Being powerful is one thing — being powerful, respected and popular is entirely different and altogether more difficult. The US’s position as the dominant power in the world is now widely recognised, as is its freedom to do as it pleases, virtually anywhere in the world, with scant regard even for its Western allies, let alone anyone else. Equally clear is its ability to manipulate international institutions such as the UN to legitimise its actions, despite the principles that these institutions claim to uphold. Its insistence on maintaining genocidal economic sanctions and murderous military operations against Iraq is a case in point; another is its support for zionist expansionism in the heart of the Muslim world, along with all the repression and brutality that go with it.
Such power may appear impressive, yet its visibility is a sign of the West’s weakness. The most effective power is exercised discreetly, leaving its victims grateful rather than resentful. The West is well aware of this, hence its attempts to hide its true nature behind a facade of democracy, human rights, freedom and other fine-sounding principles, along with a massive public relations façade designed to dazzle the world with a portrayal of the West as a haven of everything good in life. The Western drive has been not only to dominate all societies, but also to make people believe that the West is a force for good in the world, while all the problems and evils must be someone else’s fault.
Being powerful is one thing — being powerful, respected and popular is entirely different and altogether more difficult.
The West’s failure to achieve this was demonstrated at the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance (WCAR) in Durban earlier this month. Such events are usually opportunities for the West to polish its credentials as a champion of the world’s masses. This time, the world’s resentment of US arrogance was such that Washington was glad of the excuse to withdraw early from the fray as a ‘matter of principle’ because its blood brother Israel was coming under sustained attack for zionism’s inherent racism, its oppression of the Palestinians, and its expansionism. Many observers recognised that this was mostly a fig-leaf to cover its desire to evade condemnation for the West’s enslavement of black Africans; fewer realised that this condemnation also extended to the West’s continuing economic exploitation of the non-Western world.
That this resentment was expressed largely by criticism of Israel is significant, however. Nowhere else in the world today is the West so brazenly involved in the dispossession, exploitation and repression of a non-Western people. What people see happening in Palestine now is what people all over the world recognise as having happened to themselves in the past, and which, in most cases, is still continuing in a different form. The US would not dare to take on an enemy so directly today; instead it uses proxies, many of them suborned members of subject peoples, to do its dirty work while it claims to champion human rights and democratic principles. Israel, however, is now recognised as the embodiment of every political evil that the West claims to abhor; the West’s unreserved support for it betrays its own true nature. The centrality of the Palestine issue in Durban was indicative of the extent to which the Palestinians’ resistance to Israel has come to symbolise anti-Westernism generally.
This anti-Western sentiment was initially generated not by governments, which are vulnerable to Western pressure, but by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) meeting in Durban before the conference proper; their success in defying the West made it easier for governments to do the same. Notably, these NGOs were both non-western and western; the fact that awareness of the nature of the West is growing even in the West is particularly worrying to the powers that be: hence their increasing repression of domestic opposition, such as the anti-globalization movement.
The West is a behemoth of immense power but, like all oppressors, it is creating the seeds of its own downfall. History can sometimes move very quickly; witness the collapse of communism barely a decade ago. One day soon, the West’s failure to win over the hearts and minds of world’s people, and its growing dependence on naked force to maintain its position, will be recognised as fatal weaknesses. Future historians may come to regard the uprising against zionism in Palestine in 2000-01, and the revolt against US hegemony at the UN conference in Durban in 2001, as key points in the West’s decline.