As 2011 ends it might well be remembered as “annus horribilis” or the horrible year.
The March tsunami that overwhelmed Japan demonstrated nature’s immense power to dwarf or drown all human efforts to build stronger, better and safer methods of a high-tech civilization. The swelling of the ocean tides around Japan’s 40-year-old Fukushima nuclear plant was a reminder yet again man remains nature’s child, even as he might decode the chemistry of distant stars.
But a tsunami or a volcanic eruption or an earthquake, despite the ruins and tears it brings to those in its path, bears as much or little fault in itself as snowflakes in winter. On the contrary, effects of human folly, greed, envy, resentment, bigotry, misogyny, pride and the incapacity or unwillingness to reason and learn from the accumulated record of mischief rest entirely on our shoulders.
Twenty years ago this week, the collapse of the communist gulag called the Soviet Union raised expectations peace in a better world was within reach.
The story of the past two decades, however, increasingly appear similar in terms of the promise of peace and failed politics during those scoundrel years of 1919-39 between two world wars. There is the united Europe with its members arranged as so many domino pieces on an unstable economic board folding over due to gross expenditures outstripping savings and productivity. Europe’s economic crisis of 2010 in Greece, Portugal and Ireland spread in 2011 into Spain and Italy. Hence economic uncertainties and political unrest make Europe less of a bulwark for peace and stability in a restless world.
The so-called Arab Spring was a false dawn as the Arab world quakes at the edge of another periodic violent civil war. The collapse of tyrants ruling Arab states meant old certainties of tribal politics in the name of Arab nationalism were overrun by new uncertainties of the same under the slogans of Islamism.
In the 40 years since Egypt’s Col. Nasser died, or 30 years since Ayatollah Khomeini’s fanatical followers seized power in Iran, the population of the Arab-Muslim world has tripled while the economy — minus oil production of the Gulf producers — has remained stagnant. This is the predictable recipe for populist uprisings, violent repressions and wars to come.
The West’s irresponsibility has been to sell arms to these deranged political entities of the Arab-Muslim world instead of nipping in the bud, with force if necessary, their drive for sophisticated armaments including nuclear weapons. And while the Iranian theocrats emboldened by the West’s pusillanimity threaten to disrupt shipping in the Gulf, the U.S. under the Obama administration is set upon disengaging from the region with American troops departing from Iraq and preparing to do the same from Afghanistan.
The rise of fascism in Italy and Germany during the period 1919-39 made war certain despite every effort in appeasement by Europe’s democratic leaders. Islamism or political Islam is the Arab-Muslim world’s version of fascism and will bring, as did the European version, intense agony and ruin for people within its reach.
Thus this “annus horribilis” rings out while we ignore past failures at our peril even as we drift towards repeating them.