The last evening of 2016 was pleasant as I saw my nieces were happily playing in the garden. Still, something didn’t feel right. I think we woke up today to a different world than the one in which we woke up yesterday. Perhaps my cynical mind led me to review the world where my nieces are playing without thinking what the outer world would look like in their future. If I sound like an Orwellian writer, I can’t help it at the moment.
My mind keeps walking down from the dark alley of Gulshan road 79 in Dhaka to the unruly territories of Syria and Nigeria to the merciless Greek and Turkish shores, from the streets of Paris, Nice, Berlin, Brussels, Cairo to the festive towns in Tunisia and Egypt, and from the murky waters of the South China Sea to the Andaman. For a Bangladeshi, it was a year of turmoil, tragedy, terror, and certainly transition in international relations.
It was perhaps the year when global politics became a puppet show conducted by the right to far right puppeteers. Who could’ve imagined that Mr Trump and Mr Boris would be in the helm of politics, let alone predicted it? In fact, many did. I heard it in various ways in Ankara, Beijing, Washington, London, and Delhi.
I think the Bangladeshi masses were pretty much shocked to see their rise as global figures. Their strange accession to the thrones of democracy came along with the global spreading of jihadi ideology and terror led by the IS and AQ. Both extremes.
Perhaps the fear factor is that these jihadi groups are well capable of playing against the morally challenged West and the fractured states in Asia and Africa. Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Israel or their allies and non-allies all had the pleasure of the Syrian minced meat pie without knowing how to digest it. Along with other factors, this led the stock markets to nosedive, the global currencies to plunge, and the whole world to go into shock.
Ceteris Paribus, the need for a settlement of Syria’s war, and the expanded military intervention may not make the year of 2017 a prosperous one. This means we will continue seeing the reinforcement of primitive forms of religio-identity politics in the name of security for the neo-cons and for the sake of divine nationalism for the neo-libs.
The guarantors of global or regional security will continue to be led by pathologically dishonest, temperamental, or bamboozled men (and women). We better readjust ourselves with this new political reality and the emerging horizon of the “collective politics of peril” being led by none other than Mr Trump and Mr Boris. This vacuum in world politics certainly made Mr Putin and Mr Jinping almost invincible.
We saw terms like “counter radicalisation” and “prevent/counter violent extremism” emerge as new foreign policy obsessions which barely touched upon the root causes of terrorism. A new cottage industry is in making. Of course, I am not ruling out the necessity to counter those sicknesses, but I still wonder how one would change the extremist narratives that bank on Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, or Kashmir.
Relatively speaking, why won’t someone think that acts like the Danish law for the confiscation of belongings from asylum-seekers to pay for their care, demolition of the migrant camp in Calais, French burkini ban (later reversed not by public dislike but a court ruling), or a Tory backbencher’s proposal to accept migrants on the basis of a dental test would act as conduits for extremism? I still remember what Ms Merkel said in December: “We in the West must accept that the anger against us is often justified.” Still sounds cliché?
The morphemes of the term “counter” will strengthen the making of “surveillance states” further. No doubt, the growing fracas calls for debate about the radicalisation of young Muslims, virtual realities, and increased surveillance powers. But I am not sure how Bangladesh will respond to these debates soon.
Not only was the West grilled, but Pakistan and India sank into violence too. Pakistan will remain Pakistan, as rogue as it was, and India will keep Kashmir as a political stooge to feed the jingoism of its newly growing middle class. This will keep South Asia uneasy, and radicalism -- from Islam or Hinduism -- will be bubbling. Bangladesh will continue its hunt for extremists and lone wolves and no one should forget that Bangladesh crushed the enchantment of the extremists aka terrorists well and confidently in 2016. The world has something to learn from the “Bangladesh Paradox” -- be it economics or security.
In the Asian quarter, 2016 presented rising tensions in the South China Sea where the US was more tamed with a focus on diplomatic solutions and China was focusing more on maritime and strategic expansionism. Good that the US and its newly found fling in regional politics -- India -- showed non-violent resistance to China’s expansionism.
Owing to Brexit and India’s sheer economic depth, India has surpassed its former colonial master’s economy. Mr Modi certainly deserves credit for this. Meanwhile, the relationship between Bangladesh and India has started to become “functionally even-handed” after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Dhaka in October 2016. Quite a unique calibration to follow.
Another key feature of 2016 was obviously the lukewarm effectiveness of institutionalism. SAARC became hostage to South Asian nuclear narcissism, Brexit shook the EU’s foundation, Trump tickled NATO, and the Palestine-Israel two-state theory kept the UN swinging like a pendulum.
The Germans and the Swedes shut their door for the Syrian refugees and others in Europe started building fences to return to the pre-1989 era. While the West celebrated the Nobel prize of Aung Suu Kyi, Bangladesh kept struggling to deal with the perennial sufferings of the Burmese refugees (popularly known as Rohingyas), once again pushed to misery by Ms Suu-Kyi’s regime. Who has, then, the moral courage to dictate Bangladesh?
I can’t deny that politics in Bangladesh remained as woeful as it was in its yesteryears, something the nation has become used to. The Bangladesh Bank heist exposed the loopholes in our digital life, certainly. But in any case, both the West and Bangladesh has to learn to redefine democracy in the coming years full of new technologies and to live with it -- be it in the shape of the Hellenic, the Cold War, or Technologicus.
I can’t forget that January of 2016 marked David Bowie’s death, and the last Christmas marked George Michael’s untimely departure. Nevertheless, after so much shock and awe, it’s hard to resist the temptation of calling the year a year of political exceptionalism -- though there was not too much political voodoo or unexplainable tweaks in international relations.
Perhaps 2016 was a reminder of the bolstering tensions between the haves and have-nots and the recurring results of the year 2001. I will have to be more careful when my nieces go out of their home.
Shahab Enam Khan is Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, Jahangirnagar University.