Wednesday, 2 February 2011


Amid Egypt's revolt and other social upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa in January-February 2010, governments around the world are trying to assess their own internal sociopolitical situation and the degree to which their regimes are safe from a possible overthrow by widespread popular unrest. Some authoritarian regimes are becoming more austere in order to prevent uprisings, while the G-7 liberal-bourgeois democracies, which are the economically hegemonic powers in the Arab world, are planning how to have the inside track with the next regime so that nothing changes in the 'patron-client' relationship of the great powers and their Arab dependencies.

All of this turmoil in Cairo and beyond must come as a shock to liberals and conservatives worldwide. Most actually believed that the end of the Communist bloc meant the end of popular uprisings; the safe and continued uninterrupted progress of the market economy operating under a variety of political umbrellas from the social-democratic in Norway to liberal-bourgeois in the G-7, to some form of authoritarianism for many like those of North Africa and the Middle East.
How shocking it must be for 'democratic' Western politicians to suddenly discover that authoritarian rulers were pillaging their own nations that were 'dependencies' of Western interests, now falling under popular pressure and threatening the regional and international balance of power? What does the US, Israel, and EU do now that there is a real possibility of a 'clash of civilizations' by a popular uprising; a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of the US and its allies that operated under such a confrontational ideology and policies in the last two decades in the name of fighting terrorism. This clash of civilizations was hardly inevitable. Indeed, it was a manufactured fate by governments, no different than clashes of civilizations in centuries past.

I have stated in previous postings that Iran, the chosen nemesis of the West, is the winner of the clash of civilizations. Iran once again will emerge the clear winner out of the uprisings of 2011, just as Iran emerged the clear beneficiary out of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This too was the result not of inevitable fate, not from Christian Divine Providence or the will of Allah, but the stuff of short-sighted US policies since the Iranian Revolution.

It will take months, indeed many years, for scholars to determine the various complex causes and the degree to which the new status quo that emerges really represents any structural change as a result of the current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. We are so close to the unfolding events that perhaps the next generation (s) will be better able to judge with greater accuracy the dynamics of these historic events; the degree to which they have common causes domestic and external. From our limited perspective we can only try to figure out what it means for the immediate future and for specific political groups, social classes, ideological and religious movements, as well as countries.

Do people really engage in uprisings solely because of dire socioeconomic conditions under repressive regimes? If indeed so, shouldn't the poorest nations on earth be engaged in perpetual revolution?  And if it is true that people trade repression for safety, security, and material comforts of the present, how do we explain the Iranian revolution in 1979 carried out primarily by a middle class that the Shah had created; a middle class that saw good prospects for upward mobility for its children, yet, it decided that was not enough; a middle class that wanted regime change along with economic modernization, but while maintaining Islamic-Persian cultural and religious identity threatened by the Shah's 'Americanization' of the country. The Iranian uprising was about opportunities and freedom, about national integrity and freedom from foreign dependence that the Shah denied to his people.

During the Iranian Revolution in which political elements from the left to the religious right participated in solidarity to bring regime change, the urban middle class leading the movement saw their socioeconomic and political prospects under a new regime that would assert a strong national and cultural identity instead of reducing the country further into (neo-colonial) dependency. The Tudeh Paerty played an important role and hoped to influence the country's political landscape as did centrists hoping the same. Naturally, neither the leftists nor centrist reformers benefited from the revolution that fell into the hands of Islamists. In the first week of February 1979, more than three million people poured into the streets of Tehran to welcome the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini. As in the case of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Iranian military declared their solidarity with the people; a situation very similar to that of Egypt in 2011, a situation in which the military will probably play a catalytic role on what type of regime is forged.

But the Iranian revolution took place before the end of the Cold War, before the US war on (Muslim) terrorism, and before Sam Huntington's Clash of Civilization (1998) intended to explain the post-Cold War world order amid new types of international conflict. However, now that the uprisings of Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt are taking place, it seems that either the 'clash of civilization' thesis needs a new broader chronology and a much broader thesis, or it needs narrower definition to describe US transition from Cold War ideological and foreign policy orientation to an anti-Islam path. After all, who decided that divisions among humankind and the source of global conflict was cultural, if not the country seeing itself in a protagonist antagonistic role to cultures, religions, regimes, civilizations it opposed in the Middle East and Central Asia? And would the US decide that cultural, ideological, political, diplomatic, economic, and ultimately military conflict is as inevitable as the Cold War, and thus must be won by any means necessary? If the US saw nothing but 'clash of civilization', as Hiuntington argued and so many agreed, does the rest of the world see the same thing?

Could it be that the 'clash of civilizations' ideology and policies that the US and its allies pursued, along with the political economy of hyper-concentrated finance capitalism that has caused a global crisis contributed to the current uprising in North Africa and the Middle East? After all, clash of civilizations is not a new concept - ancient Persia wished to acquire the trade routes of ancient Greece and Athens wanted to eliminate Persia as a threat to its commercial expansion; the Roman Republic wished to eliminate Carthage as a rival; Christians went after Middle Eastern trade routes and clashed with Muslims in the name of God during the crusades. In modern times God was busy at work on behalf of white Europeans and Americans clashing with non-white native populations whose resources and cheap labor the imperialists wanted. Clashes of civilizations have always existed not because of intrinsic differences between cultures, but because the power-hungry political and social elites of a country deliberately seek out clash in order to derive benefits - political, military, economic.

A survey by BBC, the University of Maryland's Program of International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), and Globescan conducted in 27 nations in 2007 found that 56% of the respondents did not agree that 'clash of civilizations' between Muslims and the West was inevitable. On the other hand, right wing groups in the US and EU seeking political advantage believe in the inevitability of such a clash. Ten years ago, Huntington wrote: "the leaders of countries with at least two thirds of the world's people - Chinese, Russians, Indians, Arabs, Muslims, Africans - see the United States as the single greatest threat to their societies. They do not see America as a military threat; they see it as a threat to their integrity, autonomy, prosperity, and freedom of action to pursue their interests as they see it. They see the United States as intrusive, interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, hegemonic, hypocritical, applying double standards, engaging in what they label 'financial imperialism' and 'intellectual colonialism." S. Huntington, Culture, Power & Democracy, (7-8).

The current uprisings in the Middle East-North Africa regions represent a great opportunity for the US to put an end to 'clash of civilization' ideology and policies that replaced the Cold War. The uprisings in the Middle East are an opportunity to launch a new era by respecting the UN principles of national self-determination and human rights; to replace costly and bankrupt military solutions with diplomacy as the means of resolving conflict; to stop 'mothering' Israel and start pressuring it to permit the sovereign state of Palestine to exist with all the territorial rights (water rights and port access included). The current turmoil in the Arab world represents an opportunity for fundamental rethinking about ending the Cold War with the Muslims under the label 'war on terrorism', and finding common ground of cooperation on an interdependent rather than a neo-colonial patron-client model. Does the US have the visionary leadership to end the clash of civilizations? Absolutely it does, but there are too many political and business lobbies adamantly against it, so it will not happen.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And what are your views on Syria at this juncture in history?