Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Hundred Years that Changed the World

Last night Turner Classic Movies showed a three hour film titled, in defiance of the rules of syntax ‘Fifty-Five Days At Peking’.

Aside from remarking what a handsome man Charlton Heston was in 1963, I found it impossible not to dwell on the fact that in just a century, China went from being a victim of the West to being on track to rule the world. (Incidentally looking up The Boxer Rebellion of 1901, recounted in the film, I discovered that Chinese Muslim troops played a major role in the 55 Day Peking Battle, being armed with more modern weapons than the Imperial Army that was trying to defeat the eight Western countries making unreasonable demands on Inperial China. Though I was multi-tasking during the second half of the film I believe this aspect of the conflict was ignored.)

These days, the popular expression ‘what goes around comes around’ is an understatement: not only is China set to become the biggest world economy, the Arab Muslim world vaulted onto the world stage with a bang, and together these two groups are recasting the world scene.

As part of this phenomenon, another country being portrayed by the Western press as both backward and a mortal threat to the world via nuclear weapons, Iran is hosting the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Teheran. The irony is further illustrated by the fact that it is Egypt that is handing over the presidency of the organization to Iran, and that Egypt’s new President Mohamed Morsi, will attend. Modern Egypt’s most famous president, Nasser, was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, together with Yugoslavia's president, Tito; India's first prime minister, Nehru; Ghana's first president Nkrumah; and Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, all of whom advocated a middle course for states in the Developing World between the Western and Eastern blocs in the Cold War.

Although the movement has been little in the news in recent years, the main ideas behind it, of equality between nations and the peaceful resolution of disputes, have been reinvigorated by the phenomenon of globalization that succeeded the Cold War as the main threat to peace. Over 100 countries representing 55% of the world’s population and 26% of world GDP are attending the Teheran Summit, as is Ban-ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary General - who was pressured not to do so by the U.S. and Israel.

Like most of the movement’s members, India was formerly a basket case. Now it is one of the rapidly developing nations known as the BRICS, and is a full participant in the event. Russia on the other hand appears to be absent, perhaps to emphasize that it doesn’t need to be aligned or non-aligned with anybody. (The other two BRIC nations, Brazil and China are attending the conference as observers, with China’s stance corresponding to its active economic role in many developing countries.)

Iran’s timing couldn’t be more appropriate in terms of growing threats by the West over its nuclear program, as the American presidential election draws near. But the financial crisis that is hitting the West much harder than the BRIC countries also makes this show of solidarity more than half of the world’s population as stunning as China’s leap from famine to fame. Unfortunately, it is not only the Democratic and Republican Party Conventions, but also a supine media that prevents Americans from seeing the tectonic shift under way from a Western dominated world that never believed in the lofty ideals of the United Nations, to one that knows they are our only hope.


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