Finding a way out of the ideological morass
By: John Kennair
| Posted: Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 06:00 am
Ernest Hemmingway’s classic novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is a story of ideological struggle; it is a story about the rise of world socialism, set around the struggle against Spanish fascism under Franco. People – socialists – from all over the world went to Spain to unite in their common beliefs, in a common cause. Nationality did not matter, and in this book the protagonist is an American fighting alongside persons from all over Europe.
The point that one can draw from this is that ideology offers a common bond that unites persons from different worlds, allowing them to fight for a common cause. And its relevancy in today’s world is something that we should try to understand. If one were to write For Whom the Bell Tolls today, the common ideology that could be its underlying theme would be Islam. It is a religious ideology that is uniting persons from around the globe in a common cause. That cause is to fight Western secularism, which is seen to be the root cause of all their woes.
It has found its greatest followings in those countries that struggle with poverty and a disparity of wealth; where there is an exploitation of the people by the elite. Islamic radicalism seems to flourish in these environments, and it rallies to the tune of nationalism (and ironic that it attracts foreign supporters). Predominantly found in post-colonial societies, we are seeing these trends in areas like northern Africa today.
If one doubts this, just look at the recent events that have happened, or are currently going on, in Algeria and Mali. Both of these societies have become a breeding ground for radical Islam. Both are highly nationalistic societies, distrustful of the West, and they have the highest levels of protectionism from outside corporate influences. This is why foreign workers were focused upon in the attack in Algeria; they were seen to be the root cause of Algeria’s problems, conveniently ignoring their own internal structural issues.
This idea of an ideological conflict in the post-Cold War world is not new, and in the late 1980s, Samuel Huntington wrote a book predicting these problems. In his book A Clash of Civilizations, he postulated that there would be conflict between Islam, Confucianism, and Western secular/Christian societies. Though many seemed to ignore his insights, what he foresaw seems to be coming true.
What we must learn from this is that these conflicts are going to become more prevalent, not less. This means that we, as a society, must learn how to address these conflicts in the long term. In the immediate term, there will be a greater role for our Canadian military on the world stage, which means that we will have to give our forces the tools, resources and support needed to maintain international stability.
Domestically, we will also have to accept that there are going to be Canadians who will have sympathies for these causes in the short term. Not all Canadians, but only those radicals who believe in such causes. The natural instinct is to judge ourselves, feeling like there are failings in our system. This causes fear and leads to extreme reactions by our own government and citizens, which is equally wrong.
The long-term solution to these conflicts is going to be found in understanding and knowledge, building trust between competing sides through common goals. Only then will we be able to negate those justifications, which are currently leading to violent conflicts. Otherwise, we may just doom ourselves to another long, protracted war.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.