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Opinion: The end of politics - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A love-sick widower wrote the following epitaph on his late wife’s tombstone: “The light of my life has been put out.” Having spent years in aching loneliness, the man fell in love with another woman, who provoked his desire for marriage. He then went to church to ask his priest: Should he erase the epitaph? The priest scratched his head and replied: “No, my son. Just complete the epitaph by adding “…but I have found another light.”

Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly preyed upon a poor, Muslim maid working at the luxurious hotel where he was staying. As a result of these allegations, the man who was once in charge of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) spent two days in the custody of the New York police force. Shortly after the incident, he resigned from the IMF and returned to Paris to be with his wife, well-known television anchor Anne Sinclair. However, the light of Strauss-Kahn’s life was later put out by separation and then divorce. Later, Strauss-Kahn appeared on a magazine cover with a younger, more beautiful model.

While keeping track of the life of such an experienced socialist figure, I asked myself: How could Strauss-Kahn commit such dreadful crime, if he is truly guilty, at a time when he was well on the way to becoming France’s next president? The Socialist party’s leadership fixed this problem by finding a purer socialist candidate to replace him, namely current French president François Hollande.

Yet the crisis of socialism as a principle, theory and authority continues. I read about ideal socialism as put forward by Saint-Simonianism, but which was later overwhelmed by British Fabianism. This is because the latter was successful in creating an alliance between intellectuals and the proletariat. It presented gains and offered guarantees for Western European societies through peaceful and democratic struggle—something social Marxism failed to achieve through bloody and revolutionary violence.

What has happened to socialism—which spoke of of equality and equal opportunities—for it to produce people like Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Jérôme Cahuzac? The controversy surround Strauss-Kahn is well-known, while Cahuzac, the former French finance minister, was revealed to have secret banks accounts in Switzerland and Singapore at precisely the same time that he was supposed to be leading a charge for greater financial transparency among France’s political leaders.

French psychologists answered this dichotomy by saying that those in power harbor feelings of impunity. My own view is that the failure of politics to provide solutions has become an international social crisis. Prior to the eruption of the Arab Spring, explanations were offered for the lack of solutions—namely that the republican system has continually ventured to eliminate politics for fifty years. This is something that restrained the political system in these countries and ultimately caused their collapse.

However, the new revolutionary system is on the verge of eliminating the protesters’ hopes of ever reviving politics again. The Arabs are now facing a new crisis: the collapse of politics, or rather “the end of politics.” In the USm politics is very Internet-savvy, yet when the youths in our region that were active online took to streets, the US surprised them by handing power to political Islam (the Muslim Brotherhood). This stemmed from the belief that it is similar to Turkish [secular] Islamism, which has sought to bring together Islam and democracy.

What do we mean by the end of politics?

It is the inability of the regime, the political parties, and civil society bargain and resolve issues peacefully through publicly elected institutions (the legislative authority) by adopting calm and rational dialogue. Instead of this, the Internet activists and other youth groups, who have come to be considered “rebels,” have taken to the streets. They do not know why they are violently attacking the Islamists who hijacked power, nor do they know what the “Ikhwanization” of power, security, culture or the arts means.

In Tunisia, the power of peaceful dialogue was overcome by the violent struggle being carried out by the armed takfirist jihadist groups. As for Syria, a young president with scant political experience simply did not know how to deal with the noble, peaceful uprising in his country in a respectful manner.

Why does Russia find itself siding with states that use violence to eliminate politics or violent repression to topple politics? Because “leftist–nationalist” Putin has eliminated the corruption of his mentor’s regime by reviving chauvinism, hence regaining the state’s control of Russia’s national wealth—its oil and gas resources. Putin is putting forward a policy of deception when he claims that he is providing Assad with arms according to previously agreed contracts. The Arabs who previously contributed to paying off Syria’s debts to Russia are well aware that Putin does not send arms unless he receives the full payment beforehand. Today, Moscow is exporting arms freely solely because this serves Russia’s interests.

If it is true that Russia has no civilized democratic culture that prevents it from entering into an alliance with a rogue state, then why does it seem that America’s society is fragmenting and breaking down? In the US, society seems to be overwhelmed by a culture of violence and sex, and so the founding principles of the country—political pluralism and peaceful settlement of political issues—have been curbed.

President Obama failed to use the law to end the gun culture, particularly as pro-gun lobbies finance politicians’ electoral campaigns and are stronger than the state itself. Today, a teenager can purchase a weapon to kill his own mother or father, assault a government facility crowded with employees, or attack fellow students and teachers at school, with little or no background checks.

It is not the arms lobby alone that is responsible for this. The public culture that has publicized violence and sex through movies, television and video games is also responsible.

The Cold War era—which was dominated by competing ideologies—was much more disciplined and less dangerous. In fact, the fall of ideologies and the inability of politics and diplomacy has spread principles of “creative chaos” and “preemptive war.” This is nothing more than violence against a new enemy: jihadist takfirists. These jihadist takfirists cannot, and do not, rule the Arab world; yet they can terrorize their own societies, along with the wider world, thanks to their suicide operations. This is because they are unable to tolerate any ideology other than their own.

Even in Lebanon—where the Taif Agreement consolidated democracy and political equality between different factions—the political elites have become unable to dominate or control the “street,” namely the armed militants who have torn the fabric of civil society apart and ignited a Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian struggle.

The fall of politics ended peaceful dialogue between these factions, the state and the armed militants. Politicians have failed to reach an agreement regarding the mechanism of electing parliament or forming a new government. The Sunni parties now oppose Shi’a Hezbollah’s participation in the government, after it involved itself in the Syrian war on the orders of Iran.

So what is the solution?

There is no solution. The Philosopher Diogenes used to stroll around in the day-time holding a lit lamp. When asked what he was doing, he answered: “I am looking for an honest man!” His lamp has burned out—but can we ignite another one?

Michael Suleiman was the first president in Lebanon’s post-independence history to have the courage to speak publicly in an open and explicit manner. This courageous Maronite Christian has proven that the Arabs, despite their variant components, still possess a unified culture, world view, language and interests.

Bashar Al-Assad once told me: “You must return to Syria. We read your writings.” I was the first to ask him about democracy and freedom when he was preparing to succeed his father. He promised much, yet little of this has been realized.

I did not return to Syria, and Assad claimed that the Syrian people were not prepared for democracy. Horrible mistakes have been made, and these are sufficient to turn off the lamp of hope inside everyone. However, in listening to Michael Suleiman express his deep sorrow about what is happening in Syria and demanding Hezbollah’s withdrawal, I feel that truthfulness and honesty in politics is capable of turning on another lamp.

Ghassan Al Imam

Ghassan Al Imam

Ghassan Al Imam is a Syrian writer and journalist based in Paris.

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