SAM Snapshots

Gaza and New Solidarities

Prof. Salman Sayyid
5 Nisan 2024

History came to an end sometime between nineteen eighty-nine and nineteen ninety-one; people may scoff at the very idea, but everyone acts as if it is true. In the heady days following the end of the Cold War, there was euphoria in Western circles that led many to believe in a fantasy of a world order of peace and prosperity built upon liberalism in politics and liberalism in the economy.

Now, as we watch helplessly the horror unfold in Gaza, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the end of history signals not the triumph of an international system based on liberal democracies and market economies but technocratic nihilism. Technocratic nihilism leads to a zombie world order. That is a world order characterised by an unreflective insistence on the continuity of the present and denial of its historical formation. A world order dominated by technocratic nihilism constantly urges us to think small and do less because nothing can be done better as everything will be the same forever. For when history came to an end, the perpetual present began: there was no longer a past to guide us and no future to give us hope for a better tomorrow.

What can diplomacy and statecraft do in a zombie world order that enshrines a permanent present economically and geopolitically? Decolonizing diplomacy is not a slogan that is likely to be heard in the chanceries of the world. But diplomacy is one of the means of world-making; if we want to find an alternative to the present, we have to create a new world (order). An international system is not just a geopolitical object but also a philosophical framework. World-making requires imagination beyond the horizon of the present. It entails more than just tweaking the conventional repertoire of policy; it necessitates a shift in perspectives that expands what is considered to be ‘the art of the possible’. Cultivating such imaginations and changing perspectives that ground policies requires beyond-the-horizon thinking; that is, it requires critical knowledge. For, critical thinking allows us to contextualize our current state of affairs to look back, look ahead, and look around.

It would allow us to see that technocratic nihilism is one of the main forces behind the emergence of an increasingly xenophobic ethno-nationalism. When there is no hope for something better, people are asked to retreat into ethno-nationalist fantasies. The perennialism of ethno-nationalism underwrites the end of history. Posing a particular danger for Muslims, ethno-nationalism across the planet tends to express itself through Islamophobia. White supremacists, Hindutva ideologues, Sino-chauvinists, and their local variants use Islamophobia to describe their future societies in which Muslimness is absent. One way of understanding Islamophobia is as a series of sustained efforts to undermine Muslim political sovereignty. Islamophobia is not something which only affects Muslim minorities; it is an existential threat to Muslimness everywhere. Muslimness represents both the transnational and temporality itself. Not only because Orientalists think of Muslimness as being out of time—medieval and backward—but also because scattered throughout the Islamicate are resources that can challenge the permanent present.

Gaza reveals the crisis of legitimacy in the current international system. By highlighting the differing responses of the Western guardians of the rules-based order to the war in Ukraine and the onslaught against Gaza, it exposes the racial hierarchies underpinning the "rules-based" international community. It shows (once again) that liberalism has been not only compatible but complicit with colonialism and racism.

The legitimation crises of the current international system does not have an automatic expiry date. Action has to be taken. A fairer global system cannot be achieved by simply fixing the symptoms of the crisis. A sustainable global system comes from building integrated societies based on principles of accountability, transparency, and justice. Such principles are impossible to implement without political sovereignty in a predatory international environment. In Islamicate contexts, there can be no political sovereignty without a space for Muslimness. There is a need for beyond-the-horizon thinking to help craft new international solidarities that can shift the balance of forces from those invested in perpetuating ethno-nationalism in policies and Eurocentrism in philosophy. Solidarities emerge from consistent articulations of a sense of principled purpose rather than tactical details.

The global South, which was never a geographical label but a state of mind, was created through the combination of anti-imperial, anti-colonial, and anti-racist struggles. These struggles were themselves a combination of theory and practice. They were instrumental in rolling back white supremacy epistemologically, culturally, and, ultimately, geopolitically.

The opposition to the onslaught against Gaza has already seen the glimmering of new solidarities spanning the globe. Ending disorder requires a collective endeavour that reinforces these solidarities that integrate hard and soft power, theory and practice, going beyond the horizon of the permanent present, rejecting technocratic nihilism and rolling back ethno-nationalism and Islamophobia. Only such a collective will can restore hope for a better future.