The ongoing conflict in Ukraine pitching pro-Russians against Kiev, flanked by Vladimir Putin on one side, and unsurprisingly, Barack Obama on the other side, might prompt cynics once again just as in the aftermath of 9/11 to send Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’ to the meat grinder of history.
Eastern Europe was the powder keg that sparked off two world wars; the first one was believed by European leaders to be the last war, a war which was supposed to end all wars. If ever the current political crisis in Ukraine rekindles western belligerence and explodes into a major conflict, the US might find itself for the first time in the forefront in what used to be considered as an internal European issue.
However, in his brilliant essay, Fukuyama does not mean that time has come to an end, and that there will no longer be conflicts or wars in the world. His book was inspired by the fall and break-up of the Soviet Union and the collapse of global communism, and his belief in political liberalism, and that the fundamental values of liberal democracy and market capitalism were now unchallenged. He did reckon that another serious threat to peace was fundamentalist terrorism, though the role of the US in encouraging some Middle East countries allegedly to finance religious radicalism across the world is hardly discussed.
If anything, no political ideologies are building up a Cold War atmosphere this time. What, then, in Putin’s firm stance is getting the US nervous and restless? It all boils down, apparently, to the US plan to control oil resources, according to Hugo Chavez’s successor. Rightly or wrongly, he points an accusing finger at the US for its backstage role in fomenting rebellion against the government in Venezuela with the sole objective of targeting its oil wells.
Ever since the dawn of humanity, men have fought one another for natural resources. We have reason to believe that in today’s world, science will cope with the shortage of oil supplies in a near future, and will fully develop nuclear and renewable energy to avoid countries taking up arms to claim their share of energy for running their economies. Or are we being too optimistic?
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Unsurprisingly, VS Naipaul obtained the Nobel Prize for Literature in December 2001 as if it suddenly dawned upon one and all, despite his three books on the political agenda in Asia and elsewhere such as ‘Beyond Belief’, which deal with religious radicalism. His warnings were hardly heeded by the West for two decades. Geopolitics in the Middle East spawned improbable bedfellows, and the influence of powerful lobbies in the US undermined the peace process, driving religious bigots into more radicalism.
100 college girls have been recently abducted in Nigeria by an extremist group which opines that Western education is sinful. As regards education, whatever aspect is not adapted to or alienating in a country is the responsibility of a well-informed society and its government to address. The tragedy is that many self-proclaimed « saviours of lost souls » in several parts of the world such as in Mauritania, Sudan, Central Africa and now, Nigeria, are vying with each other to claim their grip on the African soul on the basis of a culture which does not genuinely belong to these lands.
Modern-day « saviours of lost souls » view the whole world as the biblical cities of sin – Sodom and Gomorra in the Old Testament – where people were having a good time, indulging in merrymaking and sensual pleasure with wine flowing generously into their cups until a wrathful God decided to put an end to their good life. History is ironically indeed full of reversals of situations. Descendants of the supposedly sinful cities are modern-day crusaders of a new order which their supporters, radicals and moderates alike, firmly believe is their mission to impose in other people’s lands. Their methods are inspired by norms and practices that would have befitted societies way behind in the past.
One wonders whether the theory that geographical ill-luck of those who are burdened with vast unproductive arid lands breeds ideology which is anti-pleasure, anti-beauty, anti-music: in short, anti-life. This may be a broad generalisation but for the abducted girls in Nigeria, it’s all very different. The Nigerian college girls, if ever they were to survive, will no doubt emerge back indoctrinated and the aspirations they had to another way of freer living destroyed for ever.
Modern-day radical religious ideology dangerously and erroneously mixes up modernity and westernization. What is happening in the Middle East and Northern Africa is proving that people across the world are the same; they aspire to political liberalism which guarantees human rights and the right to vote and participate in politics, however imperfect the liberal system is. Their rejection of religious intolerance reflects their desire to express their humanness in a political system that best suits their aspirations.
Just as global communism belongs to the past, so too will religious intolerance not go too far to redeem individuals and whole societies. But a measure of moderation should reconcile modernity with a quest for genuine spiritual uplift. After all, Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’, grounded in the belief of the triumph of basic human aspirations, was right.
* Published in print edition on 18 April 2014