For all its ethnic and cultural diversity, the region, to which many refer alternatively as the Middle East, the Greater Middle East and North Africa, and the Muslim World, among other inaccurate appellations, and to which we shall refer here as the Tharwa Commonwealth (admittedly an entity still in search of itself within the framework of the global modern civilization), has many common intrinsic problems that could lead most of its states to the brink of social and political disintegration and implosion at one point or another in the not-so-distant future, an event that will have serious reverberations and repercussions throughout the world.
The problems include:
- A demographic explosion that strains the resources of most states and provinces in the region.
- Failing economies in many states, as a result of a variety of factors, including depletion of existing resources which formed the main support pillars for existing economies, corruption and mismanagement.
- Environmental problems resulting from climate change, drought, overgrazing, shrinking potable water resources, and, in some cases, industrial pollution, among other factors.
- Brain drain, as many of the brightest minds opt to migrate to the West, the Far East, or, at least, to the more prosperous states in the region.
- Imploding and inadequate educational systems as a result of the demographic explosion, continuing neglect and corruption.
- Failing state and social services leading to the augmentation of the problems of poverty and inter-communal tension, and the entrenchment and strengthening of communal identities.
- Stunted civil societies, which are unable to compensate for governmental neglect, mismanagement, corruption and other shortcomings.
- Lack of foresight and planning on part of existing regimes.
- Lack of R&D investments.
- Rising religious radicalism, a phenomenon often associated with Islam, albeit it is not exclusive to it by any means, and which, in itself, is both a product and a cause of instability in the region and around the world, and lies at the heart of international terrorism.
- Continuing external dabbling in the region that often fails to take the interest and intellectual input of its peoples into consideration, or that assumes a messianic character that serves to further alienate and radicalize the peoples of the region.
- The impact of existing conflicts and hotspots, including those in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Darfur, Somalia, Lebanon, South Philippines, South Thailand, etc., combined with the lack of effective peacemaking mechanisms in the region and the often lethargic and reluctant response of the international community, that remains motivated by a narrow focus on its immediate interests.
These long-neglected problems within states, between states and between the region and the rest of the world are slowly but surely coming back to haunt its peoples, with the more prosperous states in the region being no less susceptible to their impact than the poorer ones. States outside the region may pay an equally heavy price, as their interests are threatened and their continued dabbling in the region gradually becomes more overt, problematic and, not simply unavoidable, but also addictive.
Nevertheless, and while international involvement in our region has historically hindered our ability to work for the attainment of our political and social goals, blaming “outsiders” entirely for our current problems is both delusional and counter-productive, not to mention somewhat hypocritical, as we are often unwilling to accept blame for what has been done in our name in the past, and continues to be done in our name today, in the pursuit of our perceived national interests. We are equally unwilling to accept blame for what we tend to do to ourselves and to each other, which is often even more heinous than what is being done to us by “outsiders.”
Indeed, it is not the responsibility of others to empower us, nor should we expect them to, or expect them not take advantage of our current weakened situation in their pursuit of the interests. States seldom live up to the dictates of morality and ethics, in their interrelations, agreed international norms, covenants and treaties in this regard notwithstanding, and peoples have always taken advantage of each other’s weaknesses, troubles and divisions in their struggle to satisfy their needs and fulfill their interests, no matter how base or selfish, justifying their actions on the basis of all sorts of ideologies and pretexts. This is one of life’s hard facts with which we have to deal in a realistic and pragmatic manner, and for this reason, our efforts are better spent on trying to empower ourselves through tackling our basic developmental problems and addressing the weaknesses of our educational systems, on account of the importance of these systems in our longed-for renascence.
Yet, due to the nature of the authoritarian, corrupt and inept regimes that govern most of our states, the struggle for development has become enmeshed with the struggle for democratization, and due to the interconnectedness of the modern world and the continuous dabbling of international powers in our affairs, and our tendency to export some of our problems at least to the outside world through migration and terrorism, the struggle that eventually imposes itself on the scene is indeed three-pronged: a struggle for development, a struggle for democratization and a struggle for greater and fairer share in the global decision-making processes. For this reason, our struggle cannot take place in isolation from the world, and must , in fact, involve actors from outside the region.
National liberation and sovereignty should no longer be our main concern - there are much bigger stakes. No, this does not mean that we have to give up on the struggle for liberating occupied lands in our region. Nor does it mean that we should ignore the various conflicts raging in it, fueled, in part, by national aspirations. Indeed, we simply cannot afford to do that. Rather, by assigning a somewhat secondary status to the causes of national liberation, we mean to underscore the need for avoiding the adoption of an all-or-nothing mentality in these cases, so as not to risk settling for nothing, and so as to avoid having the conflicts drag on for long periods of time, draining our scarce national resources, and providing ruling regimes with the necessary excuses to avoid addressing our serious developmental problems and the need for drastic political, economic and social reforms.
Moreover, our choice of methods is of paramount importance in this regard, as relying on violent tactics will continue to undermine our ability to build stable and viable institutions and structures necessary for developing and modernizing our societies.
Managing this situation requires an unlikely yet necessary mixture of short-term pragmatism and long-term idealism. The peoples of the region need to be educated and empowered through the gradual introduction of a different revolutionary zeal – one based on a strong commitment to humanist values, democratic principles, and nonviolence. The adoption of this mindset will be the first step toward offsetting the impact of radical ideologies, and in bridging the trust and awareness gaps separating the region’s civil leaders and rights and democracy advocates from the wider citizenry .
In this, the Tharwa Philosophy should not be introduced as some sort of a new ideology, even if dressed in a liberal garb. Rather, the Tharwa Philosophy should represent a new frame of mind characterized by openness to difference and the need for constant revision of our goals and stands in a continuous attempt at reworking our priorities in accordance with the spirit of pragmatism and without losing sight of our declared principles, ideals, and goals. Indeed, we need to constantly challenge ourselves as well as our peoples into changing their/our ways, mores and values.
Moreover, we have to approach our struggle in the spirit of hope, love and magnanimity. Hate will not facilitate our integration into the fabric of modern civilization. On the contrary, it will render it impossible. The cause of integration requires a higher sense of appreciation of the benefits and advantages proffered by modern civilization, and a stronger commitment to its ethical foundations, even if we feel victimized at times by the very peoples, powers and states that claim to be the founders and early adherents of these principles. In fact, our resilience should be amply demonstrated during such times to show that our commitment to these ideals is true, strong and deep, not merely tactical.
In our struggle to empower ourselves again in this modern world, we need to become the moral leaders with influence not only in our part of the world, but all over the world. This is the only way we can be credible as peoples and living cultures again, the only way we can be effective participants again in the making of human civilization, the only way for us to rise up and succeed.
The Tharwa Manifesto
* We believe that the Tharwa Commonwealth belongs to all its peoples, regardless of their ethnicity, religious background and social status.
* We believe that our strength in the Commonwealth lies in our diversity and in finding suitable ways to improve and strengthen communal interrelations, and suitable accommodations for the needs and aspirations of the various constituent communities in our midst.
* We believe in the rule of law, in the equality of all under the law, and in responsible, accountable, democratic governance.
* We believe in the freedom of all people to political, artistic, and literary expression.
* We believe in development and education as the keys to social and political empowerment.
* We believe in the right of civil society leaders to take an active part in shaping the future of the Commonwealth.
* We believe that we are entitled to a fairer share in the global decision-making process and that the most convincing way to achieve this empowerment lies in the emphasis on development and education in our states and societies.
* We believe that the responsibility for peacemaking and conflict resolution in the Commonwealth rests primarily on our shoulders and that the role of the international community lies in supporting and helping to guide our activities and efforts in this regard in accordance to existing international laws and conventions, not in imposing their solutions on us.
* We believe that, while we have every right to fight for the independence and liberation of our occupied lands, we should be mindful that our national causes are not hijacked by the ruling regimes and their propped-up liberation movements for the sake of justifying their continued oppression, and that our methods do not endanger the cause of developing our countries and societies.
* We believe in extending a hand of friendship to all the peoples of the world in order to empower ourselves and press our governments to adopt better and more enlightened policies with regard to our interaction and intermingling.
* We believe in the need and necessity of establishing regional institutions, organizations and networks that can help us address our various developmental challenges in coordination with like-minded international institutions and organizations.
Signatories need not be citizens or current residents of the Tharwa Commonwealth. All people who believe in peacebuilding, building bridges across communal divides and cultures, and in the empowerment of civil movements from across the world are encouraged to sign the Tharwa Manifesto and to become active members of the Tharwa Community.