Arabs should rise against West’s new imprerialism

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(March 06, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Arab Democracy versus the New Imperialism - contd - The question that has been in the minds of practically everybody who is interested in the Arab pro-democracy upheaval is whether and when it will sweep right into Saudi Arabia itself, having already reached its outskirts. The explanation for this ubiquitous interest is of course the fact that Saudi Arabia is seen as the strongest supporter of Yanko-Zionist imperialism. Therefore the loss of that country to the ranks of democracy could make the Yankos go berserk, perhaps even to the extent of excreting weapons of mass destruction - may be even a little nuke - on the heads of the hapless Saudi people.

The “loss” of Saudi Arabia to the ranks democracy and modernity has in fact been expected over a long period, and therefore it had to be expected that a counter-strategy would be put into operation. It has in fact been in operation for many years now, with the projection of an image of King Abdullah as a moderate but sincere reformer who is kept in check by the hard-line clergy. It has to be expected that that strategy will now be intensified. Such seems to me the significance of an AP report I saw this morning, according to which 119 Saudi academics, activists, and businessmen have issued a statement declaring that “the people’s consent is the sole guarantee for unity and stability” and therefore the people must be the source of power. The statement goes so far as to call for a constitutional monarchy. The Saudi Government can use its oil billions for a program of economic melioration together with a fair measure of cosmetic democracy, while allowing the hard-line clergy to flourish in the hope that they will keep the Saudi people as backward as possible for as long as possible. I doubt that this counter-strategy will work.

We can be sure that the US and Israel will do everything humanly possible to abort the pro-democracy movement while pretending to support it. On this I recommend the interested reader to access James Petras’ article US Zionism and Egypt’s Pro-Democracy Movement which was recently published in the Palestine Chronicle. The question that arises is why the US should be so fanatically opposed to democracy in the Arab world. The usual reasons given are the need to ensure the flow of Arab oil, and the need to maintain Israel as a strategic weapon in the Middle East, neither of which are really convincing to me. The question is very important for understanding the New Imperialism, but it cannot be dealt with properly in this note. I suspect that the reason is to be found partly in human nature as it is understood today: a drive for dominance, a hierarchical drive to counter the drive for equality, and the geographical location of the Arab world as the soft under-belly of Europe, the “great Islamic magma” as Ortega y Gasset once put it.

Within inverted commas

I must confess that I have had difficulty in conceptualizing clearly the relation between the New Imperialism and democracy. It has certainly to be an antithetical relation because democracy is clearly incompatible with any kind of imperialism, New or Old: imperialism negates the will of the people of another country and it is therefore inherently antithetical to democracy. The question is whether there is something special in the relation between the New Imperialism and democracy.

It will be helpful in approaching this question to periodize the evolution of imperialism after the Second World War. The first period stretching from 1945 to 1989 was that of the Cold War, the bipolar world of the super-powers, the US and the Soviet Union. In that period the “free world” came to be written within inverted commas to signify that while the West preached democracy against Communist totalitarianism a preference was clearly shown for dictatorship, the more corrupt and brutal the better. The excuse of the West was that they could not thrust democracy down the throats of third world peoples who did not want it. But no credit was given to India and Sri Lanka for being democratic, and I saw with mine own eyes the Yankos gang-raping flourishing democracies in Pakistan in 1958 and in the Philippines in 1972. Also, several African countries which were trying to make a success of democracy had - after 1965 - military dictatorships imposed on them by the US. The anti-imperialist option was clear during that period: refuse to belong to either of the super-power camps and promote peaceful co-existence, the strategy of the Non-Aligned Movement that proved to be triumphant.

In the case of the New Imperialism the anti-imperialist option so far from being clear seems to be thoroughly ambiguous. The ambiguity seems to arise out of the fact that the attempt to establish a New World Order is integrally connected to the drive towards a New Imperialism, part of the same process in reality. We can take it - or so it seems to me - that the Western and other powers really want to establish a New World Order based on democracy with pride of place being given to human rights. A peaceful world can best be promoted through democracy because the historical record shows that democratic countries never go to war against each other. A stable world can best be promoted through a high degree of observance of human rights because that is the most effective way of meeting the aspirations of the masses that are growing ever more powerful around the globe. We really can’t object to a New World Order built along these lines.

Drive for dominance

But the problem is its integral connection with the drive towards a new imperialism. We must note that the New World Order is not coming about through a process of consultation among the peoples of the world, through the establishment of a broad international consensus, but through the decisions of a few countries, the best endowed with economic and/or military power. In other words, there is inequality at the very root of the New World Order, an inequality that can breed imperious behaviour. Obviously we have to work out a new strategy to counter the New Imperialism, not the strategy of Non-Alignment. Also obviously our best recourse would be to practice democracy - which as I have argued earlier is not Western but something that is deeply human - together with a high degree of observance of human rights, as all that will leave no excuse for interference in our internal affairs. But I have also postulated something like a human nature with a drive for dominance, a drive for hierarchy to counter the drive for equality. That is why the New Imperialism is already solidly in place. The Arabs, a proud people who created one of the seminal civilizations of the world, a people who nevertheless suffered humiliation at the hands of the West over a long period, can rise to greatness again by making a signal contribution to the struggle against the New Imperialism.

There is a lesson in all this for our Government. I don’t agree with critics who hold that we are living under a dictatorship. The fact that they can say so and be published freely means that we are living under a democracy though a deeply flawed one.

What is really disturbing is that the Government has been showing at every turn a grim determination to constrict democracy as far as possible, so that we can end up with a ghastly caricature of democracy. That, for reasons set out above, will make us vulnerable to the New Imperialism. The Government will do well to remember the fate of the 1977 Government. It raped democracy for eleven years, and at the end of it all there were two rebellions going on simultaneously in this island, the IPKF troops were here behaving just like conquerors, and that Government had lost control over a third of the national territory and over half the coastline. And, as acknowledged by JRJ, Sri Lanka was isolated in the international community.

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