I remember clearly a New York Times comprehensive overview of 2008, “Generation Faithful” on youth in the Arab world. What I remember most clearly from the one or two reports I read in that series was the term "delayed adulthood", indicating that some, if not many or most youth in the Arab world suffered from the restrictions of a traditional society, making it difficult for them to assert themselves in pursuit of or even having the freedom to cultivate their personal visions for their lives. This problem was described as exacerbated by economic challenges in some of those countries.
Come January 2011 and a young man called Mohamed Bouazizi incinerated himself in protest in Tunisia and that old picture of Arab youth has changed and continues to change, well after the fire ignited by Bouazizi burnt beyond his lifeless body to engulf the governments of then Tunisian President Ben Ali, later that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, moving the Saudi king to quell planned demonstrations with financial bribes, flames that the government of Assad in Syria is struggling to put out on its soil through desperate, bloody repression of his own people who are tired of his dictatorship, in the face of world leaders urging him to step down and end the charade of imposing himself on his people. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, the quintessential strongman, is having his braggadocio thrown in his face as rebels entered the capital Tripoli yesterday, Sunday , 21 August 2011, after months of desperate fighting and capturing of two of Gadaffi's sons as the first bloody conflict in the Arab Spring reaches a climax and a finale.
There have been demonstrations in Israel, another heavily regimented society, highly militarised, and ideologically primed to pervasive conformism by the race centred interpretation of Zionist ideology, demonstrations relating to economic issues. Meanwhile, youth of various races and social classes in England in August 2011 have demonstrated in mindless violence, which, though ignited by a perceivedly unjust killing by the police, degenerated from a demonstration into days of opportunistic, organised theft and wanton destruction of property.
What are the winds of change signalling?
A new world order is emerging that owes nothing to the ideological configurations that have for long sought to create one or to maintain the status quo. Al-Qaeda has tried and failed for decades to create something like the regime change emerging in the Arab world.
The Western alliance of Europe and the US have their old power configurations shaken and have scrambled to make themselves relevant in the new equations emerging with shocking speed-without them Gaddafi is almost certain to have long triumphed in Libya, desperate as he was, he would have used all his resources, far superior to what the rebels had, but the NATO No-Fly-Zone and NATO bombing against him meant the he was not going to win.
It is almost as clear as daylight that Assad will not remain in power in Syria. All the Syrian rebels need to do is to keep agitating. Assad will either have to capitulate peacefully or resist violently. Whichever way he chooses, his legitimacy is destroyed. Violent responses on his part further underscore his illegitimacy and creates ripples globally that makes his position further untenable.
A new world is emerging, a world we woke up to as we entered this year, a world that nobody foresaw.
A Yoruba proverb states that because the factors that define tomorrow are different from those that define today, the diviner divines afresh everyday.
What is the global picture within and beyond the Arab world in terms of representative government, government, that, in its ideal form, is chosen by the ruled to represent it? The kind of government unforgettably described by then US President Abraham Lincoln at the grounds of the historic Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, government of the people, for the people and by the people, which, to adapt Lincoln, is a vision that shall never perish from the earth.
Two countries represent two polarities in the sheer imposition of rulership on a populace: Saudi Arabia and China. As far as I know, the other dictatorships are regular dictatorships, ruling by sheer brute force and political manipulation and little more.
Saudi Arabia and China are related in the correlation of economic power, centralising ideology and dictatorship. An acquaintance summed up the Saudi situation: " They have so much money, they dont care". This connection between economic empowerment and mental and emotional quiescence was underscored by the successful quelling of planned demonstrations in that country by the Saudi king's sudden spreading of fresh economic largess to the populace when a demonstration was planned. A Saudi citizen protested to a journalist that what was at stake was dignity, not money, but as far as I know, the demonstrations never held.
The only protest I have read coming out of Saudi Arabia is that of women quietly insisting on driving themselves in defiance of the law that women should not drive. Meanwhile, a grand new university has been built for women only. How far can a society grow under a quasi-benign dictatorship in which the populace have no voice, not even a semblance of a voice, as in some dictatorships, in selecting their own leaders , where the idea of women driving cars and men and women interacting outside marriage except under the strictest supervision is seen as a pursuit worthy of the investment of large amounts of state capital? How do we assess the level of social, economic, political and cultural development of a state like Saudi Arabia which has the means to buy all the expertise it needs from countries where progress has been rapid compared to the feudal, traditionalist and even medieval society of Saudi Arabia in spite of all its money and its role as providing most of the central source of the world's energy?
China brutally quelled the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 and is described by the Wikipedia article on the demonstration as repressing memory of the demonstrations within China through careful manipulation of information and through state terror. Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist party operates, not in the ideal Communist spirit of "all animals are equal" to adapt George Orwell's expression from his anti-Communist satire Animal Farm, but in terms of the policy that "some animals are more equal than others" in which state leadership is determined purely by a small group of self selecting Communist party officials, with no public input. Attention is deflected from what I expect is the total control of political decision making and policy by this self perpetuating elite by the creation of a policy of economic liberalisation that has created perhaps the largest spread of economic empowerment across classes in Chinese history. But is China sitting on a time bomb, as someone put it? For how long can the disconnection between economic and political empowerment continue?
To explore the possible outcomes in the Saudi and Chinese scenarios, it might be useful to examine the lead up to the political revolutions that changed the configurations of Europe, particularly in France and Russia and also China and Iran. These revolutions seemed to have been the combination of the work of ideologues like Thomas Paine, Karl Marx, Mao Tse Tung and the Ayatollah Khomeni as well as in France and the Soviet Union, the momentum created by sheer public grief at their lot by the citizens of those countries. .The Arab revolutions of 2011 had no systematised ideologies.They emerged fully formed, comparatively speaking, through a process of ideological unfolding in the midst of action that will be most fruitful to explore-Ideological Unfolding in the Midst of Action : The Arab Spring, the report of such an investigation could read.
Will ideologies emerge to shape, constellate and focus public opinion in Saudi Arabia and China? Can those who create such ideologies catalyse responses from a dormant populace? May we anticipate another event like Fang Lizhi’s catalysing of vigrous movement for economic and political reform in China through his active spreading of his ideas through lectures at different sites in China, ideas described by Wikipedia articleon Fang as inspiring the pro-democracy student movement of 1986-87 and, finally, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989? If such active dissent within China is not likely, can it be done from without, as the Ayatollah Khomeni did from exile, working towards what became the Iranian Revolution?
On another front, can we anticipate a radical restructuring of the Israeli/ Palestinian political configuration by fresh thinking and bold action from a new generation, a generation different from the mindset of a Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Israeli Prime Minister, who, carrying on a legacy he seems to have inherited from his father, the famed Israeli historian, Benzion Netanyahu, represents a culture of race centred ideologues who are committed to racial assertion as driving geo-political imperatives ? Can the notion of racial purity in determining the character of a state by government fiat be sustained, the notion in terms of which the Zionist vision that is central to Jewish return to their homeland after centuries of dispersion is currently understood?
Can a unified new mentality emerge in the Palestinian side that is able to dialogue with the Israelis in terms that are self assertive while recognising the necessity of a shared destiny?
Will the Palestinians and the Israelis be able manoeuvre successfully in pursuing their mutual interests against the efforts of so-called friends of theirs who do not want peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians on terms that suit both parties?
These questions about Israel and Palestinian are central to the global picture in the Arab world, China and even the West. This relevance is summed up by the Egyptian who spoke in wonder of the daring of the youth who initiated the rebellion against Mubarak, that his own generation could not have conceived of such a rebellion. This affirmation of the need for minds unwarped by fear, untramelled by decades of repression, is highlighted, unforgettably, in the self sacrifice of Muhammed Buazizi that inaugurated this supreme conflagration. .
Various ideologies preach the value of self sacrifice but this example stands as one of the most significant in history. It is perhaps even more resonant and directly effective than the self sacrifice of Socrates or the reported self sacrifice of Jesus.
The immediate repercussions of Muhammed Buazizi’s sacrifice of self , emerge, not in the affirmation of philosophic speculation that Socrates championed, since Socrates’ self sacrifice and his absolute commitment to living out the practical implications of his philosophical reflections does not seem to have featured largely in the philosophical tradition he inaugurated, with his most famous disciple and populariser Plato rightly described by Karl Popper as anti-democratic in The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol.1: The Spell of Plato, and Western philosophy being largely an Ivory Tower pursuit by comfortably salaried academics whose correlation between life and thought, if any, is not part of the picture that this philosophical culture is centred in.
Buazizi’s self sacrifice does not emphasise a culture of inward looking rebellion against the status quo, even at the risk of death, as with Jesus’ more ardent disciples.
Buazizi’s self sacrifice has led to a large scale social restructuring in which there is little role for maintaining the status quo, unlike, sadly, the Christian restructuring of civilisation where the status quo of human values is often sustained under a new rubric provided by Christianity
Unless a seed falls into the ground, it abideth alone. Only by being buried can it grow. He who seeks to save his life shall lose it. He who loses his life shall save it. The Galilean sage spoke those mysterious words about the value of self sacrifice. The accounts of his life indicate that he followed through with that understanding and his disciples continue to multiply under the banner of his self sacrifice, regardless of how self sacrificing they are themselves.
Will the Saudis be able to sacrifice the numbing effects of economic comforts to demand respect for their humanity as thinking people who have a right to decide who rules them and how? Religion is the opium of the people, Marx rightly observed, even though it can also be a liberator.Islam remains strong globally as a religion that has not suffered the attenuation of power that has been the fate of Christianity in Europe, a religion which never recovered from the Reformation, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions and the political upheavals that created modern Europe. Islam functions successfully as a controlling force in Saudi Arabia, a force reinforced by traditionalist attitudes sustained through information blackouts achieved by limiting the information its citizens are able to access , particularly from the outside world, so citizen's awareness is carefully structured.
Will the Chinese be able to escape the screen of eating fat and ask themselves why they cannot decide who governs them and the rules by which they are governed?
With reference to Europe and North America, whose model of development has dominated the world since the days of the English Empire- I understand that empire as English, not British, since England was an empire builder within Britain-, for how long can it sustain its central capitalist and quasi-elitist Democratic model based as it is on a purely materialist understanding of existence?
With the debilitation of of centralising mythologies, what remains is the devotion to what can be appreciated within the brief life span on earth. But civilisation has long gone beyond that limited vision. Collectively, human civilisation has not been able to harmonise that sensitivity to the post and pre-terrestrial with the incisive mastery of the material form of the terrestrial that Western civilisation has made a global model.
The future needs to address this need for the harmony of terrestrial, post and pre-terrestrial values in terms of the global summation of human civilisation.