Industrialization and human rights

[By coincidence last week during my afternoon’s Euro class, we touches on this type of problem while discussing the issue of “commodification” of human beings in Nike, Reebok factories in China and Vietnam . Now we have it on our own backyard.] HZ’s comments
Nike targets abuse in Malaysian factories
From The Wall Street Journal Asia

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 4 — Nike Inc said it has taken steps to correct worker-abuse problems in a factory it uses in Malaysia, an action that the athletic-apparel giant said reflects its concerns about the country’s chronic labour shortage and how it affects factory workers.

Nike on Friday alleged abuse at Hytex Integrated Bhd., a Kuala Lumpur-based garment manufacturer that owns a factory producing Nike T-shirts. Nike, which is based in Beaverton, Oregon, the United States, said it had completed its initial investigation into “claims of unacceptable living conditions, withholding of worker passports and garnishing of wages” that began after an Australian television report last month alleged worker mistreatment at Hytex.

In some cases, migrant workers complained that their passports were confiscated by managers, said Hannah Jones, Nike’s vice-president of corporate responsibility.

The practice may have been used by the factory to compel workers to pay their own employment-permit fees, ordinarily paid by the company itself, she said. Nike said that all current employees will be reimbursed for fees associated with employment while from now on, any such fees “will be paid by the factory as a cost of doing business.”

Also, Nike said it found that the majority of housing for employees was “unacceptable.” It said all workers will be transferred to new Nike-inspected housing within a month.

Michael Saw, executive director of Hytex, said the company met Nike compliance officials about two weeks ago to discuss violations of Nike’s code of conduct for foreign contract manufacturers and that Hytex has “rectified” the issues. “We have been working for Nike for the past 15 years,” Saw said, maintaining that the allegations of abuses by the Australian reporter were “out of proportion” to the facts.

Like many businesses in Malaysia, Hytex depends on migrant labour. The country has an estimated 2.1 million foreign workers legally employed. Estimates of illegal workers range from 500,000 to 1.2 million.

The recent issues highlight a growing concern for Nike’s manufacturing operations in Malaysia, where the US company focuses primarily on apparel.

The country, once viewed by the industry as a possible alternative to China for manufacturing, has found itself crippled by a labour shortage as a prospering populace of 27 million shifts away from factory jobs.

That has left Malaysia dependent on workers from as far as Nepal and Pakistan, who are offered fewer rights in the country, setting the stage for the kinds of abuses that can embarrass American partners. Nike itself has battled criticism of its labour practices on and off since the 1990s.

The Malaysian government has tried, with limited success, to impose order on the migrant-worker situation. Labour officials have vowed to prosecute employers who break labour laws and have periodically announced crackdowns. But corruption, porous borders and lack of strict legal enforcement have impeded progress.

“Many Malaysian policies for bringing in migrant labour into the country are enabling some of the behaviour we think is unacceptable,” said Nike’s Jones. “The issue of foreign migrant labour is very new to us.”

Hytex’s Saw said Malaysian garment operations like his company are almost completely dependent on migrants. “We have no choice,” he said. “Malaysia is not a third-world country anymore … Malaysians don’t like factory work. If you ask them to do things like sewing, they’re not interested.”

Saw complained that the TV report alleged that Hytex and other Malaysian contract garment makers used “forced labour,” a charge he disputed. He said the workers at the apparel plant — mainly from Bangladesh and Vietnam — held Malaysian work permits and were legally recruited through employment agencies.

“Nobody is being forced to work here,” Saw said. “Our facilities are similar to those for locals for pay, overtime, etc … We treat the foreigners equally as local workers.” Saw acknowledged that housing for the migrant workers at what he described as a “temporary hostel” was inadequate. He said Hytex had begun shifting the workers into new housing as demanded by Nike.

Saw said withholding migrant workers’ passports was a common practice among Malaysian employers and was done simply to secure the documents.

“If we didn’t keep the passports, they might be lost or stolen,” he said. Nike said all workers will now “have immediate and total free access to their passports.”

Last week, Nike met representatives from its 37 apparel factories in Malaysia to reiterate its policies.

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Free at Last! Free at Last!: Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Speech “I Have a Dream”

This is one of my favorite speeches of all time by this prominent American civil rights leader. Kudos to a certain PaulfromStokeUK for composing and blending the music so beautifully to this speech. So empowering, inspirational, emotional and beautiful! The text of his partial speech as follows:

“…So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow. I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up… live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will they be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that, let freedom, ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tenneessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside.

Let freedom ring,

And when this happens,and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

The Late Edward Said on The Clash of Ignorance

1. S

amuel Huntington’s article “The Clash of Civilizations?” appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, where it immediately attracted a surprising amount of attention and reaction. where it immediately attracted a surprising amount of attention and reaction. Because the article was intended to supply Americans with an original thesis about “a new phase” in world politics after the end of the cold war, Huntington’s terms of argument seemed compellingly large, bold, even visionary. He very clearly had his eye on rivals in the policy-making ranks, theorists such as Francis Fukuyama and his “end of history” ideas, as well as the legions who had celebrated the onset of globalism, tribalism and the dissipation of the state. But they, he allowed, had understood only some aspects of this new period. He was about to announce the “crucial, indeed a central, aspect” of what “global politics is likely to be in the coming years.” Unhesitatingly he pressed on:

2.        “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

3.        Most of the argument in the pages that followed relied on a vague notion of something Huntington called “civilization identity” and “the interactions among seven or eight [sic] major civilizations,” of which the conflict between two of them, Islam and the West, gets the lion’s share of his attention. In this belligerent kind of thought, he relies heavily on a 1990 article by the veteran Orientalist Bernard Lewis, whose ideological colors are manifest in its title, “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” In both articles, the personification of enormous entities called “the West” and “Islam” is recklessly affirmed, as if hugely complicated matters like identity and culture existed in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Bluto bash each other mercilessly, with one always more virtuous pugilist getting the upper hand over his adversary. Certainly neither Huntington nor Lewis has much time to spare for the internal dynamics and plurality of every civilization, or for the fact that the major contest in most modern cultures concerns the definition or interpretation of each culture, or for the unattractive possibility that a great deal of demagogy and downright ignorance is involved in presuming to speak for a whole religion or civilization. No, the West is the West, and Islam Islam.

4.        The challenge for Western policy-makers, says Huntington, is to make sure that the West gets stronger and fends off all the others, Islam in particular. More troubling is Huntington’s assumption that his perspective, which is to survey the entire world from a perch outside all ordinary attachments and hidden loyalties, is the correct one, as if everyone else were scurrying around looking for the answers that he has already found. In fact, Huntington is an ideologist, someone who wants to make “civilizations” and “identities” into what they are not: shut-down, sealed-off entities that have been purged of the myriad currents and countercurrents that animate human history, and that over centuries have made it possible for that history not only to contain wars of religion and imperial conquest but also to be one of exchange, cross-fertilization and sharing. This far less visible history is ignored in the rush to highlight the ludicrously compressed and constricted warfare that “the clash of civilizations” argues is the reality. When he published his book by the same title in 1996, Huntington tried to give his argument a little more subtlety and many, many more footnotes; all he did, however, was confuse himself and demonstrate what a clumsy writer and inelegant thinker he was.

5.        The basic paradigm of West versus the rest (the cold war opposition reformulated) remained untouched, and this is what has persisted, often insidiously and implicitly, in discussion since the terrible events of September 11. The carefully planned and horrendous, pathologically motivated suicide attack and mass slaughter by a small group of deranged militants has been turned into proof of Huntington’s thesis. Instead of seeing it for what it is–the capture of big ideas (I use the word loosely) by a tiny band of crazed fanatics for criminal purposes–international luminaries from former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have pontificated about Islam’s troubles, and in the latter’s case have used Huntington’s ideas to rant on about the West’s superiority, how “we” have Mozart and Michelangelo and they don’t. (Berlusconi has since made a halfhearted apology for his insult to “Islam.”)

6.        But why not instead see parallels, admittedly less spectacular in their destructiveness, for Osama bin Laden and his followers in cults like the Branch Davidians or the disciples of the Rev. Jim Jones at Guyana or the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo? Even the normally sober British weekly The Economist, in its issue of September 22-28, can’t resist reaching for the vast generalization, praising Huntington extravagantly for his “cruel and sweeping, but nonetheless acute” observations about Islam. “Today,” the journal says with unseemly solemnity, Huntington writes that “the world’s billion or so Muslims are ‘convinced of the superiority of their culture, and obsessed with the inferiority of their power.’” Did he canvas 100 Indonesians, 200 Moroccans, 500 Egyptians and fifty Bosnians? Even if he did, what sort of sample is that?

7.        Uncountable are the editorials in every American and European newspaper and magazine of note adding to this vocabulary of gigantism and apocalypse, each use of which is plainly designed not to edify but to inflame the reader’s indignant passion as a member of the “West,” and what we need to do. Churchillian rhetoric is used inappropriately by self-appointed combatants in the West’s, and especially America’s, war against its haters, despoilers, destroyers, with scant attention to complex histories that defy such reductiveness and have seeped from one territory into another, in the process overriding the boundaries that are supposed to separate us all into divided armed camps.

8.        This is the problem with unedifying labels like Islam and the West: They mislead and confuse the mind, which is trying to make sense of a disorderly reality that won’t be pigeonholed or strapped down as easily as all that. I remember interrupting a man who, after a lecture I had given at a West Bank university in 1994, rose from the audience and started to attack my ideas as “Western,” as opposed to the strict Islamic ones he espoused. “Why are you wearing a suit and tie?” was the first retort that came to mind. “They’re Western too.” He sat down with an embarrassed smile on his face, but I recalled the incident when information on the September 11 terrorists started to come in: how they had mastered all the technical details required to inflict their homicidal evil on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the aircraft they had commandeered. Where does one draw the line between “Western” technology and, as Berlusconi declared, “Islam’s” inability to be a part of “modernity”?

9.        One cannot easily do so, of course. How finally inadequate are the labels, generalizations and cultural assertions. At some level, for instance, primitive passions and sophisticated know-how converge in ways that give the lie to a fortified boundary not only between “West” and “Islam” but also between past and present, us and them, to say nothing of the very concepts of identity and nationality about which there is unending disagreement and debate. A unilateral decision made to draw lines in the sand, to undertake crusades, to oppose their evil with our good, to extirpate terrorism and, in Paul Wolfowitz’s nihilistic vocabulary, to end nations entirely, doesn’t make the supposed entities any easier to see; rather, it speaks to how much simpler it is to make bellicose statements for the purpose of mobilizing collective passions than to reflect, examine, sort out what it is we are dealing with in reality, the interconnectedness of innumerable lives, “ours” as well as “theirs.”

10.     In a remarkable series of three articles published between January and March 1999 in Dawn, Pakistan’s most respected weekly, the late Eqbal Ahmad, writing for a Muslim audience, analyzed what he called the roots of the religious right, coming down very harshly on the mutilations of Islam by absolutists and fanatical tyrants whose obsession with regulating personal behavior promotes “an Islamic order reduced to a penal code, stripped of its humanism, aesthetics, intellectual quests, and spiritual devotion.” And this “entails an absolute assertion of one, generally de-contextualized, aspect of religion and a total disregard of another. The phenomenon distorts religion, debases tradition, and twists the political process wherever it unfolds.” As a timely instance of this debasement, Ahmad proceeds first to present the rich, complex, pluralist meaning of the word jihad and then goes on to show that in the word’s current confinement to indiscriminate war against presumed enemies, it is impossible “to recognize the Islamic–religion, society, culture, history or politics–as lived and experienced by Muslims through the ages.” The modern Islamists, Ahmad concludes, are “concerned with power, not with the soul; with the mobilization of people for political purposes rather than with sharing and alleviating their sufferings and aspirations. Theirs is a very limited and time-bound political agenda.” What has made matters worse is that similar distortions and zealotry occur in the “Jewish” and “Christian” universes of discourse.

11.     It was Conrad, more powerfully than any of his readers at the end of the nineteenth century could have imagined, who understood that the distinctions between civilized London and “the heart of darkness” quickly collapsed in extreme situations, and that the heights of European civilization could instantaneously fall into the most barbarous practices without preparation or transition. And it was Conrad also, in The Secret Agent (1907), who described terrorism’s affinity for abstractions like “pure science” (and by extension for “Islam” or “the West”), as well as the terrorist’s ultimate moral degradation.

12.     For there are closer ties between apparently warring civilizations than most of us would like to believe; both Freud and Nietzsche showed how the traffic across carefully maintained, even policed boundaries moves with often terrifying ease. But then such fluid ideas, full of ambiguity and skepticism about notions that we hold on to, scarcely furnish us with suitable, practical guidelines for situations such as the one we face now. Hence the altogether more reassuring battle orders (a crusade, good versus evil, freedom against fear, etc.) drawn out of Huntington’s alleged opposition between Islam and the West, from which official discourse drew its vocabulary in the first days after the September 11 attacks. There’s since been a noticeable de-escalation in that discourse, but to judge from the steady amount of hate speech and actions, plus reports of law enforcement efforts directed against Arabs, Muslims and Indians all over the country, the paradigm stays on.

13.     One further reason for its persistence is the increased presence of Muslims all over Europe and the United States. Think of the populations today of France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Britain, America, even Sweden, and you must concede that Islam is no longer on the fringes of the West but at its center. But what is so threatening about that presence? Buried in the collective culture are memories of the first great Arab-Islamic conquests, which began in the seventh century and which, as the celebrated Belgian historian Henri Pirenne wrote in his landmark book Mohammed and Charlemagne (1939), shattered once and for all the ancient unity of the Mediterranean, destroyed the Christian-Roman synthesis and gave rise to a new civilization dominated by northern powers (Germany and Carolingian France) whose mission, he seemed to be saying, is to resume defense of the “West” against its historical-cultural enemies. What Pirenne left out, alas, is that in the creation of this new line of defense the West drew on the humanism, science, philosophy, sociology and historiography of Islam, which had already interposed itself between Charlemagne’s world and classical antiquity. Islam is inside from the start, as even Dante, great enemy of Mohammed, had to concede when he placed the Prophet at the very heart of his Inferno.

14.     Then there is the persisting legacy of monotheism itself, the Abrahamic religions, as Louis Massignon aptly called them. Beginning with Judaism and Christianity, each is a successor haunted by what came before; for Muslims, Islam fulfills and ends the line of prophecy. There is still no decent history or demystification of the many-sided contest among these three followers–not one of them by any means a monolithic, unified camp–of the most jealous of all gods, even though the bloody modern convergence on Palestine furnishes a rich secular instance of what has been so tragically irreconcilable about them. Not surprisingly, then, Muslims and Christians speak readily of crusades and jihads, both of them eliding the Judaic presence with often sublime insouciance. Such an agenda, says Eqbal Ahmad, is “very reassuring to the men and women who are stranded in the middle of the ford, between the deep waters of tradition and modernity.”

15.     But we are all swimming in those waters, Westerners and Muslims and others alike. And since the waters are part of the ocean of history, trying to plow or divide them with barriers is futile. These are tense times, but it is better to think in terms of powerful and powerless communities, the secular politics of reason and ignorance, and universal principles of justice and injustice, than to wander off in search of vast abstractions that may give momentary satisfaction but little self-knowledge or informed analysis. “The Clash of Civilizations” thesis is a gimmick like “The War of the Worlds,” better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time.

*This article was originally published in The Nation, October 22, 2001

Extracted from http://www.esl.ucsb.edu/people/rightmire/ling2/Ignorance.htm

 

 

 

Tragedi 911: Ada Hikmah Yang Tak Nampak di Mata Kasar [Blessing in Disguise?]

Tarikh: 11 September 2001. Lokasi: Los Angeles. Musim: Luruh(Fall).
Cuaca dingin pagi bertiup menyelinapi sliding door yang dibiar terbuka menghembuskan bayu lembah San Gabriel menembusi sleeping bag yang menyelimuti tubuh–mengejutkan aku dari mimpi indah di musim luruh di hari yang hitam itu. Selepas menghirupi secangkir earl grey tea aku menghidupkan kaca TV di apartment sederhana di timur kota Los Angeles ini untuk menyelusuri apa-apa program menarik. Saluran kegemaranku ialah ESPN. Namun yang muncul bukannya highlight reels slam dunk Shaq O’Neal atau 360 jammed Kobe Bryant tetapi breaking news– WTC musnah. Aku termanggu seketika –salah siarankah aku dan terus menekan-menekan lagi butang remote control menyelusuri semua siaran yang terdapat namun beritanya tetap sama. Hampir seharian aku terpaku di depan kaca TV mengikuti perkembangan berita WTC tersebut.
Kesan 911 terhadap Kehidupan Seharian Muslim di Amerika
Ekoran kejadian 911 dan tuduhan bahawa mereka yang bertanggungjawab terhadap human tagedy ini adalah Muslim. Masyarakat di Amerika hidup dalam kekeliruan bahkan ada yang seolah-olah dilanda hysteria. Secara peribadi, di hari kejadian 911 berlaku bekalan daging halal di rumah telah kehabisan. Aku memberanikan diri keluar ke tengah-tengah kota Los Angeles untuk mendapatkan daging halal daripada store kegemaran, Makkah Meat Store. Namun keadaan di situ begitu luar biasa dan eery (strange and frightening) dan niat untuk ke situ terpaksa dibatalkan lalu aku hanya membeli isi ikan merah di Hong Kong Supermarket untuk lunch dan dinner nanti.
Di kejiranan yang aku duduki, Alhamdulillah, tiada hate crime berlaku terhadap Muslim. Mungkin kerana ia didominasi oleh masyarkat Asia- China dan masyarakat Buddhist Asia Tenggara. Namun, aku mendapat khabar bahawa di San Gabriel seorang ahli perniagaan berbangsa Arab mati ditembak dlam kejadian drive-by shooting kemungkinan besar dilakukan oleh kumpulan samseng (gangster) di situ. Yang menyedihkan lagi orang Arab yang ditembak itu adalah seorang Kristian! ALangkah jahilnya manusia yang melakukan jenayah ini!
Pada hari Jumaat tibalah masa untuk solat Jumaat dan masjid yang paling hampir dengan kediamanku ialah di San Gabriel, di mana seorang Arab ditembak mati tempoh hari. Memang hati berdebar-debar untuk ke sana kerana kekeliruan ekoran 911 masih belum reda lagi. Namun, aku kuatkan diri juga ke San Gabriel Mosque. ALhamdulillah, tiada kejadian yang tidak diingini berlaku. Mungkin benar juga kata-kata “There is nothing to fear but fear itself”.
Ekoran peristiwa 911, jumlah hate crimes terhadap Muslim meningkat di Amerika- ada laporan kejadian masjid ditembak, vandalisme di pusat-pusat ibadat Muslims, serta penahanan Muslim oleh pihak imegresen. Rata-ratanya Muslim hidup dalam kekeiruan dan ketakutan. Seorang kenalan saya dari Arab Saudi telah pengsan dipukul oleh kaki samseng Mexicans. Yang paling mengejutkan seorang pemilik petrol pump keturunan Sikh yang memakai serban sikh telah ditembak mati kerana disangkakan pengikut Osama Bin Laden!
Kemana-mana pergi kami dinasihatkan membawa bersama paspot dan dokumen-dokumen berkenaan untuk mengelakkan dari ditahan. Yang paling menyusahkan ialah untuk menaiki pesawat-pesawat penerbangan semakin sukar bagi Muslims ada Muslim yang disuruh turun daripada pesawat kerana ditakuti pengganas!
Memang ekoran kejadian 911, kebebasan sivil Muslim di Amerika semakin dikekang. Namun, Allah Maha Berkuasa biarpun 911 secara umumnya dilihat sebagai mendatangkan kesukaran kepada Muslim, namun sebenarnya terdapat hikmah besar untuk masa depan perkembangan Islam di US.
Apa yang jarang disedari ialah 911 mencetuskan minat mendalam rakyat Amerika mengenali Islam. Jika dilihat kepada carta jualan buku di kedai-kedai buku ternama seperti Borders, juga Amazon.Com, Buku-buku tentang Islam sentiasa menjuarai carta–satu bukti minat mengenali islam makin bertambah. Juga dilaporkan bahawa ekoran 911, jumlah orang memeluk Islam di Amerika juga menyaksikan pertambahan yang drastik. Dalam satu laporan dianggarkan lebih 30 ribu conversion berlaku selepas 911, suatu angka yang menakjubkan.
Personal Story
Saya sendiri mengenali salah seorang Caucasian American yang mengucapkan shahadah selepas 911. Beliau adalah Todd (nama Islam Abdul Aziz). Todd sebenarnya sudah lama berjinak-jinak dengan Islam- dia banyak membaca buku-buku tentang Islam. Saya yang bersyukur dengan pengIslamn Todd tapi terkejut bertanyakan dia–Why now Todd? Todd menyatakan dia yang telah lama mempelajari basic Islam terlalu marah dengan media dan tokoh-tokoh Kristian yang memburukkan Islam dan nabi s.a.w. Secara khusus dia amat berang apabila Paderi Kristian right-wing terkemuka, Jerry Falwell (laknatullah alaihi), dalam siaran Sixty Minutes menuduh Muhammad s.a.w. adalah seorang terrorist. Lihat juga kritikan terhadap Falwell.
Ekoran kenyataan mengaibkan oleh Falwell, Todd memprotesnya dengan cara yang terbaik mengucapkan shahadah. Todd hanyalah satu contoh daripada puluhan ribu contoh conversion/reversion to Islam ekoran 911.
Di samping itu ekoran 911, permintaan terhadap kursus-kursus yang bersangkutan dengan Islam adalah ibarat goreng pisang panas. Setelah 911 juga saya diberi rezeki untuk menjadi Teaching Assistant kepada seorang profesor terkemuka, Mark Juergensmeyer. Dia yang membahasakan dirinya sebagai MARK kepada para mahasiswa adalah seorang sarjana yang cemerlang. Di samping itu kemahirannya berkomunikasi dengan khalayak adalah par excellence. Sebab itulah tugas mengajar dan menguasai khalayak mahasiswa seramai 500 ratus cukup enteng baginya kerana selain seorang tokoh sarjana yang hebat dia juga adalah seorang public speaker yang menghiburkan. Menurut Jody, Setiausaha Mark sendiri, “Mark is a great entertainer.” Kelas yang ditawarkan oleh Mark menarik minat lebih 500 orang mahasiswa dan terpaksa diadakan di sebuah pawagam.
Bukankah dua contoh ini blessing in disguise? Maha Suci Allah Yang Maha Berkuasa, SubhanAllah, Alahu Akbar!

Alam Terkembang Menjadi Guru?Apa Alam bisa jadi guru?

Image 1: Penulis bersama Professor Saifullah di Kampus IAIN, Padang.
Image 2: Penulis diBukittinggi, Sumatera Barat.
FLASHBACK:Alam Terkembang Menjadi Guru”: Kunjungan Kajian Lapang di SUMBAR

Minangkabau adalah suatu istilah yang seringkali merujuk kepada bentuk budaya yang dipegang oleh masyarakat di kawasan yang kini dikenali sebagai Sumatera Barat. Kawasan-kawasan heartland Alam Minangkabau atau Ranah Minang terletak di kawasan pergunungan di bahagian sebelah barat-tengah Sumatera. Masyarakat Minangkabau dikenali dengan tiga ciri utama: kuat berpegang dengan ajaran Islam, teguh pegangan kepada adat yang diistilahkan sebagai matrilineal family system; dan kecenderungan yang kuat untuk merantau.
Keunikan masyarakat Minangkabau telah menarik minat ramai pengkaji sosial ke Sumatera Barat. Salah seorang daripada mereka ialah Tsuyoshi Kato, calon ijazah doktor falsafah di Cornell University, Amerika Syarikat telah berkunjung ke Sumatera Barat selama 18 bulan pada awal 1970-an. Menurut Kato, salah satu ciri utama yang menarik perhatiannya ke sana adalah disebabkan keunikan masyarakat Minang yang kuat berpegang kepada “matrilineal system on one hand, and strongly adhere to a patrilineally-oriented religion, on the other hand. Setelah menyempuranakan tesis kedoktorannya, Kato telah menerbitkan sebuah buku yang bertajuk Matriliny and Migration: Evolving Minangkabau Traditions in Indonesia. Berbeza dengan Kato, penulis mempunyai sebab yang berbeza mengunjungi dan melakukan kajian di Sumatera Barat. Penulis berasa curious untuk mendalami masyarakat ini secara lebih dekat memandangkan biarpun orang-orang Minang membentuk sekitar tiga peratus dari seluruh rakyat Indonesia , namun Ranah Minang telah menghasilkan ramai tokoh-tokoh besar Indonesia di pelbagai bidang: baik politik, keilmuan mahupun keagamaan. Nama-nama seperti Mohamad Hatta, Haji Agus Salim, HAMKA, Pak Natsir, Sutan Sjahrir, adalah putera-putera yang berasal dari Minangkabau yang dikenali ramai. Dalam konteks perjuangan ummah Islam dan gerakan pembaharuan ummah , Ranah Minang juga menghasilkan pelbagai tokoh seperti Shaykh Ahmad al-Khatib, Shaykh Tahir Jalaluddin, Imam Bonjol, Hj. Abdullah Ahmad, Djamil Djambek, dan Haji Rasul (ayah kepada HAMKA). Yang jelasnya sumbangan anak-anak kelahiran Minangkabau boleh dianggap disproportionate daripada jumlah mereka yang agak kecil.
Secara khususnya kunjungan penulis ke Sumatera Barat ialah untuk memantapkan kajian bagi program doktor falsafah bagi meneliti intellectual linkage antara Malaysia dan Minangkabau: menjejaki bahan-bahan yang belum ditemui di Malaysia, dan bertukar-tukar fikiran dengan para ilmuan di sana bagi memperkemaskan kajian penulis.
Pelangi Airways
Penulis memilih untuk bekunjung ke Sumatera Barat dengan menaiki pesawat Pelangi Airways. Keputusan memilih Pelangi adalah no-brainer, kerana hanya Pelangi menawarkan penerbangan langsung dari Kuala Lumpur ke Padang. Bagaimanapun di hari yang dijadualkan, penerbangan pesawat tersebut terpaksa ditunda dari jam 1.10 petang kepada 4.10, kemudian 5.10 dan akhirnya 7.10 malam. Alhamdulillah, setelah beberapa kali tertunda akhirnya pesawat Pelangi Airways berlepas ke Padang jam 7.15 malam. Sejam selepas itu, pesawat telah pun masuk ke ruang udara Padang, pramugara pesawat mengumumkan bahawa pesawat tidak mendapat mendarat di padang akibat cuaca buruk, sebaliknya harus pulang ke Subang. Kedengaran para penumpang mengeluh panjang. Penulis faham dan simpati sekali dengan nasib mereka setelah seharian tersadai di Subang, kini begini pula jadinya. Setelah sampai di Subang, para penumpang ditempatkan di Hotel Malaya dari Jumaat malam hingga ke petang Ahad. Memang penulis bingung dan kurang senang dengan Pelangi Airways. Semasa di hotel penulis berkesempatan berbual dengan ahli perniagaan berasal dari Padang, kini sudah menetap di Pulau Pinang sebagai warga Malaysia. Katanya, permasalahan Pelangi Airways sekarang adalah akibat dari politicking. Malah ketika di airport penulis turut mendengar pandangan yang sama daripada anak Padang yang kebetulannya pengurus Pelangi Airways di Padang. Menurut mereka, saham majoriti Pelangi ketika ini dimiliki oleh individu/kumpulan dari Terengganu yang tidak sealiran dengan pemerintah. Tambah mereka, justeru itu Pelangi gagal mendapatkan bantuan bank bagi mengembangkan operasinya terutamanya untuk membeli pesawat tambahan, kecuali dengan jika bersetuju menjual majoriti saham kepada pihak yang tertentu. Ketika ini pelangi hanya memiliki tiga buah pesawat untuk penerbangan domestik dan Padang. Secara kebetulannya pula beberapa hari sebelum kami berlepas ke Padang, dua buah pesawat Pelangi yang lain sedang diperbaiki. Nah inilah akibatnya, para penumpang tersadai. Di akhir perbualan dengan ahli perniagaan itu dia berkata: Pelangi adalah satu-satunya syarikat penerbangan milik penuh bumiputera, jadi kita harus menyokong pelangi.Kalau Malaysian Airlines yang mengalami kerugian boleh disokong mengapa tidak Pelangi? Bahkan tambah beliau lagi, pernah sebuah syarikat penerbangan yang agak kukuh di Indonesia menawarkan untuk melakukan kerjasama dengan Pelangi, namun dihalang oleh pihak berkenaan.Penulis tidak pasti sejauh mana kebenaran perbualan-perbualan yang didengari tentang Pelangi ini; namun satu perkara yang penulis pasti sesuatu perlu dibuat untuk memastikan para penumpang menerima perkhidmatan yang terbaik kerana Pelangi Airways adalah satu-satunya pesawat yang menawarkan perjalanan langsung dari Malaysia ke Padang.
Isu Pak Anwar
Semasa kunjunganku ke Universitas Andalas dan Institut Agama Islam Negeri (IAIN) beberapa ilmuan yang perihatin mengajukan soalan kepada tentang perkembangan politik Malaysia dan nasib Pak Anwar. Namun aku lebih senang mendengar ulasan mereka daripada memberi komentar sendiri. Menurut ahli sosiologi di Andalas, apa yang terjadi di Malaysia seharusnya menjadi iktibar akan bahaya apabila seseorang itu berkuasa terlalu lama. Seorang ahli ekonomi di Andalas yang pernah menuntut di Malaysia dalam perbualannya dengan aku menyatakan: “Saya tidak bersimpati dengan apa yang menimpa Anwar kerana saya tahu beliau adalah seorang pejuang yang cekal. Justeru itu saya yakin Pak Anwar mampu menghadapi tantangan dan tribulasi yang dihadapkan ke atasnya. Simpati saya adalah terhadap rakyat Malaysia yang dinafikan hak untuk memiliki pemimpin yang berkredibilti tinggi. Kedua, simpati saya kepada mereka yang bersimpati dengan Anwar, namun tidak dapat melakukan sewajarnya untuk membela nasib Pak Anwar.” Kata-kata itu aku renungi dalam-dalam, ternyata ada benarnya.
Persepsi terhadap Gus Dur
Ketika penulis berada di Sumatera Barat, kebetulan pula Indonesia menghadapi krisis politik yang hebat. Jadi apabila saja ada isu politik nasional yang dibincangkan penulis yang masih novice dalam hal tersebut mendengar dengan penuh minat. Penulis berkesempatan berbual dengan Dr. Hj. Saifullah, Dekan Fakulti Kesusasteraan, IAIN-IB, Padang (Institut Agama Islam Negeri, Imam Bonjol). Pak Saif, sebetulnya bukan sahaja seorang ilmuan, tetapi juga seorang aktif di bidang politik. Sebelum kakitangan kerajaan dilarang daripada menyertai politik, Pak Saif merupakan salah seorang pemimpin Parti Bulan Bintang (sebuah fraksi parti politik Islam yang beraliran sederhana), kawasan Sumatera Barat. Sambil menikmati minuman istimewa teh telor di warung, Penulis mengajukan soalan sama ada kejatuhan Gus Dur dan naiknya Megawati menggantikan Gus Dur akan membawa kesan yang lebih buruk buat masa depan Indonesia. Menurut Pak Saif dalam kegawatan politik Indonesia sekarang ini Megawati bukanlah pilihan yang buruk, malah tidak keterlaluan dikatakan adalah lebih baik daripada Gus Dur. Menurut Pak Saif, permasalahan dengan Gus Dur sekarang adalah keengganannya untuk mendengar nasihat dari golongan-golongan Islam yang bukan dari alirannya. Lantaran kedudukannya sebagai kiyai, Gus Dur tidak mengendahkan nasihat pihak Islam lain dengan berselindung di sebalik imejnya sebagai tokoh yang arif dalam hal keagamaan, perkara kedua menurut Pak Saif, bagaimana seorang pemimpin yang pancainderanya tidak sempurna seperti Gus Dur mampu memeimpin dan menjamin beliau tidak dikuasai, dipengaruhi oleh golongan yang berkepentingan di belakangnya. Jelas Pak Saif, Mega adalah alternatif yang lebih baik dari Gus, berdasarkan beberapa perkiraan: pertama lantaran tiada status keagamaan Mega perlu lebih akur dengan teguran pihak golongan Islam, kedua, memandangkan parti pimpinannya PDI, tidak memiliki majoriti di DPR, Mega pasti akan lebih berhati-hati. Pak Saif nampaknya begitu bingung dengan tindak tanduk Gus Dur, yang menurutnya tidak mahu duduk semeja berbincang dengan ICMI, tapi lebih senang duduk semeja dengan Israel.
Rata-rata masyarakat yang ditemui menunjukkan kejelekan mereka terhadap Gus Dur.
Tanggal 2 Februari 2001, semasa penulis berada di ruang legar Fakulti Dakwah untuk bertemu Professor Dr. AmirShah, penulis sempat menyaksikan siaran langsung Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR) di kaca TV bagi membincangkan isu keterlibatan Gus Dur dalam menangani penyalahgunaan dana Yayasan Karyawan Bulog, dan dana Sultan Brunei. Ruang legar fakulti adab dipenuhi para mahasiswa serta staff fakulti Adab yang begitu khusyuk megikuti sidang tersebut. Apabila ada kritikan tajam terhadap Gus Dur, mereka bertepuk tangan dengan gemuruh. Salah satu ucapan yang paling keras dikemukakan oleh perwakilan PPP dimulai dengan memetik hadis Rasulullah s.a.w. yang bermaksud, Jika Fatimah (puteri Rasulullah s.a.w.) mencuri nescaya akan ku potong tangannya, disambut tepukan gemuruh di DPR, dan khalayak di ruang legar yang menyaksikan siaran langsung di ruang Fakulti Dakwah, IAIN.
Sebuah keluarga istimewa
Di Sumatera Barat penulis amat terhutang budi kepada pelbagai lapisan masyarakat Minang yang ditemui sepanjang melakukan kajian lapangan di sana. Keramahan dan kemurnian budi mereka mebuatkan penulis begitu senang sekali di sana. Penulis terutamanya, amat terkesan dengan budi baik kepada sebuah keluarga yang ditemui di sana. Keluarga tersebut ialah Pak Drs.Azwir dan Ibu Partema serta putera-puteri mereka:Fadhilah Rahmi dan Fadhil Arifman. Pak Azwir menjawat jawatan Pendaftar di IAIN IB. Dia bertanggungjawab menguruskan pentadbiran umum, serta hal ehwal akademik dan kemahasiswaan. Tugasannya tidak terhad di situ sahaja, bahkan dia juga adalah seorang aktivis masyarakat yang berperanan sebagai khatib untuk khutbah solat Jumaat, penceramah agama, serta pemimpin masyarakat. Pak Azwir banyak membantu dalam memperkenalkan penulis kepada ilmuan-ilmuan di Padang, serta memperkenalkan penulis kepada Drs. Sabiruddin yang kemudiannya banyak membantu penulis sepanjang penyelidikan di Sumatera Barat. Ibu Partema pula mencurahkan baktinya di bidang pendidikan sebagai guru di sekolah dasar (rendah); manakala putera puteri mereka pula masih bersekolah.
Secara kebetulannya, Pak Azwir adalah sepupu kepada Dr. Achmad Syafii Maarif, seorang ilmuan Indonesia yang terkenal. Syafiii merupakan salah seorang dari tokoh tiga serangkai dari Indonesia yang melanjutkan pelajaran Ph.D di Universiti Chicago di awal 1980an di bawah penyeliaan al-Marhum Fazlur Rahman. Agaknya, kebanyakan masyarakat di Malaysia lebih mengenali nama dua daripada tiga serangkai itu: Dr.Amin Rais, dan Dr. Nurcholis Madjid, biarpun ketokohan dan keilmuan Pak Syafii tak kurang hebatnya. Syafii adalah seorang ilmuan yang amat disegani: pernah menjadi Pensyarah jemputan di UKM dan McGill University, di Kanada dan kini menjadi Ketua Umum Pimpinan Pusat Muhammadiyah.
Pertemuan penulis dengan keluarga istimewa ini adalah di luar perancangan insani, ia adalah barakah dan suratan yang amat menguntungkan . Sebenarnya, penulis tidak mempunyai kenalan apatah lagi sanak saudara di Ranah Minang itu. Pertemuan dengan keluarga ini ada hubung kaitnya dengan kelewatan penerbangan ke Padang. Lantaran kelewatan tersebut, penulis sempat menegenali dengan agak intim anak-anak Padang yang turut serta menaiki pesawat Pelangi. Hasil dari perkenalan itu, apabila tiba di Padang pada hari Ahad, mereka mencadangkan kepada penulis agar tinggal di rumah sanak saudara mereka di Padang terlebih dahulu sebelum menginap di hotel keesokan harinya. Penulis amat terkesan dengan budi baik mereka yang menerima kehadiran stranger ke rumah mereka di Siteba, Padang. Setelah berada di sana, Pak Azwir dan keluarga mempelawa penulis untuk menginap di rumahnya sepanjang masa berada di Padang. Sesungguhnya penginapan di rumah keluarga istimewa ini adalah kesempatan yang amat menguntungkan penulis. Penulis bukan sahaja dilayan dengan baik, dan diterima seolah-olah sebagai ahli keluarga Pak Azwir sendiri, bahkan ia memberi kesempatan kepada penulis untuk mengenali dengan lebih dekat lagi selok belok budaya masyarakat Minang. Sebagai penghargaan terhadap keluarga ini, penulis ingin merakamkan serangkap pantun:
Tanam lenggundi tumbuh kelapo;
Terbit bungo pucuk mati;
Budi kalian sekeluargo ambo tak lupo;
Sudoh terpahat di dalam hati.
Demikianlah catatan sekelumit pengalaman semasa penulis berada di Ranah Minang. Semoga pengamatan terhadap seleksi peristiwa dapat membuahkan pengajaran buat pembaca, seperti judul buku budayawan terkenal Minangkabau, A.A. Navis, Alam Terkembang Menjadi Guru. Aku bertanya kepada Pak Azwir apa ertinya judul tersebut. Jelas Pak Azwir, bukankah kejadian alam dan peristiwa dalam kehidupan ini mengandungi pengajaran (ibrah) untuk kita renungi? Itulah erti Alam Terkembang Menjadi Guru. Aku mengangguk-angguk, tanda faham.
Catatan tidak diterbitkan, 2001

Best of Europe

Sweden

Newsweek InternationalMarch 26, 2007 issue – To ask the question is to invite a deluge of answers—all of them correct, depending on who’s doing the telling. Who makes the best chocolate in Europe? Well, that would be Pierre Marcolini of Belgium, or is it Godiva? Germany makes the best cars—BMW or Mercedes. But then there are those who think the mini Le Smart Car is pretty smart. Finland’s Nokia all but revolutionized the global cell-phone industry. It’s still a trend-setter for telephone markets worldwide. READ MORE

The Golden Moment

By Andrew MoravcsikNewsweek International

March 26, 2007 issue – American Alone. While Europe Slept. Menace in Europe. As the European Union celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding Treaty of Rome, the pundits agree: Europe is in terminal decline. It is a continental-size museum dropping into the dustbin of history.That picture is especially popular in America. As U.S. skeptics tell it, the Old World (save for Britain, naturally) is finished. Economies are stagnant. Technological and entrepreneurial energy have passed to Silicon Valley and Bangalore. Politicians are powerless in the face of sclerotic social-welfare systems, coddled work forces and entrenched special interests.Demographic decline is upon them. Immigration only exacerbates social problems. European foreign policy is anemic. “Europeans are from Venus, Americans from Mars,” said Robert Kagan, referring to Europe’s lack of military might. Europe, he went on to say, can muster neither the unity nor resolve to stand alongside America on the world’s stage. The latest sign: spats over new U.S. missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.Europe cannot save itself, critics argue, because it has lost any idea what it stands for. The EU recently spent a half decade trying to draft a new constitution, only to see it rejected by discontented Dutch and French voters seemingly fed up with too much “Europe.” An anti-Muslim, neonationalist backlash is almost inevitable as Europe fails to integrate its rapidly growing minority populations, warn American conservatives like columnist Mark Steyn, who predicts Europeans will soon wake up “to the call to prayer from a muezzin.” The bottom line: Europe is lost.To most who live in Europe—or have visited lately—all this seems wrong, even absurd. As the European Union turns 50 this week, let us consider all that has been achieved. Europe arose from the ashes of the Great Depression and World War II to become whole and free. Half a century ago, only a utopian would have predicted that, today, one can traverse Europe from Sweden to Sicily without encountering a border control and—most of the way—using a single European currency. Or that a tariff-free single market would exist, cemented by a common framework of economic regulation.Europe is now a global superpower of world-historical importance, second to none in economic clout. It has constructed one of the most successful systems of government—the modern social-welfare state, which for all its flaws has brought unprecedented prosperity and security to Europe’s people. It is the single most successful advance in voluntary international cooperation in modern history. The original European Economic Community of 1957 has grown from its founding six members to 27, knitting together just under 500 million people from the western Aran Islands of Ireland through the heart of Central Europe to the Black Sea. Its values are spreading across the globe—far more attractive, in many respects, than those of America. If anything, Europe’s trajectory is up, not down. Here’s what the critics get wrong.

ECONOMIC REALPOLITIK
Begin with the biggest—that Europe is bogged down in a cycle of slow growth and mounting, ultimately unsustainable, social costs.
It’s true that the past half decade has been difficult for some of Europe’s largest economies. The trillion-dollar cost of unification has kept Germany from playing locomotive to the rest of Europe. France and Italy have lagged as well. And yet, Britain is booming, as are the Nordic nations. Among the new EU members of Eastern Europe, average growth of 5 percent exceeds that of the United States. Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia are all growing at 10 percent or more annually.That picture is especially popular in America. As U.S. skeptics tell it, the Old World (save for Britain, naturally) is finished. Economies are stagnant. Technological and entrepreneurial energy have passed to Silicon Valley and Bangalore. Politicians are powerless in the face of sclerotic social-welfare systems, coddled work forces and entrenched special interests.Demographic decline is upon them. Immigration only exacerbates social problems. European foreign policy is anemic. “Europeans are from Venus, Americans from Mars,” said Robert Kagan, referring to Europe’s lack of military might. Europe, he went on to say, can muster neither the unity nor resolve to stand alongside America on the world’s stage. The latest sign: spats over new U.S. missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.Europe cannot save itself, critics argue, because it has lost any idea what it stands for. The EU recently spent a half decade trying to draft a new constitution, only to see it rejected by discontented Dutch and French voters seemingly fed up with too much “Europe.” An anti-Muslim, neonationalist backlash is almost inevitable as Europe fails to integrate its rapidly growing minority populations, warn American conservatives like columnist Mark Steyn, who predicts Europeans will soon wake up “to the call to prayer from a muezzin.” The bottom line: Europe is lost.To most who live in Europe—or have visited lately—all this seems wrong, even absurd. As the European Union turns 50 this week, let us consider all that has been achieved. Europe arose from the ashes of the Great Depression and World War II to become whole and free. Half a century ago, only a utopian would have predicted that, today, one can traverse Europe from Sweden to Sicily without encountering a border control and—most of the way—using a single European currency. Or that a tariff-free single market would exist, cemented by a common framework of economic regulation.Europe is now a global superpower of world-historical importance, second to none in economic clout. It has constructed one of the most successful systems of government—the modern social-welfare state, which for all its flaws has brought unprecedented prosperity and security to Europe’s people. It is the single most successful advance in voluntary international cooperation in modern history. The original European Economic Community of 1957 has grown from its founding six members to 27, knitting together just under 500 million people from the western Aran Islands of Ireland through the heart of Central Europe to the Black Sea. Its values are spreading across the globe—far more attractive, in many respects, than those of America. If anything, Europe’s trajectory is up, not down. Here’s what the critics get wrong.

ECONOMIC REALPOLITIK
Begin with the biggest—that Europe is bogged down in a cycle of slow growth and mounting, ultimately unsustainable, social costs.
It’s true that the past half decade has been difficult for some of Europe’s largest economies. The trillion-dollar cost of unification has kept Germany from playing locomotive to the rest of Europe. France and Italy have lagged as well. And yet, Britain is booming, as are the Nordic nations. Among the new EU members of Eastern Europe, average growth of 5 percent exceeds that of the United States. Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia are all growing at 10 percent or more annually.Insofar as per capita European growth lags the United States, it is not because Europeans are uncompetitive. Take Germany, with a larger trade surplus than China’s and a growing share of world trade. Output per hour worked is higher in France than in the United States. Daily U.S. productivity is higher than in Europe only because employed Europeans choose to work fewer hours than Americans, in exchange for less pay. Remember those six to eight weeks of vacation every European is assured? Most Americans say they would make the same trade-off—if only their employers would permit it.Europeans indeed pay dearly for their social-welfare systems, but they believe it’s worth it. Even in poorer, pro-American Hungary and Poland, polls show that only a small minority (less than 25 percent) wants to import the American economic model. A big reason is its increasingly apparent deficiencies.Consider health care, the benchmark of any nation’s overall well-being. “Americans have the best medical care in the world,” President George W. Bush declared in his second Inaugural Address. Yet the facts show otherwise. The United States is the only developed democracy without a universal guarantee of health care, leaving about 45 million Americans uninsured (and as many again undertreated). Worse, whether measured by questioning public-health experts, polling citizen satisfaction or measuring survival rates, the health care offered by other countries increasingly ranks above America’s. U.S. infant-mortality rates are among the highest for developed democracies. The average Frenchman, like most Europeans, lives nearly four years longer than the average American. Small wonder that the World Health Organization rates the U.S. health-care system only 37th best in the world, behind Colombia (22nd) and Saudi Arabia (26th).If anything, the economic future looks rosier for Europe than for America. Last week the OECD projected 2.5 percent euro-zone growth, compared with 2 percent for the United States. Investment and business confidence are skyrocketing. In the next few years, the market capitalization of European firms in the global top 500 is set to exceed that of U.S. firms.Sure, China and India get the headlines. And yes, U.S. trade with the Asia/Pacific region has eclipsed trade with Europe. But the deeper truth is that investment long ago displaced trade as the leading driver of growth, and in this respect Europe stands even with the United States as the world’s economic superpower. The relationship between Europe and the United States, says Daniel Hamilton, director of Johns Hopkins’s Center for Transatlantic Studies, “is by a wide margin the deepest and broadest between any two continents in history.”Nearly 60 percent of U.S. foreign investment goes to Europe. U.S. business invests considerably more every year even in small European nations like Belgium, Ireland or Switzerland than in the whole of China or India. U.S. corporate profits in tiny Switzerland alone last year totaled four times earnings in China and 23 times earnings in India. And the reciprocal holds as well. European investment in the United States accounts for two thirds of all foreign direct investment. Every year, inward European investment in a few U.S. states—recently Georgia, Indiana and Texas—is greater than all U.S. investment in China and Japan. Bottom line: few Americans realize how much their own prosperity depends on Europe, and how inseparably the two economies are linked.

DEMOGRAPHIC SCARE
Social democracy is unsustainable without the workers to pay for it. Therein lies a deeper source of Euro-pessimism. Declining birthrates mean that the ratio of the workers to retirees (those over 60) will worsen from 5:1 today to less than 2:1 by 2050. “The nightmare scenario,” says Mark Leonard of the Open Society Initiative for Europe, “is of a European economy increasingly hollowed out as a bloated population of pensioners living off the backs of an ever smaller pool of workers.”
Yet Leonard himself does not believe this will happen. Neither does the European Commission, which estimates that even modest reforms—say an increase in retirement age of five years—would be enough to restore Europe’s pension and welfare systems to firm financial footing. More robust economic growth would help, too. Europe is also likely to turn to immigration to help replenish its shrinking work force. Says Joschka Fischer, a former German foreign minister: “Europe will have no choice but to open the doors.”This, critics claim, raises the most harrowing scenario of all for Europe—cultural extinction. European societies face seemingly insuperable difficulties integrating Arab Muslim immigrants. Today Muslims comprise only 5 percent of Europe’s population; within 20 years, however, their numbers may double, in part as a result of generous family-reunification policies. This incites all sorts of lurid warnings about a future “Eurabia” and the erosion of a purely European civilization. High-profile race riots, terrorist acts and controversies over everything from head- scarves to ethnic profiling have not helped. Absent adequate socioeconomic opportunities, neither traditional Islamic authorities acting within relatively permissive multicultural enclaves, as in the Netherlands and Britain, or a combination of assimilation and stiff law enforcement, as in France, appears to be able to stop the spread of extremist ideology and violence.Yet it is easy to exaggerate these trends. For all the problems, statistics show that levels of immigrant and religious violence in Europe are not substantially higher than in America. In the years to come, jobs vacated by retiring baby boomers will open to the young immigrant unemployed, easing fears among natives that the newcomers will steal jobs and erode social-welfare benefits. Across Europe, immigration laws have lately become more selective—with greater encouragement of immigration from non-Arab countries. Nowadays, one half of immigrants in Spain (30 percent of Europe’s current flow) come from Latin America. Anywhere between 300,000 and 600,000 Poles are currently reported to be working in Britain, and a half million more in Germany. In the end, the specter of restive immigrant populations unsettling Europe, let alone undermining its culture, is overblown to the point of unreality.

THE QUIET SUPERPOWER
American realpolitists like to talk about a “unipolar” world, bestrode by a sole superpower. The success of the European Union proves just the opposite: the world is bipolar, and the other pole is Europe.
Consider how the EU began, 50 years ago, as a parochial Franco-German entente. Today, it’s the model for a continent. The EU expansion, subsuming a dozen former communist states, has been the surest exercise in democracy promotion since the end of the cold war. “Once sucked into Europe’s sphere of influence,” says Leonard, “countries are changed forever.” The mere prospect of inclusion in the union has been enough to prompt whole countries to rebuild themselves from the inside out. Examples: Romania, which joined the EU just this year, and Turkey, which has Europeanized itself to an extraordinary degree, with the aim of joining Europe. The same effect can be seen in other hopefuls, from nations of the former Yugoslavia to Ukraine.To be sure, the United States remains unrivaled in “hard” military power. Yet one need look no further than the quagmire in Iraq to see its limits. When it comes to the instruments needed to engineer peace, the softer tools of civilian power, Europe far exceeds America. It is the “quiet superpower.”Europe’s tools go well beyond EU enlargement. The EU is the largest trading and investment partner of every nation in the Middle East. It has mounted diplomatic efforts, in conjunction with the United States or independently, to resolve disputes throughout the region. The EU provides 70 percent of the foreign aid and humanitarian assistance in the world today. Almost all the world’s peacekeeping and policing forces, outside of Iraq, are staffed or funded primarily by Europeans—Lebanon, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Afghanistan. It will soon take over NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.Far from being a product of the past, the EU has emerged as Europe’s most innovative and significant contribution to modernity. With its multilateral scope, the EU is the source of around 20 percent of all laws passed in Europe. It has extended the reach of democracy and free markets within and beyond its borders—in a way that American neocons can only dream about—and is becoming a model to the developing world. Futurologist Jeremy Rifkin advances a compelling case for the ascendancy of European ideals. “While the American Spirit is tiring and languishing in the past,” he writes, “a new European Dream is being born”—one that emphasizes community relationships over individual autonomy, cultural diversity over assimilation, quality of life over the accumulation of wealth, sustainable development over unlimited material growth, deep play over unrelenting toil, and universal human rights.” The global financier George Soros is putting money behind a similar idea, seeking to create a new European Council on Foreign Relations premised on the notion that U.S. foreign policy “has left the world leaderless and in disarray.” Europe and a revitalized EU, he believes, offers a better “model and motive force” for addressing the global challenges of the modern era.

True or not, it’s significant that 50 years after the EU’s march to unity began, it is now Europe, not the United States, that’s held up as a new lamp unto nations.

Moravcsik is director of the European Union Program at Princeton University.© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

 

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