16 April 2024 08:20 AM



Walls of Distrust and Hate Threaten the Global Village

Marshall McLuhan’s seminal concept of “Global Village” got a fillip in the early 90’s with the utopian innocence that followed the end of the cold war and the boom of the internet that threated a certain cultural, commercial and societal morphology that could make the borders, irrelevant.

The fall of the Berlin Wall typified the euphoric spirit of eliminating man-made hurdles and celebrated the triumph of collectivism, inclusivity and interdependence. In the “us-versus-them” slugfest till then, “them” had been squarely defeated and was on a self-destruct mode with the subsequent implosions in the vast tracts of the Caucus - the new mutations of “them”, had yet to arrive.

The 90’s saw the emergence of political leadership “reaching-out” internationally like the poet-dissenter in Vaclav Havel in Czech Republic, the “opening-up” of the economy in India by then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, the return of the democrats after 12 years in the USA with Bill Clinton promising, “It’s time to change America”. And even the supposed “rogue” nations like Iran saw the advent of a pragmatist-reformist in Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – suddenly, the days of the international “Statesmanship” loomed large with the brewing prospects of a “Nehru-Tito-Nasser” on the political horizon.

The fire in the Middle East was against putative dictators and not against “Islam”, as yet, and the terms like “Global Highway” were eliminating commercial intermediaries, bureaucracies and the blocs like EU and ASEAN were replacing the security-treaty-led, ghosts of NATO and WARSAW with an incestuous inter-mingling that promised better days. Even in India, the reign of the principal opposition party in the form of the right-wing and nationalistic BJP was swerving towards the pacifism and the inclusive leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as opposed to the alternative of the “Iron Man”, LK Advani.

Cut to 2016. On 27 July 2016, the RCP Poll in the USA tracked a 45.7 to 44.6 lead in favour of the Republican Donald Trump versus the Democrat Hillary Clinton, in the race to the most important office in the world, POTUSA. This stark reality in the ostensible “land of the free” is that it has dangerously swerved towards a man who infamously said, “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words”. Horrifically, even today more than 40% of American populace prefers his ideology, thoughts and approach to make America great!

This spirit of exclusivism and protectionism is sweeping continental Europe too – growing economic disillusionment, migrant concerns and constraints imposed by EU (e.g. Brexit) have resulted in the sudden rise of the populist, right-wing and neo-fascist parties. Donald Trump’s “America First” finds echoes in Austria’s anti-immigrant and uber-nationalistic, Freedom Party that beseeches, “Austria First”!

The top 5 countries in the “Democracy Ranking” in the world that tracks the “quality” of democracy with progressive parameters are in Europe i.e. Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Without exception, all these five countries have seen a sharp turn to the extreme-right in politics and growing preference. Even Germany’s Angela Merkel vowed not to make the same “mistake” of her open door immigration policy in a desperate bid to win back, fleeing electorates. Whereas, in France the rising stars of Marine Le Pen could potentially translate into the country’s first far-right President, who promises “Frexit” and had stated that it was not possible for French-born Muslims to be “truly French”, since they did not share France’s Christian “traditions and values”. Clearly, protectionism, xenophobia and authoritarianism are gaining currency and empathy.

Similarly, Asia’s tryst with political and cultural illiberalism is on a quagmire of unprecedented regression. From the iron-hand treatment of dissent in Turkey, religious fanaticism spanning Israel to Aceh in Malaysia, continued belligerence by the Chinese, intolerance in the Central Asian countries to even the blatant reneging of the “special friendship” between the US and the Philippines, where the incumbent President, Rodrigo Duterte felt it appropriate to say, “Son of a whore. I will curse you in the forum”, to the US President – the winds of populism and extremity are sweeping the globe (incidentally, the approval ratings for the Filipino President is in the vicinity of 90% approval, domestically!).

This spirit is also consuming the economic realm with the G-20 summit calling on the world community to enhance access and end protectionism and isolationism – suddenly the populist walls of divisiveness and fearful rhetoric are choking the arteries that lead up to the promised, “Global Village”.

The lines between jingoism and nationalism have blurred with secularism, intellectualism and liberalism perceived to be political weakness that need to be overcome. Deep sense of insecurity and potential deprivation is giving rise to religion, exclusive protectionism and populist policies that promises a “quick-fix” to fundamental problems.

The “left” is a dying political position and the “centrist” is perceived to be an apologetic, meek and irresolute philosophy – so, the need to sound confident and muscular to “deal with situations” is forcing the political leadership towards hard-right (whereas, the dispossessed often retaliate with an equally dangerous and utopian extreme-left, as in the case of the “red corridor” that runs through nearly 150 districts in the heart of India).

A latent fear of cultural, religious and national domination is resulting in the violent reassertion of “identities” that works against the assumed “enrichment with diversity”, as envisaged in a Global Village. In such an environment even progressive cultural necessities like a “Swadeshi” movement, acquires a protectionist dimension instead of a celebratory or a revivalist undertone.

If communication and information was the bedrock of an integrated and inclusive Global Village – it is the disinformation (and the rapid dissemination of the same) that is threatening the applecart of a “Global Village”. Ironically, it is the very features of a participative democracy with its tenure-based outlook that is fanning the fire of populism and “quick fixes” – Statesmanship is passé, and a new strain of illiberal protectionists are winning the popularity stakes. Again, the walls of distrust and hatred are coming up and the “village” is coming apart.

(Lt General Bhopinder Singh, Retired, also served as Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)