Asian Leaders Show A Way Out of the ‘Hell’ Let Loose

By Kalinga Seneviratne* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

SINGAPORE (IDN) – In 2003 when U.S. President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were contemplating invading Iraq based on the now discredited claims of Iraqi President Saddam Hussien possessing “weapons of mass destruction”, the then Arab League chief Amr Moussa warned that such an action would “open the gates of hell” in the Middle East.

Today, not only Iraq, but also many of its neighbours such as Syria, Palestine and Libya have descended into the “hell” Moussa predicted. Yet, the West seems blind to it and is repeating the same mistakes again, lacking the wisdom to understand that the threat the West argues needs to be neutralized, is coming from the “hell” they themselves created.

Six months after invading Iraq, in September 2003, President Bush addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) said that the U.S. and its allies were fighting “a global movement of violent extremists” and in September 2014 President Barack Obama used almost identical words when he said that the U.S. will work with a broad coalition to “dismantle this network of death”.

It was Iranian President Hasan Rouhani who tried to introduce some wisdom into those coalition builders that are increasingly looking like the blind leading the blind. Describing his country as an “anchor of stability in an otherwise ocean of regional instabilities”, he noted that a “few actors still tend to rely on archaic and deeply ineffective ways and means to preserve their old superiority and domination.”

“Militarism and the recourse to violent and military means to subjugate others are failed examples of the perpetuation of old ways in new circumstances,” warned President Rouhani. “Ignoring differences between societies and globalizing Western values as universal ones represent another manifestation of this conceptual mindset,” he added.

The Iranian President argued that this mindset is a danger to world peace. “The strategic violence, which is manifested in the efforts to deprive regional players from their natural domain of action, containment policies, regime change from outside, and the efforts towards redrawing of political borders and frontiers, is extremely dangerous and provocative,” he added.

Another Muslim leader, Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono relayed a similar note of wisdom in his UNGA speech on September 24. Recalling the 1960s when the Southeast Asian region was poor, divided and insecure and threatened by a war raging in the neighbourhood (that was fuelled by the U.S. and its allies’ desire to fight communism), he pointed out that the establishment of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) developed the “habits of dialogue and consultation and (they) learned to trust one another”.

“Today, those once-divided countries belong to ASEAN and were all drivers of regional affairs. They had peacefully resolved a number of sensitive inter-State and intra-State conflicts, while others were being addressed through dialogue and negotiation,” he pointed out to the members of UN.

President Yudhoyono, who described the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) ideology as “antidote to poison” offered some wisdom from the East where Indonesia has shown that democracy, Islam, modernity and human rights can go together. He hoped that the “pioneering spirit”, which had allowed Indonesia to open a new chapter of non-violent relations with Timor-Leste and peacefully resolve its overlapping maritime borders with Viet Nam, the Philippines and Singapore, among others, would be the same pioneering spirit “that could aid the international community in conquering poverty and social injustice, and in creating a culture of peace among all faiths”.

President Obama, who spent much of his childhood in Indonesia, acknowledged in his UNGA speech the contribution the two Muslim countries in South East Asia could make to resolving some of the problems in the Middle East.  He pointed out, that, in Malaysia, “vibrant entrepreneurship is propelling a former colony into the ranks of advanced economies” while in neighbouring Indonesia, “what began as a violent transition has evolved into a genuine democracy”.

Learning from the East

So why are the U.S. and its western allies unable or unwilling to learn from the East?

Perhaps, President Rouhani has the answer. “The discourse assigning the North the center stage and relegating the South to the periphery has led to the establishment of a monologue at the level of international relations,” he told the UNGA, adding that it is reflected in the persistence of Cold War mentality and bi-polar division of the world into “superior us” and “inferior others”.

Lebanon’s President Tammam Salam said his country was facing a “terrorist onslaught” from “criminal groups” let loose by the region’s descent into hell. In addition, the Syrian war had displaced 1.5 million Syrians into Lebanon, equivalent to one third of its total population. Lebanon’s national economic growth had dropped to zero, causing the country a loss of $7.5 billion. He said that it was a national disaster and “the burden of Syrian refugees could not be borne by any one country, but must be shared”.

In August, the UN Refugee agency said that for the first time, they were sending food aid to Libya, to help tens of thousands of people displaced by weeks of fighting in Tripoli. The city is facing severe fuel and power shortages and this has disrupted the distribution of basic goods and supplies. According to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, at least 2 million people may be at risk of food shortages if the fighting continues in Libya.

Until western intervention for regime change under the dubious Right to Protect (R2P) formula, both Syria and Libya were stable, well governed countries, though ruled by authoritarian leaders not any different to those in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, who are close U.S. allies in its war against ISIS today.

An articulate Iraqi blogger, known as ‘Baghdad Burning’ who moved to Syria after the 2003 U.S. invasion of his country and now lives in another Arab city, was recently quoted by London’s Guardian newspaper thus: “We learned that you can be floating on a sea of oil, but your people can be destitute. Your city can be an open sewer; your women and children can be eating out of trash dumps and begging for money in foreign lands.”

Is’nt this what hell is supposed to be? Now that the Gods from the West have been instrumental in creating this hell on earth, would it be time that we listened to some wisdom from the East?

“In the past, the international community had launched wars against it without planning for peace. It had attacked one evil only to see a greater evil emerge,” observed Malaysian Prime Minister Najob Razak in his address to UNGA.

“Malaysia”, he said, “had marginalized extremism, maintaining a multi-religious country, where different faiths coexisted and prospered, and showed that Islam could not only succeed, but drive progress and development in a pluralistic society.”

Well it may be time for the West to learn from the experiences in Asia in creating socially harmonious societies, rather than dismissing these as authoritarian states.

*Kalinga Seneviratne is IDN Special Correspondent for Asia-Pacific. He teaches international communications in Singapore. [IDN-InDepthNews – September 29, 2014]

The writer’s previous IDN articles:

Top left photo: Iranian President Hasan Rouhani | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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