Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathne: Postmodernism, Liberal Democracy and the War in Iraq For Meditation on Hajji Festival Day

A speech delivered April 25, 2003 by Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathne at a seminar organized by the Centre for Islamic studies at BMICH in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Dear friends and comrades,

We have tried to understand the motive behind this aggression (against Iraq). This aggression has violated every aspect of international law, all conventions of human rights. No UN charter could be used to defend this violent intervention. Leaders of global capital suppressed all accepted norms in this action.

So, let me raise the question again, what is the moral and philosophical perspective behind this aggression? American and British leaders said they are intervening to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, to capture biological weapons. But today, hardly anybody could believe that. That is why all of us here, of different political and religious beliefs, condemn this action without hesitation. Many of us believe that the control of oil resources is a reason for this attack. It appears to be an obvious motive. But is there anything beyond? Is there any deeper motive behind this blatant aggression?

I have this news item from the APF. The head line says “For Bush, war makes room for democratic messianism.” The article goes on: ” ‘In Iraq, the world is witnessing something dramatic and something important,’ the president said in St. Louis, Missouri last Wednesday. ‘We are seeing the universal desire in men and women to live in freedom. As Americans this should not surprise us.’ He stressed that the United States would not leave Iraq until a democratic government was in place there, no matter how difficult this goal might be.” In other words the Bush administration has intervened to carry out a democratic revolution.

This destruction of Iraq–destruction of identity, nationality, tradition, history, pre-history and culture–is done in the name of democratizing Iraqi society. They expect to pull the country out of backwardness to post-modernity. It is not a wild joke but a serious statement. In order to understand this thinking one has to study the Postmodernist philosophy that drives them.

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama put forward this rightwing Postmodernist philosophical argument in his book The End of History and the Last Man. In it book he writes “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the cold war, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: That is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” He further writes “that the state that emerges at the end of history is liberal in so far as it recognizes and protects, through a system of laws, man’s universal right to freedom, and democratic in so far as it exists only with the consent of the governed.” Again he explains: “But in the universal homogeneous state, all prior contradictions are resolved and all human needs are satisfied. There is no struggle or conflict over large issues and consequently no need for generals or statesmen. What remains is primarily economic activity.”

Francis Fukuyama claims that this condition will arise over-taking and pushing aside all kinds of minor obstacles. Traditions, closed nationalist states, religious structures, etc. will be brushed aside as the democratic revolution proceeds. If these obstacles do not give way under socio-political pressure by the trio of the World Bank, IMF and WTO, aggressive action may arise. The centers of global capitalism will eventually work out a way to go forward.

In general terms this is the theory supported by the present leaders of global capital. Hence there is nothing to be surprised about in this act of aggression against Iraq. They appear to be prepared to crush all religious and national diversity on earth to incorporate the whole world under market economy. With that they appear to believe that the whole world can be transformed through cyber technology. This is the philosophy behind the military aggression on Iraq. They said they are interested in overthrowing an authoritarian state. Actually what they did was to crack down on the traditions, identity and culture of the Iraqi people. They are prepared to brush aside all moral and ethical principles that could challenge their “rational scientific” postmodernist revolution introduced from above. The destruction, the suffering of the people, and the disruption of the society are all sacrifices to be made for the postmodernist revolution.

Those who advocate the liberal democratic “liberation” of Iraq are particularly against Muslim tradition. It is accused of being an intolerant, patriarchic culture. I am no believer in Allah nor a male chauvinist. But certainly, I suspect whether the so-called “liberal democracy” stands for a tolerant feminist society. There are two reasons for global capitalism to be against the influence of Islam. Firstly, Islam opposes usury and money lending for an interest. This is a challenge to the hub of the scheme of postmodernist capitalism. The general method of exploitation and plunder of global capitalism is through loans which are tied to strict socio-structural conditions. The IMF, World Bank and WTO–the managerial trinity of global capitalism–rule the world on that basis. They tend to control the world by pieces of paper that indicate the details of interest payments. This is the basis of a new kind of slavery.

However, my second observation is more important. Islam stands for a strong community. Every Friday, all males are expected to come together irrespective of their social status to kneel together in community and brotherhood. No doubt this is a conservative patriarchic brotherhood. But it is a challenge to the free, private individuality expected by the market economy. Community, even in its most conservative form is an obstacle to the postmodernist civil society. All forms of community traditions, whether based on blood relations, social affinity or religious customs should be eliminated for the proper advent of liberal democracy. If these formations do not dissolve under the pressure of consumer society, then they are to be destroyed by the terror of cyber technology. The cyber terror unleashed in Iraq is unique not only for its precision, but also for the scale of damage done to the material, cultural and communal existence of the Iraqi people.

Are people really free in this postmodernist, universal homogeneous state based on the free market? The free market needs people as free individuals, free of ancestral bonds, social commitments and cultural prohibitions. The Postmodernist theory of human resource development claims that the more a person is made free of various community influences, the more he will be suitable for employment in the market economy. In other words, totally alienated human beings are the requirement of liberal democracy.

Let me quote what Marx said, 150 years ago, about such humans: “A society in which privileges have been abolished and dissolved; a developed civil society where the elements of existence which were politically fettered by privilege have been freed…The slavery of civil society is, in the appearance the greatest liberty…When in realty it is nothing but the expression of his absolute enslavement and loss of his human nature…Civil society is only the mutual conflict of all individuals who are no longer distinguished by anything but their individuality…The basis of the modern state is civil society and the individual of civil society. That is the individual whose only link with other individuals is private interest.”

Thus the free individual of this so-called free society is a person made totally helpless. A human being totally alienated from community is an object under the spell of market forces. His economic existence within the consumer society is without spirit or culture and dominated by an ever-increasing number of gadgets: gadgets to see, gadgets to hear, gadgets to eat, etc.

In fact, the Postmodernist philosopher Francis Fakuyama, too, is sad about this. He says: “The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle which called forth daring courage, imagination and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post historical period, there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual care-taking of the museum of human history.” So not only the cyber terror unleashed on Iraqi people is to be condemned, but also the very aim of liberal democratic messianism should be rejected.

We have to mobilize people the world over to challenge this Liberal Democratic messianism which appears as the worst possible fundamentalism. Humanity was born in community, hence postmodernist cyber terror cannot eliminate this basic nature. In Iraq even the sect of Muslims, who were oppressed by the Saddam Hussein regime, condemned the American occupation in the very first communal prayer session. People may come together in the name of Allah. But community gathered and brotherhood created will be the real spirit that will change the neo-barbarism of postmodernist “science and reason” based on aggression. The cyber terror of global aggression will be countered by the power of human community.


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