9. No One is an Island
Global governance is possible either by creating one global government – at present a daunting prospect! – or by creating a federal system of continental or cultural blocs. Some continents form natural blocs – such as North and South America. Others are more complex: in Asia, for example, there are natural Chinese, Indian and Islamic spheres of interest, though this also leaves out others (such as Thailand), and there are countries with feet in two camps (such as Pakistan or Malaysia).
Sri Lankans, Siberians, Central Asians and Polynesians are less vocal and numerous, yet valid players in the Asian theatre. Some groups, such as Central Asian Muslims, might in some respects identify closer with Buddhist Mongolians and Tibetans than with Arabs and Turks – even though the resurgence of Islam draws Azeris, Kazakhs and Uzbeks toward the Middle Eastern orbit. So there are difficulties to be surmounted and hurdles to cross in this business of spheres and blocs.
A precursor to watch is Israel, culturally and economically close to Europe though geographically bound to the Arabic Middle East. The interweaving of Israeli with Arab strengths make for a dynamic potential in the area. One of the paradoxes in the Arab-Israeli enmity of this century is that each side contrasts and needs the other and can bring the other great benefit – if only minds, hearts and borders could open and old grievances could be forgiven.
Meanwhile, Malaysia (Islamic-Chinese), Indonesia and Thailand, though not inherently 'Confucian' in style, have pragmatically aligned with the Chinese sphere to become 'tiger economies' – all of which, together, constituted 25% of the world economy by the mid-1990s.
Whatever relationships a nation builds up with its neighbours and with the world, each nation must find its own way. It must examine its own identity to identify what it needs and what it offers in a larger context. It also needs to see itself as other see it. Some nations might benefit from being non-aligned or from forming smaller blocs or cross-spheric arrangements resembling the pre-1989 Non-Aligned Nations or the ongoing Commonwealth. Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia, the West Indies, parts of Central America and Central Asia, Britain, Israel and many non-recognised nations and peoples might adopt new forms of independent neutrality, if they see it to be disadvantageous to align with their obvious dominant neighbours.
The identity-crisis befalling Hong Kong in the late-1990s, as it was absorbed into China, was a valuable study in the effects of such mergers. The effects of Hong Kong on China are less discussed than those of China on Hong Kong, but relative size should not be taken as an indicator of influence. Mainland China itself also had an enormous identity-crisis – on the passing away of Deng Xiao Ping, of socialism and of much of its past – that it has been as vulnerable to instability as diminutive Hong Kong is.
The European Union is a prototype of such continental blocs, uniting lands not long ago regularly at war with each other. As a prototype, its errors and weaknesses are symptomatic of all that needs to be avoided in the growing shift toward global governance and integration. Overemphasised standardisation and faceless mega-structures cause an abreaction in humanity, detracting from urgent global issues. In practice the EU (like the Roman empire, its archetypal precursor) is mainly a business arrangement, prioritising material over social-cultural interests – this is dangerous. Structures founded on narrow foundations such as these are likely to encounter serious problems of legitimacy and purpose, which could lead to their neutralisation or downfall.
The international Islamic revival of the late 20th century, dramatised by the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, revealed ethnic, ethical and confessional rifts within the Islamic fold – rifts yet to be seriously addressed. Focusing attention on threats from the West diverted the attention of Muslims from a pressing internal problem – a need to review and update Islamic values in the light of modern realities. Additionally, the 'nation of Islam' needed to reconcile historic divisions between Arabs (largely Sunnis) and Persians (largely Shi'ites). The numerically-largest group of Muslims is the Indonesians, who are quietly ignored by Arabs, who tend secretly to believe Indonesians are idolatrous primitives. Islam also suffers great misunderstandings between moderates and fundamentalists and emphatic differences between rich and poor. There needs to be a clarification of the future vision of Islamic society in all its shades, appropriate for Syrians, Egyptians, Maghrebis, Bosnians, Turks, Afghans, Kirghiz, Pakistanis, Chinese, Filipino, African and Afro-American Muslims – a wide spectrum amongst whom Arabs are a minority.
The loaded issue of world integration is at large in the world public psyche – operating to a great degree unconsciously. World integration has come about as a result of European imperialism carried further by the superpower-duopoly of USA and USSR, and now the onus lies with the Asia-Pacific Rim. However, underlying this, one thread has continued: a culture of profit, market-steered growth-economics, high technology and consumerism. Freeway interchanges in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Yet, the biggest threshold is yet to come: the human dimension. Stocking the world's kitchens with refrigerators, channel-hopping on TVs and trundling around supermarkets is the easy bit: people are easily softened and bribed by toys, gizmos and tasty snacks. The difficult bit is cultural: it concerns people. People: our cultural ways, traditions, beliefs, viewpoints and needs.
The Romans successfully dealt with this problem by leaving many social-cultural-religious questions open – in this they set a pattern for modern times, since their interests were primarily material. There was no state religion and no insistence on cultural uniformity – as long as people obeyed the laws and deferred to the over-arching military-commercial system. Most of the emperors from the time of Octavian Augustus onwards were provincials – Augustus (27 BCE to 14 CE) shifted the Roman sphere from a military-commercial adventure to a universal empire. There were stresses and strains, but the system held for many centuries, despite major inefficiencies and corruption. It survived because of its loose, all-embracing penetration of the lives of millions of people, who then kept it alive. It was a system more than an empire.
There is a strong ideology behind the Western-inspired techno-economic order embracing the world today. Although Europe, ascendant from the 1600s up to 1900, has now released much control of the fates of other nations, the American imperialist system has successfully bound former colonies and client states into a global technological and financial system, rendering them into clients and customers. The joke is that these customers, becoming stronger, are now turning Euro-Americans into clients themselves. A surreptitious shift into a global 'universal state' has taken place. Interestingly, while consumerism gathers strength in former client states, materialistic values in 'developed' nations are in slow decline. Tibetan Lamas state that the repository of Buddhist teachings and practices is now in North America and Europe, where "you find the Holy Buddhadharma essence with no fleas and no traditional parapernalities..."
However, former client states are modifying and transforming formerly Western ways. The two cultures which resisted wholesale Western cloning during the colonial period – China and the Islamic sphere – managed to bend but not break when exposed to the cannon-power of the whiteskins. These two cultures now have the most to say about Euro-American ways and values.
In 1993, during the UN Human Rights conference in Vienna, the premier of one country, speaking for many others, pointedly remarked that the Western concept of human rights and democracy might apply appropriately to Westerners, but that the traditions of his culture went back much further, contained fewer contradictions, and were becoming more appropriate in the modern day. He was issuing a warning to Western soft-sell cultural imperialism. Premier Mahathir came from Malaysia, an Islamic country in the Chinese sphere. And, to add a little clout, its GNP in 1993 surpassed that of Britain, which once ruled it.
If the new world order is to survive and thrive, then the rules of that order cannot be imposed by one cultural grouping such as the business class of the 'developed' (whiteskinned or white-cloned) countries. The global transition which became blatantly visible around 1989-93 has been one in which white supremacy is giving way to a wider patchwork of cultural influences, all of which have a part to play in setting the rules of a new world order.
White-man's influence, despite all talk of human rights and democracy, is riddled with hypocrisies, contradictions and bad history. Meanwhile, other cultural influences, especially Islamic and Chinese ones, have at least an equal claim to setting the operating rules of a new global order. The voice which all other continents try to ignore, however, is that of the abandoned continent, Africa: Africa has a message for the world which will take long to be heard. Yet it is from here that the real voice of people might be heard clearest.