Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Goodbye 2023

A rundown of the global events which shaped the outgoing year

Update : 30 Dec 2023, 09:11 AM

As 2023 draws to a close, analysts, major newspapers, and magazines are poised to review the significant events of the outgoing year. I limit my remit to global affairs.

Predictably, discussions will be dominated by the Gaza war, invoking phrases such as “great tragedy,” “annihilation,” and “genocide.” Other notable contenders include ongoing developments in AI, escalating tensions in the US-China Cold War, and lesser-known conflicts such as Azerbaijan's takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh -- an Armenian enclave that enjoyed autonomous status within the geographical contour of Azerbaijan. In the past, Russia, which had protected the rights of Armenians, looked the other way to maintain friendly relations with Turkey, a strong ally of Azerbaijan.

Another significant event is the continued Russo-Ukraine war, along with military coups in several African countries where democracy was already in a fledgling state. Democratic deficits in the heartlands of democracy, namely the US, India, parts of Europe, and elsewhere as exemplified by the re-election of strongmen such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt.

In the United States, the looming prospect of Donald Trump's return instils waves of fear both domestically and internationally. Additionally, the silencing of criticism of Israel through the conflation of state violence critique with anti-Semitism remains a noteworthy concern. 

Meanwhile, in India, the use of legal processes to exclude political opponents serves as a tell-tale sign of a democracy deficit. Notably, the election of Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders as prime minister raised eyebrows in supposedly one of the most liberal countries in Europe, historically a sanctuary for European dissidents.

The global economic landscape faces persistent troubles despite signs of recovery in the US and increased exports from China in November on a year-on-year basis, contrary to predictions of decline. According to a recent report from the US Treasury Department, the US economy in 2023 outperformed expectations in terms of growing economic output, labour market resilience, and slowing inflation.

Furthermore, the highly suspicious plane crash involving Wagner group’s commander Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, occurring exactly two months after his insurrection against Vladimir Putin, warrants attention and raises questions about its circumstances. The spy movie-esque killing of a Khalistan separatist in Vancouver, Canada, and the subsequent diplomatic spat between Canada and India is another story with ongoing ramifications.

The expansion of BRICS to 11 countries, adding six more -- Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates -- in 2024 caught the attention of the global public for a while. Discussions arising from the expanded BRICS include speculation on de-dollarization, a topic likely to continue.

Pundits have begun to examine the fate of globalization, concluding possibilities of de-globalization and de-centered globalization. Scholars in International Studies debated whether we live in a multipolar world or a multiplex world.

Growing intolerance towards diversity and a surging tide of anti-immigrant sentiment are evident on both sides of the Atlantic. The controversial proposal by the British government to outsource the processing of asylum seekers to Rwanda has ignited heated debates in the United Kingdom

On the climate change front, the world's surface temperature reached a record high in 2023. Achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires massive decarbonization commitments from all concerned parties.

The to-do list for 2024 is extensive, with a sustainable ceasefire in the Gaza war topping the priorities. Consolidating the tide of sentiments against the war is crucial. The debate on academic freedom in the United States has opened a frank dialogue on liberalism. Questions arise regarding whether democracy and human rights are mere slogans to pacify liberal angst. 

Overcoming double standards and hypocrisies is essential, and mass murders and genocides must be called by their proper names, not buried under euphemisms of self-defence rights. Indiscriminate bombings of civilian structures, killing of civilians, and turning Gaza into a graveyard must be universally condemned as great tragedies and injustices of our time.

Following the relentless violence in Gaza, logic and arguments have been twisted beyond recognition. Judith Butler, writing in the Boston Review on December 13, discusses the issues of annihilation, genocide, censorship, and academic freedom.  Issues of decolonization and an end to land grabs, oppression, and violence must continue to be discussed.

What appears to be a duck and squawks like a duck must be called a duck. There is no other name for the killing of children than what it is. The state conducting the killing does not deny it, and the democratic and "civilized" world supporting such atrocities does all it can -- arming on one hand and shedding crocodile tears on the other -- using clever logic to obfuscate the truth. The power of logic has almost been replaced by the logic of power.

One of the lessons that I have learned is the danger of Cold War liberalism -- a compromised notion of liberalism bound by the context of the Cold War, lingering on even after the official end of the Cold War. It limits the scope of liberalism, rendering it close to opportunism by selected use. This “as you like liberalism” must be abandoned to uphold the core values of liberalism born out of humanism that ensure respect for fundamental rights -- right to life, liberty, property, and equal justice. Equal justice applies to the Palestinians as well.

The pledge for the new year should be the restoration of freedom and dignity for all.

Habibul Haque Khondker is a sociology professor at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi who previously taught at the National University of Singapore.

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