The world does not necessarily need an alternative to the
World Economic Forum such as the World Social Forum gathering of nongovernmental
organizations and antiglobalizers at Porto Alegre, Brazil. But it could use some
alternative perspectives on the world to the Western ones mostly on offer here.
Despite much talk of the West needing to
understand Islam and to develop interfaith dialogues, it appears bogged down in
the assumption that the extremist versions of religion that Islam has spawned
Typical was a "Guide to the Issues,"
produced by the forum itself. Delegates were told "Most of the world's 1.5
billion Muslims live in societies governed by public institutions that are
firmly based on religious norms." The reality is that the countries with the six
largest Muslim populations are: Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Turkey
and China. Of these only Pakistan fits the World Economic Forum description.
It was no wonder that a minister from the
country at the top of that list, a non-Muslim of Chinese descent, found it
extraordinary that no one from her country with its democratic and secular
polity had been asked to speak on the subject of either democracy or Islam.
Ditto for democratic Bangladesh or plural Malaysia. Nor were any Indian Muslims
there to explain the relationship between Islam and the state in a country where
Muslims are a large minority. If the West was concerned with modernizing - not
demonizing - Islamic nations it would focus on these countries as examples.
Instead, they are ignored.
Islamic fundamentalism is surely a
problem in many countries, especially when it turns violent as it often does in
the Arab world and occasionally in Southeast Asia. But viewed through a
non-Western prism, at least as great a danger to the world may be the impact of
Christian fundamentalism on U.S. foreign policy, not only in the Middle East but
in its attitude to non-Christian countries such as China. Given the potential
for good and ill of U.S. power, such fundamentalism is seen as a threat abroad
as surely as it is to many scientists and secularists in the United States.
In South Asia, Hindu fundamentalism is at
least as a much a concern as its Islamic counterpart having the potential to
destroy the secular, plural polity so vital to India itself and to the stability
of the whole region.
From a Davos viewpoint, apart from Islam,
the Israel-Palestine dispute and Iran were seen as the major threats to global
stability. But look at these issues from the point of view of someone living in
the East or even South Asia.
First, Israel and Palestine. It would
certainly be desirable for the issue to be resolved both for the benefit of the
parties directly concerned and for those in the Middle East and in the West
whose other inter-state relationships suffer collateral damage from real or
imagined bias toward one side or the other. Settlement may take the heat out of
some Muslim antipathies toward the West. But is lack of a settlement really such
a threat to global security as perceived by people in China, Japan or Thailand?
And can it really be imagined that settlement would bring an era of peace and
prosperity throughout a region with a plethora of ethnic and religious divides,
huge population growth, vast income imbalances and shortages of water?
Iran, as seen from Davos, is a large and
credible threat to global peace on account of its apparent quest for nuclear
capability. But many in Asia, Muslim and non-Muslim, Chinese, Korean and Indian,
see Iran as a nation being threatened by others on account of a right to nuclear
independence. In the past 100 years Iran has never attacked anyone but it has
been invaded by Iraq and subjected to British and Russian tutelage. Now it finds
itself close to five nuclear states - Russia, Pakistan, India, Israel and the
United States. Is it Iran that is a threat to world peace or those who may use
force to attempt to deprive it of strategic capabilities equivalent to those of
its neighbors. From this perspective the question is: Will there ever be an end
to the West's race and religion-fueled aggression against the East?
It is not necessary to agree with such
sentiments to recognize they are widely held in the part of the world where
business prospects for Western firms are brightest.
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