religions. All of them espouse living in harmony with the natural environment, establishing a moral economy, exercising political power in an ethical manner, curbing militarism, telling the truth in the media, checking consumerism, and enhancing harmony among people of different religions and cultures. On health care as a public service, on buttressing character
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through education, and on the cohesiveness of the family, the various religions share common perspectives. One should add that the different religious philosophies also subscribe to the view that rights cannot be separated from responsibilities. 40 To develop a more profound commitment to shared values and principles found in the various religious philosophies --- a commitment from the heart, and not just the head--- one has to engage with different religious groups in the larger community. By working on grassroots projects related to say health or education that bring together people from different religious backgrounds, one will develop a better appreciation of their similarities and dissimilarities. One will realize that in spite of all the differences, there are many commonalities in human behavior and attitude. We will become conscious of the fact that there is a human identity that transcends our distinct religious identities. It is this common human identity that we should nurture and nourish. Affirmation of our common human identity, it should be emphasized, does not in any way threaten our religious or other identities. As we affirm our common humanity we will understand why universal spiritual-moral values and principles that transcend our religious identity are imperative in meeting the various global crises. For each and every crisis, it should be apparent, demands that all of us, whatever our religious or cultural affiliation, cooperate with one another. No religious community by itself can overcome any of the crises facing us. Besides, thanks to the new information and communication technologies,(ICT) the borderless world is an irrefutable fact. In the last 10 years, geographical, economic and even cultural borders have been rendered less and less important. Are we to believe that religious boundaries are somehow impervious to this monumental change? This is why it is crucial that we look for signs that suggest that religious consciousness will also undergo a significant transformation in the coming years --- a transformation that will weaken the hold of blind dogma and bring to the fore those universal spiritual-moral principles that we have reflected upon.
SIGNS OF HOPE? There are a number of developments that may herald a momentous change in the future. One, the emancipation of women through education and concomitant changes in employment patterns especially in Muslim countries have challenged orthodox, dogmatic thinking in matters pertaining to religion as never before. Some of these educated Muslim women have also mastered the Qurâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;an and are offering insightful interpretations about the rights of women that have exposed the misogynistic prejudices of male religious elites, past and present. These new interpretations are helping to strengthen the progressive, dynamic dimension of Islam. Two, there are groups and individuals in the Muslim diaspora --- specifically in Europe and North America--- who are also raising fundamental questions about how conservative religious elites have interpreted Islam. In fact, all over the Muslim world critical thinking of this sort has emerged, and is growing. In some countries such as Indonesia, the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most populous Muslim country, it is a powerful force and represents mainstream Islam. Of course, on a worldwide scale, it is still a minor trend. Nonetheless, this rational, humane
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perspective on Islam has strengthened the inclusive, universal understanding of, and approach to, the religion. Three, the new ICT have also played a part. They provide alternative sources of information, ideas and analyses on controversial Islamic issues--- sources managed by individuals and groups who are not religious conservatives. Millions of Muslims can access their thinking at the click of a button. Some of these blogs and websites have developed sizeable audiences. Of course, there are also many other websites and blogs that continue to plug an atavistic line. But what is important is alternative views on religious questions are now widely available to a huge segment of the Muslim community, and is having an impact. Apart from these three factors, there are two other developments that may strengthen the position of Muslims who are more inclined towards universal spiritual-moral principles in their religion. One, the current consensus is that US helmed hegemony is declining.41 If this hegemony--and the invasion and occupation of Muslim countries that accompanies it--- is one of the main reasons why a siege mentality manifested in an obsession with identity, has become more pronounced within a significant segment of the Muslim community, it is quite conceivable that with the decline and eventual demise of hegemony, Muslims will develop a more rational and sensible relationship with their identity. Dogma and ritual, laws and prohibitions, which are now harnessed to define Muslim identity may lose their grip upon the Muslim mind. This may make it easier for universal, inclusive spiritual-moral values and principles to spread within the community. Two, in addressing the various crises that have been discussed in this essay, some activists and intellectuals have attempted to show the relevance of values and principles garnered from the different religions--- which is what we have also tried to do. We shall provide a few more salient examples. Through the environmental crisis, some of the enduring principles in indigenous spiritualties have been highlighted, including their deep respect for nature. As a result of the financial crisis, a lot of people in banking and academic circles have become aware of Islamic finance and its principles. Islamic finance, for instance, emphasizes a secure asset foundation, and discourages debt-based transactions. This has attracted Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Likewise, former Iranian President, Mohammed Khatami’s call for a dialogue among civilizations in 1998 as a response to Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis, designed to perpetuate US hegemony in the postcold war era, was an attempt to shift the focus from power to ethics in international relations. As Khatami put it, “The ultimate goal of dialogue among civilizations is not dialogue in, and of itself, but attaining empathy and compassion.”42 He was articulating a new spiritual-moral principle in international relations. By emphasizing these principles, drawn from religions, we are once again establishing their relevance to a world in crisis. At the same time, for advocates of spiritual-moral principles in Islam and in other religions, it is proof of the validity of their approach. Do all these examples, trends and developments provide hope? They do. But we are under no illusion. It is a long, dark night. The political elites who command power, the economic elites who control wealth, and the religious elites who wield influence reign supreme.
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Still, we have caught a glimpse of the early glimmers, the first gleams, of light. We await the break of dawn.
is a view propounded in Wolfgang Sachs, Planet Dialectics (London: Zed Books, 1999).
Jared Diamond, Collapse How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (London: Penguin Books, 2006). 3Miguel
d’Escoto Brockman, “Opening Remarks at the High-level Event in the Millennium Development Goals” Speech (New York: United Nations General Assembly, UN Headquarters, 25 September 2008). Mr. Brockman was the President of the 63rd Session of the UN General Assembly. 4See
Global Finance Walden Bello, Nicola Bullard and Kamal Malhotra, editors (London: Zed Books, 2000). 6“World
Economic Situation and Prospects 2009 Executive Summary” Report (New York: United Nations, January, 2009) p.iii 7This
trend is analyzed in the context of India, the world’s largest democracy, by Rajni Kothari, Growing Amnesia (New Delhi: Viking, 1993). See also my Rights, Religion and Reform(London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002), especially Chapter 2, “Development and Democracy in Asia” 8See
“United Kingdom Parliamentary Expenses Scandal Wikipedia.” It was first exposed by the Daily Telegraph from 8 May 2009. 9See
my Hegemony: Justice, Peace (Shah Alam, Malaysia: Arah Publications, 2008) especially chapters 1, 3 and 4. 10For
a detailed analysis of US militarism see Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire (New York: Verso, 2004). 11See
“Global Military Expenditure Set New Record in 2008, says SIPRI.” Press Release 8 June 2009 (Stockholm: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2009). 12This
is discussed in Abdel Bari Atwan, The Secret History of Al-Qa’ida (London: Abacus, 2007) 13See Edward Herman, Beyond Democracy: Decoding the News in an Age of Propaganda (USA: South End, 1992).
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phenomenon of greed and how it is seen in the different religions is studied in Subverting Greed Paul Knitter and Chandra Muzaffar, editors (Boston: Orbis Books, 2002). 15For
an elaborate discussion of this point, see my Global Ethic or Global Hegemony? (London: ASEAN Academic Press, 2005), especially chapter 9. 16This
is one of the issues probed in Daisaku Ikeda, Light of Education (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Soka Gakkai Malaysia, 2004). 17Some
of these issues are raised in Patents, Pills and Public Health. Can TRIPS Deliver? (London: PANOS, 2002). 18For
an insightful analysis of the crisis of the modern family, see Christopher Lasch, Haven in a Heartless World (New York: Basic books, 1977). 19The
theme ‘Global Hegemony’ is analyzed in depth in Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003). 20To
appreciate this argument, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Encounter of Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1968). 21This
powerful point is made in Imam Ali, A Selection from Nahjul Balagha (Houston Texas: Free Islamic Literatures Incorporated (FILNIC), 1979) especially in the Imam’s letter to the Governor he had appointed, Malik-e-Ashter. Ali was the fourth, and most erudite, of the early Caliphs of Islam. 22I
first began expounding this ‘worldview’ in 1980. See my, “The Spiritual Worldview” in One God: Many Paths (Penang, Malaysia: Aliran, 1980). It was adumbrated in “The Spiritual Vision of the Human Being” in The Human Being: Perspectives of Different Spiritual Traditions (Penang: Aliran, 1991). The concept has been refined in several essays since then, the latest being in “Towards a Universal Spiritual-Moral Vision of Global Justice and Peace” in Religion Seeking Justice and Peace Chandra Muzaffar, editor (Penang: Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia 2010) 23See
Nikki R. Keddie, An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani (USA: University of California Press, 1968) 24Quoted
in Fred Dallmayr, Small Wonder Global Power and its Discontents (USA: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005) p. 28. 25Many
examples of religious resurgence are provided in The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics Peter L. Berger, editor (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1999) 26One
of the best known proponents of this was of course the late Pakistani theologian – activist Abu’la’la Maududi. See for instance his Islamic Law and Constitution (Lahore, Pakistan: Islamic Publications, 1955). 27For
some discussion of this see Engaged Buddhism Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia Christopher Queen and Sallie B. King editors (New York: State University of New York Press, 1996)
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philosophy is contained in “A People’s Charter on Peace for Life” Charter (Korea: Hwacheon, 2008) 29These
reasons are discussed in my Exploring Religion in our Time (Penang: Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia, 2010). See especially the chapter on “Religion and Identity in a Globalising World.”
this regard an interesting work that examines a new methodology of interpreting the Qur’an is Abdullah Saeed’s Interpreting the Qur’an Towards a Contemporary Approach (London: Routledge, 2006). 31Non-violent
resistance in Muslim settings is looked at in my Muslims, Dialogue Terror (Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: International Movement for a Just World, 2003) especially chapters 2 and 3. 32Quoted
in my “ A non-Violent Struggle --- The Alternative to Suicide Bombing?” in At the Crossroads A Malaysian Reflects on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict ( Petaling Jaya: Bakti Ehsanmurni, 2005). For a comprehensive study of non-violence and power see Jonathan Schell The Unconquerable World (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003). 33This
is elaborated in my “A Spiritual Vision of the Human Being” op.cit
is a view that has been expressed on a number of occasions by the highly respected Islamic scholar, Professor Mahmoud Ayoub, who for many years was at Temple University in Philadelphia. I have discussed this idea of a God that is not owned by any religion in my Exploring Religion in our Time op.cit. 34See
Ali Shari’ati On the Sociology of Islam ( Berkeley, California: Mizan Press, 1979) p. 93.
Santikaro Bhikku, “ Buddhadasa Bhikkhu: Life and Society Through the Natural Eyes of Voidness” in Engaged Buddhism,op.cit p. 161. 37See
Frithjof Schoun, In the Tracks of Buddhism (London: Mandala Unwin Paperbacks, 1989) p.19. 38This
is explained in Huston Smith, The Religions of Man (New York: Harper and Row, 1958) pp 190- 191. See also Tu Wei-Ming Humanity and Self-Cultivation (Berkeley: Asian Humanities, 1979). 39No mystic expressed this universal approach to religion more lucidly than the great Sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi. See his Rumi Daylight (USA: Threshold Books, 1994). 40For
an analysis of the rights-responsibilities nexus, see my, “Transforming Rights: Five Challenges for the Asia-Pacific” in my Rights, Religion and Reform op.cit 41See 42
chapter 2 in particular in my Hegemony: Justice, Peace op.cit
See “Empathy and Compassion” The Iranian 8 September 2000
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CHAPTER 2 : THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR ---AND THE PRAWN BEHIND THE STONE. The essay below was first presented as a paper at an International Roundtable meeting themed The Global War on Terror and its implications for Muslim-Western Relations organized by the International Progress Organization (IPO) with the cooperation of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies (CenPRIS), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) at USM, Penang on 13-14 December 2007. It was subsequently published as a chapter in The Global War on Terror and the Question of World Order Hans Kochler( editor) (Vienna, International Progress Organization, 2008)
‘Udang sebalik batu’ or ‘the prawn behind the stone’ is a well-known saying in the Malay language that alludes to concealed, ulterior motives behind a person’s word or deed. The Global War on Terror (GWT) is the stone that conceals a huge prawn, the Washingtonled drive for global hegemony. I shall attempt to reveal the prawn by first analyzing the actions and manipulations of Washington and its allies since the launch of the GWT. I shall then look at the episode that led to the GWT itself, namely, 9-11. This will be followed by a peep at the thinking that preceded 9-11 which will help to shed more light on the ulterior motives behind the GWT. After that ---after exposing the prawn--- I shall argue that the drive for global hegemony has failed. Numerous instances of failure will be enumerated. I shall conclude on an optimistic note: that a non-hegemonic world is emerging on the horizon.
ACTIONS AND MANIPULATIONS
Afghanistan, Central Asia and Pakistan As soon as the Washington elite and its allies launched the GWT, it became obvious to discerning observers that there were hidden motives behind it. A US led military coalition ousted the Taliban from its perch of power in Afghanistan in October 2001 because it protected the late Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the terror attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. With Afghanistan under its control, the US extended its tentacles into the Central Asian republics for two cleverly concealed reasons. The first is linked to energy. The US elite ---acting partly in response to the demands of the oil barons--- is determined to gain control over the rich oil and gas resources of Central Asia. Writing soon after the invasion of Afghanistan, a political analyst noted that, “The most
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coveted resource on earth is the giant oil-field in the Caspian Sea region, that competes in scale with the riches of Saudi Arabia. In 2010 it is expected to yield 2.3 billion barrels of crude oil per day, in addition to 4850 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year.”1 The analyst was convinced that, “The United States was determined to a) take possession of it b) eliminate all potential competitors c) safeguard the area politically and militarily and d) clear a way from the oil-fields to the open sea.”2 In fact, in early June 2002, the US engineered an agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan which would allow for the “construction of a 1.9 billion pipeline from the Turkmen natural gas fields at Daulatabad through to the south-western Pakistani port of Gawadar.”3 A parallel oil pipeline was also envisaged at that time. The construction of the pipeline was supposed to start in 2006 but has been delayed mainly because the southern part of Afghanistan through which the pipeline is expected to run is still under de facto Taliban control. There has also been some talk in oil and political circles that the US is contemplating building a pipeline from Azerbaijan through Afghanistan ending up in either India or Pakistan. The second reason is connected to Washington’s perpetual quest for military supremacy. Within months of the invasion of Afghanistan, the US established military bases in three of the Central Asian republics, namely Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Of course, its strongest military presence is in Afghanistan itself, under the banner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Whenever the US sets up military bases, the economic factor --in this instance, securing control over oil and gas--- is an important consideration. Often, geopolitical interests also figure prominently. Through its military presence in Central Asia, the US has sent a strong signal to Russia which in the name of the demised Soviet Union had exercised suzerainty over the Central Asian republics. The US has now expanded its military power right into Russia’s backyard. It is also a message to China. By flexing its military muscles in the region, the US is in fact telling China which shares borders with a couple of the Central Asian republics that it is in a position to curb its (China’s) growing economic and political influence in Asia.4 Enhancing its strength in Afghanistan and Central Asia is not the GWT’s only mission. The GWT has also helped the US to tighten its grip over Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan. The Afghan-Pakistan border zone is apparently the home of terrorists associated with Al-Qaeda, the clandestine organization which Osama headed. By assisting Pakistan to combat terrorists, the US has sought to exercise greater political control over the world’s only Muslim nuclear weapons state. The US’s post 9-11 relationship with Pakistan is also an attempt to dissuade the latter from getting closer to its historical ally, China. West Asia and North Africa (WANA) However, neither Pakistan, nor Afghanistan nor the Central Asian republics are the real reason for the GWT. It is Washington’s desire to exercise total hegemony over West Asia and North Africa (WANA) --- the name I prefer over the “Middle East” --- that is the driving force behind the GWT. The invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003 was supposed to be the lynchpin in this drive. Iraq not only possesses the second largest oil reserves in WANA which in turn is the world’s most important oil exporter but a lot of its oil wealth --47 out of 71 discovered oilfields --- remain untapped.5 Besides, Iraqi oil is just below the surface and therefore relatively low in terms of cost of production, and is of high quality as well. At a time when global oil production has peaked and the global demand for oil is increasing at a rapid rate, one can understand why Iraqi oil with all its advantages has
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become such a magnet, tempting the world’s sole superpower to embark upon an unjust and immoral war. With the Tigris and Euphrates flowing through the land, Iraq also has a huge reservoir of water in a region where the scarcity of this commodity could lead to serious hydro-conflicts in the future.6 Iraqi water, apart from Iraqi oil, could be one of the reasons why the US- led conquest of Iraq was such an important trophy for the US’s intimate ally, Israel. For Israel, and for Zionists in the US and Europe, the conquest of Iraq also meant the elimination of Saddam Hussein, one of their most determined adversaries---- an adversary who commanded the economic wealth and the scientific and military potential to challenge Israel’s regional hegemony.7 One of the baseless allegations directed at Saddam to justify his overthrow was that he would make his non-existent weapons of mass destruction available to terrorist groups bent on attacking the US. This allegation about aiding and abetting terrorist groups has been used against a number of political actors in WANA by both Washington and Tel Aviv since 911. It was to crush the Hezbollah ‘terrorists’ that Israel launched its 34 day aggression against the people of Lebanon in the middle of 2006. Washington and London gave full support to Israel, as part of the GWT. Needless to say, for Washington, London and Tel Aviv, any group that resists their hegemony over WANA and is determined to protect the people’s freedom and independence, is a terrorist organization. Another political actor that has been labeled a conduit for terror is Syria. Because it is committed to the protection of its sovereignty and independence, Syria has been subjected to increased pressure from the US and Israel in the wake of the GWT. The Islamic Republic of Iran which will also not yield to US hegemony or Israeli dominance is projected as yet another sponsor of terrorism in the mainstream Western media. There is another reason why Iran is being targeted. Washington and Tel Aviv want Iran to stop its nuclear research because they fear that it could lead to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified through numerous inspections that Iran’s nuclear research program is for civilian use, the US and Israel --- both nuclear weapons states--- insist that Iran should be denied a right exercised by dozens of other states.8 Here again, Washington has stretched its notion of a GWT to protect what it perceives as Israel’s security. Controlling Iran may have yet another motive. Iran is after all one of the world’s major oil exporters. For Israel, the GWT serves yet another purpose. It provides a convenient rationalization for its own war against Palestinian freedom fighters. Ever since its establishment as a state in 1948 with the help of the Western powers, Israel regards any use of force against it by Palestinians and other Arabs as an act of terror. Very few Israelis are prepared to acknowledge that since Israel was created through the usurpation and annexation of Palestinian land and the expulsion and elimination of the Palestinian people, the dispossessed have a right to resist Israeli subjugation by whatever means available. For many Israelis, Palestinian freedom fighters, especially from the resistance movement, Hamas, are just terrorists, pure and simple. This is why when 9-11 happened, the Israeli leadership saw that catastrophic carnage as an opportunity to draw the whole world to its side in its battle against so-called ‘terrorist groups’. 9 From our analysis so far, it is clear that the GWT is designed to further the agenda of the US and its allies. Apart from oil and geopolitics, it is also meant to serve the interests of Israel
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and Zionist groups elsewhere. These goals are often intertwined. Some of the same goals will re-appear as we look at the GWT in other parts of the world. The Horn of Africa. Since the beginning of the GWT, the US and the West in general have escalated their rhetoric against the Sudanese government for its alleged ‘genocide’ in Darfur. While it is true that a quarter million people may have died in that part of Sudan in inter-tribal warfare, and the government is not free of blame, it would be wrong to accuse Khartoum of deliberately wiping out its own people. The conflict is rooted in a struggle over grazing rights and access to water between subsistence farmers and nomadic herders, aggravated by years of drought and famine. It is not, as the Western media has made it out to be, a straightforward conflict between Arab militias sponsored by the Khartoum government and Africans. As the Black Commentator of October 27 2004 put it, “All parties involved in the Darfur conflict--whether they are referred to as ‘Arab’ or as ‘African’ are equally indigenous and equally Black. All are Muslim and all are local.”10 The centers of power in the West and their media have systematically distorted the situation in Darfur and presented a certain segment of the population as victims of State terror in order to justify eventual Western military intervention in that region. Darfur, it is believed, has huge oil reserves and “large deposits of natural gas. In addition, it has one of the three largest deposits of high-purity uranium in the world, along with the fourth largest deposit of copper.”11 It is also important to remember that Sudan is geographically the biggest country in Africa and strategically located on the Horn of Africa. It borders seven other African states. Most of all, the Sudanese government refuses to submit to US hegemony and pursues an independent foreign policy which has sometimes collided with US interests in the African continent.12 Sudan for instance has close ties with China. China is actively involved in Sudan’s oil industry and in other economic enterprises. Washington wants to curb growing Chinese influence in the continent especially in those countries with tremendous economic wealth and potential. Instead of examining the Darfur situation in depth and developing some understanding of how the US is trying to achieve its hegemonic agenda in Sudan, a whole spectrum of groups and individuals in the US have been drawn into the ‘Save Darfur’ campaign. Hollywood celebrities, media personalities and top politicians are all part of it. The push for the campaign is coming from prominent Zionist organizations and right-wing evangelical Christian groups in the States. The way in which the media has been reporting on Darfur, complete with dramatic images of dying children and dead mothers, has undoubtedly played a significant role in the mobilization of American public opinion against the Khartoum government. Somalia is the other state on the Horn of Africa that is on the US radar screen. After its 1993 debacle in Somalia, Washington has chosen to intervene this time through a US friendly state in the region. On 24 December 2006, the Bush Administration got the Ethiopian government to mount an invasion of Somalia. The excuse concocted by the invaders was that the government in power in Somalia, the Union of Islamic Courts ( UIC) had terrorist links and was sheltering al- Qaeda suspects and bases in the country.
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It should be noted at this juncture that the UIC which had come to power in June 2006 after ousting a bunch of effete, corrupt leaders, brought a degree of law and order to most of Somalia--- something Somalia that had not seen for more than 15 years. Using Islam as a rallying point, it managed to unite the warring clans that have been the Achilles heel of Somali politics for so long. The UIC also began to implement effective measures against corruption and abuse of power. What irked Washington however was the UIC’s determination to protect Somali independence and sovereignty. Washington saw it as a threat to its interests. Located on the Horn, Somalia, like Sudan, is strategic. The Horn provides access to the Red Sea and is a vital link to the Indian Ocean. It explains why the US has an aircraft carrier in the region and a military base in Djibouti. There is also the question of oil. A 1991 World Bank study of the petroleum potential of eight African states “puts Somalia (and Sudan) at the top of the list of prospective commercial oil producers.”13 This is one of the main reasons why since the end of the Cold War, the US has been trying hard to gain control of Somalia. As we have seen, it has now employed al-Qaeda and the GWT to secure a foothold. Southeast Asia From the Horn of Africa we move to Southeast Asia which has a central role in Washington’s grand strategy for global hegemony. As soon as the GWT commenced, policy makers and planners in Washington were talking of re-establishing a military presence in the Philippines to help the Arroyo government combat Muslim terrorists in the southern part of the country.14 The renewed terrorist activities of a renegade group, the Abu Sayyaf, provided the excuse for the dispatch of a small contingent of US military advisers and soldiers to the Philippines. But the real reasons behind the US attempt to strengthen its military presence in Southeast Asia are more complex. Southeast Asia is where the Straits of Malacca is. It is one of the world’s most important sea-lanes. Half of the world’s oil and one-third of its trade pass through the Straits.15 Even US military personnel from its Pacific Command have to go through the Straits en route to WANA. For a nation seeking global hegemony, control over such a vital sea-lane--- and indeed control over all vital sea-lanes --- is critical. Besides, “Southeast Asia, with its over 570 million people and a combined nominal GDP of $880 billion, has outrun other traditional partners as one of the US’ largest trading partners and investment destinations. It also has the world’s largest reserves of tin, copper, gold, and other resources such as rubber, hemp, and timber; new oil and gas reserves are still being explored and their true potential is yet unknown.”16 It is not surprising therefore that Washington wants Southeast Asia --- a region with which it already enjoys close ties--- to remain firmly on its side. There is an additional reason why the US is determined to ensure that this scenario does not change, come what may. It is its fear of China. Southeast Asia is China’s immediate neighbor. Apart from geography, there are deep historical and cultural ties between China and Southeast Asia. Trade, investments, and interactions in the fields of education, technology and tourism are more extensive and intensive than ever before. For the US, “of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States…”17. This is why the US is seeking to surround China “with the full range
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of its military infrastructure--- bases, weapons, pre-positioned equipment, undersea warfare capabilities, persistent surveillance, training sites, and all other capacities that would allow the US to take control of the region and rapidly deploy in case the need arises.”18 US strategic manoeuvers in other parts of Asia also reveal its obsession with the containment of China. It is pushing hard for the re-arming of Japan as a way of counteracting China’s potential military strength. At the same time, the US is reinforcing its military relationship with India --- partly through Israel--- and has promised India that it will help the latter to become a world power, presumably to take on China.19 There is no denying that the US will go all out to ensure that no nation or group of nations will ever be able to challenge its military supremacy. We shall elaborate upon this later. The GWT, there is no need to emphasize, is part of the US strategy to achieve global hegemony through control over critical resources such as oil and crucial routes and regions. It is also designed to secure Israel’s interests in WANA. If the GWT is so important to the pursuit of Washington’s global agenda, shouldn’t we look more closely at that one episode which triggered off the GWT? What exactly happened on 9-11? The 9-11 Episode The official version of 9-11 is that on 11 September 2001, Muslim hijackers had used airplanes to attack the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C, killing a total of almost three thousand women and men. Within weeks of the tragic episode, analysts and journalists in the US and Europe began to raise questions about the official version of how events unfolded on that fateful day. There were calls for a truly independent inquiry into 9-11 from organizations and individuals in various parts of the world, including the US. These calls have gone unheeded. The critics of the official version ask why were the airplanes that hit the WTC not intercepted, especially since there was evidence that they had been hijacked? Did the WTC Towers collapse due to the impact of the airplanes and the heat it produced, or was the collapse caused by explosives placed throughout the building as some experts have argued? Was it really an aircraft that struck the Pentagon or was the building hit by a missile? What explains President George Bush’s bizarre behavior when the attacks occurred? Did US officials have advance information about 9-11? 20 There are so many unanswered questions about 9-11 that there is now a movement in the US which is seeking to establish the truth about that episode. Was 9-11 deliberately orchestrated by perhaps the CIA or a group within it, the US military and the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, to provide the legitimacy and the justification for a global war on terror that would witness the invasion of oil rich, strategic Muslim countries as part of the US’s diabolical plan for global hegemony? One should not be surprised that the US, or other states for that matter, whether big or small, sometimes orchestrate events or incidents in pursuit of their clandestine agendas. In 1962 for instance US Defense Chiefs hatched a plot that comprised a series “of pretexts which would provide justification for US military intervention in Cuba.”21 Fortunately, the plot known as ‘Operation Northwoods’ was rejected by then President, John F. Kennedy. However, in 1964, another US President,
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Lyndon B. Johnson, was complicit in the blatant fabrication of the ‘Gulf of Tonkin’ incident that was used as the justification for the carpet- bombing of Vietnam in the sixties at the height of the Vietnam War. It is because of this backdrop that the Austrian political philosopher, Hans Kochler, has been trying to persuade Muslim governments and others to demand that the US Administration tell the truth and nothing but the whole truth about 9-11.22 Can we expect the Administration to do this when the truth may expose its sordid role in one of the most concealed and camouflaged episodes in history?
THE ROOTS OF THE GWT That 9-11 is part of the drive for global hegemony is borne out by some of the ideas that were articulated by some influential groups and individuals in the years preceding the episode. We regard these ideas as the roots of the GWT which, as we have seen, is the strategy that the Bush Administration had adopted in pursuit of global hegemony. As soon as the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, then Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney, got his Deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, to produce a document that would be the basis of US’s post cold war military planning. That document, the 1992 Defense Planning Guide, states, “our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that formerly posed by the Soviet Union… Our strategy must now re-focus on precluding the emergence of any future potential global competitor.”23
Though George Bush Senior’s defeat in the 1992 Presidential election prevented Cheney, Wolfowitz and their friends from implementing the Defense Planning Guide, the new President, Bill Clinton, was also determined to perpetuate US military superiority. His military forays into Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan were meant to prove the point. It was his Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, who once asked her Chief of Staff, Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”24 These bellicose pronouncements and actions were not enough to convince the hardliners that Clinton was willing to harness US military prowess to the hilt. Even if he was, there was the other problem of convincing the American public that the US should flex its military muscles in foreign countries. One of those hardliners, former National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was of the view that consensus on foreign policy issues will be difficult to achieve “except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat”25. Brzezinski had also noted that the American public had “supported America’s engagement in World War 11 largely because of the shock effect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”26. Three years later, in 2000, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and some other hardliners, known as the neo-conservatives (neo-cons), advanced a similar argument that the process of transforming the thinking of the people on the US’s external military role was “likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event--- like a new Pearl Harbor.”27. It is this line of reasoning that contributes to the doubts and suspicions surrounding the 911 attacks. Was 9-11 the new Pearl Harbor? Was it that ‘catastrophic and catalyzing event’
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that was deliberately manufactured to facilitate the GWT? If the doubts and suspicions have increased it is because the neo-cons had coalesced around George Bush Junior before his election to the Presidency in early 2001, and had allegedly convinced him that Washington should seek global hegemony through its military supremacy. The neo-cons laid out this mission in the document quoted above entitled ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century’ as part of their Project for the New American Century. It was published in 2000. In it the neo-cons say that, “At present, the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should be to preserve and expand this advantageous position as far into the future as possible…”28. Two leading neo-con ideologues, Robert Kagan and William Kristol were even more forthright. In their words, “A strong America capable of projecting force quickly and with devastating effect to important regions of the world would make it less likely that challengers to regional stability would attempt to alter the status quo to their favor…. In Europe, in Asia and in the Middle East, the message we should be sending to potential foes is: Don’t ever think about it.”29 It is significant that the thinking of the neo-cons was absorbed into the Bush Administration’s official National Security Strategy released in September 2002.30 The document justifies a new aggressive US foreign policy that includes pre-emptive strikes against perceived enemies. It espouses US domination of the world through expansion of its global military power. In a nutshell, the desire to seek global hegemony through military might expressed itself immediately after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, it received renewed emphasis only with the ascendancy of Bush Junior. The GWT, as we have observed a number of times, is the instrument that Washington and its allies employ in their quest for global hegemony. In a sense, the GWT conceals the US’s pursuit of military hegemony. It diverts attention from global hegemony itself.
DYING PRAWN But the US helmed endeavor to impose global hegemony is provoking resistance everywhere. If we began with our first category of states---Afghanistan, the Central Asian republics and Pakistan---this is obvious. In Afghanistan, immediately after the invasion of October 2001, it appeared for a while that the US and its NATO partners had everything under control. Now the Taliban and other resistance groups are striking back. They have regained lost territory and are killing NATO troops. This is what happens very often when a guerrilla movement is pitted against a technologically superior, militarily advanced force. The guerillas may suffer losses; they withdraw; after a while, they re-group and then they attack again. Most of the time, guerilla movements triumph in the end--- especially when they are fighting against foreign occupation of their land. In the Central Asian republics too, the US is not having an easy time. In July 2005, “Uzbekistan ordered US troops to leave and to close their base. Kyrgyzstan has since called for a review of the basing agreement with the US and now charges “market rent” for the US’ continued use of the base, up from $3 million to $200 million a year. Azerbaijan refused to station US troops.”31 Both these Central Asian republics, together with Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional grouping initiated by China and Russia in 2001. It now includes Mongolia, Pakistan, India
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and Iran as observers. Called the “NATO of the East” by some analysts, the SCO is perceived in some circles as a military counter-balance to the US in the region32. It conducted a widely publicized large-scale joint military exercise in August 2007. The situation in Pakistan is somewhat different. While former President Musharraf was a US ally, a significant segment of the populace is totally opposed to US hegemony. In fact, antihegemonic sentiments have become stronger in the wake of the GWT which, as we have seen, has impacted directly upon the nation. Resistance to hegemony is even stronger in WANA. In the course of the last 5 years, tens of thousands of Iraqis have died defending the sovereignty and independence of their country. It is true that a number of the dead are victims of the Sunni-Shiite violence generated largely by the US-led occupation of Iraq just as senseless, mindless acts of terror that target innocent civilians have also claimed countless lives. The Iraqi resistance has also gone through the ebbs and flows that are germane to any struggle for liberation. Nonetheless, both armed and non-armed resistance to occupation—the latter is given very little publicity in the mainstream Western media--- remains strong. The majority of the Lebanese people are also against hegemony --- the hegemony of Israel, the US and certain other Western powers. As the conduit of that resistance, the Hezbollah not only defended the territorial integrity of Lebanon against Israeli aggression in JulyAugust 2006 but also proved that it was capable of rendering the much lauded Israeli air force impotent and ineffective. Today, Hezbollah led resistance has expanded beyond the Shiites, numerically the largest group in Lebanon, to embrace segments of the Sunni and Christian communities. Syria continues to resist US-Israeli hegemony. So does Iran. The governments in both these countries, as we have observed, are determined to protect the independence and sovereignty of their nations against overwhelming odds. It is a determination that is shared by the Syrian and Iranian people. However, more than the resistance of Hezbollah and Iran, the most remarkable resistance to hegemony in the whole of WANA is the resistance of the Palestinian people. In spite of everything --- expulsions, assassinations, embargoes, sanctions and indeed, ethnic cleansing---the Palestinians have refused to yield to Israeli occupation and subjugation even though they know it is backed by the world’s strongest military power and its Western allies. Palestinian resistance has been the greatest stumbling block to the Israeli, US and Western dream of establishing total hegemony over the oil and strategic routes of WANA. Since control and dominance over WANA is sine qua non for global hegemony, the Palestinians--- more than any other people on earth --- have thwarted the triumph of US helmed global hegemony.33 From WANA to the Horn of Africa. Sudan is another nation that has been staunch and steady in its resistance to US and Western hegemony. A sizeable section of the Somali citizenry is also not prepared to surrender to US hegemony embodied in the military presence of its surrogate, Ethiopia. The violence that engulfs Somalia at this point in time --- a million have fled its capital Mogadishu---is a direct or indirect consequence of the Ethiopian invasion of December 2006. There is also subtle resistance to the US quest for hegemony in Southeast Asia. Though the US military has easy access to ports in the region and some Southeast Asian countries even
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host US military installations, no state is prepared to allow the US to set up a military base on its territory. More important, both Malaysia and Indonesia have been consistent in their opposition to any attempt by the US to exercise control over the Straits of Malacca. However, little Singapore, the third littoral state as far as the Straits is concerned, is prepared to accommodate US interests but it carries much less weight than its two neighbors on this and other major regional issues. All Southeast Asian States are also not willing to undertake any measure or embark upon any scheme that will antagonize China. In fact, all of them, to a greater or lesser degree, value their close relationship with their huge northern neighbor. This attitude towards China has been a source of frustration to the US which as we have seen is seeking ways and means of curbing China’s rise as a new Asian and global power. We have shown that in all the four regions that we have studied there is resistance to US hegemony. This is why we have concluded that the prawn --- the quest for global hegemony--- is not doing well. In fact, if we went beyond the scope of this essay and examined in depth certain other developments, such as China’s economic ascendancy, Russia’s military re-assertion, the rejection of the Washington Consensus by a number of Latin American states, the concerted opposition to US hegemony from an important segment of global civil society, and the growing chorus of critical voices in the US itself questioning aspects of US foreign policy, we would be convinced that the prawn is actually dying! There is no doubt at all that the death of the prawn would augur well for the world. When the Washington elite and its allies realize that their attempt to exercise global hegemony is a failure and that it is better for the US to be a republic rather than an empire, there will be less anger and antagonism towards the US from other nations and peoples. Hopefully, it will lead to greater understanding and respect for one another within the human family. Within such an atmosphere it will be easier to work towards a world where justice and equality signify the relationship between nations and peoples. Yes, a world where there is justice ands equality for all human beings is possible ---- if there is no prawn behind the stone.
Uri Avnery ‘The Great Game’ Internet Posting 9 February 2002.
Peter Symonds, ‘New US Empire is no accident’ Bangkok Post 16 June 2002.
‘The War on Terrorism and Hegemonic Power’ in my Muslims Dialogue Terror ( Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: International Movement for a Just World, 2003). 5See
Chapter 4, ‘Asia, Oil and Hegemony’ in my Hegemony: Justice; Peace ( Shah Alam, Malaysia: Arah Publications, 2008)
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Bouguerra Water Under Threat (London and New York: Zed Books/ Alliance of Independent Publishers, 2006). 7See
Muslims Dialogue Terror op.cit especially chapters 12 and 13.
Hegemony: Justice; Peace op.cit chapter 6.
Petras The Power of Israel in the United States (United States: Clarity Press, 2006).
in Sara Flounders ‘The U.S Role In Darfur, Sudan Oil Reserves Rivaling Those of Saudi Arabia?’ JUST Commentary August 2006. p.10 11Ibid.
12Glenn Ford ‘A Tale of Two Genocides, Congo and Darfur’ JUST Commentary October 2007. 13See
my ‘Somalia: The US Intervenes Again’ JUST Commentary January 2007.
US operated the Clark air base and the Subic naval base in the Philippines until 1992. These bases were forced to close as a consequence of an earlier popular uprising against the Marcos regime. For a discussion on this in the context of democracy and terrorism see my ‘Hegemony, Terrorism and War – Is Democracy the Antidote?’ Widener Law Review X111(2), 2007. (Delaware, USA: Widener University School of Law, 2007). 15Herbert
Docena ‘At the Door of All the East’ The Philippines in United States Military Strategy Report (Bangkok: Focus on the Global South, November 2007) p.29. 17Ibid.
my ‘Containing China: A Flawed Agenda’ in Asia-Pacific Geopolitics Hegemony vs Human Security J.A. Camilleri et.al (editors) (United Kingdom: Edward Elgar, 2007). 21For
an insightful analysis see David Ray Griffin The New Pearl Harbor (Gloucestershire, Britain: Arris Books, 2004). 22Ibid.
Hans Kochler made this point at the Roundtable on ‘The Global War on Terror’ organized by the International Progress Organization (IPO) with the cooperation of the Center for Policy Research and International Studies ( CenPRIS), Universiti Sains Malaysia, (USM) in USM on 13-14 December 2007 24‘At
the Door of All the East’ op.cit p.10.
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New Pearl Harbor op.cit. p.96.
America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century’ www.newamericancentury.org p.51. 28‘At
the Door of All the East’ op.cit. p.12.
‘Introduction: National Interest and Global Responsibility’ in Present Dangers Robert Kagan and William Kristol (editors) (San Francisco, California: Encounter Books, 2000) p.16. 30‘The
National Security Strategy of the United States of America’ Report ( Washington D.C. : White House, September 2002) 31‘At
the Door of All the East’ op.cit. p.104.
my ‘Resisting Hegemony; Raising Dignity’ in Asking ,We walk The South as new Political Imaginary Book One Corrine Kumar (editor)(Bangalore, India: Streelekha Publications, 2007)
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CHAPTER 3: PEACE AND RAPPROCHEMENT OR VIOLENCE AND CONFLICT? The essay below was the Keynote Address at a UNESCO Regional Dialogue on Peace and Security in Asia and the Pacific on the theme “The Rapprochement of Cultures” held in Kuala Lumpur on 20-21 September 2010. It was organized jointly by UNESCO and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (the National University of Malaysia)
The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) comes to an end this year. As a culmination to the decade, 2010 has been proclaimed as the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures. It also marks the beginning of a new strategy that gives increased importance to the fostering of cultural diversity and dialogue. PEACE; RAPPROCHEMENT The curtain raiser for the Decade was UNESCO’s Year for the Culture of Peace (2000). The highlight of the Year for the Culture of Peace was the Manifesto 2000. The Manifesto, prepared by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, was presented to the President of the UN General Assembly in the last quarter of 2000. At “the time of presentation to the General Assembly, 60 million people had signed and committed themselves to the principles of peace and nonviolence that the Manifesto espouses.”1 During the Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence, numerous seminars and workshops have been organized in different parts of the world on the theme. Schools and universities have also played their part. Since the Decade is dedicated to the children of the world, some of the activities have concentrated upon their interests and aspirations. The International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (IYRC) seeks “to demonstrate the benefits of cultural diversity by acknowledging the importance of the constant transfers and exchanges between cultures and the ties forged between them since the dawn of humanity.”2 Towards this end, the IYRC has identified four major themes that constitute in essence its new strategy. They are i) “promoting reciprocal knowledge of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity; ii) building a framework for commonly shared values; iii) strengthening quality education and the building of intercultural competences; iv) fostering dialogue for sustainable development.”3 UNESCO and some member states of the UN have already, or, are in the process of, implementing specific activities in the name of the IYRC. Fairs and festivals, exhibitions and conferences have been held. In some of these, emphasis was given to the adoption of an integrated vision of the cultural heritage of a community. At the same time, the importance of inter-cultural dialogue, which includes inter-religious dialogue, continues to be
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highlighted. The IYRC has also witnessed attempts to change negative perceptions of the culture or religion of the other through the Internet. Even traditional knowledge and indigenous knowledge systems, which have contributed to sustainable development, have received some attention. IMPACT What has been the impact of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and NonViolence and the IYRC, especially upon Asia and its people? It is irrefutably true that only small coteries are aware of the Decade and the IYRC and what they stand for. The vast majority of people in Asia and the rest of the world would not have heard of these noble ideas. It was perhaps only the Year of the Culture of Peace and Manifesto 2000 in particular which preceded the Decade that went beyond a miniscule fraction of the population. 24.8 million Indians for instance signed the Manifesto.4 Nonetheless, for most Indians the year 2000 or the Decade or the IYRC mean very little. Why is this so? Some of the answers seem obvious. To start with, an idea or a concept such as the Decade of Peace or the Year of the Rapprochement of Cultures does not embody that intrinsic element that would attract millions of people to it. It is not an international football tournament like the World Cup, which because of what it represents---a sport, personalities, skills, competition---- draws a mammoth response from people everywhere. Nor is a UN initiated declaration on behalf of a universal value such as peace akin to say a national campaign to eradicate polio which because it has immediate relevance to the well-being of the individual and his family elicits support from the masses with minimum effort. What this means is that one should not expect the Decade or the IYRC to capture the popular imagination the way in which certain other events and activities do. But even if we viewed the Decade and the IYRC within their own modest perimeters, public knowledge and endorsement of these efforts has been somewhat disappointing. This is partly because the media in Asia--- newspapers, radio, television --- have given scant attention to the Decade and the IYRC. Cyber-media have also not focused on these UNUNESCO endeavors. Once in a long, long while an article may appear in a newspaper about the Decade or a news item on the IYRC may be featured in a radio program. From the editor’s standpoint, these are not newsworthy projects deserving of wide publicity. In the Malaysian context, I cannot think of a single media outlet that has accorded prominence to either the Decade or the IYRC. And yet eight months of 2010 have passed by, and very soon both the Decade and the IYRC will come to an end. Governments in the Asian continent have also not been as supportive as they should be of these endeavors. Even in societies where cultural- cum-religious issues dominate politics, leaders in government and the opposition seldom make any reference to the Decade or to the IYRC. It is not part of their consciousness just as it is not on the radar screen of society’s intelligentsia. Once again, Malaysia is a case in point. There may be many reasons that explain why the media and governments in Asia have been less than lukewarm towards UNESCO’s Culture of Peace and Rapprochement of Cultures. It is quite conceivable that they feel that there are far more urgent and critical concerns that have to be addressed. They may even see a ‘Culture of Peace’ as a long-term ideal that has no immediate relevance. Indeed, it is possible that segments of the media and government may be inclined to dismiss ‘Rapprochement of Cultures’ as a difficult venture that is not worth pursuing.
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A DECADE OF VIOLENCE If skepticism about peace and rapprochement is widespread in society it may be because there has been a great deal of violence and bloodshed in the last 10 years or so--- in the very decade that has been proclaimed as ‘The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.’ An overview of the wars and conflicts during this period, 2001 to 2010, would testify to this. It is this violence and conflict that has undermined the quest for a decade of peace and a year of rapprochement. Beginning with Southeast Asia, there has been sporadic violence in southern Philippines for most of the decade under review as segments of the Moro people continue their long struggle for autonomy and identity vis-a-vis Manila. Various parts of Indonesia--- such as Bali in October 2002--- have also witnessed acts of violence perpetrated by religious extremists. In Thailand, since 2004, there appears to be a resurgence of violence associated with Malay-Muslim separatist groups in the southern part of the country, and Thai-Buddhist military and para-military forces, while Bangkok has had to confront violence of a different sort arising from partisan politics. The military junta in Myanmar has shown no hesitation in resorting to violent suppression of legitimate dissent.5 When we turn to Northeast Asia, we see in China, occasional eruptions of political violence linked to expressions of ethnic-cum-religious identity consciousness. This happened in Tibet in March 2008 and again in Xinjiang in July 2009, where Han-Uighur riots claimed 140 lives. The tensions between North Korea and South Korea, aggravated by the military presence of the United States in the region, have also resulted in violence as evinced in the sinking of a South Korean warship in March 2010 that led to the death of 46 sailors. Compared to Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, violence in South Asia has been more endemic. For 26 long years, from 1983 to 2009, Sri Lanka was in the throes of a civil war which pitted the Sinhalese majority against the Tamil minority. It was a war that killed tens of thousands of people. India has also known a lot of communal violence. It is estimated that about 2000 people died in Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. Terrorism perpetrated by Hindu and Muslim groups alike is yet another source of violence in contemporary Indian society. Then there is India’s decades old conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir--- a conflict that has taken a huge toll on innocent lives. Pakistan itself has had no respite from violence. Sectarian violence has reared its ugly head over and over again in that blighted land. Every now and then there are reports of Sunni Muslims massacring Shia Muslims and Shias murdering Sunnis. Along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, violence manifests itself in another form. Hundreds of Pakistani civilians have become victims of unmanned American drones targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, who are trying to tighten their grip upon the border region as they combat the US- helmed NATO occupation of Afghanistan. Afghanistan brings us to Central Asia. Afghanistan itself is a cauldron of violence. Since Occupation, beginning October 2001, thousands of Afghans --- some Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives, many others innocent men, women and children ---- have been killed. It is not just the occupiers who have been doing the killing; the Taliban and their allies, in the name of resisting foreign aggression and occupation, have also targeted civilians. Other states in Central Asia are also not immune from violence and conflict. In Kyrgyzstan, simmering ethnic tensions between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority, were manipulated by politicians and led to an outbreak of violence in June 2010.
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The final region in Asia under review --- West Asia—presents yet another tragic picture of war, violence and turmoil. Two years after the launch of the Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, the US and a handful of its allies invaded and occupied Iraq in March 2003.6 According to various reports, more than a million Iraqis have died as a result of the Occupation. Though a portion of US troops have been withdrawn,--- 50,000 will remain as “assist and advice” brigades--- the violence continues unabated.7 Peace remains as elusive as ever. Peace is perhaps even more elusive in Palestine which has been a victim of violence for more than six decades. In January 2009, the defenseless citizens of Gaza in Palestine were subjected to a massive assault by the Israeli armed forces which left 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. The root of the Palestinian catastrophe – it is worth reiterating--- is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the dispossession of the Palestinian people.8 Large parts of the Golan Heights in Syria and the Sheba Farm in Lebanon also remain under Israeli occupation, generating tensions in the entire region. A LITANY OF IRONIES From the five regions we have reflected upon---- Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia---it is obvious that in the decade of peace and rapprochement, there has been a great deal of violence and conflict. What is less obvious is that the violence and wars have subverted not just peace and rapprochement but also the goal that the Decade is dedicated to: the goal of peace and non-violence for the children of the world. In a number of conflict zones, children have been killed mercilessly. If we tallied the figures for children massacred in Sri Lanka, Gujarat, Kashmir, Iraq and Palestine in particular, it would certainly come up to thousands! What an irony that thousands of children should die at the hands of the perpetrators of violence in a Decade of peace dedicated to them! Is this our gift to them --- the innocent and the vulnerable in our midst--- in this Decade and in this year of the Rapprochement of Cultures? Is the Decade a bane for the children of the world? There are other ironies that may have escaped many of us. The first year of the Decade --2001--- was also the year when a group of Muslim extremists destroyed the Twin Towers in New York and part of the Pentagon in Washington D.C in the infamous September 11th , or 9-11, episode.9 Almost three thousand people were killed in those airplane attacks. An act of barbaric violence in a year dedicated to a culture of peace. In retaliation the US launched its ‘war on terror’ and chose as its first target, Afghanistan, which hosted the late Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda, the group that allegedly planned 9-11. The war on terror has lasted the entire decade dedicated to a culture of peace which is yet another irony. That irony is compounded by yet another coincidence of sorts. The US launched its war on terror in 2001, the year that the United Nations had designated as the Year of the Dialogue of Civilizations. Again, how ironical that the war on terror which more than anything else has widened the chasm between civilizations, specifically the West and the Muslim world, should have started in the very year that the Dialogue of Civilizations was proclaimed!10 And now at the end of a decade in which violence overwhelmed peace, and distrust between civilizations trumped dialogue, we solemnly declare 2010 as the international year for the rapprochement of cultures.
CAUSES Being aware of the litany of ironies that signifies the Decade and the IYRC is one thing. It is even more crucial to understand in some depth the underlying causes of the conflicts and
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wars that have burdened and bloodied the decade. It is only when we understand the causes that we will be able to formulate effective and feasible solutions. Causes of, and solutions to, conflicts should be part of peace education programs. It is an understatement that the causes of conflicts that threaten peace are often complex and varied. The contexts in which they occur have to be taken into consideration. Generalizing the causes could sometimes lead to oversimplification, and even distortion. With these caveats in mind, let us attempt to draw out some of the underlying causes of the conflicts we alluded to in the five regions of Asia. Occupation, and the dispossession that accompanies it, persuades the dispossessed to resist, which in turn leads to conflict. It may also lead to a situation in which a peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s identity is challenged, and the victims seek to restore their honor and dignity.11 Occupation may also be linked to the drive by the powerful to assert their hegemony. The quest for hegemony may be motivated by a desire to usurp the economic resources of the conquered. There are times when conflicts arise from inter-state antagonism and ideological friction. Partisan politics and political manipulation for electoral support appears to be yet another cause for conflict and violent hatred. Socio-economic disparities and marginalization have also engendered hatred and violence within segments of society. By the same token, harsh and brutal state suppression of legitimate dissent can cause tensions and bloody conflagrations. Religious bigotry and extremism and sectarian rivalries are also inextricably intertwined with many a conflict. The oppressed and fanatics for different reasons may also resort to terrorism which is yet another factor that explains turmoil and violence in some parts of Asia. Beyond causes, there are human attitudes that feed into violence and war, and are inimical to peace and harmony. Aggressiveness and belligerency are examples of such attitudes. So are the desire to dominate and control and the obsession with power, wealth and prestige. Greed and selfishness are also attitudes that contribute towards disparities and divisions in society which are not conducive to social solidarity and social cohesion. And, in the context of the IYRCâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s emphasis upon cultural diversity, ethnic exclusiveness, racial bigotry and religious fanaticism are formidable barriers to understanding and empathy among diverse communities. But the perennial--- and critical --- question is this: how does one, at the collective level, curb and control these negative attitudes and tendencies in the human being?
PEACE EDUCATION. Peace education as concept and practice is concerned about these negative attitudes. The curriculum of certain peace education courses seeks to check aggressiveness, the obsession with power, greed and bigotry by providing concrete examples of how destructive these traits are, and through individual and group introspection and reflection. While these methodologies should continue to be employed, peace education courses in Asia should seriously explore linking positive and negative attitudes, the virtues and vices that are part and parcel of the human personality with sacred knowledge, with belief in God, in a Transcendental Reality, in a Divine Presence. What this means is that virtues such as justice and peace would be seen as rooted in the Divine while vices such as an obsession with power and wealth or a tendency towards bigotry and chauvinism would be viewed as a
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transgression of divinely sanctioned values and principles.12 By acknowledging the divine root of what is good we not only strengthen the spiritual-moral fabric of society but also connect with the worldview of the majority of the people of Asia and indeed of the world. Peace as a divine value thus becomes meaningful for the masses. At the same time, by integrating the Transcendent or God and God Consciousness into peace education, we are, in a sense, making it a little easier to check negative traits since a profound relationship with the Divine often helps to transform human character for the better.13 God Consciousness apart, peace education should go beyond guiding principles like dignity and liberty and address the real and the concrete. It should examine actual situations of conflict, analyze the causes and offer solutions. Of course, some peace and conflict resolution programs run by universities in Asia do this. Much more can be done. In analyzing real and concrete situations, peace educators should take into account the prevailing structures of power and how they impact upon the quest for peace. We have shown for instance how political suppression and glaring economic injustices can generate violence. Exposing truths of this sort through peace education programs may in certain situations demand courage and conviction. Even more important, peace educators should be willing to give due emphasis to global hegemony as one of the greatest threats to peace in Asia and the world. The evidence, as we have seen, is overwhelming. And yet, in many current peace education courses there is a tendency to gloss over the question of global hegemony. It is as if we are afraid to deal with it because it involves the interests of a military superpower and its allies. Or, is it because many of us are still intellectually and psychologically subservient to the US and the West that we are not prepared to adopt a critical perspective on global hegemony? Or, is it because hegemony has become so normal and natural that we do not see it as a problem any more?14 Whatever the reason, if we are serious and sincere about peace education, the prevailing mindset will have to change. Finally, peace education, with all the changes that have been proposed here, should be directed at society at large. For far too long, peace education has been confined to universities, research institutes, think tanks, and some NGOs concerned about issues of peace. Because peace is so important for the very survival of the human family it is imperative that each and every member of the human family becomes aware of what peace entails, what undermines peace, what the consequences are when peace is threatened, and how the individual can help to advance the cause of peace. What this implies is that peace education should be part of the education of all of us--- from the kindergarten through school, right up to the university. Its contents should be disseminated through cultural and religious institutions, professional bodies, business entities, trade unions, NGOs, and most of all, the media. Wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t it be wonderful if UNESCO made the popularization, the massification of education for peace, its mission for the next decade?
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“The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001 to 2010).” http://www.unac.org/peacecp/decade/background.html p.1 2See
“International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures” www.unesco.org/culture/dialogue p.2 3Ibid.
conflicts in various parts of the world are discussed regularly in the JUST Commentary, the monthly bulletin on international affairs published by the International Movement for a Just World, based in Malaysia 6The
politics of this invasion and occupation is analyzed in a number of essays in my Muslims Dialogue Terror ( Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: International Movement for a Just World, 2003) and in my Global Ethic or Global Hegemony? (London: ASEAN Academic Press, 2005) 7For
some insights into this, see Bill Van Auken “Withdrawal from Iraq?” JUST Commentary Vol 10, No. 8 August 2010 ( Petaling Jaya: International Movement for a Just World). The article is reproduced from www.Countercurrents.org 8A
comprehensive analysis of Palestinian dispossession can be found in Edward Said Politics of Dispossession (Britain: Vintage, 1995). 9While
9-11 was an unconscionable act of evil, there are still many unanswered questions about the episode which is why respected scholars continue to demand a truly independent inquiry into 9-11. See for instance, David Ray Griffin The New Pearl Harbor (Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink Publishing, 2004) and The Global War on Terror and the Question of World Order Hans Kochler (editor) (Vienna: International Progress Organization, 2008). 10Why
the War on Terror subverted the Dialogue of Civilisations is one of the issues that I explore in my Hegemony: Justice; Peace (Shah Alam, Malaysia: Arah Publications, 2008). See especially, Chapter 14. 11The
politics of resistance in the Muslim world is studied in depth in Alastair Crooke Resistance The Essence of the Islamist Revolution (London: Pluto Press, 2009). 12Some
chapters in Religion Seeking Justice and Peace (Penang, Malaysia: Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia, 2010) Chandra Muzaffar(editor) elaborate upon this point. 13The
role of divinely rooted values in checking wrongdoings is discussed in Abul Quasem The Ethics of Al-Ghazali (Malaysia: Muhammad Abu Quasem, 1975). See also the work of Syed Abdul Latif The Mind Al-Qur’an Builds (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2002).
are some of the issues probed in Noam Chomsky Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003). Some interesting insights
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can also be found in various chapters of Globalization and Civilization. Are they Forces in Conflict? Ali A. Mazrui, Patrick M. Dikkir and Shalahudin Kafrawi (editors) (New York: Global Scholarly Publications, 2008).
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CHAPTER 4: THE DECLINE OF US HELMED GLOBAL HEGEMONY: THE EMERGENCE OF A MORE EQUITABLE PATTERN OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS? The essay below was presented as a paper at the Rhodes Forum, in Rhodes, Greece, 3-8 October 2012. The forum was organized by the World Public Forum.
This essay is a modest attempt at offering some tentative thoughts on one of the most momentous changes taking place in the contemporary world: the decline of United States’ helmed hegemony and the possible emergence of a more equitable pattern of international relations with all its implications for global politics and economics. I shall begin with an analysis of the first phase of the US quest for global hegemony from 1945 to about 1991. I shall then examine the causes of the decline of US hegemony in the current phase. This will be followed by an overview of a post-hegemonic world and its possible pattern of power. The essay ends with some reflections on some of the implications of this pattern of power for a more just and equitable world order. NEITHER GLOBAL NOR TOTAL It should be stated at the very outset that US hegemony has never been global or total in the real sense. In 1945, it appeared for a while at least that the US would dominate the world totally. It had just emerged from the Second World War, (WW2) relatively unscathed, as the world’s mightiest power. To demonstrate its military superiority to the world, it atom bombed Hiroshima on August 6 1945. Three days later, it bombed another Japanese city, Nagasaki, killing a total of two-hundred and fifty thousand people. This twin bombing had no justification since the Japanese military elite had already intimated to US commanders in the Pacific that their country was prepared to surrender.1 The real motive behind the bombs, to reiterate, was to send a warning to all other powers that no one should fool around with the planet’s supremo. The US’s military might was one critical dimension of its hegemonic power in 1945. It established its power in two other important areas as well. It set up the United Nations as the political infrastructure for its dominance and control. This is why it established within the UN an entity called the Security Council with five permanent members, the US and four of its allies at that time (Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China), each equipped with a veto, to ensure that the five would determine the direction of the world. For managing the global economy, which was even more important, the US elite devised three inter-related institutions: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.2 GATT, now supplanted by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), was initiated ostensibly to create an environment that was conducive
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to free trade--- free trade which often was not fair trade. The IMFâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s proclaimed goal is to stabilise exchange rates and foster global monetary cooperation though what it has done in fact especially since the nineties is to strengthen neo-liberal capitalism and to preserve the US dollar as the pivot of the global financial system. Similarly, the World Bank, whose main stated aim is to extend loans to developing countries has been asking them to promote liberalization, deregulation and privatisation which lies at the core of what has come to be known as The Washington Consensus. The US was also at the forefront of science and technology immediately after WW2 which was one of the reasons for its economic dominance at that point. Its command over technology also gave the US a huge advantage over other states in the dissemination of information and in the popularization of American culture. In a sense, the combination and concentration of overwhelming military power, political power, economic power, scientific and technological power and information and cultural power in the hands of a single nation in 1945 was a unique and unprecedented moment in history. It would have set the stage for total US global hegemony. However, certain developments occurred in the years that followed which stymied the USâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hegemonic ambition. The first of these was the split between the US and the Soviet Union. Uneasy allies in WW2, the ideological chasm that separated capitalist US from communist Soviet Union came to the fore in the immediate post-war period. Fearing the expansion of Soviet influence from Eastern Europe --- most of the states there were Soviet satellites--- to Western Europe, the new US President, Harry Truman, enunciated the Truman Doctrine in 1947 that sought to check communism. His aggressive stance towards the Soviet Union culminated in a clash between US led Western allies and the Soviet Union over Germany in 1848-9. As a consequence, Germany was divided into the German Federal Republic (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The US and its European allies then established a military alliance ---- the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ---to counter what it perceived as the Soviet threat to Europe and North America. Six years after NATO was formed, in 1955, partly in response to the incorporation of West Germany into NATO, the Soviet Union forged the Warsaw Pact, a military agreement that linked the Soviet Union to its East European satellites. The lines were drawn for a confrontation between the US and its allies, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and its satellites on the other--- a confrontation known as the Cold War. It was the Cold War which checked US hegemony from the late forties to the early nineties. Indeed, the communist challenge to the US also emanated from another direction. In 1949, the pro-US regime in Beijing, the Kuomintang, was overthrown in a popular revolution led by the communist leader, Mao Tse-Tung. China, another war-time ally of the US, was now an adversary. There were other communist challenges from Asia. As a result of the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, the peninsula was divided with North Korea professing communism. Over the last 59 years it has been consistent in opposing US hegemony. Vietnam is another country in Asia which was a victim of US hegemony in the sixties and early seventies. More than 3 million Vietnamese died at the hands of the hegemon defending their land and their integrity.
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It was not just communist states. The post-war decades saw the growth of nationalism and the rise of independent nation-states all over Asia and Africa. While some of these states were completely aligned to the US, a number of them were determined to protect their newly acquired independence and sovereignty.3 The Bandung Conference of 1955 which brought a galaxy of Asian leaders to the Indonesian city was a manifestation of this determination. It was the Bandung spirit that gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961. NAM’s leading lights such as Indonesia’s Sukarno, India’s Nehru, Egypt’s Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Tito and Ghana’s Nkrumah were committed to the creation of a force in international politics that would be neither the pawn of the US nor the puppet of the Soviet Union. It is worth observing that in the early seventies, some members of NAM, propelled by their oil wealth pushed hard for the UN General Assembly to adopt resolutions on the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and a New International Information Order (NIIO). It was, to a large extent, a response to US and Western dominance of both the global economy and the global media. However, resistance to hegemony from the newly independent states of Asia and Africa and NAM began to lose momentum from the early eighties onwards. The explanation for this lies in a variety of reasons. The capitalist model of development pursued by some of these states which increased their dependence upon the centres of power in the West; different rates of growth and progress among them which impacted negatively upon their solidarity; preoccupation with their own internal challenges; conflicts between states which not only increased mutual antagonism but also sapped their resources; and most of all, the enormous difficulties encountered by nation-states seeking to preserve their independence and sovereignty within a global system dominated by the interests of the hegemon, would be some of the reasons that account for the weakening of resistance to US power. The communist challenge also waned from around the same time. China chose to embrace the market and open itself to Western investments and technology from 1978 onwards, two years after the death of Mao. So did Vietnam in the mid- eighties. Like China, it felt that the market was a necessary pre-requisite for its economic development. More importantly, Vietnam has been most accommodative of US interests in the region. In the case of the Soviet Union, both internal and external circumstances forced it to yield to US hegemony. The inability of a command economy to fulfil the consumer wants of a significant segment of society was a factor as was pervasive corruption which tarnished the integrity of the ruling elite. Since the Soviet State maintained its power through a degree of regimentation and repression it fuelled widespread anger and resentment against the communist system. The defeat of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan after almost a decade of occupation also eroded the credibility and legitimacy of the State. In the midst of all these, the reforms introduced by President Mikhail Gorbachev through Glasnost (Openness) and Perestroika (Restructuring) only served to exacerbate the situation. One of the consequences of his reforms were the democratic uprisings in the Soviet satellite states from Poland and Bulgaria to Czechoslovakia and Rumania - in 1989 which reverberated within the constituent republics of the Soviet Union itself. As a result of these upheavals the Soviet Union itself disintegrated from August 1991. It should be emphasised that the US under Ronald Reagan also had a hand in these upheavals. The pressures exerted directly and indirectly by the US and its agencies without doubt loosened the Soviet grip upon its satellites and hastened the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself.4
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With the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the most formidable challenge to US hegemony for more than four decades had evaporated. The US was once again the world’s sole superpower. It was master of the universe. That unique 1945 moment had returned. What this means, in other words, is that in 1991 the US was in a position to establish total, global hegemony. President George Bush Senior’s ability to mobilise a whole spectrum of nations to liberate Kuwait from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein who had invaded the Sheikhdom the previous year, in August 1990, in complete violation of international law, showed that the US commanded considerable support in the international arena. But that support began to wane when it became clear that it was not just the liberation of Kuwait which was the goal of the US leadership.5 It was using the Kuwait War to emasculate Iraq through crippling economic sanctions in pursuit of the US’s - and Israel’s agenda. This agenda which is an important aspect of the ideology, interests and actions of the US elite is partly responsible for the decline of the US. I shall now look at this decline from three angles. The first is related to the US elite. DECLINE: THE ELITE. War, with the aim of ousting a leader or a government and installing in its place a servile, subservient regime has been a major policy platform of the US elite since the early nineties though it was evident even in the first phase of hegemony. If the imposition of sanctions in order to punish a state or leader who refuses to submit to the will of the hegemon is a form of war, then Iraq would be the first of the US’s wars in the current phase of its hegemonic drive.6 After almost 13 years of sanctions which had taken a heavy toll on Iraqi society, the US and Britain, with the connivance of some Arab states, invaded Iraq, without authorization from the UN Security Council, in March 2003. The pretext offered for the invasion was that the Saddam government possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ - which needless to say was a monstrous lie.7 The real motives for the conquest and occupation of Iraq are well-known by now: control over the oil of one of the world’s major exporters of the commodity; control of one of the most strategically located countries in the world’s most strategic region that is home to some of the most strategic seas and straits on earth; control over a country which has an abundance of water--- the Tigris and Euphrates--- which is specially crucial for arid Israel; the elimination of a leader and a regime that had utilised its wealth to develop a strong scientific and technological foundation a product of which was a nuclear plant that Israel destroyed in 1981; and the elimination of a leader and a regime that was firmly committed to the Palestinian cause which it supported with ample funds and was, at the same time, totally opposed to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.8 Because the motives behind the occupation of Iraq, it is so apparent, only served US and Israeli interests, anger and disillusionment with the hegemon and its surrogate remain high, in spite of US troop withdrawal. Besides, it is estimated that from 2003 to 2011 between 107,789 and 117,776 civilians had died as a result of the violence associated with the occupation.9 Many Iraqis continue to carry physical and psychological scars of rape, of
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torture, of incarceration. A very big proportion of Iraqi society still has no access to the basic amenities of life. Youth unemployment remains a huge problem. Corruption is rife. There is no political stability either. Massive killings in the name of sects and factions continue.10 The Shia-Sunni divide has become deeper and is a major cause of violence and bloodshed. In a nutshell, Iraq today is a broken society - when it was once an organised, functioning nation with a relatively prosperous middle-class. The current Iraqi situation is a damning indictment upon US hegemony. That the hegemon has been forced to withdraw testifies to the failure of occupation. It is one of the reasons why the majority of the American population is opposed to their government indulging in military adventures of this sort in the future. A section of American society also knows that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been a colossal burden to the taxpayer. According to Economics Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda T. Bilmes the entire operation had come up to 3 trillion dollars by 2008 and is irrefutably much higher today.11 While some US oil companies which have won handsome contracts would have benefitted from the occupation, for the ordinary American there have been no direct gains. The US led NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in October 2001 is another war that proves the failure of hegemony. The war was retaliation of sorts for the 9-11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. since the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had refused to hand over the alleged master-mind of the attack, Osama bin Laden, to the US justice system. As an aside, the attack itself has raised some legitimate questions about who the actual perpetrators were and what the motive was.12 Whatever the truth, 9-11 became the rationale for launching a â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;War on Terror.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; The US-led War on Terror, contrary to the denials of its initiators and their friends, has for the most part, targeted Muslim groups. Equating Muslims with terrorism and violence which has a long history behind it has become even more rampant.13 9-11 has thus rendered Islamophobia more pervasive than before and has even seeped into non-Western societies. This is why there are individuals who argue that the targeting of Muslims and Islam may well have been one of the motives behind 9-11 and the War on Terror. There may have been other motives. Invading Afghanistan as the curtain-raiser in the War on Terror may have been linked to its strategic location as a nation in the vicinity of China and Russia, on the one hand, and Iran, on the other, and therefore of tremendous significance to the US. Control over Afghanistan also enhances access to the oil fields of a couple of Central Asian republics and Caspian Sea oil. It has been suggested that in terms of oil production the entire region could rival Saudi Arabia in the near future.14 Since occupying Afghanistan, the US and its NATO allies have realised that they cannot stem the unending violence which is due largely to their presence. The Taliban who were ousted from power by the NATO invasion have become stronger and have much more support today because they are perceived as a movement fighting the foreign occupier. It is said that they control more of Afghanistan than the NATO backed Hamid Karzai government in Kabul. The fighting between the Taliban and the NATO-Karzai forces has resulted in thousands of deaths. Tens of thousands of others have also become victims of this conflict mainly because of the displacement and dislocation it causes. Like the war in Iraq, Afghanistan has also been
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a financial albatross around the neck of the US and its other NATO partners. A 2011 report states that, “The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, according to the research project “ Costs of War” by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.”15 Once again, both the colossal loss of human lives and the exorbitant financial costs associated with the Afghan adventure condemn the US’s and NATO’s hegemonic agenda. They underscore - if one may reiterate - the failure of hegemony. The financial costs in particular have sapped the strength of the US economy. The hegemon’s two full-scale wars have contributed to the nation’s burgeoning debt. Today, the US is the world’s largest debtor nation, with a national debt that stands at 15.9 trillion as of 7 August 2012.16 It is quite conceivable that about a third of that debt is attributable to the wars the US has been embroiled in since the beginning of the last decade. Apart from its national debt, there are other serious flaws in the economy which are also responsible for its deepening malaise. In 2007, the richest 1% of the population owned 34.6% of the nation’s total wealth while the bottom 80% owned 15%.17 Economic and social disparities in the US are the worst among all industrialised nations of the world. One out of six persons lives in poverty and needs food assistance. In July 2012, 8.3% of the population was unemployed. Given the magnitude of its economic malaise, the US is in no position to dictate to the world. It is ironical that it is partly because of its quest for global hegemony, that the US is no longer capable of dominating the global economy. But it is not just hegemony that is the cause of its economic decline. Neoliberal capitalism which is the economic credo of the US elite concentrates wealth in the hands of a few. It is an economy that allows investment bankers, hedge fund managers and currency speculators to call the shots. DECLINE: RESISTANCE. While the ideology, interests and actions of the US elite has been a major factor in the decline of the US, the resistance of many groups, movements and States to US hegemony has also played a significant role. Let me begin with resistance from Latin American states, a continent which for nearly two centuries has borne the ignominy of the hegemon’s hubris. In the last 10 years or so, the situation has been changing as one Latin American state after another stands up to defend its independence and integrity. Before the current period, there was one country though that resisted the might of the US with invincible courage and indomitable fortitude.18 Because Cuba, an island republic of 11 million people, has refused to submit meekly to its giant neighbour and has insisted upon pursuing its own communist path to development, it has been subjected to severe sanctions for the last 51 years, an invasion, biological warfare, bombings, an airline explosion, and countless attempts to assassinate its revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. To put it simply, the US has been at war with Cuba for decades.19 The ability of the Cuban leadership to preserve the honour and dignity of the country for so long has inspired other states in Latin America to resist US hegemony and to enhance their
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own sovereignty and independence. In the present phase, Venezuela under the late Hugo Chavez was perhaps the first to follow Cubaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s example.20 Others such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and to a lesser degree, Brazil and Argentina have also sought to reduce US power and influence upon their economies. There has been a sincere attempt to restructure their economies so that the well-being of ordinary citizens and the interests of the nation would take precedence over elite privileges and the demands of the hegemon in Washington. What is remarkable about the resistance of some of these Latin American states is their foresight in trying to forge a regional alliance which would endow them with the collective strength and solidarity to withstand pressures from the US. This regional outfit called ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, was the brainchild of Chavez who in April 2001 objected to the US idea of establishing a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) which would have perpetuated US hegemony over Latin America, and instead proposed an organisation that would facilitate the economic, social, political and cultural integration of Latin America and the Caribbean. ALBA became a reality in December 2004 with the signing of an agreement between Venezuela and Cuba. Today, it has eight members. Apart from the two founders, the others are Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.21 Among the principles of ALBA are a commitment to fair trade; promoting trade and investment for attaining sustainable and just development; encouraging capital investments within the region; seeking energy integration among countries in the region; defending the cultural identity of the people of the region; and evolving common foreign policies among ALBA states.22 Since its formation, ALBA has undertaken some concrete projects. It has for instance facilitated the delivery of about 96,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela to Cuba while in exchange Cuba has sent 20,000 medical staff and thousands of teachers to the poorest states in Venezuela. Through mutual assistance programmes of this sort, ALBA hopes to enhance the resilience of individual states and the region as a whole as it confronts US hegemony. The other region which has had to face US helmed hegemony is of course West Asia and North Africa (WANA). For a lot of people in WANA the stark reality of US hegemony presents itself through the powerful presence of Israel. Since the US is the patron, the protector and the provider of Israel, the people know that the annexation and occupation of Palestinian land and the expulsion and annihilation of the Palestinians would not have been possible without the collusion of the hegemon.23 So when Palestinians resist Israeli arrogance --- as they have been doing for 64 years --- they also see it as resisting US power. The steadfastness and perseverance that they have shown in their resistance places them in a class by themselves. The Lebanese also deserve accolades for their resistance to Israel which has invaded their small country on three occasions. Indeed, since the advent of Hezbollah in 1982, Lebanese resistance has become more organised and focussed. It is partly because of this that the Israeli armed forces suffered a major setback when it sought to crush Hezbollah in 2006.24 Syria - whose Golan Heights has been under Israeli occupation since 1967 - has also been unyielding in its resistance. The Syrian leadership is that vital link that connects Iran to the
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Hezbollah. Together, they constitute a steady, solid ring of resistance to US-Israeli dominance and control. This is the main reason why Israel working hand in glove with the US, Britain and France and aided and abetted by states in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are hell-bent on crushing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.25 I had alluded to Iran in the context of resistance. In fact, few other nations in the world have been as consistent as the Islamic Republic of Iran in its opposition to US hegemony. The birth of the Republic itself in 1979 was an expression of the people’s rejection of US hegemony and its client ruler on the peacock throne. For the last 33 years, the Iranian people have been subjected to wide-ranging sanctions, assassinations, terrorist plots and even cyber-attacks in order to coerce the leadership into acquiescence with the US-Israeli agenda in WANA. But the people and the leadership have stood firm. Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and is not geared towards the production of nuclear weapons - in spite of all the aggressive posturing from Israel and the US - is an example of that resoluteness.26 It should be mentioned at this point that Syria and Iran have forged close ties with various countries in Latin America which are also resisting hegemony. Economic and cultural relations have been strengthened with Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil. In December 2010, Syria and Iran were accepted as observer states in ALBA. This bridge between WANA and Latin America is of tremendous significance for the struggle against hegemony. There are other states in WANA who have also resisted hegemony - hegemony often expressed through Israel. I have already referred to Iraq and its resistance. Libya under its mercurial leader, the late Muammar Gaddafi, was also an opponent of US hegemony. Apart from his rejection of Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories, Gaddafi resisted all attempts by Western oil corporations to gain control over Libyan oil which he had nationalised at the outset of his 42 year-old rule. He was also an enthusiastic advocate of African unity and was particularly keen on developing a single African currency that would reduce the continent’s dependence upon the US dollar. At the same time, Gaddafi made it known publicly that he was opposed to the US sponsored, German based concept of African military cooperation called The Africa Command (AFRICOM) which he regarded as another form of Western neo-imperialism. For all these reasons, Gaddafi had to be eliminated.27 One can argue that both Somalia and Sudan have also been victims of hegemonic politics. With its strategic location at the Horn of Africa and its potential oil reserves, Somalia is a magnet that has attracted the US, on and off, for the last 20 years. Its tribal and factional politics have been manipulated by both the hegemon and groups resisting the hegemon such as affiliates of Al-Qaeda, aggravating the violence and lawlessness that have blighted the land for so long. Sudan, a huge oil exporting nation, divided by internal religious, sectarian and tribal loyalties was also an easy prey for regional and global predators with their own nefarious agendas. In this regard, the Khartoum government, always wary of US and Israeli designs, in the end failed to protect the territorial integrity of Sudan and had to acquiesce to the separation of the south from the north of Sudan. Sudan and Libya, like Syria and Iraq, some critics observe, are - or were - opposed to hegemony but are - or were - led by autocrats. Shouldn’t we condemn their suppression of the rights of their people? We should, as I have done on numerous occasions. But we should also not hesitate to oppose global hegemony and all that it stands for. Those who resist
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hegemony should be supported while we make it abundantly clear that if they are autocratic we would want them to introduce democratic reforms. This sort of position is quite different from those who are opposed to autocratic regimes when it suits their interests but are happy to hobnob with autocracies and endorse the suppression of democratic rights when it serves their agenda.28 This brings me to Afghanistan where the Taliban continues to resist hegemony. I have already analysed this in another context. The Taliban’s violence is also an issue which critics have raised. Here again, we should repudiate their violence without losing sight of the larger significance of resistance to hegemony. Russia is also resisting US helmed hegemony as is obvious from the triple veto it has cast in the UN Security Council in the last few months to thwart Machiavellian moves by Western powers and their regional clients and proxies to further their hegemonic goal in Syria.29 It is not just in relation to Syria. In recent years, Russia has witnessed manoeuvres by the US in Georgia, in Ukraine and in some of the East European states which have convinced her that she has to both sharpen her diplomatic skills and strengthen her military muscles in order to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the Russian Federation. A triple veto was also cast by China in the Security Council on the Syrian crisis for the same reason. China has become increasingly conscious of why and how US’s hegemonic agenda is going to impact upon her. She is after all one of the primary targets. This is why when US President, Barack Obama openly proclaimed that “as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region (Asia-Pacific) and its future,”30 China began to watch US moves closely. The US plan to establish a base in Darwin, Australia; to deploy ships in Singapore; to forge closer military ties with the Philippines; and to enhance its military cooperation with Japan and South Korea are matters of concern for China. Viewed against this backdrop, it is not surprising that China has decided to adopt a firm position on the question of its claims over the South China Sea.31 In other words, it will resist any attempt by the US to impose its hegemony over Asia-Pacific. I have already noted that China’s ally North Korea - its outlandish pronouncements notwithstanding - is also an uncompromising opponent of US led hegemony. There are two other elements that are part of resistance that we should record. In the current phase of hegemony, as in the past, there are numerous citizens’ groups that are struggling for a world that is more just and egalitarian.32 In a sense, the mass protest movement against the Iraq war in 2003 was a boost to citizens groups opposed to hegemony though a lot of the energy and enthusiasm generated at that time has since dissipated. A small segment of the media also challenges US power. These media outlets are sometimes the only channels of expression available to global dissidents. If we reflected upon resistance to hegemony in different parts of the world - from Latin America to East Asia - it is apparent that in each and every instance it is the US’s drive for control and dominance that compels its targets to respond. This is a dimension of international relations that is concealed from the general public by the media which is often in cahoots with the hegemon. The impression given by the media is that the target of hegemony is the party responsible for the conflict.
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DECLINE: RISE. Resistance to hegemony is intimately linked to the rise of new centres of power. For instance, ALBA is both resistance and rise. Its resistance could give rise to a new pattern of inter-state cooperation in Latin America and the world. Similarly, Iran’s scientific output is not only a contribution to resistance but also a sign that the country’s scientific foundation is viable enough to enable it to catapult into the future. Russia is not only resisting hegemony but also preparing to play a bigger role in terms of security and politics within a region that it categorises as ‘Eurasia.’ However, of all the nations that are on the rise, it is China’s ascendancy that has astounded the world. Thirty years after abandoning the communist model of development and opening itself to free enterprise and the market, China has become the world’s economic powerhouse. Through domestic firms and foreign corporations operating in China, the world’s largest nation produces goods for the entire human family. From Bangkok to Buenos Aires, ‘Made in China’ is a ubiquitous trade label. Both in manufacturing and trade China is number one. China also has massive investments everywhere. It has poured billions of yuan into infrastructure development in almost every African state just as it is building oil rigs in Venezuela, a hydroelectric project in Ecuador and a railway system in Argentina.33 In Asia itself, there is perhaps not a single country that has not benefitted from Chinese investments in manufacturing or infrastructure or from trade ties with China. In all three continents, the Chinese presence is viewed favourably. For instance, “a 2007 Pew Research Center survey of 10 sub-Saharan countries found that Africans overwhelmingly viewed Chinese economic growth as beneficial. In virtually all countries surveyed, China’s involvement was viewed in a much more positive light than America’s; in Senegal 86 per cent said China’s role in their country helped make things better, compared with 56 per cent who felt that way about America’s role. In Kenya, 91 per cent of respondents said they believed China’s influence was positive, versus only 74 per cent for the United States.”34 China’s global economic role is a reflection of fundamental strengths in its economy. Its foreign reserves are the largest in the world at 3.24 trillion in June 2012. Its domestic savings rate is high. Its adult literacy rate is now almost 95 per cent. “Shanghai’s 15 year-old students were recently ranked first globally in mathematics and reading as per the standardised PISA metric. Chinese universities now graduate more than 1.5 million engineers and scientists annually.”35 To enhance its economic ascendancy, China has been in the forefront of a couple of groupings. The BRICS --- Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa--- brings together five large economies at more or less the same level of development which through joint programmes and initiatives hopes to create a more equitable global system. China is also a founder of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in which it partners Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, with the aim of further strengthening economic and social cooperation. As an aside, China’s phenomenal economic transformation has also seen China becoming more prominent globally in other areas as well. International sport is one such activity.
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China’s stellar performance at the 2012 Olympics in London which came on the heels of its splendid showing at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, confirms its position as a great sporting nation. China’s successes do not mean that there are no weaknesses in the system which can impact upon its rise. Environmental protection could be better. Issues of governance related to public accountability and integrity should be addressed with greater vigour and sincerity. People’s participation in the political process should be enhanced. The gap between those who have-a-lot and those who have-a-little in the cities should be reduced, just as income disparities between urban and rural sectors should be narrowed. Having said that, no one can deny that the rapid and dramatic rise of China in the last few decades is an amazing achievement without precedent or parallel.36 It is an achievement which worries the hegemon--- the hegemon who fears losing his dominance and therefore seeks to contain and encircle China.37 A POST-HEGEMONIC WORLD. China’s phenomenal rise signals the birth of a post-hegemonic world. There are of course sceptics who dispute this. China they say will be the next hegemon. There is no basis for drawing such a conclusion. For three sets of reasons, it is very unlikely that China will attempt to conquer other lands militarily or usurp their resources through aggression or massacre hundreds of thousands of people in its drive to control and dominate the world. One, historically, China has never sought hegemony even when it possessed the strongest fleet in the world during the time of the Ming Dynasty. The commander of the fleet, the famous admiral, Zheng He, made seven voyages to various parts of the world but did not pillage or plunder the lands he visited. It is also a matter of some significance that the land territory that China occupies today is what it was since the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC24 AD). It is true that throughout history China has been obsessed with safeguarding its borders. It has sometimes resorted to force to protect its territorial integrity. But this is quite different from marauding land and ocean in order to subjugate some unknown alien people through barbaric violence. Two, even in the contemporary period, in spite of China’s voracious appetite for oil and gas and other minerals, it has not tried to control the source of these resources. All it wants is access, not control. This is why China does not have a single overseas military base. Indeed, as I have often pointed out, China is the first nation to emerge as a big power on the world stage that has not resorted to imperial wars or bloody conquests or the usurpation of someone’s resources in its ascent up the ladder. To put it in another way, China’s rise to power without violence, and through peaceful means, is unique. This is something that the world should appreciate. Here again, one must concede that when it comes to what it defines as its territorial integrity, China has no qualms about using force. This is what it did in 1962 vis-a-vis India
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in the dispute over the McMahon Line. In 1974 and 1988, China clashed with Vietnam over the Spratly Islands. But even in such conflicts, China is more inclined towards bilateral talks, negotiations and peaceful settlement. Three, all said and done, China, the world’s second largest economy, is still a poor country and is determined to concentrate upon raising the standard of living of its people in the next three or four decades. Seeking hegemonic power, especially through war and violence, is certainly not on its agenda. Chinese policy-makers and analysts never cease to remind the world that with 1.3 billion people, “China’s per capita GDP is only US 3,800, ranking about 104th in the world, even lower than many African countries. By the United Nations standard of one US dollar a day, 150 million Chinese are still living below the poverty line.”38 It is also important to note that China is perhaps the only big power that has a clause in its Constitution that repudiates hegemony. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also renounces hegemony. Every major Chinese leader in the present phase of US helmed hegemony from Deng Xiaoping to Hu Jin Tao has pledged that his country will never ever seek hegemony. This was also the position of the late Chinese Prime Minister, Chou En-Lai.39 Apart from historical and contemporary evidence, constitutional guarantees and verbal undertakings, that underline China’s non-hegemonic character and orientation, one must also acknowledge that the regional and global environment will not allow any one nation to dominate and control regional and international politics and economics. Even within China’s immediate neighbourhood, countries such as Japan and South Korea are economically powerful and politically influential. If South and North Korea re-unify over the next two decades - which is not inconceivable - it would be a formidable force which the world will not be able to ignore. In Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Vietnam, with huge populations and credible economic performances, could well emerge as important players in the future. India is often spoken of as a rising power. Iran has the spiritual strength, the material resources and the human capital to contribute towards a more equitable global order. So has Turkey whose economy and society exhibit some positive traits. Russia, given its history, its resources and its leadership is destined to become a major world actor again. South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba, among others, all have the potential of emerging as important centres in a post-hegemonic world. The United States, though no longer a hegemon, will still be a significant player. Its northern neighbour, Canada, will continue to wield some economic clout. And in Europe, there is no doubt at all that Germany which in the midst of the European sovereign debt crisis has remained resilient and viable will be a major force to reckon with well into the future. There will be other states in all continents that will also rise to the forefront in a posthegemonic world. The post-hegemonic world I envisage will have multiple centres of power, some more important than others. Even in their exercise of power, these centres would be varied, with some commanding more clout in politics, others exhibiting more economic strength and yet others displaying their prowess in the realm of culture. What is important is that there will be no one dominant centre combining the different manifestations of power and coercing all others into submission.
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There is a trend in international relations which, it seems to me, could well strengthen posthegemonic politics and economics. This is the formation of regional bodies. I have already lauded the birth of ALBA. It should be mentioned in passing that there is an even newer regional grouping from that part of the world called CELAC, The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which hopes to enhance cooperation in economic, security and social matters among all the 33 states that constitute the Latin American and Caribbean region.40 I have noted the role of BRICS and the SCO. NAM was mentioned in the context of the first phase of hegemony. Then there are the older regional entities such as the Arab League or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the South Asian Association for regional Cooperation (SAARC) or the African Union. There are also outfits such as the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Not all the above bodies will be able to contribute to a post-hegemonic world. In fact, some of them like the Arab League are mere vehicles for the perpetuation of US helmed hegemony in WANA. Others - whatever their current orientation - may choose to adjust to a post-hegemonic world as it emerges as the new reality. A POST-HEGEMONIC WORLD: WHAT IT MAY SIGNIFY A post-hegemonic world may be less unjust and iniquitous. When power is diffused and dispersed, there is a greater possibility of the different states and regions adjusting to, and accommodating, one another. The interests of the various actors, big and small, will have to be given due consideration. As a result, there will be some sort of equilibrium, a just balance. I see a degree of justice manifesting itself in a number of areas in a post-hegemonic world. One, in the observance and implementation of international law. Because of hegemonic power, political leaders who had fabricated a lie to justify the invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation leading to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people are not hauled up before the International Criminal Court or some other international tribunal. In a non-hegemonic world, a crime against humanity of such magnitude would not go unpunished. Two, in the effective and honest functioning of international institutions charged with protecting global peace such as the UN. Since a number of major wars in the last 67 years are linked directly or indirectly to the hegemon, its clients and proxies, or other big powers, and their pawns, the UN whose primary purpose is to save humankind from the scourge of war, has not been able to play its role. It is hoped that in a non-hegemonic world, the UN will be in a better position to keep the peace. Three, in defending the dignity of the victims of oppression and aggression wherever they may be. Here again, the power of the hegemon has been a primary factor in denying justice to one of the longest suffering victims of dispossession in the contemporary world, namely, the
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Palestinians. In a non-hegemonic world, one hopes that justice will finally be delivered to them. Four, in ensuring that iniquities in the global economy are eliminated so that development will bring the greatest benefits to the greatest number of people on earth. It is largely because of the hegemon and economic elites elsewhere that speculative capital dominates the global economy and neo-liberal capitalism holds sway to the detriment of ordinary women and men. Since some of the leading states in the emerging non-hegemonic world are not beholden to neo-liberal capitalism, there is a possibility that this scourge will be eliminated. Five, in overcoming some of the impediments that prevent the global community from adopting more effective measures aimed at protecting the environment and saving the planet. The hegemon and elites in many other societies are averse to dealing with the fundamental causes of the environmental crisis since they impinge upon their vested interests. When hegemonic power disappears, it may be easier to achieve and to implement a just global consensus on saving the planet. I am sure there are other areas too where the end of hegemonic power and the rise of a nonhegemonic world may bring justice. However, if justice is to become the leitmotif of a non-hegemonic world, the people as a whole should exhibit a deep and abiding commitment to justice. It should be a vision of justice that is inclusive and universal. Only such a vision will cater for the interests and meet the aspirations of all the states that are part of tomorrowâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s non-hegemonic world. For justice to be inclusive and universal, states and regions should have some empathy for the other. Justice, in other words, should be accompanied by compassion. There is yet another value which is also important. This is restraint. It is restraint that indicates that one is disciplining oneself with the interests of the other in oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s heart. Likewise, responsibility is a virtue in a non-hegemonic world. A profound sense of responsibility ensures that power is neither aggrandized nor abused. For if the exercise of power fails to meet ethical standards, hegemonic tendencies may set in - which would be a bane in a non-hegemonic world. These values and virtues essential for sustaining a non-hegemonic world are embodied in all our great spiritual and philosophical traditions. They are our common legacy. They bind us together as human beings.41 They should be at the core of our popular consciousness. In the ultimate analysis, this is perhaps the most compelling reason why a non-hegemonic world is imperative. If hegemony distorts our humanity, a non-hegemonic world celebrates our humanity.42
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For a detailed study, see Joseph Gerson Empire and the Bomb How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World ( London: Pluto Press, 2007) See my Human Rights and the New World Order (Penang, Malaysia: Just World Trust, 1993) especially chapter 11, “Human Rights, the United Nations and the New World Order.” 2
This is elaborated in my Hegemony: Justice; Peace (Shah Alam, Malaysia: Arah Publications, 2008) especially chapter 2, “ Resisting Hegemony; Raising Dignity.” 3
4 For a contrarian view see Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, “Reagan and the Russians,” The Atlantic Online February 1994.
See Richard Falk, “How the West Mobilized for War”, Beyond the Gulf War, the Middle East and the New World Order, John Gittings (editor) ( London: Catholic Institute of International Relations(CIIR), 1991)
This is well argued in Denis J. Halliday, “The Deadly and Illegal Consequences of Economic Sanctions on the People of Iraq,” The Brown Journal of World Affairs Winter/Spring 2000— Volume V11, Issue 1. 6
See “1000 hunt for weapons,” New Straits Times 19 April 2003.
For a more thorough discussion see my Muslims, Dialogue Terror ( Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: International Movement for a Just World, 2003) especially the chapter entitled “Hegemonic Terror: The Conquest of Iraq.” 8
The figures are from the website Iraq Body Count www.iraqbodycount.org
Dahr Jamail “A Capped Volcano of Suffering” JUST Commentary Vol. 9, no. 2 February 2009.
They repeat this point about the cost of the Iraq War in Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes “The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond” The Washington Post September 5 2010.
See for instance David Ray Griffin The New Pearl Harbor (Britain: Arris Books, 2004).
For a comprehensive discussion on this see my “The Global War on Terror --- and the Prawn behind the Stone,” in The “Global War on Terror” and the Question of World Order Hans Kochler ( editor) ( Vienna: International Progress Organization, 2008). 13
See my Muslims Dialogue Terror, especially the chapter entitled, “The War on Terrorism and Hegemonic Power.”
15 See Daniel Trotta, “Cost of war at least 3.7 trillion and counting” www.reuters.com June 29 2011.
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The figure is from the website Debt Clock www.usdebtclock.org.
See, “Wealth Inequality in the United States,” Wikipedia.www.en.wikipedia.org
A fragment of that courage is captured in Cuba, the Untold History (Havana, Cuba: Editorial Capitan San Luis, 2005). 18
Some of the goals and programs of the Venezuelan Revolution are enunciated in Hugo Chavez, The fascist Coup Against Venezuela (Havana: Ediciones Plaza, 2003). 20
21 See Fast Facts What is ALBA? Information gleaned from Joe D. Hirst’s article in the Exchange Magazine December 2010 and his article The Guide to ALBA. Other sources include the ALBA-TCP website: www.alba-tcp.org. 22
For an insightful analysis on the US-Israel nexus, see James Petras The Power of Israel in the United States (Atlanta, USA: Clarity Press, 2006). 23
See my “A Rogue State Goes On a Rampage” JUST Commentary Vol 6, no. 8, August 2006 and “ Resolution --- Without Resolution” JUST Commentary Vol. 6, no.9 September 2006.
A number of honest and perceptive writings on the Syrian Crisis have appeared in cyber media. Among them, Ismail Salami, “Orwellian Ramifications Begin to Unfold in Syria” Countercurrents.org 9 August 2012 and Jack A. Smith, “What’s Really Happening in Syria?” Countercurrents.org 25 July 2012. 25
See my “Iran: The Price of Resistance” JUST Commentary Vol. 12, no.2 February 2012.
A detailed analysis appears in my “The Fall of Muammar Gaddafi” JUST Commentary Vol. 11, no. 9 September 2011.
Many well-known public intellectuals from the West itself have at various times decried the hypocrisy of their elites on issues of human rights and democracy in different parts of the world. Some of the notable names would be Fred Dallmayr, Hans Kochler, Phyllis Bennis and Richard Falk. This hypocrisy is particularly stark in the context of the crisis in Syria. The leaders of the US, Britain and France claim to champion the rights of the Syrian people against the Bashar Assad dictatorship and yet among their closest allies in the Arab world in this so-called struggle are two feudal autocracies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. If Western leaders are so concerned about the plight of the Syrian people, why, the Arab citizen wonders are they not defending the Palestinians against Israeli occupation? 28
It is said that the Russian and Chinese governments realized that by abstaining in the vote on a “No-Fly Zone” in the case of Libya in the UN Security Council, they had unwittingly paved the way for NATO’s direct intervention in that country. The Western take-over of Libya has been detrimental to Russian and Chinese interests in WANA. One is surprised 29
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why the two governments did not fathom the full implications of their abstention when many observers could see that the real Western agenda in Libya was regime change directed at enhancing Western interests. See “ Remarks by President Obama to the Australian Parliament” Parliament House, Canberra, Australia from The White House Official Website: www.whitehouse.gov 30
See Arujunan Narayanan “China and the Spratlys: Options for Dispute Management” JUST Commentary Vol. 11, no. 9 September 2011. 31
is discussed in my “Resisting Hegemony; Raising Dignity” Hegemony: Justice, Peace
R.Evan Ellis “ Chinese Soft Power in Latin America: A Case Study” http://www.ndu/press/chinese-soft-power-latin-america.html 34Dambisa 35Stephen 36See
Moyo, “Beijing, a Boon for Africa” The New York Times June 27 2012.
S. Roach “Ten Reasons why China is Different” aljazeera.net 31 May 2011.
my “The Decline of the United States of America” Eye Asia December 2011.
argument is made in Hegemony: Justice; Peace. The relevant chapter is “Containing China: A Flawed Agenda.” 38Quoted from Dai Bingguo, “Stick to the Path of Peaceful Development” China Daily 13 December 2010. 39There
is a remark from Chou En-Lai on hegemony in my Global Ethic or Global Hegemony? (London: ASEAN Academic Press, 2005). See the chapter entitled, “Encounters between Religions and Civilizations: The Power Dimension” pp. 91-2. 40See
Rachael Boothroyd, “CELAC, Counter-OAS organization Inaugurated in Caracas” JUST Commentary Vol.12 no. 1, January 2012. 41The
importance of this bond between people of different cultures and religions is a constant theme in the writings of Fred Dallmayr. See for instance Fred Dallmayr In Search of the Good Life A Pedagogy for Troubled Times (USA: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007) and Fred Dallmayr Dialogue Among Civilizations Some Exemplary Voices (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) 42I
emphasize this in “A World in Crisis: The Relevance of Spiritual-Moral Principles: in Ecologies of Human Flourishing Donald K. Swearer and Susan LIoyd McGarry (Editors) (Cambridge, USA: Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, 2011)
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CHAPTER 5: MUSLIM SOCIETIES, ISRAEL AND THE WEST
1) The Western mainstream media portray a completely biased and prejudiced image of Islam and Muslims, while Muslims have always contributed to the social, economic, political and scientific advancement and progress of the societies in which they live in as minorities. What’s your viewpoint in this regard? How should a realistic image of Islam be presented to the Western public? Answer: If no Muslim resorts to terrorism, if no Muslim misinterprets Islamic teachings to justify the suppression of women or the marginalization of non-Muslim minorities, if no Muslim leader abuses power or violates the rights of his people, it is quite conceivable that the mainstream Western media will have less ammunition to target Muslims and their faith. But I suspect negative stereotyping of Muslims and pejorative representations of Islam will continue to find expression through the influential stratum of Western society. Why? It is simply because the prejudiced portrayal of Muslims and Islam in the media serves the interests of the centers of power in the West. When Palestinians resist Israeli occupation and aggression, it is in the interest of the occupier and its allies in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin to project the victim as the wrongdoer, ever ready to commit violence. Likewise, when the hegemon invaded Iraq for its oil, the mainstream media camouflaged the real motive for the invasion by highlighting that monstrous lie concocted by former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and former US President, George Bush, about Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). It is lies like this peddled by the media that sully the image of Muslims. Anyone who resists US led hegemony is demonized: Muammar Gaddafi became a mass murderer of tens of thousands of his own citizens --- a gross exaggeration--- because he stood in the way of the NATO-led operation to usurp Libya’s oil wealth. Today, Bashar al-Assad of Syria is projected in the media as a bloodthirsty monster -- another falsehood--- because he has chosen to defend the sovereignty and independence of his country in the face of a concerted attempt by Western powers and their West Asian allies to oust him through military force so that a pliant regime that dances to their tune can be installed in Damascus.
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This is why Western hegemony has to end before an honest image of Muslims can emerge. It is not just because of Israel and oil that Muslims and Islam are often tarred and tarnished in the media. It is also because Muslim countries are on the shores of most of the vital searoutes in the world, the control of which is critical for the pursuit of global power and dominance. The good news is that Western hegemony is on the decline. The rise of new centers of power from Latin America to East Asia is an irreversible process. For some years now I have been suggesting that Muslim scholars, politicians and media practitioners should as a matter of priority reach out to groups with influence and impact in various parts of the nonWestern world to tell them what is really happening in the Arab-Israeli conflict and in West Asia as a whole and why there is so much negative imaging of Islam and Muslims. A bit of this is already being done but much more remains to be done. At the same time, more literature should be produced and circulated in the native languages of the new centers of power that seeks to correct distorted perspectives on jihad, terrorism, the position of women, relations with non-Muslims, the concept of justice and the meaning of compassion and mercy in Islam. In other words, one should not concentrate only on how Muslims and Islam are perceived in the West. Power is shifting to the East and it is the image of Islam and Muslims in the nonMuslim, non-Western world--- such as China--- that will really matter in the end. 2) As a Muslim-majority country, Malaysia has made remarkable progresses, especially in terms of human development index, economic prosperity and attracting foreign investment. What do you think are the reasons for these achievements? How can the other Islamic states reach such a level? Answer: Malaysia it is true has done relatively well compared to most other Muslim and non-Muslim countries in the Global South. Since achieving Independence from British colonial rule in 1957, the level of absolute poverty within the populace has been reduced from 64% to 3.8% in 2011. Almost the entire population has access to primary health care facilities. 94% of the population is literate. Basic amenities such as piped water and electricity are available to most of the people. Less than 3% of the labor force is unemployed. Apart from continuous economic development over 55 years, the nation has also been politically stable. Compared to many other countries in the Global South and the Global North, there has been very little political violence. Political succession has been smooth. Malaysia is a functioning democracy in which the elected parliamentary opposition has invariably secured more than 35% of the popular vote. While the Federal government has been in the hands of the same coalition since Independence, opposition parties have exercised power in various states. What is really remarkable about Malaysia is that it has succeeded in maintaining a commendable degree of inter-ethnic peace in one of the most challenging multi-religious and multi-cultural environments in the world. In the functional sense, there is also a modicum of inter-ethnic interaction.
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What explains the Malaysian success story? A fairly effective public service, a vigorous business sector, a range of commodities which command a global market and a live- and- let live attitude among the people, have all contributed to the nation’s well-being. But the single most important factor would be a national leadership since 1957 which has always had a balanced outlook, a sense of justice and fair play, and a grasp of the mechanics of good governance. Nonetheless, Malaysia is not without blemish. Like so many other countries where the ruling party or coalition has been in power for a long while, elite corruption is a bane. Again, like most other countries caught in the web of global capitalism, the gap between the havea-lot and the have-a-little is getting wider with all its dire consequences. Forging national unity has become an even more complex challenge with growing religiosity expressing itself through the reinforcement of religious exclusiveness. Still, Malaysia, its challenges notwithstanding, serves as an example to many other countries. 3) In one of your interviews, you mentioned that Israel is one of the impediments on the way of the improvement of relationship between the United States and the Muslim states, because the Muslim nations believe that America is a superpower which unconditionally supports Israel at the cost of forfeiting the rights of Muslims and Arabs. Why doesn’t the U.S. abandon its sponsorship of Israel in order to maintain better ties with the Muslim nations? Answer: One of the main reasons why the US elite is not able to abandon its patronage and protection of Israel is because of Zionist influence and power in some of the key sectors of American public life. The US Congress, Senate and the White House are all beholden, in one way or another, to Zionist funds and Zionist lobbies. Zionists are dominant in the upper echelons of finance. Look at the ethnic background of almost all the major figures connected to the 2008 sub-prime crisis. Zionist power in the media, including the new media channels, is obvious. The top stratum of leading universities also reflects Zionist presence and influence. Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole is another example of subtle Zionist influence. But more than anything else, within US society --- and in Europe--there is a great deal of sympathy for the Jews for the terrible suffering they had undergone as a result of the holocaust. This is why in spite of what the Israeli state has done to the Palestinians, Israelis and Jews continue to be viewed as victims to this day. At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that Israel serves US and European strategic interests in West Asia--- the region that is the world’s most important oil exporter and the only spot on earth where three continents meet. Some of the world’s most critical waterways are also in West Asia. Even if we examine the origins the idea of a Zionist state in 19th century Europe, Zionist and some European leaders were already looking at the future state of Israel as a bulwark for the perpetuation of Western interests. In spite of strong support for Israel in the US, there are analysts who feel the situation is changing. The overwhelming support that existed for Israel in the first three decades after the 1967 Israel-Arab War has declined somewhat. This is partly because of the extreme
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positions often adopted by the Israeli ruling elite on the question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank that has disillusioned some so-called liberal Jews in the US. It is said that one of the reasons why Barack Obama won in the recent Presidential Election is because the Zionist lobbies in the US were split. 4) The Muslims have always had a distinctive and unique identity which is based on their values, their beliefs and their sanctities. But they usually fear that the Western culture and civilization may affect their youths and wipe out their traditional personality traits in a process of Westernization. Whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s your take on that? How can the Muslim families preserve their traditional values and resist Westernization? Answer: One of the greatest threats to the Muslim family in the contemporary world emanating from the West is of course the idea of same-sex marriage and the legitimization of homosexual behavior. There is no need to emphasize that the Quranic position on homosexuality is crystal clear. It is regarded as morally reprehensible. Muslim intellectuals should explain why this is so. It is not simply because the male-female relationship is fundamental to procreation and therefore the continuation of human life. Human life in Islam as in all religions is more than a mere biological fact. It is an affirmation of a profound spiritual truth. The male and female as a pair is integral to the affirmation of that truth which in turn is a testament to the creative power of God. The family which is a product of that relationship between the pair is also ipso facto more than a biological entity. Its integrity is rooted in its moral and spiritual foundation. This is why Islam rejects same sex marriage and homosexual relations. If Muslims want to preserve the family as presently constituted as the basic unit of society, it should pay close attention to those circumstances in the socialization of a person that may conduce towards homosexual behavior. There is also a biological dimension to homosexuality, aspects of which can be rectified through medical intervention. What is important is to adopt a rational, scientific approach within the framework of Quranic values and principles. This also means that it is wrong to ostracize and marginalize homosexuals in the private or public spheres. Outside their sexual role, they should be treated as human beings with dignity and compassion. Their right to education, to work, and to perform public roles should be respected. It is significant that Islamic jurisprudence recognizes that homosexuals have the same obligations as others to pray, to pay the wealth tax (zakat), to fast and to perform the hajj. I have elaborated on the question of homosexuality and its challenge to the family to show that in confronting those aspects of contemporary Western civilization that threaten Islamic norms, there is a need for sophistication. While we do not want to embrace in a blind fashion every freshly minted idea or practice from the West, we should not adhere unthinkingly to our own tradition because it has been sanctioned by some religious elites of antiquity. The bigoted condemnation of homosexuals and homosexuality within some Islamic circles which repudiate the fundamental humanity of the homosexual as a person is unacceptable.
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5) Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has predicted that by 2030, the Muslims will be making up some 26.4% of the world’s population. Are the Western states, especially those in which the Zionist lobby is influential, afraid of the growth of Muslims and their population? Can we say they don’t have an inclination for the rise of religious diversity and multiculturalism in their countries? Answer: There is no doubt at all that some right-wing groups in Europe and North America are fearful of what they see as the Islamic “demographic” threat. True, the Muslim population in Europe and North America is increasing steadily but it is wrong to argue --- as some of the right-wing fear-mongers do --- that Muslims will take over the West in no time. If one studies the present demographic trend, for many, many decades to come, Muslims will still be a minority in both Europe and North America. Fear mongering among right-wing groups is motivated to a large extent by their antipathy towards religious and cultural diversity. It is part of a negative attitude towards ‘the other’. It stems from an irrational desire to preserve the purity of Western Christianity and Western culture --- whatever that means. For the Right, especially in Europe, Muslims are a problem because they insist on maintaining certain practices which do not accord with what the Right sees as the European way of life. Many Muslims in Europe observe the 5 times a day prayer requirement; they fast in the month of Ramadan; a number of Muslim women use the hijab ( the headscarf) to express their fidelity to modesty; some Muslim men refuse to consume alcohol at office parties. There is no reason why Muslims should forsake any of the forms and practices which they feel is central to their identity. These practices do not impinge upon the rights of the others. What Muslims should do is to explain in depth the rationale behind important Islamic practices to their non-Muslim fellow citizens. This is the sort of dialogue that they should initiate. In fact, their dialogue should go beyond explaining Islamic religious requirements and practices. There are vital principles and values in the Quran which should be brought to the attention of the West at this juncture in history. Based upon Quranic principles, Islamic jurisprudence discourages debt transaction --- which was one of the underlying causes of the sub-prime financial crisis in the US in 2008. The Quran is critical of living beyond one’s means which explains to some extent the sovereign debt crisis in parts of Europe. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam rejects the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and the growing gap between the have-a-lot and the have-a-little in society, which has become a feature of a number of countries in the West and the East. If Quranic values and principles which in any case are universal and inclusive are put across to non-Muslim majorities in Europe and North America, it is quite possible that over time some of them will become more open and accommodative towards the Muslim minorities in their midst.
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6) What’s your viewpoint regarding the rise of Islamophobia in the West, as manifested in movies such as “Fitna” or “Innocence of Muslims” or the publication of sacrilegious materials in Danish and French newspapers which insulted Prophet Muhammad and other sanctities of the Muslims? What are the possible root causes of such attacks being unleashed on the Muslims? Answer: Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon. It is more than a thousand two hundred years old. When Muslim civilization first rose as a power from the eight century onwards with huge numbers of people embracing the faith around the Mediterranean, in North Africa and in the Iberian Peninsula --- which were all largely Christian--- the Church reacted by publishing a distorted translation of the Quran in Latin. The denigration of Islam and the vilification of the Prophet Muhammad continued through the centuries. The Crusades launched by European Rulers and blessed by the Church from the end of the eleventh century were not only directed at the conquest of Jerusalem but were also aimed at curbing Islamic power. Islamophobia, the fear of Islam, in the past, it is apparent, was related to power. Is Islamic power the root cause of Islamophobia today? Islamophobia today appears to be an attempt to create fear and uneasiness about a religion and a civilization, segments of which are determined to resist the West’s, specifically, the US’s hegemonic power. Contemporary Islamophobia in that sense is also linked to power. Today, cartoons are drawn, books are written, and films are produced to demean and defile the Prophet in particular, knowing full well that a segment of the Muslim Ummah (community) is bound to be provoked to burn flags, ransack embassies, and even kill themselves and others. Each time such a provocation occurs, the reaction is predictable. It serves to reinforce the stereotype image of Muslims as violence prone, terror inclined people. This image in turn helps the hegemon and its minions in their mission of discrediting legitimate resistance movements --- be they Palestinian or Lebanese or Iraqi or Somali ---- that resort to violence in order to liberate their land from hegemony. This is why Muslims should not fall into the trap laid by Danish cartoons or US films. By all means condemn these provocations in a peaceful manner. But do not resort to any form of violence. Protest through other means. It would be so much better if we seized the moment to do a film or write a book or pamphlet that conveys the truth about the Prophet’s life. For instance, we could have turned around the recent provocation in the film Innocence of Muslims by emphasizing that the Prophet had remained monogamous right till the death of his first wife, Khatijah, and his subsequent marriages were all contracted to strengthen inter-tribal solidarity or forge inter-faith ties. Besides, we must keep in mind that when the Prophet himself was abused and even physically attacked during his Meccan years, he displayed tremendous restraint and did not retaliate with violence. It is his example that we should emulate. 7) On the political level, what do you think about President Obama’s policy toward the Muslim world in his first term? Has he succeeded in realizing what he had promised to the Muslim nations, especially in his 2009 Cairo speech? What’s your evaluation of his second term?
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Answer: There were some promising elements in President Obama’s 2009 Cairo Speech especially his acknowledgement of the suffering of the Palestinian people. But he did very little to translate his rhetoric into action. He not only failed to move the Palestine-Israel Peace Process forward but he also allowed himself to be humiliated by one of the most bellicose Israeli leaders ever, Benjamin Netanyahu. Iraq, in spite of US troop withdrawal, remains a tragic tale of a nation mired in unending violence. Afghanistan is another sordid mess. The US drive for hegemony has not ceased under Obama as evidenced by US involvement in Libya and Syria. Iran is still in his crosshairs. He continues to prop up the Saudi and Qatari elite and elites in other feudal, autocratic kingdoms in the Gulf, while pretending that the US is a champion of democracy. Will Obama’s second term be different? I suspect that the US economy will absorb most of his energies in the second term. Nonetheless, he will have to pay attention to international issues too. Since he does not have to worry about a third term, will he be courageous enough to push aside all the powerful lobbies in the US, including the Zionist and Christian Right lobbies, and do what is right and true in West Asia and the rest of the world? There is nothing in Obama’s personality or his politics that appears to suggest that he will go all out to fight for justice regardless of the consequences. We must have the audacity to hope for this: that Obama will prove us all wrong. 8) What do you think about the economic sanctions imposed against Iran by the United States and its European allies? Iran is under pressure over its nuclear program while there’s no shred of evidence confirming that it has been developing nuclear weapons. We also have Israel’s constant war threats against Iran which have been intensified recently. What should Iran and other Muslim nations do about such threats? Answer: Iran is another colossal tragedy. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution it has been under tremendous pressure from the US and other Western powers. Economic sanctions, which are nothing but instruments of war, imposed by the US have been in force for the last 33 years. Iran’s ‘sin’ is that it wants to safeguard its independence as a sovereign nation. It wants to chart its own future; shape its own destiny. Because the Iranian Revolution overthrew a USIsraeli client, Reza Shah, both US and Israel and their European allies have not forgiven the revolutionaries. In spite of all the difficulties it has undergone, Iran has remained steadfast. It has not succumbed to the US and its allies. It has not yielded to the hegemon. Unfortunately, there are very few Muslim majority states that are prepared to stand up for Iran. If they are silent, it is because a number of them are close allies of the US and will not want to antagonize the US in any way. Others are afraid of the repercussions if they take Iran’s side. In fact, non-Muslim states such as Cuba and Venezuela have been far more vocal in their defense of Iran in the midst of all the reckless allegations about its nuclear weapons
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program. Their expression of solidarity proves yet again that in the struggle for truth and justice, it is not one’s religious affiliation that is the decisive factor. What can Iran do in this situation? Apart from continuing to cooperate with the IAEA which is important, Iran should speak more loudly than ever before on behalf of a nuclear weapons free West Asia and North Africa (WANA). I know Iran has expressed its support for this idea before. But it should do more. It should spearhead an international campaign for such a zone in WANA. It should get governments, NGOs and the media involved. 9) And finally, Iran has just assumed the 3-year presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement. What’s your viewpoint about the role this movement can play in the international level? How can it effectively contribute to world developments and help with the establishment of a new world order? Answer: Like other similar global and regional organizations, the effectiveness of the NonAligned Movement (NAM) is hampered to a great extent by its internal ideological diversity. We should therefore be realistic about our expectations of NAM. Nonetheless, as NAM Chairman, Iran can utilize its leadership position to at least initiate some meaningful changes. It should work hand in hand with Venezuela which will assume the chair after Iran’s three year term. This is a great opportunity for the two countries that share many common aspirations vis-a-vis the international system to set a new tone for NAM over a six year period. What are some of the goals that NAM can pursue?
1. NAM can take a strong moral position against speculation in the international financial system and mobilize global public opinion against this vice. It should apply pressure against the centers of speculative capital such as London and New York. 2. NAM should also call for the stabilization of global food prices. Here again it should target speculators whose immoral activity is responsible for perhaps 20 % of the rise in food prices in recent months. At the same time, NAM should encourage member states to adopt concrete measures to increase food production. 3. NAM should also focus upon the global environmental crisis and explore ways and means of dovetailing development to the larger goal of ecological harmony. 4. NAM should also lend support to efforts undertaken by various groups and individuals in different parts of the world, including Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, to eliminate war as a means of resolving interstate and intra-state conflicts. 5. NAM should commence serious discussions within the movement on the underlying spiritual and moral values that are essential for the evolution of a just, compassionate civilization that is free of global hegemony, gross inequalities, glaring social injustices, and religious bigotry. It is only when the underlying values conduce towards justice and compassion that a new civilization will emerge capable of enhancing human dignity and protecting the integrity of creation.
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