President Barack H. Obama’s Lecture on Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela


July 20, 2018

President Barack H. Obama’s Lecture on Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela

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On July 17th, former President Obama delivered the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The lecture came not long after Donald Trump’s press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. The talk was Obama’s most extensive reflection so far on the current political climate, though it did not once mention Trump by name. The lecture is edited, but not much.—David Remnick

When my staff told me that I was to deliver a lecture, I thought back to the stuffy old professors in bow ties and tweed, and I wondered if this was one more sign of the stage of life that I’m entering, along with gray hair and slightly failing eyesight. I thought about the fact that my daughters think anything I tell them is a lecture. I thought about the American press and how they often got frustrated at my long-winded answers at press conferences, when my responses didn’t conform to two-minute sound bites. But given the strange and uncertain times that we are in—and they are strange, and they are uncertain—with each day’s news cycles bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines, I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective. So, I hope you’ll indulge me, despite the slight chill, as I spend much of this lecture reflecting on where we’ve been and how we arrived at this present moment, in the hope that it will offer us a roadmap for where we need to go next.

Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multiracial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible, and that it can achieve more peace and more coöperation in pursuit of a common good.–Barack H Obama

One hundred years ago, Madiba was born in the village of Mvezo. In his autobiography, he describes a happy childhood: he’s looking after cattle; he’s playing with the other boys. [He] eventually attends a school where his teacher gave him the English name Nelson. And, as many of you know, he’s quoted saying, “Why she bestowed this particular name upon me, I have no idea.”

There was no reason to believe that a young black boy at this time, in this place, could in any way alter history. After all, South Africa was then less than a decade removed from full British control. Already, laws were being codified to implement racial segregation and subjugation, the network of laws that would be known as apartheid. Most of Africa, including my father’s homeland, was under colonial rule. The dominant European powers, having ended a horrific world war just a few months after Madiba’s birth, viewed this continent and its people primarily as spoils in a contest for territory and abundant natural resources and cheap labor. The inferiority of the black race, an indifference towards black culture and interests and aspirations, was a given.

Such a view of the world—that certain races, certain nations, certain groups were inherently superior, and that violence and coercion is the primary basis for governance, that the strong necessarily exploit the weak, that wealth is determined primarily by conquest—that view of the world was hardly confined to relations between Europe and Africa, or relations between whites and blacks. Whites were happy to exploit other whites when they could. And, by the way, blacks were often willing to exploit other blacks. Around the globe, the majority of people lived at subsistence levels, without a say in the politics or economic forces that determined their lives. Often they were subject to the whims and cruelties of distant leaders. The average person saw no possibility of advancing from the circumstances of their birth. Women were almost uniformly subordinate to men. Privilege and status was rigidly bound by caste and color and ethnicity and religion. And even in my own country, even in democracies like the United States, founded on a declaration that all men are created equal, racial segregation and systemic discrimination was the law in almost half the country and the norm throughout the rest of the country.

That was the world just a hundred years ago. There are people alive today who were alive in that world. It is hard, then, to overstate the remarkable transformations that have taken place since that time. A second world war, even more terrible than the first, along with a cascade of liberation movements from Africa to Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, would finally bring an end to colonial rule. More and more peoples, having witnessed the horrors of totalitarianism, the repeated mass slaughters of the twentieth century, began to embrace a new vision for humanity, a new idea, one based not only on the principle of national self-determination but also on the principles of democracy and rule of law and civil rights and the inherent dignity of every single individual.

In those nations with market-based economies, suddenly union movements developed, and health and safety and commercial regulations were instituted, and access to public education was expanded, and social welfare systems emerged, all with the aim of constraining the excesses of capitalism and enhancing its ability to provide opportunity not just to some but to all people. And the result was unmatched economic growth and a growth of the middle class. In my own country, the moral force of the civil-rights movement not only overthrew Jim Crow laws but it opened up the floodgates for women and historically marginalized groups to reimagine themselves, to find their own voices, to make their own claims to full citizenship.

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It was in service of this long walk towards freedom and justice and equal opportunity that Nelson Mandela devoted his life. At the outset, his struggle was particular to this place, to his homeland—a fight to end apartheid, a fight to insure lasting political and social and economic equality for its disenfranchised nonwhite citizens. But through his sacrifice and unwavering leadership and, perhaps most of all, through his moral example, Mandela and the movement he led would come to signify something larger. He came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people all around the world, their hopes for a better life, the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs.

Madiba’s light shone so brightly, even from that narrow Robben Island cell, that in the late seventies he could inspire a young college student on the other side of the world to reëxamine his own priorities, could make me consider the small role I might play in bending the arc of the world towards justice. And when, later, as a law student, I witnessed Madiba emerge from prison, just a few months, you’ll recall, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I felt the same wave of hope that washed through hearts all around the world.

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Do you remember that feeling? It seemed as if the forces of progress were on the march, that they were inexorable. Each step he took, you felt this is the moment when the old structures of violence and repression and ancient hatreds that had so long stunted people’s lives and confined the human spirit—that all that was crumbling before our eyes. Then, as Madiba guided this nation through negotiation painstakingly, reconciliation, its first fair and free elections, as we all witnessed the grace and the generosity with which he embraced former enemies, the wisdom for him to step away from power once he felt his job was complete, we understood that—we understood it was not just the subjugated, the oppressed who were being freed from the shackles of the past. The subjugator was being offered a gift, being given a chance to see in a new way, being given a chance to participate in the work of building a better world.

During the last decades of the twentieth century, the progressive, democratic vision that Nelson Mandela represented in many ways set the terms of international political debate. It doesn’t mean that vision was always victorious, but it set the terms, the parameters; it guided how we thought about the meaning of progress, and it continued to propel the world forward. Yes, there were still tragedies—bloody civil wars from the Balkans to the Congo. Despite the fact that ethnic and sectarian strife still flared up with heartbreaking regularity, despite all that as a consequence of the continuation of nuclear détente, and a peaceful and prosperous Japan, and a unified Europe anchored in NATO, and the entry of China into the world’s system of trade—all that greatly reduced the prospect of war between the world’s great powers. From Europe to Africa, Latin America to Southeast Asia, dictatorships began to give way to democracies. The march was on. A respect for human rights and the rule of law, enumerated in a declaration by the United Nations, became the guiding norm for the majority of nations, even in places where the reality fell far short of the ideal. Even when those human rights were violated, those who violated human rights were on the defensive.

With these geopolitical changes came sweeping economic changes. The introduction of market-based principles, in which previously closed economies, along with the forces of global integration powered by new technologies, suddenly unleashed entrepreneurial talents to those that once had been relegated to the periphery of the world economy, who hadn’t counted. Suddenly they counted. They had some power. They had the possibilities of doing business. And then came scientific breakthroughs and new infrastructure and the reduction of armed conflicts. Suddenly a billion people were lifted out of poverty, and once starving nations were able to feed themselves, and infant mortality rates plummeted. And, meanwhile, the spread of the Internet made it possible for people to connect across oceans, and cultures and continents instantly were brought together, and potentially all the world’s knowledge could be in the hands of a small child in even the most remote village.

That’s what happened just over the course of a few decades. And all that progress is real. It has been broad, and it has been deep, and it all happened in what—by the standards of human history—was nothing more than a blink of an eye. And now an entire generation has grown up in a world that by most measures has gotten steadily freer and healthier and wealthier and less violent and more tolerant during the course of their lifetimes.

It should make us hopeful. But if we cannot deny the very real strides that our world has made since that moment when Madiba took those steps out of confinement, we also have to recognize all the ways that the international order has fallen short of its promise. In fact, it is in part because of the failures of governments and powerful élites to squarely address the shortcomings and contradictions of this international order that we now see much of the world threatening to return to an older, a more dangerous, a more brutal way of doing business.

So, we have to start by admitting that whatever laws may have existed on the books, whatever wonderful pronouncements existed in constitutions, whatever nice words were spoken during these last several decades at international conferences or in the halls of the United Nations, the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away. They were never fully dislodged. Caste differences still impact the life chances of people on the Indian subcontinent. Ethnic and religious differences still determine who gets opportunity, from Central Europe to the Gulf. It is a plain fact that racial discrimination still exists in both the United States and South Africa. And it is also a fact that the accumulated disadvantages of years of institutionalized oppression have created yawning disparities in income, and in wealth, and in education, and in health, in personal safety, in access to credit. Women and girls around the world continue to be blocked from positions of power and authority. They continue to be prevented from getting a basic education. They are disproportionately victimized by violence and abuse. They’re still paid less than men for doing the same work. That’s still happening. Economic opportunity, for all the magnificence of the global economy, all the shining skyscrapers that have transformed the landscape around the world, entire neighborhoods, entire cities, entire regions, entire nations have been bypassed.

In other words, for far too many people, the more things have changed, the more things stayed the same.

And while globalization and technology have opened up new opportunities and driven remarkable economic growth in previously struggling parts of the world, globalization has also upended the agricultural and manufacturing sectors in many countries. It’s also greatly reduced the demand for certain workers, has helped weaken unions and labor’s bargaining power. It’s made it easier for capital to avoid tax laws and the regulations of nation-states—can just move billions, trillions of dollars with a tap of a computer key.

The result of all these trends has been an explosion in economic inequality. It’s meant that a few dozen individuals control the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity. That’s not an exaggeration; that’s a statistic. Think about that. In many middle-income and developing countries, new wealth has just tracked the old bad deal that people got, because it reinforced or even compounded existing patterns of inequality; the only difference is it created even greater opportunities for corruption on an epic scale. And for once solidly middle-class families in advanced economies like the United States, these trends have meant greater economic insecurity, especially for those who don’t have specialized skills, people who were in manufacturing, people working in factories, people working on farms.

In every country, just about, the disproportionate economic clout of those at the top has provided these individuals with wildly disproportionate influence on their countries’ political life and on its media; on what policies are pursued and whose interests end up being ignored. Now, it should be noted that this new international élite, the professional class that supports them, differs in important respects from the ruling aristocracies of old. It includes many who are self-made. It includes champions of meritocracy. And, although still mostly white and male, as a group they reflect a diversity of nationalities and ethnicities that would have not existed a hundred years ago. A decent percentage consider themselves liberal in their politics, modern and cosmopolitan in their outlook. Unburdened by parochialism, or nationalism, or overt racial prejudice or strong religious sentiment, they are equally comfortable in New York or London or Shanghai or Nairobi or Buenos Aires or Johannesburg. Many are sincere and effective in their philanthropy. Some of them count Nelson Mandela among their heroes. Some even supported Barack Obama for the Presidency of the United States, and by virtue of my status as a former head of state, some of them consider me as an honorary member of the club. And I get invited to these fancy things, you know? They’ll fly me out.

But what’s nevertheless true is that, in their business dealings, many titans of industry and finance are increasingly detached from any single locale or nation-state, and they live lives more and more insulated from the struggles of ordinary people in their countries of origin. Their decisions to shut down a manufacturing plant, or to try to minimize their tax bill by shifting profits to a tax haven with the help of high-priced accountants or lawyers, or their decision to take advantage of lower-cost immigrant labor, or their decision to pay a bribe, are often done without malice; it’s just a rational response, they consider, to the demands of their balance sheets and their shareholders and competitive pressures.

But too often, these decisions are also made without reference to notions of human solidarity or a ground-level understanding of the consequences that will be felt by particular people in particular communities by the decisions that are made. And from their boardrooms or retreats, global decision-makers don’t get a chance to see, sometimes, the pain in the faces of laid-off workers. Their kids don’t suffer when cuts in public education and health care result as a consequence of a reduced tax base because of tax avoidance. They can’t hear the resentment of an older tradesman when he complains that a newcomer doesn’t speak his language on a job site where he once worked. They’re less subject to the discomfort and the displacement that some of their countrymen may feel as globalization scrambles not only existing economic arrangements but traditional social and religious mores.

Which is why, at the end of the twentieth century, while some Western commentators were declaring the end of history and the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy and the virtues of the global supply chain, so many missed signs of a brewing backlash—a backlash that arrived in so many forms. It announced itself most violently with 9/11 and the emergence of transnational terrorist networks, fueled by an ideology that perverted one of the world’s great religions and asserted a struggle not just between Islam and the West but between Islam and modernity. An ill-advised U.S. invasion of Iraq didn’t help, accelerating a sectarian conflict.

Russia, already humiliated by its reduced influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union, feeling threatened by democratic movements along its borders, suddenly started reasserting authoritarian control and, in some cases, meddling with its neighbors. China, emboldened by its economic success, started bristling against criticism of its human-rights record; it framed the promotion of universal values as nothing more than foreign meddling, imperialism under a new name.

Within the United States, within the European Union, challenges to globalization first came from the left but then came more forcefully from the right, as you started seeing populist movements—which, by the way, are often cynically funded by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing government constraints on their business interests. These movements tapped the unease that was felt by many people who lived outside of the urban cores, fears that economic security was slipping away, that their social status and privileges were eroding, that their cultural identities were being threatened by outsiders, somebody that didn’t look like them or sound like them or pray as they did.

And, perhaps more than anything else, the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crisis, in which the reckless behavior of financial élites resulted in years of hardship for ordinary people all around the world, made all the previous assurances of experts ring hollow—all those assurances that somehow financial regulators knew what they were doing, that somebody was minding the store, that global economic integration was an unadulterated good. Because of the actions taken by governments during and after that crisis—including, I should add, by aggressive steps by my Administration—the global economy has now returned to healthy growth. But the credibility of the international system, the faith in experts in places like Washington or Brussels, all that had taken a blow.

A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear, and that kind of politics is now on the move. It’s on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. I am not being alarmist. I am simply stating the facts. Look around. Strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained—the form of it—but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.

In the West, you’ve got far-right parties that oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders but also on barely hidden racial nationalism. Many developing countries now are looking at China’s model of authoritarian control, combined with mercantilist capitalism, as preferable to the messiness of democracy. Who needs free speech, as long as the economy is going good? The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise. Social media—once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding and solidarity—has proved to be just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories.

So on Madiba’s one-hundredth birthday, we now stand at a crossroads, a moment in time when two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories. Two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?

Should we see that wave of hope that we felt with Madiba’s release from prison, from the Berlin Wall coming down—should we see that hope that we had as naïve and misguided? Should we understand the last twenty-five years of global integration as nothing more than a detour from the previous inevitable cycle of history? Where might makes right, and politics is a hostile competition between tribes and races and religions, and nations compete in a zero-sum game, constantly teetering on the edge of conflict until full-blown war breaks out? Is that what we think?

Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multiracial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible, and that it can achieve more peace and more coöperation in pursuit of a common good. That’s what I believe.

And I believe we have no choice but to move forward, that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell. And I believe this not just based on sentiment. I believe it based on hard evidence: the fact that the world’s most prosperous and successful societies, the ones with the highest living standards and the highest levels of satisfaction among their people, happen to be those which have most closely approximated the liberal, progressive ideal that we talk about and have nurtured the talents and contributions of all their citizens.

The fact that authoritarian governments have been shown, time and time again, to breed corruption, because they’re not accountable; to repress their people; to lose touch eventually with reality; to engage in bigger and bigger lies that ultimately result in economic and political and cultural and scientific stagnation. Look at history. Look at the facts.

The fact that countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial, or religious superiority as their main organizing principle, the thing that holds people together—eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war. Check the history books.

The fact that technology cannot be put back in a bottle, so we’re stuck with the fact that we now live close together and populations are going to be moving, and environmental challenges are not going to go away on their own, so that the only way to effectively address problems like climate change or mass migration or pandemic disease will be to develop systems for more international coöperation, not less.

We have a better story to tell. But to say that our vision for the future is better is not to say that it will inevitably win. Because history also shows the power of fear. History shows the lasting hold of greed and the desire to dominate others in the minds of men. Especially men. History shows how easily people can be convinced to turn on those who look different, or worship God in a different way. So if we’re truly to continue Madiba’s long walk towards freedom, we’re going to have to work harder, and we’re going to have to be smarter. We’re going to have to learn from the mistakes of the recent past. And so, in the brief time remaining, let me just suggest a few guideposts for the road ahead, guideposts that draw from Madiba’s work, his words, the lessons of his life.

First, Madiba shows those of us who believe in freedom and democracy we are going to have to fight harder to reduce inequality and promote lasting economic opportunity for all people.

Now, I don’t believe in economic determinism. Human beings don’t live on bread alone. But they need bread. And history shows that societies which tolerate vast differences in wealth feed resentments and reduce solidarity and actually grow more slowly, and that once people achieve more than mere subsistence, then they’re measuring their well-being by how they compare to their neighbors, and whether their children can expect to live a better life. When economic power is concentrated in the hands of the few, history also shows that political power is sure to follow. That dynamic eats away at democracy. Sometimes it may be straight-out corruption, but sometimes it may not involve the exchange of money; it’s just folks who are that wealthy get what they want, and it undermines human freedom.

Madiba understood this. This is not new. He warned us about this. He said, “Where globalization means, as it so often does, that the rich and the powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and the weaker, [then] we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom.” That’s what he said. So if we are serious about universal freedom today, if we care about social justice today, then we have a responsibility to do something about it. And I would respectfully amend what Madiba said. I don’t do it often, but I’d say it’s not enough for us to protest; we’re going to have to build, we’re going to have to innovate, we’re going to have to figure out how do we close this widening chasm of wealth and opportunity, both within countries and between them.

How we achieve this is going to vary country to country, and I know your new President is committed to rolling up his sleeves and trying to do so. But we can learn from the last seventy years that it will not involve unregulated, unbridled, unethical capitalism. It also won’t involve old-style command-and-control socialism form the top. That was tried. It didn’t work very well.

For almost all countries, progress is going to depend on an inclusive, market-based system, one that offers education for every child, that protects collective bargaining and secures the rights of every worker, that breaks up monopolies to encourage competition in small and medium-sized businesses, and has laws that root out corruption and insures fair dealing in business, that maintains some form of progressive taxation so that rich people are still rich, but they’re giving a little bit back to make sure that everybody else has something to pay for universal health care and retirement security, and invests in infrastructure and scientific research that builds platforms for innovation.

I should add, by the way, right now I’m actually surprised by how much money I got, and let me tell you something: I don’t have half as much as most of these folks, or a tenth or a hundredth. There’s only so much you can eat. There’s only so big a house you can have. There’s only so many nice trips you can take. I mean … it’s enough! You don’t have to take a vow of poverty just to say, “Well, let me help out. Let me look at that child out there who doesn’t have enough to eat or needs some school fees. Let me help him out. I’ll pay a little more in taxes. It’s O.K. I can afford it.” I mean, it shows a poverty of ambition to just want to take more and more and more.

It involves promoting an inclusive capitalism, both within nations and between nations. As we pursue, for example, the Sustainable Development Goals, we have to get past the charity mindset. We’ve got to bring more resources to the forgotten pockets of the world through investment and entrepreneurship, because there is talent everywhere in the world if given an opportunity.

When it comes to the international system of commerce and trade, it’s legitimate for poorer countries to continue to seek access to wealthier markets… It’s also proper for advanced economies like the United States to insist on reciprocity from nations like China that are no longer solely poor countries, to make sure that they’re providing access to their markets and that they stop taking intellectual property and hacking our servers.

But even as there are discussions to be had around trade and commerce, it’s important to recognize this reality: while the outsourcing of jobs from north to south, from east to west, while a lot of that was a dominant trend in the late twentieth century, the biggest challenge to workers in countries like mine today is technology. The biggest challenge for your new President, when we think about how we’re going to employ more people here, is going to be also technology, because artificial intelligence is here, and it is accelerating, and you’re going to have driverless cars, and you’re going to have more and more automated services, and that’s going to make the job of giving everybody work that is meaningful tougher, and we’re going to have to be more imaginative. The pace of change is going to require us to do more fundamental reimagining of our social and political arrangements, to protect the economic security and the dignity that comes with a job. It’s not just money that a job provides; it provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. So we’re going to have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income, review our work week and how we retrain our young people, how we make everybody an entrepreneur at some level. We’re going to have to worry about economics if we want to get democracy back on track.

Second, Madiba teaches us that some principles really are universal, and the most important one is the principle that we are bound together by a common humanity, and that each individual has inherent dignity and worth.

It’s surprising that we have to affirm this truth today. More than a quarter century after Madiba walked out of prison, I still have to stand here at a lecture and devote some time to saying that black people and white people and Asian people and Latin American people and women and men and gays and straights, that we are all human, that our differences are superficial, and that we should treat each other with care and respect. I would have thought we would have figured that out by now. I thought that basic notion was well established. But it turns out, as we’re seeing in this recent drift into reactionary politics, that the struggle for basic justice is never truly finished. So we’ve got to constantly be on the lookout and fight for people who seek to elevate themselves by putting somebody else down. We have to resist the notion that basic human rights like freedom to dissent, or the right of women to fully participate in the society, or the right of minorities to equal treatment, or the rights of people not to be beat up and jailed because of their sexual orientation—we have to be careful not to say that somehow, well, that doesn’t apply to us, that those are Western ideas rather than universal imperatives.

Again, Madiba anticipated things. He knew what he was talking about. In 1964, before he received the sentence that condemned him to die in prison, he explained from the dock that “the Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world.” In other words, he didn’t say, Well, those books weren’t written by South Africans, so I can’t claim them. No, he said, That’s part of my inheritance. That’s part of the human inheritance. That applies here, in this country, to me, and to you. That’s part of what gave him the moral authority that the apartheid regime could never claim. He was more familiar with their best values than they were. He had read their documents more carefully than they had. And he went on to say, “Political division based on color is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another.” That’s Nelson Mandela speaking in 1964, when I was three years old.

What was true then remains true today. Basic truths do not change. It is a truth that can be embraced by the English, and by the Indian, and by the Mexican, and by the Bantu, and by the Luo, and by the American. It is a truth that lies at the heart of every world religion—that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That we see ourselves in other people. That we can recognize common hopes and common dreams. And it is a truth that is incompatible with any form of discrimination based on race or religion or gender or sexual orientation. And it is a truth that, by the way, when embraced, actually delivers practical benefits, since it insures that a society can draw upon the talents and energy and skill of all its people. And, if you doubt that, just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup. Because not all of those folks look like Gauls to me. But they’re French. They’re French.

Embracing our common humanity does not mean that we have to abandon our unique ethnic and national and religious identities. Madiba never stopped being proud of his tribal heritage. He didn’t stop being proud of being a black man and being a South African. But he believed, as I believe, that you can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage. In fact, you dishonor your heritage. It would make me think that you’re a little insecure about your heritage if you’ve got to put somebody else’s heritage down. Don’t you get a sense sometimes that these people who are so intent on putting people down and puffing themselves up, that they’re small-hearted, that there’s something they’re just afraid of? Madiba knew that we cannot claim justice for ourselves when it’s only reserved for some. Madiba understood that we can’t say we’ve got a just society simply because we replaced the color of the person on top of an unjust system, so the person looks like us even though they’re doing the same stuff, and somehow now we’ve got justice. That doesn’t work. It’s not justice if now you’re on top, so I’m going to do the same thing that those folks were doing to me, and now I’m going to do it to you. That’s not justice. “I detest racialism,” he said, “whether it comes from a black man or a white man.”

Now, we have to acknowledge that there is disorientation that comes from rapid change and modernization, and the fact that the world has shrunk, and we’re going to have to find ways to lessen the fears of those who feel threatened. In the West’s current debate around immigration, for example, it’s not wrong to insist that national borders matter; whether you’re a citizen or not is going to matter to a government; that laws need to be followed; that, in the public realm, newcomers should make an effort to adapt to the language and customs of their new home. Those are legitimate things, and we have to be able to engage people who do feel as if things are not orderly. But that can’t be an excuse for immigration policies based on race, or ethnicity, or religion. There’s got to be some consistency. We can enforce the law while respecting the essential humanity of those who are striving for a better life. For a mother with a child in her arms, we can recognize that could be somebody in our family, that could be my child.

Third, Madiba reminds us that democracy is about more than just elections. When he was freed from prison, Madiba’s popularity—well, you couldn’t even measure it. He could have been President for life. Am I wrong? Who was going to run against him? Had he chosen to do so, Madiba could have governed by executive fiat, unconstrained by check and balances. But instead he helped guide South Africa through the drafting of a new constitution, drawing from all the institutional practices and democratic ideals that had proven to be most sturdy, mindful of the fact that no single individual possesses a monopoly on wisdom.

No individual—not Mandela, not Obama—are entirely immune to the corrupting influences of absolute power, if you can do whatever you want and everyone’s too afraid to tell you when you’re making a mistake. No one is immune from the dangers of that.Mandela understood this. He said, “Democracy is based on the majority principle. This is especially true in a country such as ours, where the vast majority have been systematically denied their rights. At the same time, democracy also requires the rights of political and other minorities be safeguarded.” He understood it’s not just about who has the most votes. It’s also about the civic culture that we build that makes democracy work.

We have to stop pretending that countries that just hold an election where sometimes the winner somehow magically gets ninety per cent of the vote, because all the opposition is locked up or can’t get on TV, is a democracy. Democracy depends on strong institutions, and it’s about minority rights and checks and balances, and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and a free press, and the right to protest and petition the government, and an independent judiciary, and everybody having to follow the law.

And, yes, democracy can be messy, and it can be slow, and it can be frustrating. But the efficiency that’s offered by an autocrat, that’s a false promise. . . It leads invariably to more consolidation of wealth at the top and power at the top, and it makes it easier to conceal corruption and abuse. For all its imperfections, real democracy best upholds the idea that government exists to serve the individual, and not the other way around. And it is the only form of government that has the possibility of making that idea real.

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So, for those of us who are interested in strengthening democracy, it’s time for us to stop paying all of our attention to the world’s capitals and the centers of power, and to start focusing more on the grassroots, because that’s where democratic legitimacy comes from. Not from the top down, not from abstract theories, not just from experts, but from the bottom up. Knowing the lives of those who are struggling.

As a community organizer, I learned as much from a laid-off steelworker in Chicago or a single mom in a poor neighborhood that I visited as I learned from the finest economists in the Oval Office. Democracy means being in touch and in tune with life as it’s lived in our communities, and that’s what we should expect from our leaders, and it depends upon cultivating leaders at the grassroots who can help bring about change and implement it on the ground and can tell leaders in fancy buildings this isn’t working down here.

To make democracy work, Madiba shows us that we also have to keep teaching our children, and ourselves, to engage with people not only who look different but who hold different views. This is hard.

Most of us prefer to surround ourselves with opinions that validate what we already believe. You notice the people who you think are smart are the people who agree with you. Funny how that works. But democracy demands that we’re able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they’ll change ours. And you can’t do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start. And you can’t do it if you insist that those who aren’t like you—because they’re white, or because they’re male—that somehow there’s no way they can understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.

Madiba lived this complexity. In prison, he studied Afrikaans so that he could better understand the people who were jailing him. And when he got out of prison he extended a hand to those who had jailed him, because he knew that they had to be a part of the democratic South Africa that he wanted to build. “To make peace with an enemy,” he wrote, “one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one’s partner.”

So, those who traffic in absolutes when it comes to policy, whether it’s on the left or the right, they make democracy unworkable. You can’t expect to get a hundred per cent of what you want all the time; sometimes you have to compromise. That doesn’t mean abandoning your principles, but instead it means holding on to those principles and then having the confidence that they’re going to stand up to a serious democratic debate. That’s how America’s founders intended our system to work: that through the testing of ideas and the application of reason and proof it would be possible to arrive at a basis for common ground.

I should add: for this to work, we have to actually believe in an objective reality. This is another one of these things that I didn’t have to lecture about. You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there is no basis for coöperation. If I say this is a podium and you say this is an elephant, it’s going to be hard for us to coöperate. I can find common ground for those who oppose the Paris Accords because, for example, they might say, Well, it’s not going to work; you can’t get everybody to coöperate. Or they might say it’s more important for us to provide cheap energy for the poor, even if it means in the short term that there’s more pollution. At least I can have a debate with them about that, and I can show them why I think clean energy is the better path, especially for poor countries, that you can leapfrog old technologies. I can’t find common ground if somebody says climate change is just not happening, when almost all of the world’s scientists tell us it is. I don’t know where to start talking to you about this. If you start saying it’s an elaborate hoax, where do we start?

Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. We see it in state-sponsored propaganda. We see it in Internet-driven fabrications. We see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment. We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders, where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. Politicians have always lied, but it used to be, if you caught them lying, they’d be, like, “Oh, man.” Now they just keep on lying. . .

I don’t think of myself as a great leader just because I don’t completely make stuff up. You’d think that was a baseline. Anyway, we see it in the promotion of anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science from leaders who find critical thinking and data somehow politically inconvenient. And, as with the denial of rights, the denial of facts runs counter to democracy. It could be its undoing, which is why we must zealously protect independent media. We have to guard against the tendency for social media to become purely a platform for spectacle, outrage, or disinformation. We have to insist that our schools teach critical thinking to our young people, not just blind obedience.

Which, I’m sure you are thankful for, leads to my final point: we have to follow Madiba’s example of persistence and of hope. It is tempting to give in to cynicism: to believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back, that the pendulum has swung permanently. Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the nineties, now you are hearing people talk about the end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strongman. We have to resist that cynicism. Because we’ve been through darker times; we’ve been in lower valleys and deeper valleys.

Yes, by the end of his life, Madiba embodied the successful struggle for human rights, but the journey was not easy. It wasn’t pre-ordained. The man went to prison for almost three decades. He split limestone in the heat, he slept in a small cell, and was repeatedly put in solitary confinement. I remember talking to some of his former colleagues saying how they hadn’t realized, when they were released, just the sight of a child, the idea of holding a child, they had missed—it wasn’t something available to them, for decades.

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And yet his power actually grew during those years—and the power of his jailers diminished, because he knew that, if you stick to what’s true, if you know what’s in your heart, and you’re willing to sacrifice for it, even in the face of overwhelming odds, that it might not happen tomorrow, it might not happen in the next week, it might not even happen in your lifetime. Things may go backwards for a while, but, ultimately, right makes might, not the other way around. Ultimately, the better story can win out, and, as strong as Madiba’s spirit may have been, he would not have sustained that hope had he been alone in the struggle. Part of what buoyed him up was that he knew that, each year, the ranks of freedom fighters were replenishing, young men and women, here in South African, in the A.N.C. and beyond, black and Indian and white, from across the countryside, across the continent, around the world, who in those most difficult days would keep working on behalf of his vision. And that’s what we need right now. We don’t just need one leader; we don’t just need one inspiration. What we badly need right now is that collective spirit. And I know that those young people, those hope carriers, are gathering around the world. Because history shows that, whenever progress is threatened, and the things we care about most are in question, we should heed the words of Robert Kennedy—spoken here in South Africa—he said, “Our answer is the world’s hope: it is to rely on youth. It’s to rely on the spirit of the young.”

So, young people who are in the audience, who are listening, my message to you is simple: keep believing, keep marching, keep building, keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world. Mandela said, “Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.” Now is a good time to be aroused. Now is a good time to be fired up. And, for those of us who care about the legacy that we honor here today—about equality and dignity and democracy and solidarity and kindness, those of us who remain young at heart, if not in body—we have an obligation to help our youth succeed. Some of you know, here in South Africa, my foundation is convening over the last few days two hundred young people from across this continent who are doing the hard work of making change in their communities, who reflect Madiba’s values, who are poised to lead the way.

People like Abaas Mpindi, a journalist from Uganda, who founded the Media Challenge Initiative to help other young people get the training they need to tell the stories that the world needs to know.

People like Caren Wakoli, an entrepreneur from Kenya who founded the Emerging Leaders Foundation to get young people involved in the work of fighting poverty and promoting human dignity.

People like Enock Nkulanga, who directs the African Children’s Mission, which helps children in Uganda and Kenya get the education that they need and then, in his spare time, Enock advocates for the rights of children around the globe, and founded an organization called LeadMinds Africa, which does exactly what it says.

You meet these people, you talk to them, they will give you hope. They are taking the baton; they know they can’t just rest on the accomplishments of the past, even the accomplishments of those as momentous as Nelson Mandela’s. They stand on the shoulders of those who came before, including that young black boy born a hundred years ago, but they know that it is now their turn to do the work.

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Madiba reminds us, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and, if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.” Love comes more naturally to the human heart; let’s remember that truth. Let’s see it as our North Star, let’s be joyful in our struggle to make that truth manifest here on Earth, so that, in a hundred years from now, future generations will look back and say, “They kept the march going. That’s why we live under new banners of freedom.” Thank you very much, South Africa. Thank you.

  • Barack Obama was the forty-fourth President of the United

The Trump-Kim Summit: Reality TV or a New Era?


June 13, 2018

The Trump-Kim Summit: Reality TV or a New Era?

In Singapore, North Korea reaffirmed an agreement to “work toward” complete denuclearization. But two other key words long sought by the U.S.—“verifiable” and “irreversible”—were missing.Photograph by Evan Vucci / AP

 

Three days after angering his six closest Western allies, President Trump embraced Asia’s most notorious dictator at a steamy resort in Singapore and heralded a “very special bond” in new relations between the United States and North Korea. Trump and Kim signed a two-page statement—big on ideas but slim on specifics—that committed North Korea to “complete denuclearization” and said that the United States would “provide security guarantees” for a country with which it is still technically at war.

“We’re very proud of what took place today,” Trump said, after the two men, appearing relaxed after three rounds of talks, signed the four-point declaration. “I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has been in the past. We both want to do something.” The President said that the world will be “very impressed, very happy” as the two nations take care of “a very dangerous problem for the world.”

Kim chimed in, saying, “We had a very historic meeting and agreed to leave the past behind. The world will see a major change.”

The four-point statement committed the countries to establishing new diplomatic relations. It pledged to “join efforts” to build a “lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula, and that would appear to include South Korea. In especially vague terms, North Korea reaffirmed an agreement—originally made between the two Koreas at their historic summit on April 27th—to “work toward” complete denuclearization. Two other key words long sought by the United States—“verifiable” and “irreversible”—were missing. Finally, the two nations vowed to recover the remains of prisoners of war from the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953, in which more than thirty-three thousand Americans were killed. Almost eight thousand American troops remain unaccounted for.

Trump also announced that he would cancel regularly scheduled military exercises—which he referred to as “war games”—with South Korea, which have been pivotal to South Korea’s security. Trump called the exercises, which will next take place in August, “provocative,” adopting North Korea’s position and language on both terms. The United States still has twenty-eight thousand troops in the South.

In Washington, there is broad support for Trump’s diplomacy, especially after a year of threatening rhetoric that seemed to move the U.S. and North Korea ominously close to war. Ten months ago, the President warned Kim of “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Yet former U.S. negotiators with North Korea and senior military experts who worked on the issue were distinctly unimpressed—even baffled—by the lack of substance at the summit, the first meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea.

“As hyped as the meeting was, the result is underwhelming,” Wendy Sherman, who was a top negotiator with North Korea in the Clinton and Obama Administrations and the lead negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal, said. “The document not only doesn’t break new ground—it is less than previous documents, including the 1992 Joint Declaration, the Agreed Framework of 1994, and the September, 2005, Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.” All were diplomatic initiatives by the three previous Presidents that eventually collapsed because Pyongyang was found to be cheating or in violation of its pledges.

All earlier efforts by both Republican and Democratic Administrations emphasized verification, the core issue in virtually every U.S. agreement on nuclear-arms control with any nation, and incorporated international accords such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Trump also gave Kim a “major concession” without equivalent reciprocal steps, Sherman added, by cancelling joint exercises with South Korea.

The government in Seoul appeared surprised by the cancellation. “We need to find out the exact meaning or intention behind his comments at this point,” a South Korean military official said. The Pentagon also appeared to be caught off guard by the announcement, the Times reported. Defense Secretary James Mattis has long backed the U.S.-South Korean exercises as central to America’s role in East Asia. Pentagon officials both in Seoul and Washington said they had received no new instructions and were still planning for exercises that are now only a couple of months away.

The brief statement “landed with a thud,” Abraham Denmark, the director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, told me. “No new commitments from Kim on denuclearization, or even a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear or missile programs. No new assurances from the United States. The statement mostly reiterates what was said at the inter-Korean summit, and sets vague plans for future meetings. We knew there was a long way to go, but this statement makes very little progress.”

Pyongyang and Beijing are the big winners coming out of the summit, especially because of the limits on U.S. military activities in South Korea. Trump had also suggested earlier that he might draw down U.S. troops, who have been stationed on the Peninsula for seven decades. “Kim got a huge propaganda win and a metric ton of legitimacy,” Denmark said. “Expect North Korean media to replay these images for years, showing how the world respects Kim and that North Korea is now recognized as an equal to the United States and the other great powers of the world. Kim gave up nothing new.” China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, got everything that it wanted, too.

At the press conference, Trump said he has extended an invitation to Kim to visit the White House at some “appropriate” time in the future, implying after progress has been made with “denuclearization”—the pivotal concept that’s still not spelled out specifically in the statement. Kim accepted the invitation, the President said, adding, “There’s no limit to what North Korea can achieve if it gives up its nuclear weapons.” The White House prepared a four-minute video to illustrate the potential for Kim—and the alternatives.

“A new world can begin today—one of respect, friendship, and good will,” the narrator vows, referring to Trump and Kim as “two men, two leaders, one destiny.” The video features high-rise condo units, drones, packed grocery stores, car-assembly plants, and babies in modern incubators. “The past does not have to be the future,” the narrator says. “It comes down to a choice.” The video then shows the bleak future without diplomacy: bombs going off, troops at the demilitarized zone. “The future remains to be written.”

The brief summit—originally scheduled for two days—was rife with lofty language from the President about the North Korean leader, who has executed members of his own family to consolidate power. “Well, he is very talented,” Trump said. “Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at twenty-six years of age, and is able to run it, and run it tough.”

The summit was historic simply because it allowed the socialization of two countries at war, and it “didn’t obviously fly off the rails,” James (Spider) Marks, a retired major general who was a senior intelligence officer on North Korea, told me. But a “Presidential pat on the back does not connote trust. It can start trust-building, and we all should hope that that is the intended outcome.”

The danger is that the new U.S.-North Korean agreement offers no guidelines on how to convert principles into disarmament practice, or even of how many arms it covers. The Administration has previously thrown in all of North Korea’s intercontinental missiles and its biological and chemical weapons. “Unfortunately, it is still unclear whether the two sides are on the same page about definitions and the pace, and the sequencing of many steps involved in the complete ‘denuclearization’ of the Korean Peninsula,” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said in a statement. North Korea has yet to provide a full rundown of its deadliest weapons; the agreement offers no details on timing or process. It also does not mention who will oversee the three big steps—the dismantlement of the nuclear arsenal, the verification of that dismantlement, and future inspections. Will part of it be done by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog that has been central to many such inspections? Or will the United States claim most or all of the roles? The I.A.E.A has already said it is gearing up to participate.

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Otto Warmbier sacrificed

The most conspicuous item missing from the statement was the issue of human rights, which has been central to U.S. policy for decades. Tens of thousands of political prisoners are believed to be held by Kim’s regime, according to human-rights groups. The American Otto Warmbier died within days of his release from a North Korean prison because of alleged torture that left him brain-damaged. Trump—who called his North Korean counterpart “very smart” and “talented”—was repeatedly pressed on whether he brought it up. The President actually cited Warmbier as the pivot to diplomacy. “Otto did not die in vain,” he said at a press conference before leaving Singapore. “I think, without Otto, this would not have happened.”

Sherman was outraged. “The President’s comments on human rights—that those in labor camps would be winners, that this meeting wouldn’t have happened but for Otto Warmbier’s death, and that Kim was loved by his people and was trustworthy—those comments are not worthy of a President of the United States,” she said.

Others urged separating the issues immediately at hand. “Let’s not roll the Kim regime’s egregious and undeniable human-rights violations into our evaluation of success of the summit,” Marks said. “This is about reducing the clear and present danger of global nuclear annihilation, not human rights.” The irony of the President’s approach, however, is that it exactly mirrors what the Obama Administration did in its diplomacy with Iran, out of which came the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Obama wanted to focus on eliminating Tehran’s deadliest arms program first before taking on other issues, including human rights.

Trump, who claimed that he had not slept for twenty-five hours, basked in the attention of the choreographed summit. But he will face tough questions about how to translate a modest statement into the most robust program anywhere in the world to limit nuclear proliferation as the initiative—to be led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—moves forward. Meanwhile, key allies left in the dirt at the G-7 summit over the weekend may be wondering what happens next with them, too.

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Trump took time at the press conference following the summit to again scold Canada, the closest U.S. ally geographically and its second-largest trading partner. A member of NATO, its troops have fought and died alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan. More than twenty-six thousand Canadians fought in the Korean War; more than five hundred were killed. But alliance be damned. The President was infuriated after Prime Minister Trudeau said that Canada would not be “pushed around” by the United States. “He learned that’s going to cost a lot of money for the people of Canada,” Trump told reporters in Singapore. “He learned.” After the Singapore summit, the temperamental President seems to be on better terms with a North Korean despot than a Canadian democrat.

This post has been updated.

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Hun Sen: No one negotiates better than me


March 29, 2018

Hun Sen: No one negotiates better than me

by Ben Sokhean and Quinn Libson

https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/hun-sen-no-one-negotiates-better-me-history-world-leaders

Ben Sokhean, Quinn Libson and Political Analyst Meas Nee would be well advised to read Astrid Noren-Nilsson’s Cambodia’s Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination and Democracy for a proper understanding of H.E.Cambodian Prime Minister  Samdech Techo Hun Sen’s political philosophy, his trials and tribulations, his achievements since he took control of the country in 1998, and Cambodia’s contested history since Independence in 1953. Samdech Techo Hun Sen puts democracy building in an explicitly developmental context. For the Cambodian Premier, it is peace, stability and development first. –Din Merican

Prime Minister prepares to speak at a gathering of garment workers in the capital on Wednesday. Facebook

In a boast reminiscent of US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Hun Sen went on a tangent on Wednesday before thousands of garment workers in Por Sen Chey district extolling his negotiating prowess, calling himself one of the top negotiators in the “history of world leaders”, while reiterating that he would not actually be engaging in any such negotiations with the opposition.

The premier emphasised the role he played in negotiating with former members of the Khmer Rouge, saying “Hun Sen’s presence [at negotiations] helped to solve the problems with the soldiers”. He also posited that the job of negotiator, in some ways, is even harder than the role of a soldier on a battlefield, explaining that in battle, the lower-ranked soldiers are the ones in the line of fire, while in negotiation, it’s the high-ranking combatants – like Hun Sen – who are the ones who see the action.

“There is no one using negotiation opportunities better than me in the history of world leaders,” the prime minister told the workers, adding that he had also been carrying out negotiations for longer than any other current leaders.

Political analyst Meas Nee, however, challenged the validity of Hun Sen’s boasts, saying such talks should not just result in a “winner and loser”.

“The negotiator is a person who enables the involved parties to work with one another and solve the problem,” Nee said. “If we look at the current political crisis in Cambodia, if the leader is good, the political crisis would not be stuck in the deadlock it is today, and I think that it would be solved already.”

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Despite Hun Sen’s claim that his negotiation skills rival all others, the premier is maintaining his position that he will not entertain the possibility of talks with former members of the forcibly dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had previously been the only legitimate challenger to Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in this July’s national elections. On Monday, Hun Sen insisted that there would be no pardons for jailed opposition figures or talks with the CNRP.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan pinned the blame for the lack of compromise on former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, maintaining that Hun Sen is trying to “build a culture of dialogue” with the result that “all Cambodian people are happy and welcome”. Rainsy has been out of the country since 2015, fleeing a host of politically tinged convictions against him, including some in cases levelled by the premier himself.

“The convict Sam Rainsy is the one trying to destroy the culture of dialogue until it’s dead,” Eysan said.

Responding to Wednesday’s speech, Rainsy had a message for the Premier: “[B]eing really effective in negotiations aimed at peacefully resolving national issues requires at least two fundamental skills: intelligence, which he seems to demonstrate, and courage, which he has yet to show.”

“Hun Sen seems to be only guided by fear in his continuous refusal to engage in any negotiation with the CNRP, the only credible opposition party.”

 

This article previously said Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speech was given on Tuesday March 27. In fact it was given on Wednesday March 28. This has  been amended. 

Modi’s Gulf Diplomacy: Signs of a changing world


February 26, 2018

Modi’s Gulf Diplomacy: Signs of a changing world

by  Balbur Puni

Modi’s upholding of the two-nation solution in Palestine was timely not only to rebalance India’s  diplomacy in the most turbulent region of the world but also to silence his critics back home

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While the national media is naturally focused on banking scams adding to thousands of crores, a major development with far reaching consequences for the country has passed unnoticed. Laying of a foundation stone for a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi at the hands of visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi signals that the winds of change are beginning to blow even in the arid region of the Gulf. This event  in the Islam’s conservative cauldron has more than a symbolic value both for the hosts and the distinguished guest.

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Prime Minister Modi and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu

Consider also the other highlights of Modi’s recent Gulf foray. One, it comes right against the background of his rolling out the red carpet for  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —one of the most die-hard Jew whom the world perceives as the obdurate obstructionist in the  establishment of an enduring peace in the region.

Despite the impression this red carpet carried for the international community, Modi was in Palestine soon after reinforcing the Indian stand all these years that the two state arrangement is the only enduring solution to the Palestine problem-the soaring  gangrene of the Gulf.

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The Indian Prime Minister’s upholding of the two nation theory in Palestine was timely not only to rebalance India’s  diplomacy in the most turbulent region in the world but also to demonstrate to his critics back home, that their Prime Minister is a deft player in international diplomacy in dealing with a tough Isareli counterpart or in assuaging wounded pride of the Islamic two third of the Gulf and even in winning and retaining their confidence in him as much as in gaining new military and industrial ties with Israel.  Not just the Jewish nation but the upholders of Islam’s dominance of the region are also counting on India’s growing role in adding to the peace process there.

On two counts Modi’s diplomacy has placed India in a beneficial position in the region. One is in supporting Israel as a growth agent of the area that needs the great talent of technology that the Jewish nation has which is so vital for a whole region that will now have to address itself to a de-cremental role of its most major source of wealth and well being-that is the oil.

It is obvious that oil is losing it’s pre-eminent position as a major source of energy in the world. There is emerging a shift from dependence on oil and gas as source of energy to solar based energy. There are clear signals of this shift the world over, including India.

Modi’s commitment of his Government to this shift in domestic energy policies, in modernising a traditional society into the digital era is also a point of criticism for his domestic opponents. But by standing abreast with global leaders in reversing climate change, in taking big strides in using solar energy and in awakening his own people to pollution whether in dealing with human waste to becoming a people aligned to digital transformation, there is this leadership role closely working with each change agent as a do or die transformation.

The Prime Minister’s Gulf tour was also well timed and well-paying for his country. The way he was received and country after country from Jordan to Iran have sought and got a wide ranging Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) from him must have silenced his domestic critics now made to eat their words questioning the “chaiwala’s” diplomatic capability.

The Gulf tour comes also in the wake of an ASEAN Summit held in New Delhi where South-east Asian nations were not hesitant to express their apprehensions about China’s growing hegemonic rule.  Their determination to resist such hegemony whether in the South China Sea or in Indian Ocean island countries was evident as the Malé political crisis broke out as the world perceived China as using economic leverage gained through large scale “loosening of its purse” as diplomatic correspondents put it in Malé or Pakistan to push forward its policy of encircling India.

Communalism was an old theme. It got a boost when his Government backed the apex court taking up the issue of human rights in the battle it launched against the Muslim practice of triple talaq.  But wherever elections were held Muslim women appeared to back the Government rather than the orthodox mullahs who sought to give a religious backing to a simple  human rights violation issue. That even as Narendra Modi touched several Muslim majority countries no one mentioned the campaign against triple talaq as anti-Islamic.

In these very countries there other signs of change. Like in Saudi Arabia women being given the privilege of driving the family car and relaxation is the rigid stand in the name of religion that women cannot go out without being accompanied by a male close relative.

Behind the curtain of black cloth women in Islamic majority countries might have read Modi’s campaign against triple talaq as a word of hope for them though there may not have been any opening for them to give expression to their feeling. Within the country itself more and more signs are there of Muslim women breaking the barriers and asserting their rights. For instance, in Kerala Muslim women are attending Friday prayers and here and there even asserting their right to lead them.

At the same time the threat to world peace from the violence breathing Islamic States (IS) and terrorism spewing Pakistan are getting isolated day by day. If Pakistan had assumed that by playing Beijing’s puppet it would corner India, Modi has by getting Oman to voluntarily give India access to Oman port of  Duqm for  military purposes also with this port within sight of the Iranian port Chabahar on the Iranian coast developed by India with a clear security angle for Indian access to Afghanistan and central Asia

What is mystery in this great diplomatic achievement is not so much India’s quiet diplomatic triumph in now having a naval presence at the mouth of the Red Sea and the vital maritime route from Indian Ocean to Mediterranean through the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea but also big blow to China’s move to encircle India by infiltrating into Maldives’ political  power structure. The mystery is why the Indian Press failed to highlight this diplomatic triumph of Narendra Modi in an area of bitter inter-Islam conflict and IS influence.

(The writer is a political commentator and a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP) 

Be Courteous to one another, Malaysians


January 28, 2018

Be Courteous to one another, Malaysians

by Dr Mohd Sani Badr

https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/ikim-views/2018/01/09/the-state-of-malaysian-courtesy-we-belong-to-one-big-family-that-relies-on-mutual-love-and-respect/

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 They are the future of a pluralistic and secular Malaysia

THE Rukunegara, the national philosophy, affirms courtesy and morality (kesopanan dan kesusilaan) as the most important character traits in maintaining good relationships in our plural society.

On the other hand, arrogance and causing offence to the sensibilities of others are thoroughly condemned, regardless whether committed by the rich, the powerful, or linguistic and cultural chauvinists.

Observing discussions on social media and reports in traditional media, especially in relation to partisan politics and hawkish pressure groups, this writer wonders whether Malaysians care more about being respectful of diversity than being arrogant. Or is it now the other way around?

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That is why Malaysians must not vote UMNO Racists and bigots

 

Respect, politeness and arrogance are character traits inculcated mainly by parents, families, teachers and educational institutions. Have we taught our children and students sufficiently about being respectful to humanity without arrogance?

 There is an Islamic tradition on being respectful, where Mu‘adh ibn Jabal said, “The Messenger of God commanded me saying, ‘O, Mu‘adh, I command you to fear God, to speak truthfully, to fulfil the promise, to deliver what you are entrusted with, to shun perfidious actions, to care for the neighbour, to have compassion towards the orphan, to be soft-spoken, to be generous in extending greeting, to do your best no matter what you do, to curtail your fallacious hope, to cleave to the faith, to study the Quran, to love the hereafter, to be anxious in regard to the Day of Reckoning, and to act with humility.” (narrated by al-Bayhaqi).

This writer cautiously believes that many Malaysians, regardless of religious affiliation – or rather, because they are inspired by their faith – are indeed respectful of each other.

The Malaysian founding fathers called this muhibbah, which means mutual love or affectionate friendship among humankind. It is more than mere tolerance.

Merciful human relationship is a great idea from scriptural Revelation, recorded in the Quran. Its basis is the understanding that humanity originates from the common origin called nafs wahidah – a fact emphasised throughout the Quran.

There is essential unity of all people as God’s creatures. All of us belong to one human family without any inherent biological superiority of one over another. The Prophet Muhammad was quoted as saying, “Man is but a God-fearing believer or a hapless sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust.”

In the worldview of Islam, while among Muslims there is “religious brotherhood”, between Muslims and followers of other faiths, there is “biological brotherhood” of the human race. According to this teaching, all of us are biologically brothers and sisters as we are from one living entity (nafs wahidah), whose proper name is Adam.

It is one of the wonders of God’s creation that from one person (Adam), we have grown to be so many; each individual has so many faculties and capacities, and yet we are all one. In other words, this common origin should appeal to the solidarity of humankind, as all of us are brothers and sisters.

Arising from this kinship, we humans have mutual obligations, rights and duties. In another universal verse, God says, “O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain has spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty towards God in whom you claim your rights of one another.” (4:1).

Because all humankind is one, our mutual rights and dignity must therefore be treated with the full respect they deserve. This is valid even if each of us has his own religious community. It is in this context that the Prophet Muhammad states, “All creatures are equal dependents upon God (‘iyalullah), and those dearest to God are the ones who treat His dependents most kindly.”

Or in another translation: “The whole of mankind is the family of God and he amongst His family is dearest to Him, who does good to others.” (narrated by al-Bayhaqi).

Indeed, the Prophet highlights the fact that all humanity is equally under the care of God, He who feeds, nourishes and sustains them. Moreover, those dearest to God are the ones who are of benefit to others.

Thus, Islam strongly condemns all racial prejudices. Our “natural” outward differentiations – whether in terms of gender, race, language and skin colour – are deemed by Islam to be merely superficial labels.

It is a person’s inner goodness, that is, his “nurtural” ethical quality – measured according to universal religious values – that should be the basis for our esteem for him.

We should never ridicule, insult or unnecessarily be suspicious of another just because he is of a different gender, race, language or hue. Racial quarrels must, by all means, be avoided through proper understanding of one’s own religion in relation to the religions of others.

Dr Mohd Sani Badron is principal fellow/director of Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/ikim-views/2018/01/09/the-state-of-malaysian-courtesy-we-belong-to-one-big-family-that-relies-on-mutual-love-and-respect/#GFDZIWB4bepcUH1L.99

The Koreas: President Moon Jae-in pursues the Path to Peace the Kim Dae Jung Way


January 9, 2017

The Koreas: President Moon Jae-in pursues the Path to Peace the Kim Dae Jung Way

By Stephen Costello, AsiaEast

Image result for Kim Dae Jung
Image result for president moon jae-in and kim jong un

It is hard to overstate the drama that has gripped the South Korean political world during the past 12 months. But the return of pragmatic democratic leadership today offers a crucial opportunity for President Moon Jae-in to reshape the perilous security situation in Northeast Asia as well as to reinvigorate South Korea’s democracy and economy.

The political year really began in October 2016, when then President Park Geun-hye’s combination of corruption and incompetence propelled hundreds of thousands of citizens onto the streets in lively but peaceful protests. On 10 March 2017, the National Assembly voted unanimously to impeach Park. Sixty days later Moon Jae-in was elected. There may not be any other democracy today that could do this.

Image result for president moon jae-inMoon Jae-In is a pragmatic strategist, not an ideologue

 

South Koreans can be rightfully proud of this. Yet it is not clear that government leaders or the policy community at large have fully digested the country’s growth or fully recognised its middle power potential. In this sense, they lag behind much of the public.

For South Korea and Northeast Asia, the most important aspect of Moon’s election is that he is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. That makes him unique right now in Northeast Asia. His task is to advertise South Korea’s assets and insist on the country’s rightful seat at the decision making table. If the Moon government can become a channel for clear and pragmatic policies, it can then lead on critical issues such as North Korean denuclearisation and development, disaster relief, clean energy and arms reduction.

Yet to do that, impediments within South Korea’s policy space must be acknowledged and managed — some will even have to be addressed head-on. One is that conservatives fear modernism and miss the imagined certainty of the pre-democratic era. Another is that there is a persistent political and personality war among democrats that may determine how successfully Moon can shape policy debates and maintain support in the National Assembly. Moon must also cooperate with the progressive People’s Party and the Justice Party in order to push through his initiatives.

There are two other challenges that could constrain South Korean power and flexibility. One is the radically different views that persist of South Korea’s role, power and responsibilities: on one hand, a weak and dependent South Korea, and on the other, a South Korea that stands as middle power. Even the President seems torn between them; Moon recently said that the regional situation ‘is not favourable to us’ and that South Korea ‘has no power to resolve the current crisis or help relevant sides seek an agreement’. But he has also insisted for months that Seoul should be ‘in the driver’s seat’ on North Korea issues, and he has begun to cultivate his relationship with Xi Jinping.

The second challenge is the South Korea–US alliance. The relationship is long overdue for readjustment and modernisation but is encountering numerous road blocks under the Trump administration. The Trump administration is an unreliable negotiating partner, and it has become hyper-sensitive to any hint of independent ambition by Seoul. While the alliance is not at risk, it sorely needs South Korea to assume greater responsibility. But US unpredictability and Trump’s bellicosity mean statements to that effect evoke nervousness among South Korean elites, and have prevented the government from advancing solutions.

Where does that leave South Korea’s foreign policy direction? President Moon needs to focus on three key external relations opportunities.

First is South Korea’s regional relations. Moon has already begun to manage the areas in which South Korean, Chinese and Japanese interests overlap. But it would be a grave mistake for Moon to continue to urge Russia and China to punish North Korea harder. Instead, his advantage lies in his ability to offer a roadmap for infrastructure and development that integrates the North. China, Russia and Japan would directly and amply benefit from this. Moon should also encourage diplomacy and increased global interaction with North Korea, which could form the basis for the next successful regional advancement.

Second is South Korea’s bilateral relations with North Korea. South Korea’s clear interest lies in reclaiming the strategic possibilities that emerged in 2000, when the North’s proposed denuclearisation benefitted each actor and Pyongyang’s security and development were tightly linked to it. But if the government continues to pursue the false notion that maximum isolation and pressure can lead to negotiations with Kim Jong-un, then it can make no progress.

Third is South Korea’s alliance with the United States. Due to mistakes of past US and South Korean presidents, the North Korea issue now largely defines bilateral relations. This was clear before Moon was elected. If he is to be a true friend to the United States rather than a Trump enabler, he will quickly take up leadership on Peninsular issues (which Trump has abandoned).

While the United States will eventually return to positive engagement on Peninsular issues, this may take five years or more, and Moon doesn’t have time to wait. Too much of South Korea’s agenda and its immediate security depend on him moving now. Trump has shown himself to be malleable — particularly if others arrange for the US’s advantageous participation. That possibility — rather than fuelling Trump’s non-strategic, ‘tough guy’ impulses — is where Seoul and Washington’s roles can be mutually reinforcing.

With its US ally temporarily drained of diplomatic and institutional capacity, and with broad public support, South Korea’s leadership has never possessed this level of capability, stability and flexibility. How and whether it is used will greatly impact regional dynamics in coming months and years. Will the government use its unprecedented power to play a decisive and positive role in 2018?

Stephen Costello is an independent analyst and consultant and the producer of AsiaEast. He was formerly director of the Korea Program at the Atlantic Council and director of the Kim Dae Jung Peace Foundation. His column appears at The Korea Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @CostelloScost.

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/12/18/south-koreas-astonishing-political-year/

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.