Liberalism in Retreat

Source: VOA News

Source: VOA News

Liberal ideas seem to be in retreat around the world, but this effect is not perceived stronger anywhere more than in the United States.

What went wrong? The United States is supposed to be the leader and preacher of liberal ideas around the world. How could it expect to inspire change in the more regressive parts of the world with this sort of display?

Since the 1980s, people such as Donald Trump were celebrated by TV and American pop culture in general. They were supposed to be a product of American capitalist prosperity in the 1980s. How can such a figure become such an anti-liberal, populist force?

Of course, Trump sees it differently. He merely sees his steps of trade protectionism as necessary amends to terribly negotiated trade deals. He is merely helping local businesses survive. While that sounds all good in the context of the trade balance, which I am not sure you can force into the positive zone, but not when you are preventing corporations from conducting their business freely. Threatening businesses to not flee is probably the last thing they are going to convince them to stay for too long.

Trump’s idea of negotiating from a position of strength seems to be coercing trade partners and companies into caving into his administration’s demands. He threatens companies with tariffs for moving their construction plants to other countries. And he’s a Republican President.

Now it may sound fair to him and his supporters. But what does it tell the world about the new United States? What does it tell the world about the new Republican Party? Clearly not the bastion of freedom anymore.

The Republican Party leads the free world in terms of its support for economic liberalism. I wonder where the ideology of the party has vanished, as they watch Trump signing away one reckless executive order after another.

How can the United States pull out of TPP and NAFTA on Speaker Ryan’s watch? Something I don’t expect to happen but it is becoming a great possibility. And where is the fiscal conservatism in a trade tariff paying for a border fence wall? Oh wait, Trump is not a fiscal conservative.

Furthermore, Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslim refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries including Iran and Syria is also a cause for great concern. If you were a liberal leader fighting regimes such as Iran and Syria, then you kill the cause by blocking refuge to freedom-loving individuals in those countries.

And what is with all the executive orders? Where are all the Republicans screaming about Obama’s imperial Presidency?

Let it be refugees, immigrants, jobs, or political and economic unions. The world seems to be going downhill and fast.

The exit of Britain from the European Union and right wing nationalist pro-exit movements all around the Europe are the signs of the rising unpopularity of liberal ideas around the world. The United Nations seem to be under fire in democracies like Israel which are increasingly falling into regressive hands.

But enough of the Republican version of liberalism. But due to the rise of conservative powers around the world, socially regressive policies are also dominating from Turkey to India. But the reason for the election of the rivals of center left parties is perceived to be economic. See the likes of Prime Minister Modi and you would keep on wondering why. But primarily because liberal leaders have failed to convince the voters why their ideas could lead to a prosperous world.

Liberals need to resist terrible ideas from both progressive leftists and right wing populists in order to move toward an actually open and free market economy on a global scale. However, they must first exhibit confidence in them. They must first believe these notions and put them into practice.

People who put the problem of the loss of manufacturing jobs, which may eventually become redundant, ahead of a more progressive, freer trade environment would not grow to be as competent. An idea which threatens a lot of people. Even more than losing access to the best quality of goods the market could offer them.

But good ideas should not need coercion. The vast advantages of globalized, free trade have been overlooked by too many when governments themselves contribute to the conditions leading to businesses fleeing. But what is far worse is that people do not believe that free trade is eventually going to be of benefit to them. While not every business in every market is able to compete with the global competition, free trade eventually favors the consumer.

But such liberal ideas such as reaching markets beyond borders and uniting politically are in retreat. Despite the world’s economic and scientific prosperity being a direct result of them.

But they won’t be for long.

Because it’s often liberalism that cleans up the mess made by nationalism, fascism, populism, and trade protectionism. It would again.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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The Window of Opportunity

Maulana Abdul Aziz - Source: AP/B.K. Bangash

Maulana Abdul Aziz – Source: AP/B.K. Bangash

I have observed that most Pakistani secularists find the idea of talks with the Taliban nauseating. However, a new window of opportunity has dawned for their cause by the turn of events in the past weeks.

The religious conservatives of the country have really put themselves in an awkward position by making practical steps to negotiate with the Taliban.

The Taliban have made their lives even more difficult. They have responded by demanding the imposition of Shariah Law throughout the country and have rejected the constitution. Curiously, these are demands that are not even acceptable to most conservative parties, except for the extreme religious groups.

This makes a common Muslim wonder why would there be such resistance to a system that they have been taught is the solution to every ill in the world. How are the likes of Maulana Abdul Aziz wrong in their insistence that the obvious demand of Shariah imposition should not even be a matter of debate.

What, then, is making the Pakistani political leadership so suspicious about Shariah imposition?

Even though every Muslim is supposed to be an Islamist, the fact remains that an overwhelming majority of them are not.

At least not in Pakistan.

Their lifestyle, their customs, their way of life and their voting patterns, all suggest that they want nothing to do with Shariah Law.

Pakistanis watch movies, love music and love to dance. They may indulge in a lot of social ills, but they would have problems with someone blowing up music shops and telling the women of their family how to cover themselves. They also like to shave and do not mind skipping their prayers.

They also do not seem to be prepared to sacrifice their almost Western lifestyle in cities and traditional ways in rural areas to embrace an 8th century code of life.

To them, Shariah is a word that must be revered and must not be challenged, but it really has no place in their lives.

While the Taliban have reminded the people of Pakistan of what Shariah is, it is the perfect time to convert them against this threatening and authoritarian ideology.

At least it is time to ask some tough questions about Shariah, if we must not get too carried away with our ambition.

And make no mistake about it, it can be done in the most discreet and polite manner.

There is no harm in asking them why they would want to support something they do not practice. There is no harm in asking why they would not embrace Shariah as it is if they are Muslims, and why would they reject secularism then.

Everyone can start with their near and dear ones. I ask my family this question everyday, and no, it would not get you killed if you do it respectfully. Charity begins at home and it can easily be propagated to bigger platforms through leading secular opinion leaders.

They would surely shy away from the taboo subject. Surely, they would find it hard to step out of the reassuring shelter of faith, but a little perseverance could pay well.

This is the first step to win the battle against the Taliban. And the first step to convince people why proactively countering the indoctrination of Islamism is essential to their liberty, peace and way of life.

This is the perfect time to reiterate that secularism will prove to be the best social contract to resolve the multitude of religious problems. This is something politicians on right and left must agree on.

It is the perfect time to offer reason to those who are willing to take it.

But don’t get me wrong. This is not a time to build fences. It is not a time to merely win debates and score ideological points.

It is a time to win hearts and minds. We must overcome our curmudgeonly cynicism to see that perspective.

Even in the darkest of thunderstorms, there is always that silver lining.