The Balkans in 2003 and 2008
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Also published by United Press International (UPI)
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The Balkans in 2003
December 24, 2002
Macedonia is a useful microcosm of the post-communist countries of the Balkan (self-importantly renamed by its denizens "Southeast Europe"). Prodded by its pro-Western president, Boris Trajkovski, it vocally - though implausibly - aspires to NATO and European Union membership. Its socialist prime minister - newly-elected in a remarkably smooth transfer of power - has just inked a landmark "social contract" with the trade unions.
Macedonia boasts of being an island of modernity and stability in an otherwise volatile (and backward) region. Indeed, in a sign of the times, Macedonian cellphones were rendered Internet-enabled this month by Mobimak, one of the two providers of wireless communications services.
Yet, Macedonia's nationalist opposition boycotts both parliament and the peace process launched by the Ohrid Framework Agreement in August 2001. Macedonia's biggest minority, the Albanians - at least 30 percent of its population, as a recently concluded census should reveal, unless blatantly tampered with - are again restless. Though an erstwhile group of terrorists (or "freedom fighters") made it to the legislature and the government, splinter factions threaten to reignite 2001's civil war. Inter-ethnic hostilities are in the cards.
The country's new government, egged on by a worried international community, has embarked on an unprecedented spree of arrests intended to visibly combat a paralyzing wave of corruption and crime. Several privatization deals were annulled as well. Regrettably, though quite predictably, this newfound righteous zeal is aimed only at the functionaries and politicians of the opposition which constituted the former government.
In the meantime, Macedonia's economy is in tatters. At least one quarter of its population is below the poverty line. Unemployment is an unsustainable 31 percent. The trade deficit - c. $800 million - is a shocking 28 percent of its puny gross domestic product. Macedonia survives largely on remittances, charity, aid and loans doled out by weary donors, multilateral financing institutions and friendly countries. It is slated to sign yet another IMF standby agreement this coming February.
And this is the situation throughout most of the region. Macedonia is no forlorn exception - it is the poignant rule. Flurries of grandiose meetings, self-congratulatory conferences and interminable conventions between the desperate leaders of this benighted corner of Europe fail to disguise this hopeless prognosis.
Decrepit infrastructure, a debilitating brain drain, venal and obstructive bureaucracies, all-pervasive kleptocracies, dysfunctional institutions, reviving enmities, shoddy treatment of minorities and a reigning sense of fatalistic resignation - are cross-border phenomena.
International commitment to the entire region is dwindling. The British, German and American contingents within NATO intend to withdraw forces from Bosnia and Kosovo next year. Aid to refugees in Kosovo and Croatia may cease altogether as cash allotted to the United Nation's for this purpose has dried up.
Both Serbia and Montenegro have endured botched presidential elections. Disenchantment with much-derided politics and much-decried politicians is evident in the abysmally low turnout in all the recent rounds of voting. Tensions are growing as Yugoslavia is again slipping into a constitutional crisis. The new union of Serbia and Montenegro is a recipe for instability and constant friction. A lackluster economy doesn't help - industrial production has nudged up by an imperceptible 2.5 percent from a vanishingly low basis.
Political and economic transformations are likely to stall in Yugoslavia as nationalism reasserts itself and the reform camp disintegrates. Solemn mutual declarations of peace and prosperity notwithstanding, tension with neighboring countries - notably Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina - will flare up.
Despite some private sector dynamism and the appearance of law and order, Kosovo's unemployment rate is an impossible 57 percent and more than half of its destitute inhabitants survive beneath the poverty line. Its status unresolved and with diminishing international profile, it fails to attract the massive flows of foreign investment needed merely to maintain its utilities and mines. It is a veritable powder keg adjacent to a precariously balanced Macedonia.
Bosnians of all designations are rearming as well. The country has become a center of human trafficking, illicit weapons trading, smuggling and worse. The IMF, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are doing their best to resuscitate the moribund economy, but hitherto to little avail. The World Bank alone is expected to plough $102 million into the ailing economy. A dearth of foreign investment and decreasing foreign aid leave the ramshackle country exposed to a soaring balance of payments deficit.
Albanians are busy putting their crumbling house in order. The customs service is revamped in collaboration with concerned neighbors such as Italy. Transport infrastructure will connect Albania to Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia and even Yugoslavia. Albania's air control system will be modernized next year. Still, a sapping budget deficit of almost 7 percent of GDP ties the government's hands.
Indeed, infrastructural projects represent the Balkan's Great White Hope. Transport corridors will crisscross the region and connect Bulgaria to Macedonia, Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia and Hungary. A Balkan-wide electricity grid is in the works and might even solve the chronic shortages in countries such as Albania.
Yet, not all is grim.
The Balkans is clearly segmented. On the one hand, countries like Macedonia, Albania, Yugoslavia and Bosnia seem to be cruelly doomed to a Sisyphean repetition of their conflicts and the destitution they entail. Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, on the other hand, are either EU candidates or would be members. Slovenia - though it vehemently denies its regional affiliation - would be the first Balkan country to join the European Union in May 2004. Romania and Bulgaria are slated to follow it in 2007.
So much of Croatia's economy - especially its banking system - is in European hands that it is a de facto EU member, if far from being a de jure one. It, too, relies on IMF financing, though: the latest $140 million standby arrangement was just initialed.
Croatia's external debt is out of control and it needs all the foreign exchange it can lay its hands on. Labor unrest is growing and likely to mushroom in the dark winter months ahead - despite impressive strides in industrial production, up 10 percent year on year in November. Additionally, Croatia is intimately linked to the German market. It is an important export market for its goods and services (such as construction). Should the German economy stagnate, the Croats may suffer a recession.
Relationships with Slovenia are not too improved either. Several rounds of incendiary verbiage were exchanged between these uneasy neighbors over the fate of money owed to Croats by Slovenian banks and a co-owned nuclear facility. These - and trade issues - will be satisfactorily resolved next year.
Bulgaria has descended from euphoria, upon the success of the Simeon II National Movement in the June 2001 elections, to unmitigated gloom. It is besieged by scandals, skyrocketing energy prices, a totteringly balanced - albeit IMF sanctioned - budget, a growing current account deficit, surging unemployment and a privatization process in suspended animation.
Next year will be better, though: the telecoms, the electricity utility and its regional branches, the State Savings Bank and tobacco firms are likely to be disposed of, sold to consortia of foreign - mainly Greek - and domestic investors. GDP is already growing at a respectable annual clip of 4.5 percent.
Public debt declined by 15 percent in the last 4 years. Households' real income and consumption will both continue their double digit takeoff. Moody's recently upgraded the country's credit rating to "positive" and Standard and Poor followed suit and elevated the rank of four local banks.
Next year's big positive surprises - and erstwhile miscarriages - share a common language: Romanian.
Romania's NATO membership in 2003 will seal the astounding turnaround of this bleak country. Almost two thirds of its burgeoning trade is already with the EU. Unemployment dropped by a significant 2.4 percent this year. Some commentators foresee a snap election in the first half of the year to capitalize on these achievements, but this is unlikely.
Recently, the IMF has unblocked funds, though reluctantly. This time, though, Romania will keep its promises to the Fund and implement a rigorous austerity and enterprise reform package despite the vigorous opposition of unionized labor and assorted virulent nationalists assembled in the Greater Romania Party.
The tax system is already rationalized - corporate tax is down to 25 percent and a value added tax was introduced. The government currently consumes merely 6 percent of GDP. Privatization proceeds have shot up - admittedly from a dismal starting point. The Ministry of Tourism alone enjoyed an influx of $40 million of foreign direct investment. Some major properties - such as Romtelecom - will go on the block next year.
Both Moody's and the Japan Credit Rating Agency have upgraded the credit ratings of the country and its banks. GDP is predicted by the Economist Intelligence Unit to grow by 4.6 percent next year and by a hefty 5 percent in 2004. In purchasing power parity terms, it is already up 20 percent on 1998. Foreign exchange reserves have doubled since 1998 to c. $6 billion.
Even Moldova is affected by the positive spill-over and has considerably improved its ties with the IMF. It is pursuing restructuring and market-orientated reforms. It may succeed to reschedule its Paris Club debts next year. The United States - the country's largest donor - will likely increase its contribution from the current $44 million. The Moldovan president met United States President George Bush last week and came out assured of American support.
The Balkan in 2003 will be an immeasurably better place than its was in 1993, both politically and economically. Still, progress has been patchy and unevenly divided. Some countries have actually regressed. Others seem to be stuck in a time warp. A few have authentically broken with their past. While only five years ago it would have been safe to lump together as basket cases all the post-communist Balkan countries, with the exception of Slovenia - this is no longer true. It is cause for guarded optimism.
The Balkans in 2008
Interview granted to Barry Scott Zellen, Deputy Editor, "Strategic Insights", and Research Editor of the Arctic Security Project at the Center for Contemporary Conflict.
Q. During the 1990s, American and NATO forces directly engaged, through diplomatic and military means, the challenge of state collapse and the resulting explosion of ethnic and tribal violence that accompanied state failure. What do you think were the main lessons learned, through these experiences, for decision-makers in the western world?
A. No nation-state collapsed in the 1990s. Only
implausible and unsustainable multi-cultural, multi-ethnic experiments (such as
Czechoslovakia, the USSR, and Yugoslavia) did. The lessons the West has learned
were simple enough: in some parts of the world ethnically homogeneous nation
states are stable players and to be preferred to other, more varied types of
polities (hence Western support of Kosovo's independence); the combination of
bayonets and butter works and yields peace and prosperity (e.g., in the
Balkans); sovereignty should be subjected to the continuous scrutiny of the
international community and to armed intervention to forestall humanitarian
catastrophes; international consensus and coalitions work (as in
Bosnia or in the first Gulf War), while, in an increasingly multipolar world,
unilateral action doesn't (see America's ill-fated Iraq war).
2. Now that America has embarked upon its Global War on Terror, often taking unilateral military action and asserting its intent to pre-empt emergent threats, do you believe its planners and decision-makers have forgotten the lessons of the 1990s, and of the Balkans in particular?
A. Most definitely. Consider Iraq: had these lessons been implemented, Iraq should have been broken down to three, ethnically-homogenous mini-states (or autonomies), perhaps within a confederation or a common market; a massive, Marshall Plan type of economic reconstruction and development program would have been on offer; and the USA should and would have refrained from unilateral action.
Consider Israel: had these lessons been recalled, Israel would
have been coerced into acquiescing in the creation of a viable Palestinian state
and forced to retreat from most of its territorial acquisitions during the Six
Days War; the West would have dangled EU membership or association in front of
the belligerent parties; a massive economic development program would have been
proposed and financed; and the USA would have never forfeited its role as an
honest broker by allying itself so visibly with one of the parties to the
3. When Yugoslavia broke up, the emergence of smaller sovereign and independent nation-states from its former multinational fabric was facilitated by the diplomatic support of many major powers in the West, suggesting to some degree a shared responsibility for the resulting crisis. Do you think in the years since, the risks of state collapse along underlying subnational, ethnic or sectarian fault lines have been forgotten by some of those very same western powers?
A. I don't regard the disintegration of multi-ethnic and multi-cultural entities to be a risk. On the very contrary, I consider the existence of artificial entities, comprised of multiple ethnicities, to be a destabilizing geopolitical factor. In some parts of the world (Europe, the Middle East, Africa), ethnically-homogeneous nation-states are the only long-term viable and peaceful solution. Inevitably, the breakdown of polities sometimes entails gory conflict and ethnic cleansing. But this is not a law of nature: witness the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the USSR, for instance. Yugoslavia's bloody demise was the exception and was brought on by its leadership's refusal to let go of a multi-ethnic past.
4. When the United States intervened to prevent further
ethnic violence in the Balkans, and deployed military forces to bolster
peacekeeping operations with American muscle to ensure that the peace forged at
Dayton held firm, it was motivated to some degree by a humanitarian impulse, and
the subsequent years saw the concept of humanitarian interventions come into
favor again after the earlier failure in Somalia had left many Americans less
than enthusiastic about the concept. In the post-9/11 years, do you see a very
different America, motivated by different values, more intent on breaking states
to pre-empt the emergence of future strategic threats than in fixing them? Does
the Iraqi situation also suggest a rapid deterioration of America's strategic
memory, having only recently emerged from its Balkan experiences as a proponent
of humanitarian intervention to prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other
human rights abuses -- and then, after 9/11, quickly becoming a more neoimperial
power intent of remaking foreign states in its own democratic image, and
seemingly oblivious to the complex ethnic topology underlying the many sovereign
states of the Middle East and South Asia whose borders do not correspond to or
reflect an underlying demographic uniformity?
A. I never bought into the "humanitarian intervention" or "let's forge new democracies" smokescreens. The instigators of armed conflicts always resorted to narratives: moral-ethical, millennial, religious, national, political, or mystical-metaphysical. Communism was about extracting the proletariat from the abusive clutches of capitalism; Napoleon's murderous spree was couched in the values of the French Revolution and he, too, claimed to be spreading democracy throughout Europe; at first, Hitler presented himself as the natural protector of oppressed German minorities in Central and Eastern Europe.
The truth is that nations act out of self-interest. America's involvement in the Balkans was not motivated by idealism, spurious or real. The passing of the USSR left a power vacuum in Europe and elsewhere, in erstwhile theatres of the Cold War. The USA stepped in to make clear who is the new sheriff in town and to establish its credentials as the sole superpower. Bosnia-Herzegovina and, later, Kosovo served merely to illustrate that saying "no" to the USA was not an option and that defiant dissidents in the New World Order will be severely penalized. The "humanitarian intervention" cover story was good for forging international coalitions and was thus used only twice and exclusively in Europe (America stood by and watched the Rwandan genocide unfold, for instance). Now, no longer in need of partners (or so it believes), the USA doesn't even bother to pretend any more.
5. The aftermath of the Iraq invasion, which quickly
devolved from a swift and decisive strategic victory to a festering and
protracted insurgency waged by new, sub-state opponents driven by a sectarian or
ideological vision, has provided fertile ground for the rise of a new terror
threat in the formerly stable Iraqi polity: what does this suggest in terms of
the strategic wisdom of America's post-9/11 policies, particularly its concept
of strategic pre-emption?
A. Iraq was never a stable polity. Its history is strewn with coups, massacres, insurrections, and strife. Like many other Middle Eastern "states", Iraq was invented by the British and, being ethnically-heterogeneous, never amounted to much. America's invasion of Iraq was about securing oil supplies and sea lanes and about establishing front bases in the fight against virulently anti-American militant Islam and its benefactors (e.g., Iran). Seen from this neocon point of view, America's invasion of Iraq is a strategic success. The USA is now in direct control of the entire Gulf. Even Iran does not dare confront the Americans openly. And the United States is aiming at the soft belly of a combative and resources-rich Russia. There was nothing the USA could have done to quell an insurgency in a region prone to such misconduct. It comes with the territory.
Q. What can the Balkan experiences of the 1990s teach us
about the current world situation, the roots of terror, the causes of state
failure, and the path toward peace and stability?
A. The 1990s in the Balkans have taught us, above all, that sustainable peace is a last resort. Peace among nations is the result of attrition and exhaustion, of mutual terror and actual bloodletting - not of amicable agreement and visionary stratagems. It took two world wars to make peace between France and Germany. By forcing an unwanted cessation of hostilities upon an unwilling populace in the early stages of every skirmish, the West ascertains the perpetuation of conflicts.
Wherever possible and applicable, the West should dangle economic carrots (such as EU membership) in front of the bloodied pugilists (although not ram them down their reluctant throats in shows of air superiority, as it did and still is doing in Serbia). Humanitarian aid should be provided and grants and credits for development to the deserving. But the military succor afforded by the likes of Germany to the likes of Croatia and by the benighted Americans to the most extreme elements in Kosovo served only to amplify and prolong the suffering and the warfare.
The West obstinately refused - and still does - to contemplate the only feasible solution to the spectrum of Balkan questions. Instead of convening a new Berlin Congress and redrawing the borders of the host of entities, quasi-entities and fraction entities that emerged with the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation, the West foolishly and blindly adhered to unsustainable borders which reflect colonial decision making and ceasefire lines. In the absence of a colonizing power, only ethnically-homogeneous states can survive peacefully in the Balkans and elsewhere. The West should have strived to effect ethnic homogenization throughout the region by altering borders, encouraging population swaps and transfers and discouraging ethnic cleansing and forced assimilation ("ethnic denial").
But the West's missteps in the Balkans were not confined to the political and geopolitical realms.
The West (actually, America) has many long arms, the IMF and World Bank being the most prominent. These ostensible multilaterals have committed yet another strategic blunder. Instead of weaning their clientele - the post-Communist countries in transition - off central planning and command economics, they engaged in Washington-based micromanagement of their economies. The Bretton-Woods institutions have become all-pervasive, multi-tentacled approximations of the Communist party. They dictate policy, involve themselves in the minutest details of daily management, veto decisions (economic and non-economic), cajole and threaten governments, block private sector lending and compete in the international credit and investment markets.
The post-Communist countries in transition - and Iraq today - are like infants taking their first steps in the demanding world of free markets and capitalism. The multilateral financial institutions are the mother figures. Good mothers let go, encourage in the child a sense of independence, self-reliance, learning by mistakes and the predictability of just rewards and punishments. Bad mothers refuse to acknowledge the emerging boundaries of their off-spring. They reward clinging behaviour and punish every act of separation and individuation. They are overweening, doting, crushing figures. In short: they micromanage.
Q. Looking at historical what-ifs, do you believe that if the U.S. election of 2000 was decided in favor of Vice President Al Gore, who was a "humanitarian hawk" that had long sought to persuade President Clinton to engage the Balkans directly (and militarily), might America have pursued a different strategy after 9/11, and avoided military actions that with hindsight are now known to have induced state failure and ethnic violence in Iraq?
A. No. I don't believe that history is driven by "personalities". This is a dangerous outlook that gave humanity strongmen and tyrants. History and its processes and trends are the ineluctable outcomes of a dialectic. Whoever is the occupant of the White House, he would have probably acted the same. Granted, Gore would have more rigorously sought an international coalition to invade Iraq and he would have resorted more often and more forcefully to the "humanitarian intervention" narrative. But, he would have invaded Iraq (or Iran) all the same. The needs to secure energy supplies and safeguard shipping lanes are timeless and independent of the personal predilections of office-holders. The transition from a symmetrical Cold War to the asymmetrical threats posed by militants, terrorists, freedom fighters, and fundamentalists throws up geostrategic constraints that are as likely to have shackled and compelled Gore as they did Bush.
Q. And looking ahead, do the Balkan experiences, especially with regard to peacemaking and national reconciliation, offer a model that might help bring an end to the GWOT through the reconciliation of the state level and sub-state forces currently engaged in conflict?
A. In one word: no. The experience of the Yugoslav secession wars is applicable, perhaps, to the dissolution and disintegration of other multi-ethnic states, but it has little to teach us on how to cope with sub-state actors, such as militias, terrorists, freedom fighters, insurgents, fundamentalist religious militants, and so on.
The GWOT is not global. It is actually a localized or, at most, regional conflict between the West (and, really, the USA) and a few low-intensity warriors, who reside and operate in Muslim countries throughout Asia (and, to a far lesser extent, Africa).
Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and Religious Fundamentalism are as utopian as the classical Idea of Progress, which is most strongly reified by Western science and liberal democracy. All four illiberal ideologies firmly espouse a linear view of history: Man progresses by accumulating knowledge and wealth and by constructing ever-improving polities. Similarly, the classical, all-encompassing, idea of progress is perceived to be a "Law of Nature" with human jurisprudence and institutions as both its manifestations and descriptions. Thus, all ideas of progress are pseudo-scientific.
Still, there are some important distinctions between Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and Religious Fundamentalism, on the one hand, and Western liberalism, on the other hand:
All four totalitarian ideologies regard individual tragedies and sacrifices as the inevitable lubricant of the inexorable March Forward of the species. Yet, they redefine "humanity" (who is human) to exclude large groups of people. Communism embraces the Working Class (Proletariat) but not the Bourgeoisie, Nazism promotes one Volk but denigrates and annihilates others, Fascism bows to the Collective but viciously persecutes dissidents, Religious Fundamentalism posits a chasm between believers and infidels.
In these four intolerant ideologies, the exclusion of certain reviled groups of people is both a prerequisite for the operation of the "Natural Law of Progress" and an integral part of its motion forward. The moral and spiritual obligation of "real" Man to future generations is to "unburden" the Law, to make it possible for it to operate smoothly and in optimal conditions, with all hindrances (read: undesirables) removed (read: murdered).
All four ideologies subvert modernity (in other words, Progress itself) by using its products (technology) to exclude and kill "outsiders", all in the name of servicing "real" humanity and bettering its lot.
But liberal democracy has been intermittently guilty of the same sin. The same deranged logic extends to the construction and maintenance of nuclear weapons by countries like the USA, the UK, France, and Israel: they are intended to protect "good" humanity against "bad" people (e.g., Communists during the Cold war, Arabs, or failed states such as Iran). Even global warming is a symptom of such exclusionary thinking: the rich feel that they have the right to tax the "lesser" poor by polluting our common planet and by disproportionately exhausting its resources.
The fact is that, at least since the 1920s, the very existence of Mankind is being recurrently threatened by exclusionary ideas of progress. Even Colonialism, which predated modern ideologies, was inclusive and sought to "improve" the Natives" and "bring them to the White Man's level" by assimilating or incorporating them in the culture and society of the colonial power. This was the celebrated (and then decried) "White Man's Burden". That we no longer accept our common fate and the need to collaborate to improve our lot is nothing short of suicidal.
Islam is not merely a religion. It is also - and perhaps, foremost - a state ideology. It is all-pervasive and missionary. It permeates every aspect of social cooperation and culture. It is an organizing principle, a narrative, a philosophy, a value system, and a vade mecum. In this it resembles Confucianism and, to some extent, Hinduism.
Judaism and its offspring, Christianity - though heavily involved in political affairs throughout the ages - have kept their dignified distance from such carnal matters. These are religions of "heaven" as opposed to Islam, a practical, pragmatic, hands-on, ubiquitous, "earthly" creed.
Secular religions - Democratic Liberalism, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Socialism and other isms - are more akin to Islam than to, let's say, Buddhism. They are universal, prescriptive, and total. They provide recipes, rules, and norms regarding every aspect of existence - individual, social, cultural, moral, economic, political, military, and philosophical.
At the end of the Cold War, Democratic Liberalism stood triumphant over the fresh graves of its ideological opponents. They have all been eradicated. This precipitated Fukuyama's premature diagnosis (the End of History). But one state ideology, one bitter rival, one implacable opponent, one contestant for world domination, one antithesis remained - Islam.
Militant Islam is, therefore, not a cancerous mutation of "true" Islam. On the contrary, it is the purest expression of its nature as an imperialistic religion which demands unmitigated obedience from its followers and regards all infidels as both inferior and avowed enemies.
The same can be said about Democratic Liberalism. Like Islam, it does not hesitate to exercise force, is missionary, colonizing, and regards itself as a monopolist of the "truth" and of "universal values". Its antagonists are invariably portrayed as depraved, primitive, and below par.
Such mutually exclusive claims were bound to lead to an all-out conflict sooner or later. The "War on Terrorism" is only the latest round in a millennium-old war between Islam and other "world systems".
Such interpretation of recent events enrages many. They demand to know (often in harsh tones):
Don't I see any difference between terrorists who murder civilians and regular armies in battle?
Both regulars and irregulars slaughter civilians as a matter of course. "Collateral damage" is the main outcome of modern, total warfare - and of low intensity conflicts alike.
There is a major difference between terrorists and soldiers, though:
Terrorists make carnage of noncombatants their main tactic - while regular armies rarely do. Such conduct is criminal and deplorable, whoever the perpetrator.
But what about the killing of combatants in battle? How should we judge the slaying of soldiers by terrorists in combat?
Modern nation-states enshrined the self-appropriated monopoly on violence in their constitutions and ordinances (and in international law). Only state organs - the army, the police - are permitted to kill, torture, and incarcerate.
Terrorists are trust-busters: they, too, want to kill, torture, and incarcerate. They seek to break the death cartel of governments by joining its ranks.
Thus, when a soldier kills terrorists and ("inadvertently") civilians (as "collateral damage") - it is considered above board. But when the terrorist decimates the very same soldier - he is decried as an outlaw.
Moreover, the misbehavior of some countries - not least the United States - led to the legitimization of terrorism. Often nation-states use terrorist organizations to further their geopolitical goals. When this happens, erstwhile outcasts become "freedom fighters", pariahs become allies, murderers are recast as sensitive souls struggling for equal rights. This contributes to the blurring of ethical percepts and the blunting of moral judgment.
So, would I rather live under sharia law? Don't you find Liberal Democracy vastly superior to Islam?
Superior, no. Different - of course. Having been born and raised in the West, I naturally prefer its standards to Islam's. Had I been born in a Muslim country, I would have probably found the West and its principles perverted and obnoxious.
The question is meaningless because it presupposes the existence of an objective, universal, culture and period independent set of preferences. Luckily, there is no such thing.
In this clash of civilization whose side am I on?
This is not a clash of civilizations. Western culture is inextricably intertwined with Islamic knowledge, teachings, and philosophy. Christian fundamentalists have more in common with Muslim militants than with East Coast or French intellectuals.
Muslims have always been the West's most defining Other. Islamic existence and "gaze" helped to mold the West's emerging identity as a historical construct. From Spain to India, the incessant friction and fertilizing interactions with Islam shaped Western values, beliefs, doctrines, moral tenets, political and military institutions, arts, and sciences.
This war is about world domination. Two incompatible thought and value systems compete for the hearts and minds (and purchasing power) of the denizens of the global village. Like in the Westerns, by high noon, either one of them is left standing - or both will have perished.
Where does my loyalty reside?
I am a Westerner, so I hope the West wins this confrontation. But, in the process, it would be good if it were humbled, deconstructed, and reconstructed. One beneficial outcome of this conflict is the demise of the superpower system - a relic of days bygone and best forgotten. I fully believe and trust that in militant Islam, the United States has found its match.
In other words, I regard militant Islam as a catalyst that will hasten the transformation of the global power structure from unipolar to multipolar. It may also commute the United States itself. It will definitely rejuvenate religious thought and cultural discourse. All wars do.
The West is not fighting al-Qaida. It is facing down the circumstances and ideas that gave rise to al-Qaida. Conditions - such as poverty, ignorance, disease, oppression, and xenophobic superstitions - are difficult to change or to reverse. Ideas are impossible to suppress. Already, militant Islam is far more widespread and established that any Western government would care to admit.
History shows that all terrorist groupings ultimately join the mainstream. Many countries - from Israel to Ireland and from East Timor to Nicaragua - are governed by former terrorists. Terrorism enhances social upward mobility and fosters the redistribution of wealth and resources from the haves to haves not.
Al-Qaida, despite its ominous portrayal in the Western press - is no exception. It, too, will succumb, in due time, to the twin lures of power and money. Nihilistic and decentralized as it is - its express goals are the rule of Islam and equitable economic development. It is bound to get its way in some countries.
The world of the future will be truly pluralistic. The proselytizing zeal of Liberal Democracy and Capitalism has rendered them illiberal and intolerant. The West must accept the fact that a sizable chunk of humanity does not regard materialism, individualism, liberalism, progress, and democracy - at least in their Western guises - as universal or desirable.
Live and let live (and live and let die) must replace the West's malignant optimism and intellectual and spiritual arrogance.
Edward K. Thompson, the managing editor of "Life" from 1949 to 1961, once wrote:
"'Life' must be curious, alert, erudite and moral, but it must achieve this without being holier-than-thou, a cynic, a know-it-all or a Peeping Tom."
The West has grossly and thoroughly violated Thompson's edict. In its oft-interrupted intercourse with these forsaken regions of the globe, it has acted, alternately, as a Peeping Tom, a cynic and a know it all. It has invariably behaved as if it were holier-than-thou. In an unmitigated and fantastic succession of blunders, miscalculations, vain promises, unkept threats and unkempt diplomats - it has driven the world to the verge of war and the regions it "adopted" to the threshold of economic and social upheaval.
Enamored with the new ideology of free marketry cum democracy, the West first assumed the role of the omniscient. It designed ingenious models, devised foolproof laws, imposed fail-safe institutions and strongly "recommended" measures. Its representatives, the tribunes of the West, ruled the plebeian East with determination rarely equaled by skill or knowledge.
Velvet hands couched in iron gloves, ignorance disguised by economic newspeak, geostrategic interests masquerading as forms of government, characterized their dealings with the natives. Preaching and beseeching from ever higher pulpits, they poured opprobrium and sweet delusions on the eagerly duped, naive, bewildered masses.
The deceit was evident to the indigenous cynics - but it was the failure that dissuaded them and others besides. The West lost its former colonies not when it lied egregiously, not when it pretended to know for sure when it surely did not know, not when it manipulated and coaxed and coerced - but when it failed.
To the peoples of these regions, the king was fully dressed. It was not a little child but an enormous debacle that exposed his nudity. In its presumptuousness and pretentiousness, feigned surety and vain clichés, imported economic models and exported cheap raw materials - the West succeeded to demolish beyond reconstruction whole economies, to ravage communities, to wreak ruination upon the centuries-old social fabric, woven diligently by generations.
It brought crime and drugs and mayhem but gave very little in return, only a horizon beclouded and thundering with vacuous eloquence. As a result, while tottering regional governments still pay lip service to the values of Capitalism, the masses are enraged and restless and rebellious and baleful and anti-Western to the core.
The disenchanted were not likely to acquiesce for long - not only with the West's neo-colonialism but also with its incompetence and inaptitude, with the nonchalant experimentation that it imposed upon them and with the abyss between its proclamations and its performance.
Throughout this time, the envoys of the West - its mediocre politicians, its insatiably ruthless media, its obese tourists, its illiterate soldiers, and its armchair economists - continue to play the role of God, wreaking greater havoc than even the original.
While confessing to omniscience (in breach of every tradition scientific and religious), they also developed a kind of world weary, unshaven cynicism interlaced with fascination at the depths plumbed by the locals' immorality and amorality.
The jet-set Peeping Toms reside in five star hotels (or luxurious apartments) overlooking the communist, or Middle-Eastern, or African shantytowns. They drive utility vehicles to the shabby offices of the native bureaucrats and dine in $100 per meal restaurants ("it's so cheap here").
In between kebab and hummus they bemoan and grieve the corruption and nepotism and cronyism ("I simply love their ethnic food, but they are so..."). They mourn the autochthonous inability to act decisively, to cut red tape, to manufacture quality, to open to the world, to be less xenophobic (said while casting a disdainful glance at the native waiter).
To them it looks like an ancient force of nature and, therefore, an inevitability - hence their cynicism. Mostly provincial people with horizons limited by consumption and by wealth, these heralds of the West adopt cynicism as shorthand for cosmopolitanism. They erroneously believe that feigned sarcasm lends them an air of ruggedness and rich experience and the virile aroma of decadent erudition. Yet all it does is make them obnoxious and even more repellent to the residents than they already were.
Ever the preachers, the West - both Europeans and Americans - uphold themselves as role models of virtue to be emulated, as points of reference, almost inhuman or superhuman in their taming of the vices, avarice up front.
Yet the chaos and corruption in their own homes is broadcast live, day in and day out, into the cubicles inhabited by the very people they seek to so transform. And they conspire and collaborate in all manner of venality and crime and scam and rigged elections in all the countries they put the gospel to.
In trying to put an end to history, they seem to have provoked another round of it - more vicious, more enduring, more traumatic than before. That the West is paying the price for its mistakes I have no doubt. For isn't it a part and parcel of its teachings that everything has a price and that there is always a time of reckoning?
Q. Does Globalization have anything to do with the rise of terrorism?
From Venezuela to Thailand, democratic regimes are being toppled by authoritarian substitutes: the military, charismatic left-wingers, or mere populists. Even in the USA, the bastion of constitutional rule, civil and human rights are being alarmingly eroded (though not without precedent in wartime).
The prominent ideologues of liberal democracy have committed a grave error by linking themselves inextricably with the doctrine of freemarketry and the emerging new order of globalization. As Thomas Friedman correctly observes in "The Lexus and the Olive Tree", both strains of thought are strongly identified with the United States of America (USA).
Thus, liberal democracy came to be perceived by the multitudes as a ruse intended to safeguard the interests of an emerging, malignantly narcissistic empire (the USA) and of rapacious multinationals. Liberal democracy came to be identified with numbing, low-brow cultural homogeneity, encroachment on privacy and the individual, and suppression of national and other idiosyncratic sentiments.
Liberal democracy came to be confused and confuted with neo-colonial exploitation, social Darwinism, and the crumbling of social compacts and long-standing treaties, both explicit and implicit. It even came to be associated with materialism and a bewildering variety of social ills: rising crime rates, unemployment, poverty, drug addiction, prostitution, organ trafficking, monopolistic behavior, corporate malfeasance, and other antisocial forms of conduct.
The backlash was, thus, inevitable.
Europe's Four Speeds
How the West Lost the East
Left and Right in a Divided Europe
The Concert of Europe, Interrupted
The Eastern Question Revisited
The Clash of Islam and Liberalism
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