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The Rest cannot be passive spectators

While the European powers fought among themselves, Asian, African and Arab nations were the oppressed majority whose resources were used to enrich the West. Developing countries should counter the West’s dominance by taking a more active role in world affairs.

ht-view Updated: Sep 09, 2014 23:22 IST
Chandran Nair
Chandran Nair

Imagine a bomb going off in a European city or an American city and a pregnant woman being killed by the blast. The unborn baby is somehow saved but is critical. The mother is buried and her family pins all hopes on the baby’s survival.

Five days later the little one dies. We are all left cold. This happened last month but you probably haven’t heard of it despite the 24-hour TV news and social media.

You didn’t hear because the victims were not from a Western nation but instead were Palestinians in Gaza — meaning they were only Arabs, Muslims, supporters of terrorism and undeserving of your sympathy.

Contrast this with Boston, London, and Bali where all acts of violence against innocent civilians were covered in great detail by the international media.

But you will not hear much about Shaymah and her baby. There are obviously many more nameless ones.

How did we become mindless consumers of news riddled with lies and distortions? It starts with understanding the nature of the geopolitical struggle between the West and the Rest. Recent events prompt a reflection of global history that shaped the modern world.

As the West commemorates the start of World War I in 1914, it is telling how the broader global canvas on which the war took place is obscured.

For instance, almost 90% of Africa was ruled by European powers in 1914. And yet there are no significant commemorations for thousands of Africans, Chinese, Indians and others who died fighting in wars they had no stake in.

The truth is that while the European powers fought among themselves, Asian, African and Arab nations were the oppressed majority whose resources were used to enrich the West.

After the two World Wars an exhausted Europe was forced to end colonialism. It was, however, an incomplete liberation for developing countries because the Europeans handed over the reins of power to the US.

Washington has since shaped the global narrative about a new era of peace and world order to suit its interests.

It created global institutions and rules including the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and a pliable international media. The current world order was created to hand the US in particular an ‘exorbitant privilege’.

Once the system was established, the rest of the West was roped in. Events in recent months have made it clear again that the West seeks to carve a geopolitical position that pits it against the Rest.

It is instructive to compare West Asia with the recent events in Ukraine where the Russians are accused of supplying arms to rebels, causing death and destruction which the Americans and Europeans are outraged about.

This is despite the fact that the West supplied arms to all and sundry, including dictators in West Asia, resulting in the deaths of thousands.

The West has also been the main supplier of arms to Israel. The week that Shaymah died, the US senate agreed to resupply weapons to Israel and approved further funds to the tune of $250 million.

No European government put pressure on the US to call for sanctions or war crimes proceedings as has been the case with Russia. The rest of the world, and Asia in particular, should no longer sit back as horrified spectators.

They need to stop being passive and take action. This is necessary despite the West’s reluctance to renounce its self-appointed global role as moral guardians.

We ought to remember that moral exemplars like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were branded as terrorists by the West before being embraced.

Some of us understand and will no longer remain silent as compliant bystanders simply because we are the Rest.

Chandran Nair is founder and CEO, Global Institute for Tomorrow, a Hong Kong-based think-tank
The views expressed by the author are personal