The Trauma of Suffering

As I write the final few thousand words for my next book, which is on the condition of Islam, politics and ethnicity in contemporary Turkey, and as I read countless pages of news, opinion and blog posts rarely read by others this morning, I feel a sense of foreboding concerning the state of the world. I feel angry and upset but also, unusually for me, anxious.

Perhaps it is my age. Or, the realisation that after many years of immense struggle to fight for social justice through my intellectual contribution, I feel there is little progress to rave on about. We human beings can know each other better, learn from each other and our past, making the world a better place, but we are in no better position than when I started my career, over two decades ago.

The renowned 14th-century North African scholar, Ibn Khaldun, the founder of social science and research methods no less, stated that civilisations are destined to fail after three generations. There is the rise that leads to innovation, creativity and social harmony that benefit society as a whole. However, after a period, decay sets in. Leaders lose their ability to meet the needs of the people, leading to myopia, cynicism and elitism. If we translate this analysis to the current epoch, one can think of the Second World War as a turning point. After the collapse of the former European empires, a new world order emerged, one that championed liberty, freedom and social justice at the start. But it quickly disintegrated, revealing the dark underbelly of rampant self-interest capitalism, racism and nationalism.

The countercultural movements of the 1960s exposed a deep chasm between the generations, leading to progressive music, film, art, literature and political activism, particularly in the US in relation to civil rights and black power movements. For a brief moment, it looked as if things were about to change. As America became increasingly paranoid and inward looking, realising that economies such as Japan and Germany, battered by the Second World War, were now rising faster than could have been imagined, it chose not to compete but to capitulate. Industrial sectors of the economy downsized because of government policy. Manufacturing shifted to parts of the world where labour and capital costs were low but profits were high. Emphasis was put on the financial sector of the economy, which up until then was only a small aspect of the GDP of America and nations such as Britain. In the 1980s, Reaganomics and Thatcherism, combined with a foreign policy that was neo-imperialistic, became the order of the day. It eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989. Since then there has been a further boost to the money, banking and financial sectors of the economy, with industries decimated, and whole communities annihilated and forgotten. Neoliberalism combined with globalisation has pulled societies apart. Elites seek to placate everyday people with cheap credit, the allure of meritocracy and the illusion of democracy. All the while, the proverbial rug is pulled from under their feet.

The war on terror culture that emerged after the events of 9/11 perpetuated existing divisions. It allowed neoconservatives to push forward their foreign policy agenda. When the economies of the West were on the brink in 2008, entirely due to the greed of the banks made easy by lax policy, governments bailed out the banks, borrowed excessively and cut public spending to finance it all. At the behest of government, the people pay for the insatiability of the banks. Everyday people will have to endure reduced incomes relative to inflation, cuts to welfare support and high employment rates. Everyday people have all chance for social mobility eliminated for at least a generation. In a deeply unequal economy, the opportunities for social mobility are virtually nil. There are huge inequalities throughout the world’s economies as every nation has bought into the neoliberal paradigm, becoming consumer societies whose livelihoods depend on the service sector. Throughout my living memory, from the late 1970s onwards, the Middle East has been in a perpetual state of war and conflict. The arguments as to why include the legacy of colonialism, for the left. Or, the inability of governments to organise themselves in response to the challenges they face, for the right. In reality, it is a combination of both, not helped by ongoing meddling by the West.

Everywhere in the world, trampled upon minorities of all creeds and colours endure endless suffering. In the West, ethnic and racial minorities are criminalised and racialised. There is disproportionate treatment by the state. Recently, the UK Home Secretary declared that convicted child abusers of Muslim backgrounds be deported back to their countries of birth. Meanwhile, abuses under plain sight carried out by prominent entertainers were ignored for decades until recently. There are also the countless child abuse cases relating to parliamentarians, senior civil servants, and who knows what else in the establishment that have remained buried for decades. Everything that ‘we’ hate about ourselves as a majority society ‘we’ project onto the ‘other’. Through media and political discourses, it becomes a defining characteristic of the ‘other’, normalising the sense that these ‘others’ are all the same. Inferior, a threat and utterly undesirable, they are not us. We are not them.

Fascism has returned to the West. Hyper-ethnic nationalism, combined with economic advantage for elite groups with strong associations with big business, is the new normal. This could be a depiction of Donald Trump, the former Etonians who run Britain or the current ruling party of Turkey. They have destabilised their countries and placed people in a permanent state of fear. Everywhere in the world, there is the silencing of dissenting voices. ‘Thought crime’ is a crime punishable by law. There is the even the monitoring of young children for so-called extremist tendencies. The infiltration of our digital world by the security agencies has led to a culture of distrust. Democracy is the ability of the people to determine their government in electoral cycles. Governments should not delimit their existence as a means to dictate whom among their citizenry they deem acceptable. It leaves nothing but the sour taste of lies and deceit. There is no liberty, fraternity, equality, freedom or democracy in such a state of affairs.

Three generations have now passed since the end of the Second World War. According to Khaldunian theory, it is time for renewal. It suggests that it is imminent. But I cannot see it, hence my cynicism and apprehension this morning. There has to be hope, or we will continue to pass on the trauma of suffering to our children and our grandchildren. If we do not keep up the fight, it will be all for nothing. Surely, this is no way to go.

2 thoughts on “The Trauma of Suffering

  1. Extremely thoughtful piece and – in the light of recent events – very prophetic too. I look forward to seeing these thoughts expanded further in your upcoming book.

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