Charlie Hebdo and JZ: Contrasting Icons on a Globalising Planet

2015-01-24 09:14

Liberal and coercive values seem to clash with increasing force on both local and international stages, making for some eerie parallels if you scratch below the surface for their real reasons.

In South Africa we are burdened with an unfortunate president – uninspiring, manipulative and opaque at best – who squats on an inert and attitudinally indifferent electoral base in the face of a small but vocal and comparatively intelligent opposition.

He fails to show up to answer important questions in a constitutional democracy convened by a representative parliament.

He routinely, ducks responsibilities that would get most people (especially a head of state) fired  and is widely recognized as being “Teflon” coated.

Meanwhile France – arguably the fountainhead of modern liberal thought – is under attack by forces as barbaric and coercive as we witnessed at Charlie Hebdo’s on January 7th.

Strange world?

Many with the gift of reason would know that our society is in a crisis of values, is morally compromised and suffers from dissonance between its ethnic and cultural components. That makes for a pretty grim outlook, so let’s look at our first 20 years to get an idea of our trajectory and gage prospects for any improvement.

In a nutshell, an astonishing sixty percent of the electorate still supports a party that - amongst other things:

• has trashed a highly workable albeit less than ideal, education system and supplanted it with one of the world’s worst state educations.

Parastatal corporations, health and other services are similarly compromised;

• has bred a counter-work ethic that discourages enterprise, puts people out of work and then buys their support through state hand outs (it seems that we now have the highest unemployment rate in the world) with almost all sub-Saharan African nations growing at more than double our economic growth rate;


• is demonstrably corrupt and wasteful.

The governing party would have stood no chance of retaining power in any meaningful democracy, which raises important questions about government models suited to Africa. But to make matters worse, our elected government engages in misdemeanors from the highest office with a president who would almost certainly be behind bars if the legal process had not been hijacked through intrigue and interference on his behalf. Accountability and management acumen are absent in very many functions of government and in state enterprises.

Then, to top it all we have through all these years had available to us much of the talent, resources and know-how to address most of our shortcomings - the human capital to succeed as a nation. But instead, government chose to quarantine this accumulated asset and eschew the advantages it had in pursuit of notional and specious “social justice” objectives.

This has understandably resulted in an ethos of confiscation and patronage that enriches the well-connected and shields the incompetent on condition of political loyalty.

Another predictable result is that South Africa long since abandoned its claim to being the political miracle it was once thought to be. Instead it is increasingly recognized as being in danger of failing as a viable nation state and is becoming a powder keg of ever more abrasive socio-economic issues.

But we are not alone and - lest gloom and doom overwhelm us - let us look around. This dysfunctional cocktail has global parallels.

Putin’s Russia combines economic incompetence and patronage on grand scale in combination with political intrigue, disregard for international law and coercive subterfuge. He even invades weaker nations if he feels like it. In short he is a renegade on the world stage - a Zuma on steroids.

But it does not end there.

On a still grander scale the fraud of religious delusion increasingly threatens global freedom. The Arab Spring of 2010 has, according to many commentators, triggered much of today’s international unrest and morphed into jihadist activities that blight the civilised world. The reasons for this are there for all to see.

The Islamic appetite for dominance – unchecked by totalitarian regimes as it was in the past – has grown since the end of the Cold War. And since it is a faith emphasizing the conquest and conversion of what it perceives to be “the infidel” it is inherently aggressive. An (attitudinal) state of Dar al Islam distinguishes “the faithful” from Dar al Harb – a state of being at loggerheads with the infidel, against whom conquest is considered legitimate – indeed, by some, necessary.

Such confrontation places civilized values at risk in many parts of the world, even where Muslims are hosted by secular governments or where other host religions prevail. In this way, it seems to me, the intellectual and cultural polarities within the South African state and between competing dogmas worldwide mirror a similar phenomenon.

In both instances power is sourced from ignorance and serves sectional aims and agendas.

In South Africa, “religion” (as much as an ideology) is the watchword for the irrational if one takes the trouble to read the sub-text of what gets said by some in leadership roles. For example, Zuma tells us that that the ANC ‘will rule until Jesus comes again” and, just the other day called on him to show up soon for his second coming.

That makes him as delusional as any jihadist.

But in addition, there are plenty of every day, politically accessible cult religions (commonly termed ideologies) aimed to bolster his - and the ANC’s - position. Take “the Struggle”; “worker rights”; the purported sins of inequality; “social justice” and “transformation” – all emotive terms designed to evoke loyal and indignant responses rather than communicate anything useful, and least of all, provide solutions.

So, where to now?

Step 1 is to recognize that the South African situation is not totally dissimilar from what is happening in much of the world. Universal polarities exist between rich and poor; educated and ignorant; followers and leaders; drones versus movers and shakers. But they have become more visible, more immediate.

Step 2 is to acknowledge that politicians, social entrepreneurs (trade unionists, jihadists, etc.) and the like, will always be around to exploit the ignorant and vulnerable under pretence of knowing better, purporting to be better educated and well connected (either with senior party members or God himself) - or sometimes even just coercing others through being being armed and dangerous.

Step 3 is to recognize that the intellectually weak, the uneducated and ignorant are suffering abuse at the hands of those powerful, influential and with political savvy – no matter where they derive their influence.

Trade unions, for example purport to serve workers’ interests, when they in fact destroy job opportunities and secure positions for their members at inflated wage levels; jihadists purport to promote “the perfect way of life” (replete with compliant virgins for the most violent among them) by obliterating life and livelihoods and subjugating females.

Both are fraudulent in varying degrees – and promote low intelligence doctrines enhanced with the toxic attributes of their leaders.The power of such negative currents in human affairs can only be surmounted by a growing intellect and much better educated people. That is because reason and knowledge are the bedrocks for any democracy, economy or successful modern society.

It is small wonder therefore that in South Africa the state has abused and denigrated public education and that in so many new and incipient theocracies non-secular (for that read mainly Sharia) law holds sway; uneducated, poorly schooled and functionally ignorant people are cannon fodder for those seeking to control. They don't want too many smart people.

These polarities are the downside of globalization – an otherwise uplifting phenomenon for all mankind - and result from the insecurity of those who have something to lose. Because they – the most hidebound; most limited in their world views; and least secure in themselves - are the least able to meet the challenges of a shrinking and better connected world where the rational prevails. They strive to “defend” it against reason, fresh insights and new paradigms that undermine their influence. And they often use violence to do so.

Such perversions of human intellect and spirit deserve the concerned attention of all with access to reason and the ability to oppose and expose. As South Africans we are forewarned what can happen since we have first hand experience of a regime where merit counts for little and conformity, obedience, race (akin to a faith, in this example) and dumb loyalty are extravagantly rewarded.

It is a sad situation but we have been known to overcome worse. Maybe we are the bellwether for others in a globalizing world.

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AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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