Letter to Uncle Sam
Of late, particularly after events that erupted in Tunisia and Egypt, I came across a catalogue of dismal opinions and arguments expressed by writers, thinkers, policy makers, commentators in Europe and the US. On one thing they all got it right. The geopolitical situation in the region, they argued, looks very unpredictable as at now.
The road protest – that brought the collapse of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia – is gaining ground in Egypt where the future of the 30-year-old Mubarak regime is now under serious threat.
The risk of a regional contagion cannot be written off. The collapse of Mubarak’s rule in Egypt may signal a net loss to geopolitical stability in the Arabo-Islamic world.
This region is vital to the US, the West and the world. But the region is above all of “vital interests” to the West. And admittedly, the region’s stability or instability impacts hugely on the world’s geopolitical atlas.
In the countdown to and after the release of his book “A Journey”, Tony Blair made several public appearances and gave several interviews. Uncle, I will only stop at one statement I find most telling. Blair said that it’s only after 9/11 that he started to show a keen and serious interest in things related to the Arabo-Islamic world. You remember how his good friend George W felt uneasy and was in fact unable to name the capital of Pakistan when questioned during his presidential campaign.
Though small, these are not futile things.
Both leaders were in power for a substantial length of time. On foreign policy matters, including military engagement, we know where both stood and what both did. We won’t comment on the wisdom or the merits of their choices and policies. We take it that many decisions may have been taken from their lack of knowledge and proper understanding of the Arabo-Islamic world. I am not talking about the quantity of arms and ammunitions the Arabo-Islamic world has in stock, from whom and how often they purchase same, or how lethal their effects are when put to use.
Uncle, here is my concern. During my school days, the abundance of UNESCO sponsored literature shed light on the importance of peoples’ culture, traditions, ancestral values, across countries and continents. Sure, they are simple things. But they contribute to shape peoples’ dreams and ambitions and expectations in many ways and for many reasons. And this is precisely what the US and many Western countries have never been able to grasp and understand. Had it been so, foreign policies would have been dressed up differently in many situations.
The US may not yet know how lucky they are to have you as their Commander In Chief, Uncle. Your childhood, your story, your unyielding will to work hard, all contributed first and foremost to defeat the conventional wisdom of the cynics and sceptics who bet against the wisdom of the common man during your race to the White House.
Your understanding and respect for peoples’ traditions, culture and ancestral values have in a big way helped your administration to shape many policy decisions, including the dressing of public speeches meant for any un-American audience. Your remarks on the current Egyptian situation bear testimony; though, in between well-crafted words, you were called upon to blow hot and cold, while cautiously trying not to alienate any party involved in the road protest or concerned with it.
Get me right Uncle. All that precedes does not at all suggest that the US or the world community should allow radical extremism to take roots or prosper to inflict harm on innocent lives; or allow despotic regimes to go unchecked when they try to conquer nuclear arms or other WMD and so on and so forth.
Mauritius, Uncle, is a blessed country and all rivers of traditions and culture flow gently towards its people whose open hearts and minds accept them with shared love. The worrying thing is that many among our folks here still have difficulty to understand how fortunate they are to live on this Island.
As regards the US, Uncle, I am sorry to have to tell you that a big majority of its citizens are egocentrics. And this is not quite to its advantage. And this conclusion is not hearsay. My own travelling experience within the US points to this fact.
Now, as regards the world’s geopolitical atlas, the US needs to understand a few things. If the Republicans and their allies continue to think that arms and ammunitions, unnecessary wars, unregulated economy, unregulated financial and banking transactions, unlimited freedom to speculate on food commodities and fuel, are all good for Corporate America and must be good for the Globe, so be it. If they also think that keeping the dispute between Israel and Palestine alive for another century is good for America and the world, so be it. But Republicans and their allies need not worry. After Tunisia and Egypt, the destabilisation of the Arabo-Islamic region will mean more unrest and more threats to world peace and security. For sure, America’s firepower will keep the US and its borders safe but its “vital interests” abroad might be unsafe if radical regimes take over.
The world economy, Uncle, as well as the world’s geopolitical atlas, are after all but mostly the products of US politics and of Corporate America. Some of its western allies have a shared responsibility.
Take one example. Peoples in the streets of Tunisia and Egypt have many grievances to address, but one connects to their stomach and savings account. It’s about the price of food and cost of living. Basic food prices and fuel are rising dangerously. Thanks to speculators and Wall Street.
Second. Because of US’ domestic policy and politics, some countries still sell their agro harvests below the costs of production.
Uncle, to quell the protests on main streets in Tunisia and Egypt and around the world, tanks and arms and tear gas won’t help. First, there is need to quell the greed of Wall Street and Wall Street’s sponsors around the globe.
Third. American technology and innovation are having unpredictable consequences in America and around the world. Information technology, we have seen, not only has the capacity to allow for innovative political campaigns financed by lobbyists to unseat political power on Capitol Hill, but also gives peoples abroad the chance to unseat political despots, more so if they are under the protectorate of America.
Last thing regarding technology. Al Jazeera, the CNN of the Arab world, is the common man’s Fox News in the Arabo-Islamic world.
As you see Uncle, technology is now driving social protest at great speed; which in turn will drive political and economic reforms that, as you rightly said, need to meet the “aspirations of people”.
It remains to be seen if all this will be in-built within democratic institutions where the legitimate concerns of citizens, Insha Allah, won’t go down the drain for no reason.
* Published in print edition on 4 February 2011