Wed, 19 Mar 2003

The political economy of global peace-building

Juwono Sudarsono, Lecturer, University of Indonesia, Jakarta

The greatest challenge for civic leaders throughout the Islamic world is to face up to the revolutions brought about by unfettered globalization -- political, economic, cultural, technological and military. Globalization simultaneously unleashes forces of tremendous change at all levels: Global, regional, national, provincial and local. Driven by powerful scientific and technological forces from the growth poles of North America, the European Union and Japan, globalization invariably results in traumatic patterns of inequity and injustice in the developing world.

Advances in science and technology in the past 50 years have transpired in leaps and bounds, more than all the world's technological progress in the previous 150 years. Yet, more than 80 percent of the world's population reside in the developing world with scant access to basic human needs, let alone to the benefits of economic advancement and scientific progress.

Conversely, more than 70 percent of the world's political, economic, cultural, technological and military sources of power and influence are in the hands of 22 industrialized countries, of which the G-8 commands 60 percent of its human, technological as well as scientific resources, skills and capital.

The U.S. alone, which comprises 5 percent of the world's population, consumes 25 percent of the world's energy resources. Its defense budget of about US$380 billion a year is more than the combined defense budgets of the next 12 major powers.

These structural inequities have persisted since the early 1970s and deepened sharply over the past 10 years. The G-8 countries and their multinational corporations have sway over the commanding heights of the world's human, scientific and capital resources, sanctioned through multilateral organizations ranging from the UN Security Council, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the plethora of international agreements which tend to favor the powerful few over the despondent many.

Small wonder that in the Middle East the clash of political interest, economic capacity and military strategy result in a devastating effect when combined with the issues of religious conflict and national self-determination.

The questions of contemporary Palestine and Iraq aside, the structural inequities surrounding the Middle East today make the clash of "the West vs. Islam" or" the West against the Rest" ever more popular, if misguided, topics of heated debate.

Sept. 11, 2001, redefined contemporary world politics and economics since non-state actors representing "violent rage against international injustice" was dramatically applied, using perverted Islamic precepts as powerful conceptual weapons in the conduct of asymmetric warfare by the weak against the powerful.

The Arab nationals who participated in the Sept. 11 attacks were educated middle-class young men who traveled to, lived and studied in Europe and North America, societies and cultures which for decades had mainly perceived Middle Eastern countries and cultures with contempt.

Osama bin Laden exploited these feelings of rage and despair, fueled by his own personal anger against the Saudi government for allowing American troops to "desecrate" the holy land of Islam, by allowing their presence following the Gulf War in 1991. Perhaps even more tellingly, the structure of political and economic inequities within societies in the Middle East themselves became sources of anger and frustration among the growing number of the young.

Their desire to climb the social ladder were relentlessly blocked by the network of cronyism and privileges enjoyed by the ruling elite. There are three sources of hostility which our friends and colleagues in the West must address.

First, Western foreign policy towards Israel and Palestine will continue to be futile until substantive progress is made on the peace process. Governments and corporations in the West invariably impose double standards over the issues of trade and economic relations as well as on human rights and democracy.

The narrow-minded bargain of political and military support to oligarchic elites in exchange for access to oil (40 percent for Europe, 14 percent for the U.S.) cannot be politically nor economically sustainable over the long run. The Middle East must cease to be seen as "a string of gas stations in a murderous neighborhood".

Secondly, Western policies often openly marked by contempt for the Arab world and by fear of Islam. In the view of many Muslim leaders, the recent diplomatic attempt to link Osama bin Laden with Saddam Hussein reads like a plot designed to further wound and provoke anger among Muslims everywhere.

Third, living in abject poverty and often under political repression, the Muslim poor in developing countries have little recourse to overcome problems at home. Hence they blame the West for their predicament and condemn their local ruling elite of apostasy for being coopted by the primeval economic interests of Western "imperialism". The unemployed and rejected poor are the ones who suffer from the most corrosive sense of personal humiliation. They are the most vulnerable to the perilous manipulation of Islam's teaching of peaceful change by radical groups bent on violent rage.

Political reform and economic development are the keys to a viable solution. A long-term international plan for the Middle East, partially funded by G-8 countries, sanctioned by the United Nations, co-administered by the Arab League and supervised by the Organization of Islamic Conference can go a long way towards political and economic reform.

As the world's most populous Islamic country, Indonesian Muslims are striving to consummate three major initiatives.

First, we are determined not to continually blame the West and the developed world for all our domestic problems.

Secondly, we must fight hard to overcome the embarrassment of the wretchedness among our urban underclass and rural poor. Not less than 40 million Indonesians, most of them Muslims, are currently unemployed. These problems must not be seen as beyond repair. Concrete action must be administered to reconstruct our society and economy within an increasingly equitable and cohesive political union that Indonesia's brand of inclusive, tolerant and pluralist Islam provides.

The vast majority of Indonesian Muslims are determined not to let Islam be hijacked by sectarian thuggery, which can only damage Islam's true message by stultifying avenues to the imperatives of ijtihad.

We are determined to continuously strive to bring Indonesian Islam to the realities of the present and the challenges of the future, to engage in dialog and enlightenment with the economies, societies and cultures of the West, as well as with China and Japan.

We must not look back to past glories. Through our hard work in inclusive and pluralist national peace-building, Indonesian Muslims can surely contribute positively to national and international peace-building.

The above was an excerpt of the article presented at the International Conference of the International Islamic Forum for Science, Technology and Human Resources Development in Jakarta, March 14, 2003.