Enlightened politicians required to fend off threat to globalization


Enlightened politicians required to fend off threat to globalization


British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a challenge that is bordering on rebellion from within her own Conservative Party and in the House of Commons on the question of the Brexit withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU by her government. 

In working out the modalities of the UK’s exit from the EU, May does not have many options. She could either ask the EU to allow the UK to remain within the bloc beyond the termination date of March 2019; allow an exit without a deal, which would be hugely detrimental for the UK’s economy, politics and even unity; or have a somewhat orderly withdrawal. The other option is to seek another referendum on the UK’s continuation of membership of the EU.

The draft withdrawal agreement requires the approval of Parliament. The draft runs to more than 500 pages and is accompanied by a political declaration. If the draft is not approved, the UK may have no option but to ask for more time to prevent an automatic termination of membership in March, if local politics would so allow.

Brexit is certainly a turning point in the history of Britain, as it is of the EU. It is difficult to decipher its precise cause. Perhaps the simplest explanation is “politics.” In 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron approved the referendum to fulfill, in a pro forma manner, an election campaign promise, believing that “remain” and not “leave” would win. Ultimately, leave won the vote won by a narrow 52-48 margin. 

Politicians supercharged the atmosphere by playing on popular imagination and cashing in on fears about migration, loss of sovereignty and much the same sort of issues that were to also define the US presidential election campaign of 2016, which resulted in Donald Trump's victory. In short, a parallel picture of two divided societies. 

In the larger European scenario, Brexit signifies — for the populists and nationalists — a first step toward folding up the EU integration project. This is indeed sad.

Salman Bashir

In the case of the UK, narrow nationalism and identity politics could in future give further vent to aspirations for Scottish independence and reignite problems relating to Northern Ireland. 

In the larger European scenario, Brexit signifies — for the populists and nationalists — a first step toward folding up the EU integration project. This is indeed sad.

What has been fueling such politics is a certain regression, a loss of faith in universal values. The pervasive prevalence of greed, power and the perpetuation of inequalities and iniquities within and between societies and nations has infused and informed politics even in established democracies.

The processes of globalization were driven by the West. The cultural aspects of globalization found resistance in some conservative/traditional societies: Early examples of resistance to what were packaged as civilizing missions could be found in movements such as the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, who recruited, resisted and exploited, and ultimately ruined societies and nations. These were, again, actually propelled by the politics of greed and power. 

What we are witnessing now in some Western countries is a blowback against globalization. The neo-tribalism, racism, xenophobia, protectionism, lament over loss of sovereignty, fear of migrants, and aversion to pluralistic, multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies is a worrisome sign.

True, the EU is a huge bureaucracy and is extremely technocratic, so it is possible to criticize the EU as an overblown governance project run by Brussels. But Brexit was not so much about European bureaucracy as it was about emotions and sentiments of patriotism and nationalism. 

Just like 9/11 was hugely consequential in history, so is Brexit. It constitutes a first step toward the potential full-scale demolition of enlightened norms and ideals. A reversion of human history to the dark ages must not be allowed. Politics and politicians must own up to their responsibilities. 

May has done commendably well in negotiating the withdrawal agreement. Her political weakness ensues from leading a minority coalition government and a party resplendent with opportunists — a troubling sign, as there is no clarity of conviction, only politics and power. 

In the meantime, the ordinary people are like sheep lost in the wilderness. An orderly exit may save the British economy and that would be good for all. The political uncertainties have caused wild gyrations on the currency and stock markets in London, which is the financial and business capital of the world.

Pakistan’s special relations with the UK will endure. It is certainly our hope that the UK will be able to overcome its self-inflicted tribulations. Politics and economics in today's world require statesmanship, which seems to be in short supply. We certainly need visionaries and philosophers to instill wisdom and hope. An enlightened view of the world should begin to dispel the dark, wintry clouds. 

• Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. Twitter: @SalmanB_Isb

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view