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On the West, Colonialism and Civil War

On the West, Colonialism and Civil War

Monday, 23 November, 2020 - 11:45

Almost as soon as the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict went quiet, a new war broke out in Ethiopia between the central government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The threat of the Western Sahara issue being inflamed again also emerged after the incident in the Guerguerat Crossing. Meanwhile, the world confronted, once again, the difficulties of overcoming the conflict in Libya, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Northern Cyprus. The scope of fears expanded: given his inflated imperial proclivities, Erdogan's emergence in a given place is an ominous sign; this small Mediterranean island, in turn, has been the source of the word "Cypriotization" since its war in 1974.

These cases, as well as many others, have a lot in common despite differences in details:

First, identitarian acrimony, be it religious, sectarian or ethnic, feeds most of these conflicts that are also fueled wealth-distribution disparities that are often accompanied by corruption.

Second, international interventions are present, whether direct or indirect, either in defense of existing interests or in pursuit of potential benefits.

Third is the clash between an assertive centralized authority bent on merging peripheries and an assertive and exasperated drive infused with separatism. Both tendencies come from a long line of accumulated hostile stereotypes and sentiments.

Fourth, after the Cold War, the world became less eager to maintain established maps and borders. Civil wars have not merely become more numerous but have also become less constrained by political goals and bound by geopolitical considerations. They are thus harder to solve and more lethal to civilians.

The reasons listed could be brought together under a broader title: the weakness of the state and national building in these countries.

The fact is that the drivers of division and war are not exclusive to those countries and others that resemble them. We see them in many countries, including even European counties like Italy, Spain and Ireland. The difference is that in the latter group of countries, which have attained a relatively high degree of stability, destabilizing factors were balanced out by others. Let us recall some well-known "classical" experiences.

Italy is an example. Its northern half witnessed a tremendous industrial revolution after unification, especially between 1897 and 1913: cars in Turin, steel plants in Elba and Genoa ... Then, after World War II, the massive wave of internal migration from the south to the north took off: more than two million settled, most of them in industrial areas. Two parties that drew cross-regional support were active nationally, though support for the Christian Democrats mostly came from the south while support for the Communists was concentrated in the north. Having chosen parliamentary democracy since 1945, the country was able to absorb some disputes and task its institutions with resolving them. The role of the cultural and intellectual elite in emphasizing Italian unity was crucial to attaining it.

India speaks in 20 tongues, besides its hundreds of minor languages. It is divided into 2,000 ethnic groups, most of which intersect with some kind of class position. Added to this is the presence of worshipers of all religions in the country, though Hindu-Muslim strife is its most prominent religious split. But India is also home to the efficient bureaucracy established by British rule known as the “Indian Administrative Service” and its railway network, the fourth largest in the world. India is also a parliamentary democracy where partisan activity is done on a national scale. While it has declined sharply in recent years, its Congress Party established a well-grounded patriotism since its inception 1885.

Japan is not among the countries seen as vulnerable to being divided. But it is known for its kinship-based loyalties and the adverse effects they leave on its political life through the vast family-owned conglomerates (zaibatsu). On the other hand, Japan is where American occupation was most intrusive on the population's lives; this includes imposing the MacArthur constitution. Japan is also a parliamentary democracy with a party active on a national scale, the Liberal Democratic Party. Like India, it opened itself up unreservedly to technology and allowed for the expansion of large, dynamic business groups.

Of course, this doesn't work like magic, and conflict could sweep through these countries as well. But the experiences mentioned above and others that resemble them establish a kind of immune system that resists divisive conflicts and creates possibilities for resolving deficiencies. This immune system emerges precisely out of being influenced by the fruits of one or another of the revolutions that the West underwent and we did not (the Industrial Revolution, the political revolution, the Enlightenment, the religious Reformation, etc…). Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui calls them “revolutions we missed out on.”

The expansion of our political conflict, which became cultural conflict as well, made us miss out on more of these revolutions' fruits. All this came before the West itself was struck by the populist setback, accompanied by insularism and the waning of enlightenment principles and the unity of state and society.

The West's presence in these societies' lives thereby became minimized because the West no longer stood for anything more than colonialism (which ended decades ago). By the way, Ethiopia, which might become the next theater of bloody conflict, had never been colonized in the first place.

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