Globe, World

Tunisia (II): the global favela

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam thinks globalisation can also be violent and terror can be global. Since the attacks in Norway, there is a form of global neo-fascism that is just as nihilistic as Al-Qaeda. Islamophobia and latent anti-Semitism bind these movements together.

Graham Douglas

He sees the same demand for social justice inspiring both the protests against spending cuts in Athens and Madrid and the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. “When students and academics in Britain demonstrated against the tripling of tuition fees, some of them were carrying Egyptian and Palestinian flags”

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is Reader in Comparative Politics and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and in the first part of his interview with The Prisma he discussed post-colonial Tunisian history, the role of Islam and the new social media.

Now he talks about the relationship of the Tunisian revolt to others in the region, emphasizing their global and uniquely post-modern character motivated by the quest for justice and freedom rather than following a political or religious ideology.

He also discerns a shift in the international political balance in which the new governments will not be so subservient to the US or Israel.

A key feature of the new global environment communication is its inter-connectedness, he says, which is important for organizing and also makes security a global issue. He draws attention to the way that revolutionary ideas are re-cycled across continents.

Is there such a thing as The Arab Revolution or just a series of almost independent rebellions?

There is a pan-Arab public sphere of satellite TV stations like Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya, literature and popular music. But the Arab narrative is overlaid by the multicultural tapestry of Asia and Africa, inclgordis?

uding Turks, Iranians, Israelis, Kurds. It is cut across by non-sectarian identities: being a woman, gay, poor, a worker, a criminal, and these may be more consequential than being Arab or Muslim. The idea of an Arab super-state died a long time ago, after the six-day war in 1967 that crushed Nasserism in Egypt.

Equally, the idea of a pan-Islamic caliphate is a non-starter. None of the Islamic movements in Egypt or Tunisia want that. The ‘Arabness’ of the movements does not explain why they happened. Demands for human dignity, social justice and democratic empowerment are universal. Who likes the state to tell us what to do or to squander our money? Or to see their neighbour in poverty or malnourished children?

I am currently researching the dialectics between power and resistance for my forthcoming book and the evidence suggests that resistance and the search for human justice are innate.  We are moving away from the behaviourist myth that human beings are prone to aggression, that war is inevitable. The Arab revolts have shaken us up, as the modern revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba and Iran had a ripple effect throughout the world. But while those revolutions were steeped in identitarian politics- Communist, Maoist, Islamic etc., the Arab revolts are post-modern. People have not revolted in the name of a deity or of Marx or being Arab. They have revolted in the name of universal human values.

What will the long term changes be regarding Israel-Palestine , and the US and EU states ?

It is difficult to forecast events in world politics. But maybe we can discern one major trend so far: after Ben-Ali and Mubarak Tunisia and Egypt will have far more independent foreign policies. These dictatorships were also subservient to the demands of the United States and the policies of Israel.

After the Israeli invasion of Gaza and Mubarak’s decision to keep the border crossings to Egypt closed, even for medical aid, I wrote that he was on the wrong side of history. Subservience to the Israeli occupation and US foreign policies are the surest ways to lose legitimacy these days, certainly in Western Asia, North Africa and South America.

A recent Zogby poll among many others confirms that Arab citizens view Israeli and US foreign policies toward the region as the primary threat to regional peace, so acquiescence to their demands de-legitimizes politicians. No-one defended Ben-Ali or Mubarak because they were seen as ‘sell outs’. Perhaps it is Bashir al-Assad’s more independent foreign policy that holds together his base in the country, despite his brutal military campaign against the Syrians.

In Iran, the link between the independent foreign policies of the state and regime security is even stronger. The new governments in Tunisia and Egypt will have learned these lessons and I think they will maintain a more distant relationship to the United States and Israel.

This does not mean that the revolts will create anti-American states nor that their independence is guaranteed. The revolts are vulnerable to outside interference, but the time of one-man dictatorships is over once and for all. This is a good thing too for us in Europe sharing the Mediterranean with North Africa and Western Asia, because it may empower us to foster a dialogue between civil societies, rather than merely between states. This could be the recipe for empathy and a culture of mutual respect and peace.

Do you see any comparisons with changes in Eastern Europe/USSR and Latin America?

At the root of all resistance, we find the human desire to be free, and live in a just society. It was the quest for freedom that drove the revolts in Eastern Europe and Latin America and it drives the people of the Arab-Muslim world. There are important cultural peculiarities but they rotate back and forth. The Bolivarian discourse and Christian liberation theology in Central- and South America had a huge effect on Iranian revolutionaries like Ali Shariati, for instance.

The non-violent doctrines of Mohandas Ghandi inspired both the Solidarnosc campaign in Poland and Vaclav Havel’s thesis on the power of the powerless. Leo Tolstoy is a reference point in the literature on non-violent insurrection. Che Guevara, Frantz Fanon, Jean-Paul Sartre, Herbert Marcuse etc. were products of a global consciousness, now maturing into a global dialectic between power and resistance. Who can afford to be a one-dimensional ‘nativist’ these days apart from fascists?

There is also something distinctive about these revolts because they emerged within an intensely networked, globalised context. Our neighbour is far closer than she used to be, we have new interdependencies, between our plight and theirs. We saw the repercussions of that new dialectic in the global campaign of terrorism. Our security interdependencies with western Asia were intensified during the colonial period and rekindled with immense violence with the Gulf War in 1990/1991. The battles are not geographically detachable anymore, they are global in scope and repercussions, we are all responsible for global peace now.

Do you see any connnection to the world financial crisis?

Yes, many demonstrators in Athens and Madrid said that their revolts against spending cuts were inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt. When students and academics in Britain demonstrated against the tripling of tuition fees, some of them were carrying Egyptian and Palestinian flags. When I joined demonstrators in protest against a march by the fascist English Defence League in my hometown Cambridge, there were mothers talking about the heroism of the students in Arab capitals,their willingness to fight for the future of their children was inspirational. The global circulation of political goods is nothing new, but its speed and intensity is greater.

So the abstract interplay between power and resistance has real manifestations in our everyday lives and struggles. Capital is global, the injustices of the hyper-capitalist market are global, and so resistance is global too. Where there is power, there must be resistance, because it is our desire for justice that power represses. In Greece and Spain the austerity measures are perceived to be unjust.

In Tunisia and Egypt, people revolted against both economic and political injustices. The motivations are the same.  We all react to the same injustices in a similar way creating a common historical experience.

Of course, there is the counterforce to this cosmopolitan notion of the world. Globalisation can also be violent and terror can be global. Since the attacks in Norway, there is a form of global neo-fascism that is just as nihilistic as Al-Qaeda. Islamophobia and latent anti-Semitism bind these movements together. In Breivik’s, the Dutch Politician Geert Wilders is celebrated as a hero and the English Defence League (EDL) is praised too. The EDL tried to invite the American village preacher who wanted to a Koran burning ceremony in his Church yard, so neo-fascism is globalising too.

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