Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Egypt and New Alliances

Very interesting interviews in the Egyptian paper Al Ahram with the President of Brazil, and the PM of Venuzuala. I had missed completely the ongoing diversification of the developing world, going from relying on help from the EU and USA to actually trading amongst themselves. I was aware of the G20, all the biggest developing nations, and their role in the WTO talks in Mexico, basically scuppering attempts by the North to get its agenda through. It seems things have moved on since then, that there is a nexus building between South America, mainly Brazil and Venuzuala linking themselves with the Arab world, most specifically Egypt. A great many interesting things have come to light, firstly that there is a significant Arab population in South America, something I was utterly ignorant of. According to the slightly dubious talk of the Venuzualan PM they are fully intergrated into the culture of south America and there is general harmony all round. Of course I will look into this with my usual degree of scepticism but it certainly is something I was not aware even existed.
Secondly it is interesting that revolutionary South American leaders are in Egypt at the very same time as a large number of protests happen across Cairo. I hope of course Silva and the Venuzualan dude give their full support to the enough movement, they really should. I hope too their trade and left leaning political influence on the Middle East will grow, though that could just be the dreams of revolutionary Leftie. It would be too an interesting side affect of the recent colour-coded revolutions if their influence would be felt in Egypt, especially as this long term ally of the US has had almost no criticism about its appalling human rights record and limited democracy. There have been rumblings in Egypt for several years now, the anti globalisation Cairo conferences have extended to cover trade justice, Arab liberation and Anti Occupation, most specifically Iraq and Palestine and establishing proper democracy. It would only be natural for the newly minted "Enough" (Kefaya) movement to link in with the older anti globalisation and anti war movements, who have their base in South America, and Brazil which hosts the World Social forum every year.
Also the hopeful formation of new trade blocks within the developing world could actually mark the turning point in the new century. No longer will the nations of the south have to rely on handouts from the north or loans or bust their economies trying to cater for what the multinationals want or say the markets demand. They quite sensibly want to trade with countries on the same level of development as themselves, the incentive is there then to be fair, to help each other get ahead. Rather than the interests of the wealthy nations who act merely as loan sharks, giving out money and aid only as a lever of control. The problems with this being there is still room for discord and that the US and EU will do all they can to destabilise it, figuring quite rightly that it is a threat to their own economic and political hegemony. It could be another OPEC, or as the Venuzualan PM warns they could be another Allende
If Mubarek does indeed get toppled by the new movement and is succeeded by someone slightly less authoritarian then it will help seal an axis stretching from South America to the Middle east. An alliance of developing and ex colonial nations able to act as equals and protective of their own interests, that will truly be a positive development in international relations

Telling America to Fuck Off

So today Ariel Sharon again tells the US to fuck off when politely asked to maybe ease off on stealing the land of other people and not piss off the very people Bush is trying to woo as part of the war on stuff. Not that unusual for Sharon to do that as Israel is the only country that can really stick two fingers up at the US and still receive a large amount of military aid. Though saudi Arabia can both suck up to the US and in its schools and mosques slag off the US and Western Everything. Now India get in on the act, refusing a US offer of Arms becasue they sold F16's to pakistan. They would not have done that a few years ago, if the US offers you arms its a good idea to take them else you might find them being pointed at you in amuch less friendly way. The fact that India has the power to do this is largely due to the fact it is being wooed by both the US and China. the US to encircle China and china to alienate the US. Of course it might as well be due to the slow erosion of US influence, Europe may still amke polite noises to stay friends woth the US but most countries realise that now maybe they don't have too, plus it usually goes down better with the electorate to be seen as giving the US the finger. A far cry from the days we stood shoulder to shoulder with them, and that was only three and a half years ago.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

As 9/11 was to George Bush, he is to the World

In years to come George w Bush will be regarded as the greatest American President the left ever had. There could not have been a better caricature of a US president, one whose mix of evil and incompetence shattered forever the superpower status and international respectability of the US. He has run up a deficit greater than the US has ever known, alienated virtually every country in the world and launched a culture war in the US not seen since the 1950’s. He has ensured the US can no longer extend its political and economic grip on the world by tying down his troops and erasing its international credibility in the sands of Iraq.
While in the short term Bush has showered down upon us on the left insult after defeat and seemingly suffered no ill effects from the constant scandal and corruption that has mired his administration. Indeed he emerged strengthened after his re-election, the last place he could have been stopped. For the progressive left he has felt like the worst thing that could have happened, like a combination of the corruption of Nixon and the messianic stupidity of Reagan. Someone who has no regard for the environment, workers rights, international co-operation, scientific rationalism or indeed anything except power and wealth in its most naked form.
Yet by being so shamelessly amoral he has ripped the mask that Clinton so expertly placed over the true face of the US, if someone like Gore or even Kerry had been elected this would have gone on. The WTO and Nafta and all the other tentacles of soft power would have been extended. US hegemony would be slowly but surely rolled out, subtly crushing dissent, waging wars by proxy, building alliances to benefit only the US. Instead we have a world that has now realised the reality and have started to gang up on the US, they see no reason why they should bankroll the US deficit any more. Nor why we all should have to pay for their reckless use of the Earth’s finite resources, and then their denial that there even is Global Warming . New power blocks have emerged, nothing unites so well as something to unite against. Despite its fawning acceptance of Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank, Europe has finally found its voice. China has become rich in its feeding of the voracious US consumer, but also it realises its own power, that they and a few other Asian states are all that is keeping the US from collapsing into a mountain of its own unpaid debt.
And as the US focuses its attention on the Middle East it loses sight of things closer to home. That Canada is no longer the friend t can always rely on, when they are slapping on import duties on US goods because the US won’t play fair, that and the ever present spectre of dissent over Iraq. But south America is truly the area where Bush has made sure America has lost control. Though they may still make noises about Cuba to please the Miami exiles they seem to have missed the whole protest movement that has swept the lower continent over the last few years. That every head of state except Fox in Mexico and thingy in Colombia that where pro US have either been removed or are gravely weakened should have acted as a wake up call to the US. That the plan of an American free trade Zone stretching from Alasks to Tierra del Fuego that seemed unstoppable in 2000 is now utterly dead is due largely to Bush’s incompetence, not helped by the fact that laissez faire capitalism screwed the south. A more subtle leader would surely have brought them back in, not funded a half hearted coup against Chavez in Venuzuala, then when it failed and made him stronger than he was before just sniped at him from the safety of the US media. With any luck south America will be lost to the US for a generation, and that they will form their own progressive trade block, signs for that are already there, as they increasingly look to china and the EU for investment.
Bin Laden definitely chose a good president to launch attacks against, knowing he would turn the Middle East into a bloody quagmire that would only increase support for Alqaida. He reckoned on a new Christian crusade and he was right. It was rumoured that most of Alqaida favoured a Bush re-election, arguing that Kerry would do the same as Bush only go about it in a more subtle way. Bush’s obviousness, his incompetence and arrogance in trying to forcibly export Us culture onto the unwilling majority in the Middle East has ensured a hatred for all thing Yankee. They have just had to sit back while the US launched an unwinnable war against the wrong enemy in Iraq. This war will only benefit Iran and the various fundamentalists. Though we can hope perhaps that the dead end nature of fundamentalism, its political bankruptcy in Iran and the growth of a pan Arab liberation movement in Egypt will in the end make the Middle East not a bloody, oily hole in the ground.
The only downside is of course that Bush could still shift the domestic US landscape permanently to the right. As the Democrats look incapable of launching any kind of new ideology to recapture the progressive parts of the US. At the present rate they may win back the Presidency but only as a protest to the war in Iraq. They are loosing the battle of ideas as the US mind becomes more entrenched, more embattled and conservative. This will only get worse as their much vaunted superpower is exposed as a sham. When prices rise and they get humiliated internationally more and more they will turn inward, cursing the rest of the world as they did over Iraq. They are a nation that have been told they will inherit the earth and shape it in their own image, they do not take kindly to being told they cannot. They will elect more like bush, more right wing money makers buttressed by Cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism. The only hope lies unfortunately in the democrats somehow recapturing some ground in the battle for ideas. They are hamstrung by their lack of media control and the fact they are part of US society too, and suffer the same blinkers and prejudices.
And while it makes me feel glad that in the long term Bush is responsible for the death of American power I fear that it will be replaced by another nation with much the same mission, who will be as blind to human rights, the environment and progressive cultural ideas. It is said that China will be the next superpower but will it exercise that power for good? For all its faults the US at least gave lip service to freedom and human rights, it may have rarely stuck to them but it was a battle cry that inspired many, from the French Revolution to the fall of communism. The next superpower will not come close, I might hope that they will shout the joys of an ideology of Socialism from the rooftops but I very much doubt it. Though China will be balanced for now by the US, which is resembling more and more one of those great European empires that could boast that it had the biggest army, though it could barely afford to clothe them.
Is there a chance or the US to mend its ways? To resort to those heady days of the early nineties where it was fashionable to care about the world? Where a new world order was something to be dreamed about, not a nightmare of global conspiracy. Perhaps US culture has permanently rejected the world, to resort only to crass materialism, to almost Fin de Siecle conspicuous consumption, all too aware that this may be the last chance it has before the bankers close in and the overdraft has to be repaid.
Maybe they will elect another Clintonite, who will reunite them with the world and whose soft words will woo back those who in the hearts want to believe the US is a beacon for liberty and decent entertainment. It seems so very unlikely, and perhaps impossible that even if it happened that they would have any measure of success.
There is a good essay on this theme by George Monbiot in today’s Guardian, where it focus’s on Wolfowitz and the World Bank, describing how the Neo Cons should have just continued the post WWII multilateral system as that was rigged to put the US permanently on top. It is only the greed of the Neo Cons that they will not share even the crumbs

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Death Of Europe

There are increasing apocalyptic fears about the imminent demise of Europe, though not from some kind of quick death like war or terrorism but from the simple fact that Europeans are not breeding enough. The demography is clear, as Europe has developed people are having less children. People live for longer so there are more elderly, it is a "problem" of the developed world, as if living longer and not overpopulating the earth was actually a problem rather than in fact a goal but there we go. The problem in the eyes of those who see it is rather that as Europeans get less those pesky immigrants become more. Those selfsame reactionary tabloid types are of course the first to employ cheap foreign labour but resent it when they actually dare to hang around here and try to vote or have children, or most heinously retain any of their native culture. In Europe you can be any culture you want, as long as its not too Foreign.
The fear is simply that these hordes of Islamic types are coming over here, breeding a lot, refusing to assimilate totally into Western culture and slowly outnumbering "us", in a few years we will be the Caliphate of Europe and they will murder us all in our beds.
Now this is a thesis very popular with anyone from your common racist to nationalists, tabloid editors and military planners. The fear is largely unfounded, or at least in some way mistaken as it just assumes immigrant are a monolithic block intent on cultural colonisation. The fact is that Europe is not one culture, it is a culture made of immigration, some parts have been here longer so they seem familiar. All these new people with ways we have not seen before are a bit scary, especially when they are all ghettoed together. Which is of course directly the fault of selfsame right wingers who insisted they be all housed in areas in the rotting inner cities or on estates nobody wanted to live in. Blair’s attempts to institute faith schools and a strong background racism mean that the cultures are artificially separated and just glower at each other over a wall of mutual superstition. Yet they don’t, after a while the cultures mix, and not a one way process as those on the right fear, especially for the second generation- those born into Europe and knowing no other home. They will speak almost certainly the language of the country, and will usually have the regional accent too. They will for the most part consider themselves both European and Muslim/African/Asian. What is forgotten in the debate is that this has happened before, the fear of the other who may have some shadowy allegiance to something other that the nation they reside in, or who wants to change the nation they have entered into in their own image. Its been said against Jews, Gypsies and most especially in Britain Catholics. There are still laws I believe preventing Catholics from taking the throne. So the fear is simply the old fashioned xenophobia, with a healthy dollop of ignorance, in not actually bothering to talk to the generations of migrants who have come to Europe. They are not intent on cultural jihad, though the Muslim community especially has been backward on a whole range of Rights. They are a lot of them pissed of that they get lumped in with terrorists and that they face a large degree of discrimination while at the same time propping up the economy of Europe by working for less than their white counterparts. It is interesting o consider that Catholics, mostly old Ratzinburger are afraid they will be swept away by a tide of Muslims who consider their loss to Charlemagne in the eighth century merely a temporary setback on the road to domination of Europe. Considering that’s how Catholics were thought of I most of Northern Europe for a great deal of time they would have looked at the logs in their eyes for a bit.
It may come to pass that Europe is dominated by a Muslim majority but it is unlikely. Firstly Europe really needs immigrants, what with the whole getting old and having no kids thing so we really should be a bit more welcoming. Also as immigrant become more settled, more absorbed into the country they become part of the nation. As with America the massive influx of immigrants didn’t really alter that much of the cultural landscape. The lingua franca has remained English, most of the festivals and religion solidly the same, even both the contenders for the 2004 presidency could trace ancestry back to the people who sailed over on the Mayflower. The US for all its other faults does not have so much fear of the immigrant, though it too has had its doomsayers over the years, and has imposed heinous restrictions on them in its time. Europe will not die anytime soon. As time goes on the immigrants will speak more of the language of their host nation, their children will celebrate Christmas a most Europeans do- without any reference to Christianity whatsoever. It becomes obvious to that to immigrants in order to get ahead they have to start speaking the language, to assimilate a little, though it is easily possible to do that without compromising your identity whatsoever.
It is the same as the experience of any of the large scale immigrations of the past, in Britain we has waves of Irish and Jewish immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century. The same fears were raised by scaremongers of the time but now there are still communities proud to be Jewish or Irish but playing a full part in the national life, and considered as British as anyone else. The fear then now is based almost solely on skin colour, though that too I hope will fade.