Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Al-La Nidam: An Arab View of the New World (Dis)order

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Al-La Nidam: An Arab View of the New World (Dis)order

Article excerpt

RECOGNITION OF THE NEED FOR GLOBAL ORDER coexists with the specter of global disorder in the Post-Cold War world. A prime function of global order would be to balance the North's ever-growing scramble for profits, markets and military superiority with the demands of various peoples in the South for political, cultural, economic, spiritual, and environmental relevance and self-determination. This essay shows that the Middle East, especially its Arab component, represents a microcosm of unfolding global disorder. It identifies trends specific to that disorder and suggests options for its arrest.

Out of these troubled times...a new world order can emerge... free from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. (George Bush, speech to the US Congress, 9 September 1990)(1)


Humanity's search for order(2) - norms and structures conducive to more or less harmonious co-existence - is not new. The search for order in the Middle East is attested to by the deluge of divine revelations in the Holy Land. The Judaic, Christian and Islamic messages are all quintessential attempts and quests for universal peace, justice and order. Expounders of Christian and Islamic orthodoxies continue to be the bearers of the universalistic ideals inherent in both faiths. St. Thomas Aquinas' idea of a universal community bound together by Christianity is one example. Similar universalistic ideals are articulated in the Qur'an: "Humankind, we have created you from a single pair of a male and female and we made you into tribes and peoples (communities) that you might get to know one another."(3)

Yet for all their unrelenting and perennial search for order, Middle Easterners, perhaps more than most other peoples, have historically tended to experience more disorder than order. Even ideals and beliefs which Middle Easterners exported to Europe (via Christianity) where used against them in the Crusades and then the consecutive European colonial expeditions of the 19th Century under the guise of missions civilisatrices. The kernel of the problem is that:

(i) However sound their supporting ideologies may have been, most, if not all, past international orders have been structurally flawed owing to lingering and inveterate parochialisms - national, cultural, economic and ideological. This is also true of the post-W.W.I international order which established the sanctity of what Richard Falk calls the "Westphalian template of sovereign states"(4) (which was boosted by President Wilson's support for colonized peoples, rights for self-determination), and of the post-World War II order with its East-west ideological split. Any past order can be said to have been, by definition and by practice, nothing less than the universalization of hegemonic particularisms.

(ii) The movement toward universalistic ideals, norms, structures and codes of behavior has been vitiated by the inherently lingering and unfettered particularisms of competing nation-states. Nation-states, aided by international law and transnational agencies, have proliferated since the 1950s, a date coeval with decolonization, becoming the universalistic norm of social organization.

(iii) Whatever the outward permutations of the distribution of power ratios, consecutive international orders have also carried a degree of disorder, at least in the eyes of the dissatisfied. The imposition of a hegemonic particularistic order, usually masked by universalistic norms and structures, remains, by dint of marginalization of the powerless actors, wanting with regard to legitimacy, justice, equality, peace and universalism. In the Arab and Islamic Middle East, the crises of legitimacy, justice, equality and peace are closely associated with the notion of global disorder.

(iv) As in previous orders, power continues to be understood in a cultist sense. …

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