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Martin Jacques
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Website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1217365,00.html
Website title: Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Our moral Waterloo

Martin Jacques
Saturday May 15, 2004

The Guardian

Underpinning the argument in support of the invasion of Iraq has been the
idea of the moral virtue of the west. In contrast to Saddam Hussein's brutal
dictatorship, the "coalition" espouses the values of democracy and human
rights. The invasion of Iraq represented the high watermark of western moral
virtue. In retrospect, it is clear that the idea had been gaining momentum
since two coincidental events in the 1970s: the end of the Vietnam war,
which profoundly scarred the reputation of the United States, and the
beginning of the modern era of globalisation. With Vietnam out of the way,
and globalisation the new bearer of western and, above all, American values,
the latter found an ever-expanding global audience, a process enormously
boosted by the collapse of communism....

Such was the shift in the ideological climate that the new imperialism
gained a band of adherents from the liberal wing of politics, as it had in
the late 19th century. They not only regarded the US as the only game in
town; more importantly, they saw it as the embodiment of virtue in a failed
or failing world. Michael Ignatieff, one of this new breed of liberal
imperialists, argues in his recent book, Empire: "The movements of national
liberation that swept through the African and Asian worlds in the 1950s,
seeking emancipation from colonial rule, have now run their course and in
many cases have failed to deliver on their promise to rule more fairly than
the colonial oppressors of the past." And later: "For every nationalist
struggle that succeeds in giving its people self-determination and dignity,
there are more that only deliver their people up to a self-immolating
slaughter, terror, enforced partition and failure."

Historically speaking, this is nonsense. Asia is home to 60% of the world's
population and has few failing states: in East Asia, where one-third live,
there are almost none, and many extremely successful ones. But let that
pass. Ignatieff perfectly illustrates the belief in western moral virtue:
the newly-independent world (viz, the societies of other races and cultures)
has largely failed, consequently it is the US's moral duty, and historic
mission, to save these nations from themselves. For half a century,
following the second world war and the rise of the anti-colonial movement,
only diehard colonialists would have voiced such sentiments - such has the
ideological wheel turned.

But for how long? Iraq has proved a rude awakening. Already the west has
been reminded by growing Iraqi resistance of the forgotten lesson of the
anti-colonial period, that people of different races and cultures do not
want to be ruled by an alien power from the other side of the world.
Meanwhile, the revelations of widespread criminal behaviour by American and
British troops are a poignant illustration of the fact that "western moral
virtue" is only one element of the western story.

President Bush claimed last week: "People seeing those pictures didn't
understand the true nature and heart of America." On the contrary, they are
an integral part of its "true nature and heart": a society that was built on
the destruction of the indigenous peoples; that practised racial segregation
until 40 years ago; that still incarcerates many of its young black people;
that killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese; that has a messianic belief
in the applicability of its own values to the rest of the world; that is
willing to impose its model by force; that believes itself to be above
international law. These too are American values. In this light, the
behaviour of the US forces, nurturing a deep sense of racial superiority
combined with a disdain for international law, is entirely predictable.

The growing sense of crisis that now pervades the Anglo-American occupation
of Iraq could well herald a global shift in perceptions about the "moral
virtue of the west". The idea that the coalition was a force for liberation
rather than occupation is already a distant memory and is becoming more
absurd by the day. There is, though, another and different reason that may
lie behind such a growing shift in perceptions. The emergence of the US as
the world's sole superpower, which has commanded such worldwide attention,
represents only one aspect of a much more complex global picture.

The sudden collapse of European communism, together with US military might
and the emergence of the Bush doctrine, has served to highlight the
extraordinary power of the US. But another trend over the past
quarter-century, which is at least as important - and, in the longer run, is
likely to be more important - is the economic rise of East Asia, above all
China, and also India, which between them constitute almost 40% of the
world's population. The power and influence of western values was a
consequence of, and has ultimately always depended upon, the economic
strength of the west. The rise of China as a key global player, and probably
the next superpower, will be the prelude to the growing global influence of
Chinese values. Further down the road, the same can be said of India.

Western hubris hitherto has seen the economic growth of these countries as
simply an affirmation of growing western influence. Countless BBC news items
coo about how western the Chinese are becoming. Well, yes, in some respects,
but in others not at all. Modernity is not just composed of technology and
markets, it is embedded in and shaped by culture. We will slowly wake up to
the fact that the west no longer has a monopoly of modernity - that there
are other modernities, not just ours. The story of the next quarter-century
will not simply be about American hyper-power, but the rise of Asian power
and values.

The invasion of Iraq may well come to be seen as the apogee of the idea of
the "moral virtue of the west". One year of occupation has already
profoundly eroded that claim. If 9/11 and its aftermath - not to mention
Ignatieff and kindred spirits - suggest that we have entered a simple world
of American power and moral virtue, a more balanced view of global
development suggests that we stand on the eve of a very different world, in
which western values will be contested far more vigorously than at any time
since the rise of Europe five centuries ago. It is true, of course, that
communism, especially in its heyday, represented a profound challenge to
western values, but the nature of this threat was always political rather
than cultural: and culture is far more powerful than politics.

Martin Jacques is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics
Asian Research Centre

<Martin Jacques
Saturday May 15, 2004

The Guardian

Underpinning the argument in support of the invasion of Iraq has been the
idea of the moral virtue of the west. In contrast to Saddam Hussein's brutal
dictatorship, the "coalition" espouses the values of democracy and human
rights. The invasion of Iraq represented the high watermark of western moral
virtue. In retrospect, it is clear that the idea had been gaining momentum
since two coincidental events in the 1970s: the end of the Vietnam war,
which profoundly scarred the reputation of the United States, and the
beginning of the modern era of globalisation. With Vietnam out of the way,
and globalisation the new bearer of western and, above all, American values,
the latter found an ever-expanding global audience, a process enormously
boosted by the collapse of communism....

Such was the shift in the ideological climate that the new imperialism
gained a band of adherents from the liberal wing of politics, as it had in
the late 19th century. They not only regarded the US as the only game in
town; more importantly, they saw it as the embodiment of virtue in a failed
or failing world. Michael Ignatieff, one of this new breed of liberal
imperialists, argues in his recent book, Empire: "The movements of national
liberation that swept through the African and Asian worlds in the 1950s,
seeking emancipation from colonial rule, have now run their course and in
many cases have failed to deliver on their promise to rule more fairly than
the colonial oppressors of the past." And later: "For every nationalist
struggle that succeeds in giving its people self-determination and dignity,
there are more that only deliver their people up to a self-immolating
slaughter, terror, enforced partition and failure."

Historically speaking, this is nonsense. Asia is home to 60% of the world's
population and has few failing states: in East Asia, where one-third live,
there are almost none, and many extremely successful ones. But let that
pass. Ignatieff perfectly illustrates the belief in western moral virtue:
the newly-independent world (viz, the societies of other races and cultures)
has largely failed, consequently it is the US's moral duty, and historic
mission, to save these nations from themselves. For half a century,
following the second world war and the rise of the anti-colonial movement,
only diehard colonialists would have voiced such sentiments - such has the
ideological wheel turned.

But for how long? Iraq has proved a rude awakening. Already the west has
been reminded by growing Iraqi resistance of the forgotten lesson of the
anti-colonial period, that people of different races and cultures do not
want to be ruled by an alien power from the other side of the world.
Meanwhile, the revelations of widespread criminal behaviour by American and
British troops are a poignant illustration of the fact that "western moral
virtue" is only one element of the western story.

President Bush claimed last week: "People seeing those pictures didn't
understand the true nature and heart of America." On the contrary, they are
an integral part of its "true nature and heart": a society that was built on
the destruction of the indigenous peoples; that practised racial segregation
until 40 years ago; that still incarcerates many of its young black people;
that killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese; that has a messianic belief
in the applicability of its own values to the rest of the world; that is
willing to impose its model by force; that believes itself to be above
international law. These too are American values. In this light, the
behaviour of the US forces, nurturing a deep sense of racial superiority
combined with a disdain for international law, is entirely predictable.

The growing sense of crisis that now pervades the Anglo-American occupation
of Iraq could well herald a global shift in perceptions about the "moral
virtue of the west". The idea that the coalition was a force for liberation
rather than occupation is already a distant memory and is becoming more
absurd by the day. There is, though, another and different reason that may
lie behind such a growing shift in perceptions. The emergence of the US as
the world's sole superpower, which has commanded such worldwide attention,
represents only one aspect of a much more complex global picture.

The sudden collapse of European communism, together with US military might
and the emergence of the Bush doctrine, has served to highlight the
extraordinary power of the US. But another trend over the past
quarter-century, which is at least as important - and, in the longer run, is
likely to be more important - is the economic rise of East Asia, above all
China, and also India, which between them constitute almost 40% of the
world's population. The power and influence of western values was a
consequence of, and has ultimately always depended upon, the economic
strength of the west. The rise of China as a key global player, and probably
the next superpower, will be the prelude to the growing global influence of
Chinese values. Further down the road, the same can be said of India.

Western hubris hitherto has seen the economic growth of these countries as
simply an affirmation of growing western influence. Countless BBC news items
coo about how western the Chinese are becoming. Well, yes, in some respects,
but in others not at all. Modernity is not just composed of technology and
markets, it is embedded in and shaped by culture. We will slowly wake up to
the fact that the west no longer has a monopoly of modernity - that there
are other modernities, not just ours. The story of the next quarter-century
will not simply be about American hyper-power, but the rise of Asian power
and values.

The invasion of Iraq may well come to be seen as the apogee of the idea of
the "moral virtue of the west". One year of occupation has already
profoundly eroded that claim. If 9/11 and its aftermath - not to mention
Ignatieff and kindred spirits - suggest that we have entered a simple world
of American power and moral virtue, a more balanced view of global
development suggests that we stand on the eve of a very different world, in
which western values will be contested far more vigorously than at any time
since the rise of Europe five centuries ago. It is true, of course, that
communism, especially in its heyday, represented a profound challenge to
western values, but the nature of this threat was always political rather
than cultural: and culture is far more powerful than politics.

Martin Jacques is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics
Asian Research Centre

<http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1217365,00.html>
>



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