Obama: “Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.”
President Barack Obama cast the international community’s efforts to support Ukraine amid Russian intervention as just the latest challenge testing the democratic ideals that link the United States and Europe. Although Obama anticipates Putin’s potential to upset a regional balance, he recognises that Russia is in no position to upset the world order since the collapse of its Communist ideology.
“Ideology knows the answer before the question has been asked.” – George Packer
An ideology is a set of conscious ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions. It is a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things (worldview) or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society. The worldview is applied to public matters and thus makes it a concept central to politics.
Implicitly, every political, economic and military tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought. The economic miracle of Post-World War II Japan was primarily due to the economic interventionism of its government after Japan joined the Western Bloc and adopted Capitalism. Since ideology determines how assets and relationships between states are managed, alternate ideologies inevitably lead to conflict of interests.
The Loaded Gun
When the Cold War was in full swing and the Soviet Union was intact, the people of the world could choose (at least theoretically) which ideology they wanted to consume; there were two poles, and there was much in-between. The Soviet Union led a communist bloc of countries which represented a global challenge, as the traditional powers of Europe and the emerging American nation now faced a competing ideology in Communism. That meant the Capitalist West had to win customers, it needed to offer incentives; it needed a good product. The hybrid economics of John Maynard Keynes (Keynesianism) was borne out of the need for capitalism to compete. The US under President Roosevelt brought in a series of domestic programs under the New Deal not only to address the desperation of the Great Depression but to undercut a powerful movement of US citizens who, having been dealt a savage blow by the unregulated free market, were demanding a different political, economic and societal model. Some wanted a radically different one: in the 1932 presidential elections, one million Americans voted for Socialist or Communist candidates.
It was in this context that American industrialists grudgingly accepted Roosevelt’s New Deal. The edges of the market needed to be softened with public sector jobs and by making sure no one went hungry – the very future of capitalism was at stake. During the Cold War, no country in the free world was immune to this pressure. In fact, the achievements of mid-century capitalism in the US – worker’s protections, pensions, public health care and state support for the poorest citizens – all grew out of the same pragmatic need to make major concessions in the face of a powerful left. Carolyn Eisenberg, author of an acclaimed history of the Marshall Plan, points out that this approach was not born of altruism, “The Soviet Union was a loaded gun.” When Soviet Russia and effectively the Communist ideology finally crumbled to liberalisation in 1991, the world was a very different place – the free market now had a global monopoly.
Unilateral World & “The End of History”
In the summer of 1989, the American magazine the National Interest published an essay with the strikingly bold title “The End of History?” Its author, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, announced that the great ideological battles between east and west were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed. With anti-communist protests sweeping across the former Soviet Union, the essay seemed right on the money. From a state of military multipolarity (1815-1945), the world had transferred to one of bipolarity (1945-1989), to the current situation of unipolarity. Fukuyama became an unlikely star of political science, dubbed the “court philosopher of global capitalism” by John Gray. When his book The End of History and the Last Man appeared three years later, the qualifying question mark was gone.
Fukuyama was talking about ideas rather than events. He believed that Western liberal democracy, with its attempted balance of liberty and equality, could not be bettered; that its attainment would lead to a general calming in world affairs; and that in the long run it would be the only credible game in town. “What we are witnessing,” he wrote, “is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
So, while there might be a few clean-up battles—nationalist uprisings here or there, a few communist states yet to collapse (North Korea or Cuba) and a few reactionary sectarian regimes still kicking around (see Iran)—the seemingly inevitable path for humanity was markets, individual rights and politicians chosen by the masses. As a result, the West possesses an intellectual leadership over other nations despite Russia’s pretensions. Unlike the Soviet era in which the Russian state actively worked to propagate its ideology far and wide, Russia no longer offers a comprehensive way of life to challenge US hegemony or trouble it domestically.
For a long time Fukayama’s argument proved oddly resilient to challenges from the left. Neoliberalism has been pretty hegemonic. Over the last three years, however, in a belated reaction to the 2008 bank bailouts, cracks have started to appear. Global Occupy protests and demonstrations against austerity have led many commentators on the left – including the French philosopher Alain Badiou in The Rebirth of History and Seumas Milne in his collection of essays The Revenge of History – to wonder whether history is on the march once again. “What is going on?” asks Badiou. “The continuation, at all costs, of a weary world? A salutary crisis of that world, racked by its victorious expansion? The end of that world? The advent of a different world?” He tentatively regards the uprisings of 2011 as profound events, with the potential to usher in a new political order. For Milne, likewise, developments such as the failure of the US to “democratise” Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crash demonstrate the “passing of the unipolar moment”.
Twenty-five years after that essay and thirteen years after 9/11 , it is time to revisit Fukuyama’s prediction. He wrote, “In the contemporary world only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism.” Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and what many fear is its apparent threat to invade Ukraine, has dominated international attention since the crisis erupted – despite this, astute political observers have maintained their focus on events unfolding in Syria. In his recent article, Guardian foreign affairs columnist Simon Tisdall noted, “the catastrophe now taking place in and around Syria ranks as a fundamental challenge and threat to the current world order” stating the primary reason being the jihadist rebels who “are united in their opposition to Western values and interests.” Before mentioning the potential repercussions for the Muslim world and beyond he states, “Forget Ukraine, Syria is now the world’s biggest threat.”
The Green Scare
Ultimately, it is the prospect of Islam as a comprehensive ideology with active ambassadors who work to propagate it that poses the real challenge. The Red Scare of Communist fear and radical leftism has now been replaced with the ‘Green Scare’ of Islam and its Shari’ah. What would typically be referred to as a legitimate armed struggle against a brutal regime is now seen through a different lens as the Islamic inclination of the rebel movement became more apparent. Muslims in the West find their support for Syrian resistance resulting in numerous cases of unfair allegations and investigative techniques that hark back to American McCarthyism; thousands of US citizens were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies.
Without a governing system consistent with the Islamic belief, Muslims have been incapable of influencing the global situation effectively since the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate. In this light, the Syrian rejection of numerous Western backed-proposals hatched up in Brussels indicates a paradigm shift. The Islamic creed already has resonance with nearly two billion people – the thought of extracting and applying its rules and systems once again, thereby allowing an alternative framework by which people regulate all their affairs is intolerable to those who have enjoyed the status quo.
Clash of Civilisations: Revisted
Samuel P. Huntington, author of “The Clash of Civilisations” suggested that in the future the central axis of world politics will tend to be the conflict between Western and non-Western civilizations. He offered general actions that a non-Western civilization can take in response to Western countries that included “band-wagoning” and accepting liberal values. For those that wanted to preserve their own values he argued that the cost of this action is high and only a few states can pursue it. The Muslims of Syria have already paid a high price and worryingly for the West, there are no signs of abating.
Ultimately then the current crisis in Crimea does not represent an ideological challenge to global capitalism, whereas the aspiration for Islam in the Muslim world represents an alternate vision for society. The demolishing of the artificial boarders created by the Sykes-Picot agreement, leadership that aspires to look after Muslim interests as opposed to Western interests, an alternative ideological paradigm for ethics, politics and economy, this represents the potential clash of civilisations and the threat to the current world order under capitalism.
This unique civilisation (hadara) would not only seek to take leadership of over two billion Muslims under a State, Al Khilafah, but would then seek to propagate this intellectual leadership for Islam to the rest of the world.
“The grinding wheel of Islam is turning. So, turn with it wherever it turns.” [Tabarani]