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Secularism and the World Order

In today’s article, an author complains that “current institutions reflect the statist and Euro-centric origins of the United Nations.” “Many Muslims,” he writes, “believe that the West is using international institutions, military power and economic resources to run the world in ways that will maintain Western predominance, protect Western interests and promote Western political and economic values.”

No doubt people in the West promote their own interests through existing institutions, as every state does in every institution; this can hardly be considered a surprise except to the very naive. But I am curious what the author means by “Western political values.” He complains that secularism is the hallmark of international relations since the Peace of Westphalia, and I can’t argue with that. What, however, is the alternative? He suggests “Islamism” as an alternative to “Western oriented models of social change that subordinate, exclude and stigmatise Muslim identity.” But surely Islamism would subordinate, exclude, and stigmatise non-Muslim identity, by definition? How is any form of religious identity a fair foundation for an international order where so many religious traditions exist?

The United Nations, of course, includes virtually all sovereign countries of the world, with a few embarrassing exceptions such as Taiwan. The author complains, however, that there is no Muslim state among the five permanent members of the security council. This is, however, not a commentary on Western views of Muslim states; it is based on the stark reality that no Muslim state is nearly as powerful as the five permanent security council members. Only one Muslim state is a nuclear power — Pakistan — and it is does not come close to the power of the permanent security council members. The author does not mention that there is also no Hindu state with a permanent seat on the security countil, but I expect that will happen long before a Muslim state gets a seat there. And if it does, it will have nothing to do with Western attitudes toward Hinduism, and everything to do with the fact that India is a huge state and a nuclear power which may eventually grow into the kind of power that cannot be excluded from the security council, the way it would be impossible to include the U.S., Russia, or China.

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