See the outcome of five intense days of talking and walking/hiking in the mountains of North-western Greece in early August 2014; an initial contribution to creating the “global demos with a global ethos” that our world urgently needs.
The mind-boggling recent successes of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the aggressive promotion of its ideology show what an apparently small movement of determined people can achieve in a short period of time. Whether the Sunni Caliphate that ISIS is pursuing is something realistic or not is almost irrelevant, in terms of the inspiration and creativity that its members draw out of this pursuit. Bloody creativity and inspiration for absolutist and often horrible things, one may well add, but the energy is there as are the improbably real outcomes on the ground.
At first sight ISIS’ successes may look very different from the recent significant gains that extreme nationalistic, xenophobic, intolerant and often neo-fascist movements made in several EU countries in the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament. But are they? At the heart of all this is a lethal mix of human frustration, deeply felt exclusion and pain (see the alienated Muslim youth or the jobless EU citizens blaming immigrants), coupled with a counterbalancing sense of greater purpose and perceived moral superiority. This all too often culminates in a self-granted license to be ruthless, as if operating under higher orders / following a greater destiny, practicing offence as some kind of justified self-defense.
This is nothing to laugh about, dismiss or take lightly. It is actually a bomb, metaphorically and on occasion literally, in the foundations of today’s world, which is characterized by globalization in information, markets and trade, and supposedly increasing freedom. But even the “mainstream” of this world has its own “Taliban”, for example in the form of the (un)holy warriors of the financial sector, who spare no effort to conquer vast expanses in the meta-world of financial transactions, increasingly disconnected from the real economy and real people. Again a self-righteous, absolute and intolerant extremism served by dedicated people who are trying to prove their superiority and shape the world in their own image, of course with themselves enjoying the good life on top.
What is the counterbalance the “real” society has to offer to all this? It is enough to look around to notice the lackluster performance of what is considered mainstream. No conviction, no leadership, no vision but rather a focus on process, spinning things for electoral benefits every four years or so, hoping that the markets will deliver by themselves, cosying up to select authoritarian regimes to secure energy supplies, using a lot of big words that lose their meaning.
In the absence of any guiding ideology beyond the pursuit of money and power, which has come to be considered normal, and an overall nonchalance in terms of principles and “the big picture”, alternative ideologies develop, mostly of the destructive, exclusivist and intolerant kind. These ideologies excite some young and bright people that long for a sense of purpose and heroism in their lives. And they commit to them often sacrificing their lives and the lives of others.
The challenge is great for those who want to count themselves as voices of humanism and reason, win-win solutions and decency, moral values and peace. They may cautiously articulate something that slightly improves what already exists but fails to excite. Or they may succumb to one or the other extreme ideology, with possibly deadly consequences. Neither of these really works.
It is my strong belief that it is urgent and quite possible to articulate an inclusive, tolerant and pro-active ideology in a convincing manner. In fact, such an ideology is knowingly or unknowingly practiced already by millions of decent people who try to live their lives as close to ethical standards as possible. They would include pious followers of all established religions, as well as atheists and agnostics with a humanist/civic conscience.
What we need is a global paradigm of moderation and mutual respect at the individual and the collective level; an ideology of real life that also permeates politics and economics; and as a set of rights and responsibilities that are inalienable and shared, guiding interactions among people and with nature. It is also important to include a set of common projects that honestly bring together the expertise, resources and hard work of all towards achieving shared goals, from fighting poverty, disease and environmental degradation to colonizing Mars and exploring the universe. The only real question is, are we ready to do it?
Brussels, 27 June 2014
(reposted with a few revisions, 30 June 2014)
PS: It is in the above light and with this quest in mind that I will be joining the discussions at the “peripatetic” seminar on “Cosmopolitan consciousness and civic action in a globalized world”, due to take place in Vitsa, Epirus, Greece from 2 to 7 August 2014; see www.globallandpaths.org — great debates to be had! GK
The news headlines of recent days have brought to the fore some serious shortcomings related to the functioning of democracy and attitudes towards it. The questions raised are fundamental and answering them poses some real dilemmas even to staunch believers in democracy around the world.
Events unfolding in Egypt since last week are as dramatic for the country itself as they are for the future of democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and beyond. A democratically elected President was deposed and replaced by the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, while opposition and religious leaders were clapping along. In this scheme, opposition leaders who lost to Mr. Morsi at the ballot box a year earlier were offered senior government positions in what is touted as a national unity government but is not. The main premise of the military-spearheaded “non coup” is that transitional arrangements will lead to a return to full legality and new elections through a dialogue of all political forces, while the country is rescued from economic disaster.
This may be more or less what the pro-Western and modernist elite, as well as millions of largely secular-leaning Egyptians may want to see. In their mistrust for the Muslim Brotherhood, which was there from the start of Mr. Morsi’s Presidency and was reinforced by some of his decisions and his rather poor performance, they are ready to twist the facts and participate in a process that denies democracy in the name of democracy. They claim the strength of numbers at Taxim Square and opinion polls, when they should know that in a democracy the only decisive poll is the ballot itself, which cannot happen every month of year. And they are directly or indirectly cheered on by outsiders, who preface their statements with words of sorrow for the rapture in the democratic order, but basically show understanding for the rationale put forward and are willing to give the new order a chance.
This is not good enough, though. If one sticks to principles things are very clear, and should be stated as such. Mr. Morsi has to be reinstated as the legitimate President of Egypt and the troops should retreat to their barracks. Those religious and political figures who are worried about the state of the country and the economy should discuss with the President possible solutions, including the formation of a national salvation government under him. And the good allies and friends abroad should encourage such developments with advice for moderation towards all sides.
Democracy has its limits and that should be openly said and accepted. Expedient majorities cannot legislate away individual or collective rights of smaller groups. Nor can oppositions focus on overthrowing those in the majority from day one of their term and with whatever means. In a democracy there is a legitimate and useful role for everybody, from government and opposition politicians to politically-neutral civil servants to the private sector and civil society. They can all contribute on the basis of their respective responsibilities that they should hold dear, and not only their rights, advancing their country in the process.
One can only hope that the next transition in Egypt, which should happen in the next few days, will be peaceful and that the settling of accounts will be limited to public debate and the ballot box without any further military interventions, arrests and killings. The opposite may bring chaos and even civil war to this largest and most influential of Arab countries, and may create a new pole of instability in a region already marred by old and new conflicts that transcend its narrow borders threatening the stability of the bigger world.
Brussels, 8 July 2013