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Ray Harris is the author of the online series "The Memes at War", a sustained reflection on the backgrounds of 9/11 from the perspectives of Spiral Dynamics and his own Temenos system, and of the related "The Blood Brotherhoods: A developmental look at terrorism from the perspective of mythos". In this article he argues that the complex historical situation leading up to the War on Iraq can only be understood from a developmental perspective. He lives in Australia. Responses can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Enemy of my Enemy
As I begin this piece it has been reported that US, British and Australian Special Forces are already in Iraq. President Bush has stepped up the rhetoric and war seems inevitable – but then again, perhaps it was always inevitable.
One of the clichés of the terrorist attacks of September the 11th was that the attacks had changed the world forever. But had they? Weren't the attacks simply the deadly consequence of the way things had always been, and still are?
In the 'Memes at War' series and in the 'Blood Brotherhoods' I looked at the issue of terrorism and its consequences from a developmental perspective. I argued in 'Memes' that the memetic shock waves would be felt for some time. The question to ask is; is the proposed war on Iraq a part of the aftermath of those shock waves or actually a part of the problem that caused the attacks on the World Trade Centre in the first place? Because there is credible evidence that a war on Iraq was a part of the Bush agenda before the events of 9/11. Has America learnt anything?
This paper is divided into two sections. The first is a necessarily brief historical background. The second is a developmental analysis.
PART ONE: THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
In the recriminations that occurred in the aftermath of the attacks many Muslims claimed that the terrorists did not represent the 'true' or 'real' Islam. There is no 'true' Islam, no more than there is a 'true' Christianity or a 'true' Judaism. Islam is a complex of competing sects, all laying claim to be the 'true' Islam.
The first split occurred over the succession to the lineage of Mohammed. This created the two major sects, the Sunni and the Shia. These sects have further split into other divisions, as well as there being other, unorthodox groupings such as the various Sufi sects. All of them claiming to be the 'true' Islam.
The two that concern us the most are two Sunni sects, the Wahhabi and the Deobandi.
The Wahhabi were founded by Abd al-Wahab (1703-1791) who claimed that the teachings of Mohammed had been corrupted by decadent influences. He argued that the faith should return to the purity of the Islam of the first two centuries. After his expulsion from Medina Wahab formed a relationship with the Saud tribe. The Saud's went onto conquer Arabia. By 1811 they had established control and created a capital in Riyadh. Wahhabism became the favoured version of Islam. The Saudi reign was challenged by the Ottoman Empire on two occasions. The last was made famous by the film Lawrence of Arabia. This was to mark the beginning of a strange friendship between the West and Islamic fundamentalism. The British formed an alliance with the Saudi's to defeat the common enemy, Ottoman Turkey. The result was the restoration of the Saudi dynasty in Riyadh and the re-establishment of the Wahhabi sect.
However, not all is well in the relationship between the Saud royal family and Wahhabi clerics. Wahhabism is puritan in outlook and shuns the ostentatious display of wealth. As oil money began to spoil and corrupt the royal family Wahhabi clerics began to declaim the corrupting influence of the West. There is now deep division within the Saudi society between the supporters of religious orthodoxy and the supporters of a more pro-western stance.
The Deobandi are named after a Muslim seminary founded in the Indian city of Deoband in 1866. This sect arose largely in response to the perceived corruption caused by the influence of Hindu syncretism and Sufi mysticism. They were also violently opposed to British rule. Like the Wahhabi it seeks to return to a purer version of Islam. For this reason the Deobandi are sometimes incorrectly referred to as Wahhabi.
When Pakistan and India split during the partition Deobandi radicals became influential in Pakistani politics. It is the Deobandi who founded the madrassas, the religious schools that were the source of the Taliban, Taliban simply means 'student'.
The important point to remember is that both of these sects arose as a reaction to the belief that Islam had been corrupted by outside forces, and they arose before oil had been discovered in the Middle East.
As the European empires sought to expand their colonial influence they inevitably disrupted the lives of ordinary people. But this has been the condition of the world for some time. Many Muslims complain that the West has interfered in their lives, but they forget that Islam also had its empires. The Moguls caused great disruption in India creating tensions that are still strong today. The conflict in Kashmir is the result of the original Mogul invasion and Islamicization of the Hindu and Buddhist populations.
The reality of geopolitics is that the conquering nations get to set up puppet governments and manipulate local politics for their own ends. Prior to World War Two it was the British Empire that played with other countries. After World War Two there was a dramatic shift of power from the British Empire to the American Empire. However, there is a qualitative difference between how these two empires operate. The British preferred direct influence and control through the establishment of colonial authorities. The Americans prefer to work behind the scenes of so-called 'friendly' governments.
The main game of geopolitics is the control of resources and war is the final instrument of control. Both the British and Dutch East India companies made large profits by using military force to control trade in Asia. The British even fought a war in 1839 to force the Chinese to trade in opium grown in British Burma. The Americans were hardly reticent at this time either. They used force and the threat of force to demand both China and Japan open their doors to trade. The war against the Spanish in the Philippines was not a war of liberation but a simple attempt by the Americans to gain an empire of their own.
Geopolitics has been called the grand chess game. The aim is to increase your wealth and power by controlling resources. It is a treacherous, Machiavellian game and is the cause of much of the conflict in the world.
Whilst it is true that fundamentalism has influence in Islamic politics it is also true that many Muslims are somewhat religiously relaxed. Just as the West has non-practising Christians so too does Islam have non-practising Muslims. They can and have formed powerful political movements.
The problem is that secular Muslims tend to be somewhat left leaning. This is due to a simple cultural difference. The Koran teaches that it is important for a Muslim to respect and honour the community of Islam. This is the concept of 'Umaat a-Wahida' or 'One Community'. The idea of Western individualism is therefore somewhat of an alien concept. This milieu has inclined the secular Muslim intelligentsia to support socialism rather than capitalism. The Ba'ath movement founded in the 1930's was a fusion of socialist idealism and Arab nationalism and has been very influential in several Arab nations.
Two main but interwoven factors have dictated Western, and particularly American policy in the Middle East, oil and communism. The Cold War was the battle of two empires to control vital resources. Whilst in many ways it was a battle of ideologies, ideology was often compromised in the name of Realpolitik. The real game was the control of oil.
And this is where the problem of terrorism begins. In order to defeat communism the Americans supported fundamentalist Islam and/or totalitarian rulers to undermine the advances of the secular left, who unfortunately for them, had a tendency to nationalise oil production.
In Iran in 1951 the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh nationalised the British owned oil industry. By 1953 he had been deposed in a coup by the American supported Shah. The extravagant and dictatorial reign of the Shah lead to the now famous fundamentalist revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini. This is the first case of the now famous concept of 'blowback'.
But it is in Afghanistan that things start to get messy. In the early seventies King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin Daud who created a republic with a coalition of secular leftists supported by the Soviet Union. However, the neighbouring Shah of Iran, with American support, pressured Daud to turn against the communists. This led to bitter factional fighting and provided the pretext for two things to occur: the intervention of the American backed Mujahideen to destabilise the regime and the intervention of the Soviet Union to counter the destabilisation. It is usually thought that the Mujahideen arose to respond to Soviet aggression but in an interview the then National Security adviser to Carter, Zbignew Brzezinski said:
"We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would."
It is now well known that the US and Britain aided the Mujahideen, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden by providing training and money. They continued to fund the Taliban into the late 90's.
The role of Saudi Arabia
On October the 12th, 2002, a bomb exploded in Bali killing around 200. What has Bali and Indonesia got to do with Afghanistan? As it turns out the cleric suspected of masterminding the bombings, Abu Bakar Bashir belongs to an ethnic group known as the Hadramis. They are descended from Yemeni immigrants and are linked to the Wahhabi sect. It is this group that are primarily behind radical fundamentalism in Indonesia – and they have received finance from fellow Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia.
As I mentioned, the Saud royal family are the patrons of Wahhabi sect. The Wahhabi sect has had a powerful influence throughout the Islamic world. Many rich Saudi's regard it as their religious duty to support the efforts of the clerics. This has included the private and public funding of a network of charitable organisations. These organisations helped fund Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan and helped fund Bashir's school in Indonesia. A proportion of this money has also helped fund Osama bin Laden's activities, pursued in the name of Wahhabi religious zealotry.
It is worth noting that Saudi funding of terrorism had been of concern to several intelligence agencies. The CIA however, ignored these concerns for fear of upsetting the Saud royal family. The US continues to this day to tread softly with Riyadh, despite the now obvious connection.
What has this Wahhabi/Deobandi terrorist activity got to do with Saddam? Well nothing really. Saddam belongs to the right wing of the Iraqi Ba'ath movement (the US favoured him as leader over communist Ba'ath sympathisers, despite his known violence and mafia tactics). He is ideologically opposed to the aims of Wahhabi. In fact the War against Iraq has nothing to do with the War against Terrorism at all. There has been no evidence to suggest that Saddam is linked to the Wahhabi.
You may have noticed that the rhetoric has now shifted from terrorism to weapons of mass destruction. Whilst it is true that Saddam has a supply of chemical and biological weapons, and would like to have a nuclear capacity, he doesn't have the means to deliver these agents outside the range of a scud missile. He is no threat to mainland USA, but he is a threat to Israel and the region.
There is a great deal of duplicity going on here. The biggest manufacturer and supplier of weapons of mass destruction is the US. They have had programs to develop biological and chemical weapons and to extend their nuclear reach through the 'Star Wars' program. No doubt they are also looking at genetic warfare. In fact, it is the US that has supplied Iraq with some of these weapons. During the Reagan years the special envoy Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein and helped organise the transfer of biological agents. And in an act of extraordinary hypocrisy the US now complains that Saddam has used these weapons against his own people. Indeed he has, when he was an ally of the US. Why complain now?
But will a war solve the weapons of mass destruction problem? This is a very contentious issue. Saddam is a dangerous man who will not stop at anything. It is when he is attacked that he is most likely to unleash his weapons. Saddam is also very astute at surviving. There is no doubt he has several plans of escape (he is known to have three body doubles) and if the US cannot find bin Laden why do they think they can do any better with Saddam? In fact the war and the subsequent destabilisation is likely to increase the chance that chemical and biological agents will fall into the hands of the criminal network. If Saddam doesn't sell them himself, elements of the republican guard or the secret service might. One of the major concerns after the collapse of the Soviet Union was that nuclear material might find its way to the black market. What then of a destabilised Iraq that already has criminal contacts?
Roosevelt once famously said, "He may be a bastard, but at least he is our bastard". The problem is that he is no longer America's bastard. He began to have ambitions of his own and invaded Kuwait. Baghdad had always claimed Kuwait as theirs, they had ruled it for over two thousands years. But the real reason was oil. There was a prior dispute between Iraq and Kuwait over oil and Kuwait was being difficult. To this day the Iraqis claim the US knew of the invasion in advance, that Saddam had met with the US Ambassador April Glaspie and had been given the green light.
What is this war really about?
There has always been the feeling amongst the more hawkish members of the Washington elite that they should have finished the job. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney belong to that group. The BBC Panorama program revealed that Donald Rumsfeld was part of a foreign affairs think tank that had produced a paper arguing that toppling Saddam should be a foreign policy priority. Part of the reason is Israel. Saddam has long been a supporter of Yasser Arafat. Toppling Saddam will further undermine Arafat's power base.
During the Second World War the US State Department noted that the Arab oil fields:
"…are a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history…"
The Iraqi oilfields are second in size only to those of Saudi Arabia, however, unlike Saudi Arabia, many of them have not been fully explored or claimed. The total worth is reckoned to be in the trillions of dollars. At the moment Iraq has awarded exploration contracts to Russian, Chinese and French oil companies – cutting both America and Britain out of the deal. The leader of the US backed Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi has gone on record saying that he would not recognise any contract signed by Saddam, thus opening the way for American and British domination of the oilfields. This now seems to have changed. In order to get Russian and French support for the war the US seems to have guaranteed some of these contracts, but no one is certain as contracts are subject to commercial confidence.
Another reason for the war is the so-called 'benign ripples' doctrine. It is thought that toppling Saddam will dramatically alter the balance of power in the region. If the Anglo-US alliance can secure the Iraqi oilfields they will no longer be so dependent on the Saudis. This will weaken the Saud dynasty and, it is thought, weaken the power base of the Wahhabi. It is also thought that the shift in the balance of power will weaken Iran, which incidentally holds the third largest oil fields in the region. It will also help weaken Islamic resistance in some of the Central Asian states who also have large oil reserves (the US led consortium Unocal plans to build a pipeline across Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan was a Unocal consultant). This last reason explains how the game is really played. Saddam is simply the knight that must be removed before one can get to the bishop and queen. However, the trouble with this chess game is that the pieces can suddenly turn from white to black.
PART TWO: THE DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE
In previous articles I have explained that each developmental stage has a set of core needs. If a person or society cannot secure these core needs it cannot progress through the developmental levels. The primary aim of developmental politics must be to secure the core needs. In fact it calls for a new ethic to guide international politics. But before we proceed we need to look at the developmental spectrum from the perspective of socio-political organisation. To do this we need look no further than current anthropology.
Stage One: Early survival bands. These exist in extreme environments where survival is hand to mouth. They arose at the beginning of human history and there is a spectrum of developmental behaviour that ranges from primate bands to proto-tribal groups. (Recent research has indicated that primate bands do indeed develop a basic culture of learned behaviour that is distinct from other, geographically isolated bands of the same species). People can regress to this level when the society around them collapses. The principle narrative theme of this level is life and death, or eros and thanatos. The core need is food and shelter. In SD this is BEIGE.
Stage Two: Tribal groups. Once a survival band is able to secure a good diet and learns to build shelter it begins to further develop a specific culture. The cultures of this stage can be quite varied and take on many different types of social organisation. The core need at this level is belonging and identity within the group. These groups can take on different patterns depending on the types of environments they inhabit. The key factor lies in what type of food resources can be sustained in a particular environment. Tropical forest tribes stay contained within a given area. Tribes in temperate grasslands may be quite nomadic. The narrative theme of this level is magical and begins to create origin and creation stories. Importance is placed on ancestors and one's place within the origin myth. In Temenos I call this stage Mater, to reflect the need for absorption within the tribal cultural matrix/womb. In SD this is PURPLE.
Stage Three: Big-man collectivities to early states. Depending on the generosity of the environment the tribal group begins to collect a surplus. With the surplus the tribal group expands in size and stratification begins. Various members begin to specialise and natural human inventiveness begins to expand the use of technology. However this expansion usually creates tensions with neighbouring tribal groups. The existence of warfare creates a stratified warrior culture headed by a Big-man. Warfare also demands a culture of sacrifice and discipline. The narrative theme of this level sees the creation of power gods, the struggle to create a divine and worldly absolute order - the battle between good and evil. This stage is quite complex and accounts for a considerable slice of recorded history. It is marked by a succession of rising and falling empires and kingdoms. The core need of this level is power/control and security. In Temenos I call this stage Pater as it reflects the dominance of a disciplined patriarchal power structure – it is typified by the absolute authority of a single male. In SD this is both RED and BLUE.
Stage Four: Advanced state. Once a polity is able to maintain a period of stability, abundance and continuity it is able to create an educated elite. The longer the period of stability and abundance the stronger and more widespread the educated elite becomes. This leads to an explosion of creativity and inventiveness. Periods of stability in China allowed the development of a proto-science, technological advance and artistic endeavour. The same occurred in India and Mesoamerica, the Greek and Roman empires, and so forth. With the creation of this elite comes the demand for greater individual freedom. The elite gains political power and begins to challenge absolute authority. Perhaps the most dramatic and influential occurrence of this pattern is Greek civilisation and the development of democracy. This raises another vital point. At this stage, even though kingdoms rise and fall, the knowledge of the elites begins to travel from the elite of one culture to the elite of another. In this manner each successive empire accumulates knowledge. At times during the development of China techniques developed during one dynasty were lost to the following dynasty. But in time continuity becomes more possible. Greek thought was able to survive and travel to the Roman Empire then into the Christian and Muslim empires, where it resurfaced in Spain and Italy to inspire both the renaissance and the enlightenment. The core need of this level is self-expression. The narrative theme of this stage is the struggle of the hero/individual against the tyranny of a ruler or of the gods. In Temenos this stage is called Individuus. In SD it relates to ORANGE.
Stage Five: Extra-state society. As education spreads to a wider group the demand for equality becomes greater. The previous stratification comes under increasing pressure to disband and reform into free associations of individuals. This level challenges dominator hierarchies wherever it finds them. At the moment this stage is a political force within Stage Four societies, particularly within the elites. Its project is relatively recent, though it has appeared briefly at other times in other civilisations. Its core need is equity, deconstructing stratification and replacing it with peer-to-peer networks (although it must be said that the elites don't necessarily agree on how this should be achieved and there is multiple conflict within the elites, this has been the story of the battle of ideas – this is simply part of the process). In Temenos it corresponds to Civilis and Mastery. In SD it relates to GREEN and second tier, both YELLOW and TURQUISE (green is most active in deconstructing and reacting to hierarchy, yellow and turquoise to reconstructing networks that account for natural hierarchy).
Note: As I write this I realise I perhaps ought to explain Stage Five in greater detail. That will have to wait for a later article.
The hierarchy of needs
It follows from what I have written above that there is a hierarchy of needs. These are:
- Equity and destratification
- Control and security
- Belonging and identity within the group
- Food and shelter
The majority of conflict in this world is caused by processes that deny the core needs to societies and the efforts of those societies to reverse those processes.
Some of these processes are natural, however the majority are due to simple oppression. For instance, a tribe defeats a neighbouring tribe and kills the men and takes the women as wives, or in some cases, kills the warriors and takes the others as slaves. Another example: an empire conquers a people who become absorbed into that culture but as a second-class ethnic minority.
It is important to understand that no group is innocent in this process. The whole of humanity is both victim and victimiser.
The struggle to obtain the core needs can be divided into two important groups. The struggle to obtain food, a sense of cultural identity and security forms the base of extra-cultural conflict. The struggle to obtain individual freedom, destratification and peer-to-peer networks forms the base of intra-cultural conflict.
The War through the developmental lens
Wherever there has been an empire or a conquering tribe there has been conflict. The dominant group oppresses the conquered group. This happens through the suppression of the core needs. In most cases the conquered groups become impoverished and marginalised. The imperial power takes resources, charges tax and extracts profit. This attacks the first core need. Marginalised groups are then more prone to the vicissitudes of climate; local economies can be devastated by the imposition of onerous taxation and manipulated markets.
The imperial power also attacks identity. This can either be aggressive or passive and occurs when the values of the dominant culture challenge the values of the subject cultures. The subject culture feels that their very identity, who they are, is being destroyed by the dominant culture. The aggressive form acts by imposing its culture onto another culture and restricting their cultural practices. The passive form allows another culture to exist but the challenge comes by a process of osmosis with the traditionalists objecting that the new generation are being absorbed into the dominant culture.
Finally, the dominant culture often acts to deny power and security. This can either be overt or subtle. The overt form happens by simply denying the right to participate in the institutions of power. The subtle form involves allowing nominal rights but through a system of prejudice - it more or less gives the marginalised the impression they are second-class citizens. This last form leads to a form of cultural depression. In the American south Blacks were prevented from registering to vote and a system of racial segregation both suppressed and depressed most of the Black population.
It is therefore quite obvious that the imperialist process denies the core needs to marginalised groups and prevents them from progressing through the developmental stages. The current situation bears some remarkable similarities to the situation of the Jews during the Roman Empire. At the time of Jesus radical groups of Jews known as zealots were attempting to overthrow Roman domination of Judea. Their tactics were not dissimilar to those used today. Jesus was crucified because he challenged Roman ideological authority and the religious authority of the Roman controlled Sanhedrin. The point is that one can look at any empire and see the same process. In the eyes of the Wahhabi the Americans are the Romans, Osama bin Laden is a religious activist like Jesus and Mohammed, and the Saud royal family are the American controlled Sanhedrin. However, the Wahhabi simply advocate replacing one imperial hegemony with another, theirs – and theirs would be much, much worse.
This is why.
As I mentioned above the fourth and fifth stages see the creation and expansion of an educated elite within the dominant culture who seek to attain a different set of core needs, self-expression, equity and destratification. This process naturally expands to include as many marginalised groups as it can, usually starting with disenfranchised men of the same ethnic group, then women, then previously marginalised sub-groups such as ethnic, religious and sexual-orientation minorities. The attempt to attain these particular core needs places considerable internal pressure on the given culture. However certain cultures and sub-groups, in reaction to a threat from a dominant culture, create regressive interpretations of cultural norms in an attempt to protect the core identity of the group. Such reactionary forms act against the creation of an educated elite and instead close off the group to further development. For instance the Wahhabi promote an interpretation of Islam that looks back to the time of the first Caliphates, when the descendents of Mohammed ruled a coalition of Arab tribes. They reject the achievements of later Islamic civilisation and the achievements of the educated elites that were responsible for important developments in the sciences. Up until the early 90's some senior Wahhabi clerics still taught that the earth was flat.
We can call all such reactionary manifestations closed cultural narratives. They deny the potential of cultural development.
The current War against Terrorism and War against Iraq is the result of two things. The first is the aggression of a reactionary group who seek their own empire. The second is an internecine imperial struggle between the dominant group and its client states over a strategic resource. In waging the second struggle the dominant group made an ally of the reactionary group, following the dictum 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. They then made an enemy of the progressive, secular but leftist elite within Islam (Afghanistan is a perfect example; the leftist government of Daud began educating women and lifted the literacy rate, the US supported Taliban destroyed those gains). But as always in the narrative of empire, allies soon become enemies – "et tu, Brutus?"
But what is the way forward?
The story of empires has always been a story of conflict over core needs. Despite this the very attainment of the first set of core needs allows an elite to arise. That elite then seeks individual freedom and then to broaden that freedom to the marginalised, to destratify the empire.
This creates two contradictions. The first; the empire creates an elite that then acts against it. The second; the elite acts against the very system that ensures the hierarchy of needs that supports them.
Regrettably, in a naïve attempt to identify with the marginalised the elite fails to distinguish between reactionary groups with a closed agenda and groups who are open to genuine developmental progress. In one of the great mistakes in the early days of the War against Terrorism, British peace activists marched alongside Deobandi Muslims from a notorious mosque in Bradford, England. The activists unwittingly gave moral support to a cause that would quickly turn on them as soon as they got into power.
The two contradictions cause confusion between who is right and who is wrong, who is the victim and who is the victimiser?
The other mistake is to rush to defend the very mechanisms within the empire that have created the particular problem in the first place. In the aftermath of 9/11 America turned inwards to its national myths. President Bush evoked the image of the righteous cowboy riding into town to have a showdown with the bad guys, the Axis of Evil. The hawks of the empire now have the upper hand and they seem intent on unilaterally imposing the imperial will. This simply exacerbates the problem.
Somehow we must proceed whilst being careful not to fall foul of the horns of this particular dilemma.
In many ways this may be the last hurrah of an empire based on a single nation. The world is now interconnected in a multitude of ways. In the book Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue that an overarching, transnational Empire is being created. We are now at the beginning of the creation of a truly global civilisation.
However, there are still a lot of problems to solve. The core needs of billions of people have not been secured. The problems of empire still abound. Multinational corporations operate as mini empires. For instance, agribusiness has moved into the traditional maize market, the staple of much of Africa. They are placing pressure on traditional farmers to replace the freely available maize seed with genetically modified maize, some of which is engineered to last only one generation. So instead of being self-sufficient, traditional farmers are becoming increasingly dependent, thus denying them self-control of their primary core needs. Needless to say these agribusinesses would not be doing this if there were not a profit to be made. In making this profit they repeat the old imperial problem of onerous taxation and market manipulation – because profit can only be made by extracting value from the process, in other words by extracting value from the maize farmers.
The primary ethical consideration has to be the self-realisation of the core needs. It is essential that people have control of the means to secure the core needs for themselves. This does not necessarily exclude the possibility of trade; trade is essential for the creation and distribution of surplus. But it must be a fair trade based on the ethical securing of the core needs. Value must be created on both sides of the trading equation and that value must then be translated into secured core needs.
At the same time it is important not to deny the technological and intellectual progress that globalisation brings. Because, as I have mentioned, the very push for equity and destratification comes from the elites created by stage four societies. Cultures locked into earlier stages are highly stratified, closed and pay no heed to issues of equity and human rights.
The likely outcome
In pursuing their ideological and economic agenda in the Middle East the Western powers have undermined the people most likely to support the creation of a progressive elite within Islam. Instead the West has sided with the reactionary and regressive forces of fundamentalist Islam. By turning a wilful blind eye to Saudi and Pakistani (and Indonesian) funding and military support of such forces, and by funding them themselves, they have allowed these forces to grow in strength. The secular forces that may have been able to successfully counter the growth of radical Wahhabi and Deobandi activists have been weakened.
This is a problem that will haunt the West for a good decade or more.
It is unlikely that a secure and stable regime will replace Saddam's Stalinist inspired dictatorship. The country is divided by competing ethnic and religious groups, the Kurds to the north, the Shia to west and rival tribal groups elsewhere. Saddam has kept the country united by a system of savage repression. In the vacuum that his removal creates there is likely to be a power struggle. It may easily become like Afghanistan where a shaky peace is maintained by dent of American intervention. But does America have the resolve for a long-term commitment? Can the Western alliance afford to rebuild two shattered nations?
And if they then turn on Saudi Arabia and the house of Saud falls, what then replaces it?
All of this is likely to destabilise the region further and alienate even more of the youth of the region. And to whom can they turn? A strong educated elite or a reactionary group of Wahhabi clerics?
Challenge and confusion
The two groups that have been the most ideologically shaken by the tragedy of 9/11 have been moderate Muslims and the progressive elites. Both have had some of their central beliefs challenged.
Moderate Muslims have responded to the events with denial. It was a widespread belief amongst many that the Israeli secret service were behind the attacks. Some versions even include the CIA. Somehow it could not be believed that the religion of peace and tolerance could harbour such violent tendencies. Of course, an objective reading of Islamic history soon dispels such romantic mythologising. After all, Mohammed was engaged in the violent defeat of the native pagan religion of the Arab tribes and the expansionist period of Islam involved the usual violent suppression of conquered peoples. Many Muslims have now had to confront a different reality.
The attack has also caused the progressive elite to question their belief in cultural relativism and multiculturalism. The impulse towards destratification often involves the simplistic assumption that the marginalised are only the 'victims' of oppression. It is then argued that if you remove the means of oppression the victims will become empowered and change. This argument denies the blunt reality that, even though they are marginalised, some groups have an oppressive agenda of their own. In fact some of these groups are quite adept at playing the victim and using the goodwill of the elites to their advantage. Thus some progressives can unwittingly and naively aid and abet the tyranny of a closed group.
There are signs however, that both groups are beginning to realise the implications of these naïve beliefs. There is an increasing call for a 'reformation' within Islam (it is worth noting that Islam closed the book on interpreting the sharia in the Middle Ages so there has been no accommodation made for the philosophical challenge of the modern era). And progressives are beginning to realise that cultural/moral relativism is simply untenable. The Australian philosopher Peter Singer has recently argued:
"We should reject moral relativism. A much better case against cultural imperialism can be made from the standpoint of a view of ethics that allows for the possibility of moral argument beyond the boundaries of one's own culture."
The way ahead
The issues surrounding the current conflict are complex. But from what I have said it ought to be clear that in pursuing their narrow self-interest all parties have contributed to the conflict.
The problem, as some progressives suggest, is not simply that imperialism in its totality is at fault. As I have pointed out the very impulse that pushes for equity and destratification comes from within the elites that arise as a result of the historical process that creates imperialism. The way ahead is not to defeat globalisation but to make sure that globalisation is equitable and reaches more people. The way ahead is to strengthen international co-operation. The most obvious instrument of this co-operation is the UN, but all avenues must be pursued.
Regrettably the US has a history of aggressive individualism in foreign affairs. Again, as Peter Singer puts it:
"There is one great obstacle to further progress in this direction. It has to be said in cool but plain language, that in recent years the international effort to build a global community has been hampered by the repeated failure of the United States to play its part."
The reason is not difficult to understand. The US is able to use its position of dominance to pressure advantage in its own interests. A truly global order would shift the balance of power. But it is exactly this rebalancing that is needed.
As part of this rebalancing, support needs to be given to the creation of an educated elite within Islam. However, because of a natural inclination, this elite may be of a different ideological complexion than some, particularly in the US, might prefer. Despite this objection the reality is that even a leftist elite has more in common with Western elites than it does with a reactionary fundamentalist Islam.
What is of primary importance is that an ethics that both honours and actualises the core needs becomes the foundation of political practice. As we move inexorably toward a global future we simply must allow each cultural node to meet its core needs. If we do not then the future will be just the same as it is now and as it has always been.
The world will not have changed at all.
Ray Harris, January 2003
Link to the Ba'ath party.
For additional information on the Deobandi
For contrasting views on the Wahhabi, including their impact in Chechnya and Bosnia
For links to an outline of Islamic groups
The politics of oil
Interesting link to Mark Twain's anti-imperialist writings (China and the Boxer rebellion and the Philippines).
- Quoted from "The Clash of Fundamenatlisms". Tariq Ali, pg 207
- From, "Implications of the War on Terrorism" Ken Macnab, Dissent, Issue 10
- Quoted from "How America Fights Wars" Jay Bulworth, Dissent, Issue 10
- Johnson and Earle, "The Evolution of Human Societies"
- Peter Singer, "One World, the Ethics of Globalisation" pg 154
- Ibid, pg 216