Fang Fang (Real Name – Fang Wang), a known literary figure in Wuhan which is widely accepted as the origin of the COVID-19 virus, chronicled difficulties citizens faced during the Wuhan lockdown imposed by CCP in China. She occasionally criticized the government officials for misreporting the data or inefficient handling of the pandemic. Chinese citizens are now baying for her blood for her perceived disloyalty to the motherland and she faces frequent death threats and humiliation along with persecution and harassment for her mild criticism of the state which is increasingly seen indistinguishable from the nation itself.
China is not the only country to witness a stunning comeback of high decibel and increasingly menacing nationalism which is taking over the world. India is increasingly synonymous with Modi, Russia with Putin, Turkey with Erdogan, Japan with Shinjo Abe, and China with Xi Jinping. The emergence of strong leaders around the world is increasing frictional politics which is risking the hard-fought stability of the world after World War II.
Nationalism which swept Europe in the first half of the 20th century was a product of competition between leading the European nations in the age of colonization. Germany, Italy, and Russia which remained laggard in colonizing Asia, Africa & the Americas while minnows such as Spain, the UK, and Portugal raced ahead in a frenzied race of loot and plunder of riches from fertile lands of Asia, Africa, and Americas; was a perfect political issue to drum up nationalism by opportune leaders like Kaibur, Wilhelm Kaisar, Stalin, Hitler & Mussolini. Ordinary citizens were reminded of their glorious civilization through relentless propaganda, an innocuous finding from Darwin about evolution was twisted to promote concepts of racial superiority over others and war hysteria to wrest their racial right to rule was whipped up into rage and frenzy. Invocation to glorious cultural past and racial superiority were the single most effective instruments in leading masses astray into war hysteria by these leaders. The initial outburst of racial pride and superiority resulted in improved production and achievements in various fields as an outcome of motivated citizens who were eager to put in long hours and hard yards to showcase their national superiority. This further reinforced the inevitability of the divine right to rule the world. Inflated egos and irrational pride in own being led the world to an unprecedented disaster where millions were butchered, gassed, blown- up into tiny pieces, pulverized under tanks, and other myriad brutal ways of murder to remind these proud humans about their tiny and insignificant existence.
To the world’s credit, the disasters of WW II led it into a sincere soul searching led by the intelligentsia and political leaders, especially in Europe. Dangers of over jealous cultural pride and nationalism were recognized and concerted efforts went into restructuring societies along the lines of global fraternity, racial equality, and world peace. Decolonization started as the new liberal order denounced the ‘white man’s burden’ and European countries tried fiercely to diversify their society by accepting different ethnicities and races. Great Britain turned into the United Kingdom where you could spot an Indian, South African, Kenyan, or Guyanese eating in the same restaurant. Homogeneous societies became an idea of ridicule and countries like India which once were mocked for their hodgepodge of cultures, became the toast of celebrations. The result of this liberal order was more or less avoidance of catastrophic events such as World War II though smaller wars kept the world ablaze especially in the Middle East and Asia. Europe & the Northern Hemisphere of the Western world recovered remained politically stable and became even more prosperous in the last 75 years.
However, these ‘good times’ were too good to have lasted forever. The world after witnessing unprecedented growth and prosperity is again slipping into a place of chaos and confusion where wars are raging on, minority persecution is rising and xenophobia and racial hegemony are raising their head again with greater impunity. On top of this turmoil, world is grappling with increasingly violent and brutal Islamist terrorism, nauseating inequality and lopsided wealth distribution and ecological disaster in the developing world. World peace is at its most turbulent phase and there are forces at play which could plunge the world into the spectre of a ghastly and possibly earth-ending World War III.
While on the surface there are myriads of events that are shaking the world, there are three broad phenomenal events that are guiding modern history towards a grand civilization collision course.
- Arrival of China
A new entrant to the world horizon at the beginning of the century has changed the equations of this liberal order. The breathtaking rise of China in the last 20 years has the world gasped for air. Everyone has benefitted from this spectacular China Engine which has brought unimaginable riches to households across the world. However, this miracle of China has also produced a challenge to the established liberal order of democracy. China has produced this unprecedented growth with a state-controlled open economy with unscrupulous laws to steal western copyrights, patents & ideas, by fiercely protecting its own industries & brutally utilizing its human resources with the iron grip of the state on its subject. China never forgot its humiliation at the hands of foreign powers be it Japan & Korea in early modern history to the UK in the 20th century. Deng Xiaoping’s ominously said in his 1989 foreign policy dictum – “Bide your time, Hide your strength” adopting on the lines of legendary Sun Tzu – a master strategist on war. China was busy building economic strength and military muscle in the last 40 years in its quest to regain the lost glory of yore. Now in 2020, China has arrived and it is eager to reclaim, and if needed, wrest its lost position on the global power table. China’s recent activities are testimony to the fact that China under Xi Jinping believes it has done biding its time and time is ripe to force the world to acknowledge its great arrival as a rival to US hegemony. While the writing on the wall was clear for many years in the current decade, Trump’s abrupt and chaotic saber-rattling with China has started the inevitable process of a new cold war between China and the US. Donald Trump has started demanding its allies rather sharply to chose between the US and China which is increasingly looking like a new Iron Curtain is bound to fall across the world between two camps. In a big ominous sign of things to come, India which has never been in any camp has de-facto chosen the US camp with a variety of military deals signed and increasing cooperation in intelligence sharing, use of mutual facilities, and astronomical weapon purchase programs. China is rapidly building military bases in Africa & the Pacific and utilizing its debt diplomacy to increase footprints in various African and Middle Eastern countries. There is no dearth of issues to flare up a serious conflict between two superpowers of the world be it Taiwan or the South China Sea or more potent 5G technology. Europe, while not as abrasive and abrupt as the US, has underlined its future China policy when the EU termed China as ‘Strategic Rival’ in its recent report. The situation is more tense and hostile though not openly spoken, in South East Asia where China is bullying its fellow South China Sea claimants by aggressively building artificial reefs and islands to build military bases in the South China Sea. Its military vessels and patrol boats have cut off other nations from fishing or exploring in the vast majority of the sea which China claims in almost entirety. India is increasingly feeling the heat of China’s expansionist policies on its undefined border with China where China has chipped of a land inch by inch over the years. India is now turning increasingly assertive against China’s land grab policies under the nationalist government of Modi who is determined to keep his ‘strong leader’ image intact. This new-found assertiveness has resulted in the first casualty on India-China LAC (Line of Actual Control) in 45 years when 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers died in primitive clashes with studded rods. Thousands of Indian and Chinese troops face each other eyeball to eyeball since Galwan valley with no resolution in sight. Both nations have installed nuclear missiles near the border to deal with any eventuality. Similarly in the South China Sea, US frigates and aircraft carriers are conducting frequent patrols which the US terms as freedom of navigation exercise in international waters. China, rankled by these exercises is conducting live military drills and high voltage aircraft maneuvers in Taiwan Strait to threaten Taiwan against any collusion with the US. China is increasingly turning the heat on Taiwan which it considers a renegade province waiting for reunification under One China policy and by force if necessary. China has territorial disputes with Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India & Russia. It has the second-highest budget for military expenditure in the world after the US and is fast bridging the gap. Xi Jinping who is also the supreme commander of China Army, has repeatedly called for war preparedness in the last two years and clearly seems to be moving in the direction of short and swift war with Taiwan.
In Summary, China is increasingly resembling 1930s Germany under Hitler with the menacing speed of development, the strong build-up of armed forces, and a heavy dose of internal propaganda of national pride and glory. All it needs is a matchbox to plunge the world into a world war. It can start about Taiwan or Tibet or Hongkong or through a war break out between India and China or a direct navy clash with the US in the South China sea.
2. Middle East & Islamist Terrorism
The middle East has been in flames since WW II ended in Europe after Oil was discovered. While the ‘black gold’ brought trillions of dollars to the Middle East, instead of transforming the society, it became a resource curse for the region. When the big money came, it brought the means to take centuries-old feuds between different power centers in the region to next level of modern warfares from traditional tribal ones. Shia-Sunni, Arab-Palestine, Iran-Saudi-Turkey, Pakistan-Afghanistan, despot & ruthless Arab rulers, there is again no dearth of severe fault lines in the Islamic world. While in past centuries, all these frictions and factions remained localized affairs hardly affecting the wider world which considered it a permanent badlands with which it could keep taking oil from and keep itself from harm’s way; things have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. The cataclysmic event of 9/11 jolted the ‘civilized’ world into a rude awakening about the other significant event of the century – “Islamist Terrorism” which now had crossed the local boundaries and reached its door steps threatening to uproot every democratic idea it had held so dear to itself in last 75 years.
While it appears to be a recent phenomenon to the West, Islamist terrorism had a long time in making and exploding on its face. A multitude of factors could be attributed to the rise from American & British greedy and unscrupulous oil interests (Iran & Iraq), American interference in the local societies and states (Iran, Afghanistan), wounds of colonization (Egypt, Israel, Palestine), French brutalities in Algeria, the Power struggle for Muslim leadership between Saudi, Turkey, and Iran, the spread of Saudi sponsored Wahabi Islam to rise of ruthless often ill-educated dictators such as Saddam Hussain, Bashar’s in Syria, Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. A constant state of violent turmoil, brutal state repression, hungry and brutalized masses, and ever-present Western corporate greed and misadventures has forced the masses to the seductive powers of religion which have been hijacked by the Islamist zealots who themselves had an eye on the power chambers which traditionally had been in their control. This heady mix of ingredients has turned the Middle East into dangerous cocktails of fundamentalism, continuous warfare, religious fanaticism, and victimhood which is leading the world towards a clash of civilization. European countries like Britain, France and, Sweden who allowed millions of Muslims from different parts of the world (especially Africa and Asia) to settle in these countries to showcase their tolerance and generosity as well as build a multi-cultural society; partially as a guilt remedy of past xenophobia and partially to atone for their colonial sins after the WW II, have become the new targets of Islamist terrorism and sharply polarized societies. A string of violent terror attacks across Europe has left it bitter and divided with voices of far-Right rising with new vigor. Many political parties in Europe are openly demanding an end to immigration and protect the European fabric of society which they believe, waves of immigration from places like Syria, Iraq, Libya are destroying. Anti-immigration sentiments are on the rise and innocent Muslims are bearing the brunt of this sharp hatred which is rising among the masses. In a new Pew survey that was conducted after Trump banned Muslims to enter the US from seven Muslim majority countries, the Majority of the participant had a negative view of Muslim immigrants. A new wave of leaders is emerging across Europe who are not only anti-immigration but also anti-Islam which they believe is turning increasingly medieval and fundamental. Viktor Orban in Hungary, Immanuel Macron in France, Jorg Haidar in Austria, Mette Fredrikson in Denmark, Italy’s Matteo Salvini are some of the top leaders in government or opposition who are gaining a lot of currency in the current atmosphere of hatred, xenophobia, Islamist terrorism and protectionism. The rise in sentiments against Muslims across the world is catalyzing an even more inward-looking Islamic world which is embracing conservative Islam more fiercely in this onslaught. Erstwhile moderates in Islam are growing in resentment and have started believing in conspiracy theories of a sinister global campaign to subjugate Muslims. The religious world is sharply divided into two camps where either Muslims are terrorists or they are victims of Islamophobia depending on which lens you put on. This fear and anxiety is being exploited by both sides of interesting parties which have most to gain from this divide and the rise of ISIS, Al- Qaida, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and other countless terrorist outfits are telltale signs of coming clash of civilization
3. Concentration of Wealth
This might appear an incoherent factor in discussion about the possibility of global war; but in the end behind all forces at play, ‘its Economy, Stupid’! This is one master equation which is the fundamental reason of world’s perils no matter which one you pick. George Orwell’s legendary dystopian book “1984” predicted the rise of all consumer and almighty state which would keep state subjects in absolute control. It is 2020 and there is a different sort of almighty power has risen which is not one but few mighty corporations which pull the strings behind the curtain with insurmountable economic power. only 8 people in the world control 50% of the world’s wealth. This single fact alone is a stunning admission of the dystopia of the world where 10% of the world’s population lives below $2 a day. Thomas Picketty published the last 250 years of data on rising inequality in his 2013 book “Capital the twenty-first century” which has taken the world of Economics by storm. This unprecedented concentration of power in few hands is fuelling wars, upending democratically elected governments, funding violent civil movements to destabilize countries, or simply destroying economies overnight of vulnerable states by pulling out investments to suit their interests. Saudi royals are funding Wahabi mosques to sustain vicious streak of Islam as an instrument to further their rule, Assads in Syria are gassing civilians with help of Russians as well as immense wealth they have accumulated in last 40 years of family rule, George Soros fund had been accused of insidious funding in political coups and civil unrest in developing and under-developed world, once independent news and media outlets are now controlled by politically savvy businessmen and propagate their business-friendly views on unsuspecting public, bankers come up with fantastical mathematical models to loot whatever is left in common pensioner’s account. Unfathomable and unaccounted money is wreaking havoc on planet and there is no stopping it. Once masses could look up to an idealist leader and hope for a check on corporate greed but now with the global world and dispersed wealth mechanisms, the state itself finds itself helpless against any wrongdoing of corporate. The concentration of power and money in a few individual’s hands has become a threat to the stability and peace of the modern world. World peace has never looked more fragile than this after the World War II. There are hundreds of fault lines running across the globe each of which is capable of lighting up the dynamite world is sitting on. A lunatic terrorist outfit gaining access to Nuclear of Bilogical weapon, nuclear flash points across North Korea-US, India-China-Pakistan, Iran-US, or a new Cold War between China and the US are very credible threats against the stability of our world. Changes in the capitalist world for dispersion of power, unity amongst like-minded democratic countries to fight terrorism with an open mind, and a united front to battle with environmental disaster waiting to happen are some of the key priorities of the world which need to be addressed. However, this is easier said than done in decreasing space of global cooperation amidst economic pain and misery and increasing insecurities.