New world order?

Published October 27, 2023
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

AS Palestinians are slaughtered to death by the Israeli war machine, rulers of Muslim-majority countries scramble to depict themselves as principled supporters of the Palestinian national movement. The posturing has included an ‘extraordinary’ meeting of the OIC in Jeddah last week, which concluded with an ostensibly ‘powerful’ condemnation of Israeli aggression.

We’ve seen this all before. Closer to home, a choreographed waving of the Palestinian flag was a highlight of Nawaz Sharif’s trumped-up return to Pakistan on Oct 21. Meanwhile, the army chief has met the Palestinian ambassador, issued at least two statements in favour of Palestinian statehood and called for an immediate ceasefire.

Yet beyond symbolic statements and photogenic moments, the rulers of the ‘ummah’ are largely despised by their own people; they worship at the altar of profit and geostrategic power in world affairs. Insofar as the contemporary nation state is largely synonymous with dominant ideas of political community, there is no singular Muslim ummah. Consider the way in which the Pakistani mainstream is vilifying Afghan refugees after the government’s horrific decision to deport them back to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s original patron, Saudi Arabia, has historically propagated a totalitarian worldview at home as well, although the crown prince’s reign has coincided with the Saudi monarchy’s ‘opening up’ in ways similar to the Gulf kingdoms of the UAE and Qatar.

The world’s people are ruled by despots and profiteers.

Qatar has at least spawned the Al Jazeera media network, which offers some respite from the virtually unrestrained support of Zionist Israel which characterises mainstream Western media. But on the whole, Gulf monarchies, countries like Egypt and Jordan which border historic Palestine, as well as most other Muslim countries couldn’t care less about the democratic aspirations of their people, let alone colonised Palestinians. Turkey prides itself as an exception, but Ankara’s treatment of the Kurds and role in Nagorno Karabakh is despicable.

On the other hand is the standard Western liberal refrain that Israel is the only democracy in the region. Laughable and sickening at the same time, it mirrors the broader claim of Western states that they are beacons of freedom. All of this stands exposed (yet again) in the face of the genocidal violence against Palestinians. Between the imperialism of the so-called Western ‘rules-based order’ and the sloganeering of the ‘ummah’, a majority of the world’s people — including but not just Muslims — are today ruled by despots, profiteers and opportunists.

What of our immediate neighbours India and China, which together are home to almost three billion people? The former is increasingly dominated by a majoritarian and hateful political ideology whereby Muslims, oppressed castes and dissident voices are subject to increasingly violent purges. Sadly, New Delhi has not taken a principled stand on the carnage in Palestine, turning its back on India’s history as a leader of the Non Aligned Movement and supporter of national self-determination for all colonised peoples.

China appears relatively stable, has been arguably the biggest beneficiary of the era of neoliberal globalisation and is potentially the single-most obvious challenger to centuries-old Western hegemony. But China is not democratic, and is far less egalitarian than it was a few decades ago. Neither is there conclusive evidence yet that it is pursuing a global worldmaking project which breaks with the financialised capitalist system that is dispossessing billions and exacerbating an already acute climate crisis.

Then there are dark horses like Russia as well as another big Muslim country, Iran. The latter is close to Hezbollah, and by extension Hamas as well. There is a real possibility that the brazen support of Western powers for Israel since Oct 7 could create the conditions for a bigger conflagration in which Iran and Russia come together. Quite aside from the clearly disastrous effects if there were to be a more substantive war in the region — and world — an emancipatory and pro-people horizon is conspicuous by its absence on all sides.

Latin America bucks the overall trend, to some extent at least. Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil have at least pushed back against the imperialist-backed ethnic cleansing of Gaza. The fact that some sane voices continue to exist in the so-called international community is no mean feat, given how hegemonic the logic of capital and authoritarian statecraft have become.

There have been similarly dark interregnums throughout the history of the modern world. Palestine represents an aspiration for something different, and it is the world’s ordinary people and not their rulers who are leading the way.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2023

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