From Seattle to Baghdad
Manar El Shorbagy* looks for frameworks to explain the new global order
Since the invasion of Iraq, the notion of a "clash of civilisations" has reemerged in the Arab world as an interpretive framework for US policies. The war against Iraq, the argument goes, is an all-out war against Islamic civilisation and Islam. Buying into this idea of a civilisational clash is a dangerous trap. To do so is in fact to internalise the Bush absolutism of "With us or against us".
What is emerging today is rather a new global order that emanates from a crisis of representation worldwide. A gap between governments and their citizens exists everywhere -- not only where autocratic regimes hold sway.
This is not a new phenomenon, however. It actually started in the mid-1990s, and manifested itself in the worldwide anti-globalisation protests. The war on Iraq only exacerbated it.
In the weeks preceding the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration used the very same tactics it had employed to impose the globalisation of corporate rule during the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Seattle to impose the war on a protesting world.
In 1999, there were several reasons for the collapse of the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Seattle. At the forefront of these were the manipulative methods used to run the conference. The plan, put forward by Charlene Barshefsky, then the US Trade Representative, was to attain an agreement from the major powers behind closed doors, then apply pressure on few influential developing countries to go along with it so a declaration could be issued and imposed on the rest of the world.
Whatever the differences in the details of the closed door meetings in Seattle and the "Coalition of the Willing" politics in the Security Council, the pattern remained the same.
Following anti-globalisation protests that haunted the globalisation elite wherever they went, a decision was made after Seattle to hold meetings in remote areas that were difficult for protesters to reach -- the same idea was behind the selection of the Azores as the site for the "Axis of War" summit.
The very same social movements that took to the streets to protest the unfair terms of globalisation focussed after 11 September on other forms of injustice, from Palestine to the invasion of Iraq. In both cases, it was a protest against the global imposition of a hegemonic Hobbesian order that marginalised the majority of the population on our planet.
This fledgling globalised protest is a manifestation of the collapse of "representative Democracy" and the rise of direct democracy. The war on Iraq has blurred the differences between autocratic regimes that oppress demonstrators and "elected" governments that could not care less about what the demonstrators actually say.
From Latvia to the UK, governments no longer "represent" the majority opinion. Even in the US, the only country besides Israel where there was considerable popular support for the war, the collapse of representative government couldn't be more obvious. A highly secretive arrogant administration adopted a unilateralist approach on the foreign policy front as well as domestically.
Democratic Senator Charles Schummer recently described the Bush administration's attitude towards Congress. "They treat us like France," he said. There has been a systematic pattern of bypassing and/ or intimidating the US legislature to kowtow to the administration's wishes. Republican lawmakers and the White House are currently working on a budget that pampers the very rich with a new tax-cut, while tearing away at the social safety net that benefits the rest of Americans. The collapse of the Democratic Party has put an end to any meaningful "institutionalised" opposition. Direct action is the only form of opposition in the US until further notice.
Such patterns of manipulation and resistance do not evidence a clash with Islam, nor do they target Muslims per se.
Recognising those patterns is highly important at this crucial juncture for the Arab world. It helps us deconstruct "America" or the "West" and sort out our allies from adversaries. It also opens up alternatives for action. Relying on governments to change the world is no longer an option. It is time for Arab civil society to fully engage the global resistance. So far, it is the only hope to build a more humane decent world.
* The writer is assistant professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.