Wind Of Change In North Africa And West Asia, Partial Mixture Of Fukuyama And Moisi

Ever since the young educated vegetable seller who set himself afire on December 17, 2010 to express his frustration over daily humiliation, a result of the corrupt system in Tunisia, at the hands of elements contributing to the harsh rule of the now-ousted Tunisian President Ben Ali, supported by the free world—the West, the region (North Africa and West Asia) has been on fire ignited by the incident but sustained and fanned by multiple and complex factors.

The rulers of these states and kingdoms across the region have used variety of issues to keep themselves at the throne or at the chair as the case may be depending upon the type of governance they managed to evolve. Students of international politics know pretty well that preachers (of both state and non-state variety) of different ideologies whether it is “secular” or “religious” have a common thread running into the web of their goals—that of serving their “interests” (which may be defined as a nebulous self-seeking, and therefore self-centric, inclination/leaning etc) best. To that end Bakars, Johns, Alis and Simons worked.

What is hot at the moment is the bombardment of Libya expressly to check or to prevent the Libyan President Col Muammar Gadhafi from killing his “own people”—meaning the Libyans. The action by countries such as France, Britain, US etc followed a Security Council resolution asking the international community to undertake steps to prevent the death of civilians in Libya resulted from Gadhafi’s military juggernaut set rolling fiercely to consolidate his fast fading grip. Some powers were actually scrambling to attack Libya, waiting for the Security Council endorsement to carry the fig of support of “international community”.

The scene appears to be familiar. The international war audience is fairly used to such things and maneuvers in our times. As we write, the command of military operation to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, a country flanked by Egypt on the East and Tunisia on the West, was taken over by NATO (formed in 1949) after a considerable wrangling over different issues raised by France and Turkey. The first bomb to enforce the no-fly zone was dropped by France. A Turkish frigate—TCG Barbaros—sent to the coast off Libya was named after Barbarossa Hayeddin Pasha, the legendary Ottoman naval commander who dominated Mediterranean for decades in the 15th century. Turkey and Gadhafi’s Libya had been on good terms prior to the uprising against Gadhafi. Libya was under Ottoman Empire in 1911. Present scenario unfolding in that part of the world manifests layered and complex issues/interests—hard to pin point at the moment. The situation appears to be evolving. And evolving fast.

Libya’s bloodbath was preceded by a largely peaceful but forceful revolution in Egypt—a regional heavyweight and whose policies have much to say in shaping directions in the volatile region. Indeed the peaceful and unarmed protestors gathered at Cairo’s now legendary Tahrir (liberation) square has now been ensconced as an important development in history and an unforgettable development in recent times. Egypt’s military has won praises for the way in which it acted in refusing to fire on the protestors.

The competition among the media outlets some from far off places and some from the region where the developments were taking place was a representation of different interests which have already been locked in a mode not much less than combat. The social network Facebook served as a platform for the evolving e-community of people connected with the protestors in disseminating information and plans relevant for the protestors. It therefore also represented a scene actually played out inspired and informed by the developments and ideas in the virtual world. The world indeed has changed.

Changed, but the world is still unpredictable. As seen in these developments, behavior of the militaries are also seen different. We therefore cannot say/analyze things by putting in rigid categories—military, religion, secular or this country or that country, or indeed “nation-state”. Everywhere there is juxtaposition of everything and what pushes a particular category/ideology at the forefront is indeed a highly muddied on the one hand and circumscribed on the other by factors beyond identification with any degree of certainty. However, different theories and perspectives may be floated around which may be projected to claim to explain the changes and developments in the “true” sense.

We are however inclined to see (this of course can be questioned, for we can question anything) the developments in the region in a way that may be explained to a limited extent by drawing on two important works as summarized below.

First, it is necessary to take note of the thesis of Francis Fukuyama who argued [(in The End of History and the Last Man (1992)] for a directional history in the footsteps of Hegel and Marx who both, in the words of Fukuyama, “posited an ‘end of history’: for Hegel this was the liberal state, while for Marx it was a communist society. This did not mean that the natural cycle of birth, life, and death would end, that important events would no longer happen, or that newspapers reporting them would cease to be published. It meant, rather, that there would be no further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions, because all of the really big questions had been settled.”

And further he wrote thus: “Whether, at the end of the twentieth century, it makes sense for us once again to speak of a coherent and directional History of mankind that will eventually lead the greater part of humanity to liberal democracy? The answer I arrive at is yes, for two separate reasons. One has to do with economics, and the other has to do with what is termed the “struggle for recognition.”

Indeed the struggle for recognition which emanates from man’s most basic instinct to be recognized is taken as fundamental drive which pushes man to act. This is basically in contrast to Marx’s premise which sees economic positions (and therefore interests) resulted from the question of owning or not owning the forces of production as the fundamental determinant of history, for it serves man to act. For Fukuyama it is the struggle for recognition which is the driving force of history and history has been the search for the best form of governance and he concluded that it is the ideals of liberal democracy, best manifested in the western world, which represents man’s search for best form of governance has culminated in, and therefore history, as he conceived it, has come to an end. For Marx it is the change in the mode of production that drives history in the form of conflict between classes—sharpest in the capitalistic mode of production. It is apparent that one of the underlying currents which push people for revolutions in the long stretch from Maghrib to Arab peninsula and to Iran is the urge for greater democratic space and a strong inclination to be recognized.

However, Fukuyama’s thesis cannot be bought completely. I would therefore posit thus: while the directional and evolutionary conception of history or society or religion had developed in the limited experiences of Europe much in the 18th and 19th centuries and that shaped much of theories in later periods in the world, the importance of the struggle for recognition cannot be minimized. And that obviously plays an important role in every movement for change.

Second, Dominique Moisi strongly stresses in his book The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World the play of emotion(s), expressed in different forms in different ways, in shaping geopolitics. Again it is an antithesis of Marxian materialistic conception of much of everything. Emotion, as most of us would agree, is inspired/derived/informed by tremendous number of factors. Like Samuel Huntington who divides the world in terms of cultural or civilizational categories, Dominique Moisi also divides the world in terms of color of hope. He assigns different colors of emotion to different regions of the world, including West Asia.

While it is important to note that emotion do play part in geopolitical equations, dividing the world in terms of emotion appears to have problems. Is it fear, humiliation or hope that is at play in West Asia today? Or do these colors of emotion generate an interplay and, in the process, interpenetrate in a complex format?

Conclusion: The developments now in that region are interplay of different factors—economy, culture, emotion, search for recognition, search for more democratic space, struggle for empowerment, struggle for secular space, struggle for religious space, reaction to the politics of external powers among others. It is indeed hard and premature in fact, to give a complete picture. For now.

*The article is written by Shakil Ahmed

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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