Watching the tragic events unfolding around the world, from starvation in Somalia to rioting in London, we are not feeling vindicated, merely sad and angry. For a long time many of us have said that the increasing chasm between the rich and the poor (the haves and the have nots) has grown to obscene levels. The Soviet Union had in many ways replaced the chasm between workers and owners of capital to a chasm between elites of the communist system and millions of impoverished people. But the cold war had reined-in unrestrained privatization and capitalism in the third world. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, a vacuum was created and the greedy capitalists moved in. In the privatization mania in the 1990s, the wealth of nations was replaced with the debts of nations. With the help of the IMF and the World Bank (with key connections to Israel), third world countries were saddled with debts that were in some cases many times the size of their GDP.
Moreover, the capitalist mania affected countries large and small. In Russia, the phenomenon stripped Russia of its natural wealth to put billions in the hands of oligarchs, most of whom ended up in Israel as Russia tried to reclaim some of its plundered wealth. In Greece, the debt and government expenditures could not be sustained by the tourism industry (itself shrinking world-wide as the middle class shrinks). Spain, Portugal and Italy also have massive fiscal problems.
In the Arab world, the Arab spring turned into a bloody summer. Dictators thought that if they were more brutal they could survive longer than the dictators of Egypt and Tunisia. But people also have no clear alternatives and some of these revolutions need to take time to hold meetings and plan for “the day after”.
The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu (whose family is from the US), pushed for privatization in his first term of office in 1996 and 1997 and continued on this track with his current extreme right-wing coalition. The more moderate and reasonable Israelis saw the damage that this was inflicting and a small uprising has now ensued with 300,000 out on the streets. Protesters’ demands include social and economic equality. The Israeli stock market plunged in line with markets around the world. There is a price to be paid for spending billions on apartheid walls while 25% of your population lives below the poverty line.
There is a price to be paid when the US wages a $3 trillion war on Iraq (to control oil and to help Zionism) and other costly wars on Afghanistan, costly help to Israel, and so on. The US is on the debt rack and lives beyond its means (as China rightly pointed out). The value of the US dollar plunges and the price of gold, now standing at $1754 an ounce, will keep going up.
Around the world, prices of commodities and basics (food, housing, etc.) go up while incomes do not even grow as fast as the rate of inflation. The worst is yet to come as countries grapple with the widening social and economic gaps brought about by misplaced priorities which allocate trillions to the military and leaves crumbs for food, education and healthcare.
As the world spirals seemingly out of control, millions of Palestinians are remarkably quiet and philosophical about these things. We used to lead social transformation and provide models for transformation and challenges to oppressive regimes. The PLO leadership used to help mediate conflicts around the world but under the new unelected leadership they cannot even solve the conflicts between Fatah and Hamas, a prerequisite for progress. It seems that after decades of challenging the system, the older generation of Palestinians have become tired and weary, but a new generation arises, inevitably. This has happened repeatedly with each uprising; so far there have been 15 or more uprisings, in waves 7-15 years apart. But still, many people are right to see that peace in Palestine is critical to peace around the world. This is not only because it is so obscenely wrong to keep denying 11 million people their basic human rights. It is also because billions around the world believe in Christianity and Islam and they will not continue to allow a few Zionists in power centres to foment conflict and war to avoid facing reality.
We are in the middle of a transition in global power, a global intifada that I wrote about last year. The old centres of global power in Russia, Europe and North America (and by extension Eurocentric Ashkenazi-led Israel) will lose power and new emerging powers will take their place. There is a shift taking place, from the “north” to the “south”. All global transitions of power in the past 4,000 years involved tremendous dislocation, pain and upheaval. Population trends (ageing among Euro-Caucasian populations around the world, growing in other countries) and the impending global environmental disaster will accelerate the trend.
As activists who care about fellow human beings and our Earth, we must help move things in the right direction by minimizing the pain of transition while not standing in its way.
For those who are religious, they can use scriptural texts which deal with that and disregard the fanatical aspects of their faiths. From the Torah, they can take “What does God require of us: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God” and discard the tribalistic notions where God gives licence to murder the other. From the New Testament, take the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called Children of God” and ignore the notions of salvation being unique to those with certain beliefs. From the Quran, take the statements about no compulsion in religion and disregard the notions of religious superiority.
For those who are not religious, a reading of history and social transformations can show indeed the natural transformation of societies and give equally valuable lessons. We can emphasize how we achieved good things such as ending slavery and ending many wars and gaining civil and women’s rights.
The choices we make must be rooted in morality, justice, and caring for one another, especially the most vulnerable sectors of our society. We have an untapped reservoir of ingenuity, resources, and beauty to more than make-up for the ugliness around. Humanity which creates great science, great art, great music, and great social movements can surely cope. We just have to believe in each other and more importantly act on our beliefs.
*Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh teaches and does research at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities in occupied Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.