How globalization and not Trump or religious extremism leads to radicalisation

October 29, 2017

Q: Many years ago, you came up with this theory that democracy as we know it would be redundant. According to you the world would move progressively towards radicalism in all shapes and form. How do you see your theoretical construct panning out in the backdrop of Brexit, Trump and the advent of ISIS?

A: I would not call it my theory per se. Only let us try to take stock of the whole idea of globalization since it’s inception in the late 80’s as a theoretical science. During the initial stages there were many thinkers such as Kenichi Ohmae who forwarded the construct of the so called borderless world. According to him and other adherents of globalization and free global trade the world would get smaller by virtue of the convergence of two constructs. The first is technology, the second was the idea of the free market that effectively shifts manufacturing and services away from their countries of origin.

In a sense when we look back at what was discussed in the early nineties there can be no doubt that technology has compressed the world in the palm of one’s hands in the ubiquitous form and shape of either the smartphone or ipad. So in a sense this idea which was once propagated by globalist is certainly true.

The paradox if I may call it as such. Due to no better reasoning other than the fact that I cannot seem to find an appropriate word to describe what I am about to say is while it is certainly anecdotally true that technology has managed to connect mankind in ways that history has never imagined before.

Humanity as a collective psyche mass is not nearly as homogeneous as it was first imagined by the globalist during the 90’s. It could even be said that these days instead of mankind being a citizen of the United States of the world. There are so many divisions in the world today that it even precedes what was once experienced thru out the entire history of mankind.

This should prompt one at this point to ask, isn’t this counter intuitive? After all we know for a fact technology has successfully managed to connect humanity in ways and means like never before. So the question is why is the world still so balkanized and divided like never before? Why hasn’t a new citizenry of global man or woman emerged right out of this global experiment of marinating humanity into one glob?

Now if you think about it sensibly this whole idea of Brexit, Trump and ISIS are all abberations to this idea of a world where people are connected by shared interest. It doesn’t make sense. And that is exactly my point, unless we drill deeper to find out why the outcome is so different from what was once predicted and envisaged. I don’t think we can ever get near to the root of cause of extremism or radicalism.

I have been asking this question for the last fifteen years. And every time I do so, everyone labels me a troublemaker.

Q: Do see the rise of religious extremism, arabification, religious inspired violence as a natural bi product of globalization.

A: I don’t think that’s a right way to structure a question to get good results. Firstly extremism has little or nothing to do with Arabification. But let us move on.

It’s commonly mentioned in circles that like to character assassinate me that I am dead against globalization. I am not. But what must be understood here is very little resources or mental input has been invested to determine good and bad methods to globalize. For example if thousands of natives are displaced from the workplace in the name of globalization, then I say that’s a very disruptive and radical interpretation of globalization that may not be so good. If on the otherhand globalization facilitates much needed change in steady increments that doesn’t provoke anxiety and fear thru out the social economic landscape in a way that respects people and planet, then I say it’s a great force for change.

As to your question – Do I see the rise of religious extremism, arabification, religious inspired violence as a natural bi product of globalization? It is certainly an accreation of globalization, but the question would it be a better way to describe all this as a reaction or response to globalization.

As far as arabification is concerned. This is a phenomenon that is experienced by virtually every single country that has a significant Muslim population. It doesnt really matter whether it is occurring in Kuala Lumpur, Aljunied, Riau, Istanbul or even the French quarter of the fifth arrondissement in Paris. Now to my understanding this is not new as much as old dressed as new. As we saw all this happening during the late seventies in Imperial iran under the Shah.

Of course many reasons were forwarded as to why Iran turned it’s back on modernity and instead opted for parochialism, insularity and what many can only describe as a backward way of life. But if you ask me, one reason may have to do with the frenetic speed of the social economic change that Iran was going thru during that period. Many Iranians at that time perceived these changes in society as a form of foreign cultural appropriation or chelating of their identity that was closer to predition than salvation.

I think we may well be seeing exactly the same phenomenon today as well. As the world becomes more globalized, everything is dumbed down into one great homogeneous mass and what must be registered is all these can so often come across as intimidating and scary to people. I guess talking in such terms may not really make sense to most Singaporeans. Because Singaporeans are very accustomed or should be to sudden shifts of change. But what you must recognise is not every part of the world is like or can be like Singapore. Neither should one be so presumptuous as to assume that change is always necessarily seen as a good thing either even if it promises progress.

I mean if people feel that they are losing their identity and so they respond stronger to the stimuli of holding on their some semblance of identity. Even if it is not theirs, they don’t mind. But at least it gives them the power to differentiate themselves from what they see as the threat of being subsumed into the faceless majority where they may not even have the right to voice their aspirations and hopes. Culture, identity and the sense of belonging certainly features in this complex social equation, though I must admit I don’t quite know where it all starts and begins. It’s very very complicated and I don’t for one moment pretend that it is can rendered clear cut easily.

Q: I want to move on to one of the earlier topics that was raised that is your prediction that democracy has outlived its practical use. Tell me, are you serious?

A: Very serious. And let us not pretend why democracy as a theoretical construct is no longer as robust as it used to be. I am not saying it is dead and gone. No, democracy is well and fine in certain parts of the world. But in other countries notably the US, UK and in some Scandinavian countries, let us say that it is not as self confident as it used to be. The reason why I say this is because democracy as a political theory can really only work if the sum total of what unites a nation is always stronger than what may divide it – but as we can see from both the US and U.K – these are not only very divided countries, but you can even say the divisions are so serious that one segment of the country has absolutely nothing in common with the other to even sustain the idea of nationhood.

Q: Do you blame Trump for all this?

A: No! I blame the zealots of globalization. These are people who laid the cap stone for a character like Trump to come into power. They single handedly created the right conditions that allowed the far right in America to step right in and squeeze out whatever good there is in the democratic system. I don’t think it’s fair to blame Trump. He may be the first radical president in the US, but just like the first primates blasted into space. No expect monkeys to design the next space ship to go to Mars. We all know they’re just there for the ride.

Q: How do you think Trumpism will alter the way politics is conducted in the US and the world?

A: That is a very good question. I think for the last one hundred years the US has been the gold standard of democracy. The system as we all know was far from perfect, but in the past at least their policies made sense and there was even a semblance of coherency that was at least guided by some thoughtful ideology. But in the age of Trump. We are starting to see something that is not only incoherent, but also a polyglot of policies that doesn’t seem to suggest the thinkers are winning the day in either Capitol Hill or the White House. I will be honest, I don’t even know where the US stands any longer. And I don’t think it’s worth speculating either, it’s all up in the air and it is this malaise of uncertainly that has the power to disturb.

The reversal of fortunes is really quite startling given that it has all occured in such a short period of time. You know recently when I was watching the 19th congress of the Chinese communist party. For the first time in history Xi Jinping came across like the president of the US. As his vision and grand plan is something that we would usually expect from the US, but when I checked YouTube Trump was embroiled in sandbox politics with menial issues concerning what he meant to say etc etc. My point is if a Mr nobody farmer like me can experience a sinking feeling about the US today, then I can’t possibly imagine for much more profound and demoralising it is for a leader who is traditionally allied to the US…it has to be very depressing.

Q: Coming back to the issue of radicalism and extremism. How big of a threat do you see this and what might the suggested solution be?

A: It’s sharpening. The threats are real and present in my opinion. As for the solution. You don’t have to look too far for inspiration fortunately. The Indonesians seem to be handling the problem very competently in my opinion but what is curious is their success given the significant size of their Muslim population doesn’t seem to attract that much scholarly attention. I often wonder why. You really have to take a closer look at Indonesia for yourself and not rely on me to spoon feed you – just a few points, observe how they have leveraged on the Pancasila and NU to blunt radicalism. This is a two prong strategy where they are fighting it at a level of the madrasahs thru continuous truing of clergy philosophy and constitutionally via ideology. So to the Indonesians this gives the executive, judicial and legislative very strong powers of legitimacy to say plainly to these iron mullahs, hello you Salah lah! No where on this planet will you find such clarity that can be underpinned at the level of the Hadith. I don’t know any other Muslim country that is blunting radicalism at such an intellectually effective level, not even the West comes remotely close to how the Indonesians are tackling this problem. In my opinion they deserve a lot of credit – the perrenial problem that I see with most Muslim countries besides Indonesia is they lack clear lines of delineation between how religion naturally finds its way into power and politics – so it’s a right mess where you may have certain radical factions that have managed to create fiefdoms by garnering a significant number of voters and this complicates things as when things are not clear then no one in authority has either the legitimacy or resolve to say this is right and that is wrong. That is why in other Muslim countries all sorts of impromptu means are used. But the Indonesians don’t seem to have that problem, exercise of power is clear and unambiguous – they are the only Muslim nation where an authority can say definitively, you Salah! Now please shut the fuck up and stop spreading your poison….reason A to Z! I feel this is something that should be discussed at a deeper and more meaningful level – having said all that, I am a realist, it is still uphill simply because religion is leeching slowly into Indonesian politics whether you like it or not and so long as that trajectory keeps its course, it’s really only a matter of time before it too will alter how politics is conducted in that archipelogo.

Q: What are your thoughts on arabification – do you see this as an unsettling development?

A: You know a lot of people take the course of least mental resistance when they see this happening. But what is seldom ever discussed and should be in my opinion is the underlying motivation – it would seem on the surface all this has to do with religion, but what is ironic in my opinion is how so few people ascribe all this to plain business strategy and the allure of the profit motive. You know I happen to know a Pasar malam vendor in the kampung who sells Arab pharaphelia, I asked him one day hey Mahmud what’s with all this stuff. He told me plainly, hey stupid, it sells like hot cakes. So there you go. I bought a Keffiyeh from him and use it as I am not like Chuando, I don’t know how to use sun block. It’s effective against the sun. My point is don’t overreact. To me this is not a big issue, it only seems that way – but for me I see the quest or yearning for identity, culture and sense of belonging as a continuous process of experimentation so I don’t read into things. I think everyone needs to be given space to be what he or she wants to be to find a place that they can truly call their own in this globalized world. After all it’s very crowded and even impossible to stand out of the crowd.

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