Today, we may live many lives rolled into one — we may hold multiple jobs, or may have changed professions along the way; half of a family may live in a village and the other half in a city, or families are spread between countries and continents. The world itself has undergone changes and transformations over centuries. Some theorise that civilisations have a 500-year span.

In his Muqaddimah (1377), Ibn Khaldun developed a cyclical theory of the rise and fall of civilisations. Sovereign powers come into existence, gain strength and then lose their power, to be replaced by another sovereign power.

Developing a civilisation depends on two concepts: umran (agreeing to cooperate to make a prosperous society) and asabiyya (the bonding of people with dignity and pride). When these qualities become weak in a society, leaders become tyrannical to maintain power and turn on their own people, leading to decline and dissolution.

One can propose that our current social construct began in the 15th century, with what has come to be known as the Age of Discoveries. Before that, Europe was seen as a backward region, with savage and wild people. Four hundred years of contact with the Arab world during the Crusades and after changed everything. They heard of faraway lands, were introduced to the philosophy and sciences of the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, the Indians and, of course, the Muslims, who had a wealthy and elegant material culture and thriving trade.

Are we standing at the precipice of a great transformation, one that has marked societies across the span of human history, or are we too set in our ways to usher in change?

By the 15th century, Portuguese and Spanish adventurers were setting off in ship after ship armed with maps and compasses to navigate the world. It was in the course of trying to find an alternate trade route to India and the East that led Columbus to head west, thus arriving at the edges of the Americas. Transatlantic trade was born, and it eventually gave prominence and prosperity to western Europe.

If at first motivated by the spirit of adventure and trade, it soon became about power and subjugation, to ensure a steady supply of mineral resources, exotic agricultural produce and enslaved or low-waged labour.

The world has been compelled to follow Western economic philosophy, political systems, science and technology and cultural values to enable the perpetuation of this exploitation, creating an unwieldy behemoth of global capitalism, whereby a few countries become rich at the cost of the many. This is the world we still inhabit, but with increasing discomfort — a discomfort articulated by the exploited nations as platforms of communication become universal.

Some are more defiant, like many African nations, which reject the continued exploitation of their mineral resources by their past colonisers and, like many other nations, they are calling out Western nations for their ‘regime change’ policies and assassinations of those who do not acquiesce to their demands, and the cycle of aid and debt that keeps them poor and unable to progress. Others remain shackled to maintaining ties with the powerful countries, while their populations want greater autonomy.

Snakes shed their skin to make way for new growth. The snake struggles to release itself from its old skin, which has become rigid and constricting. This renewal has become symbolic of transformation and rebirth. The world today appears to also be struggling to shed the old ways and make way for a new way of being. Change is not the turning of a page but a complex process, whose signs can already be seen.

The 21st century seems to be ushering in an era of disclosures — Wikileaks, the disclosure of offshore accounts, the unveiling of the blatant support to Israel by its allies as genocide is unleashed in Palestine, revelations about powerbrokers such as BlackRock and many other back-stories, including the conspiracies to manipulate politics in Pakistan. All this has been enabled by breaking through the controlled access to information and communication with the power of social media.

The swell of an impending sea change is felt by many, as ideas, once new and energetic, have become tired and self-destructive. Are we at a crossroads of radical change or are we so indoctrinated that we are unable to develop our own umran and asabiyya, left to merely fill old wine in new bottles?

Durriya Kazi is a Karachi-based artist. She may be reached at
durriyakazi1918@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 31st, 2024

Editorial

Ominous demands
Updated 18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

The federal government needs to boost its revenues to reduce future borrowing and pay back its existing debt.
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...
Dangerous law
Updated 17 May, 2024

Dangerous law

It must remember that the same law can be weaponised against it one day, just as Peca was when the PTI took power.
Uncalled for pressure
17 May, 2024

Uncalled for pressure

THE recent press conferences by Senators Faisal Vawda and Talal Chaudhry, where they demanded evidence from judges...
KP tussle
17 May, 2024

KP tussle

THE growing war of words between KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur and Governor Faisal Karim Kundi is affecting...