The Exciting Potential of the Rhodes Forum

Brief Thoughts of a Muslim on the Emergence of Serious Counter-Hegemony
Prof. Junaid S. Ahmad, Pakistan

The recently concluded Rhodes World Public Forum that took place on the Greek island of Rhodes did not merely impress me because of the dreamlike natural beauty of the setting. Though that may have contributed to it, the real reason for the intense feeling of joy and hope I take from Rhodes is grounded in the unashamed liberationist political commitments that were reflected in our conversations and dialogues. Though of course the Forum is a platform for a “Dialogue of Civilizations,” which certainly implies – and should imply  -- respectful disagreement and differences as well, there was nevertheless an underlying resolve to forcefully confront the forces which militate against equality, justice, peace, and ecological sustainability in the world. The details of our tactics and strategies of realizing our vision for a transformed world may indeed be important, and may denote differences in approaches – but about the larger moral-ethical aims there was no serious doubt or disagreement.

My own participation in the Forum entailed making a modest contribution to the discussion about threats to peace and security in Asia, as well as speaking about the larger subject of the Muslim world/Islam/political Islam. My dear mentor – and perhaps the leading Muslim public intellectual confronting the forces of imperial hegemony and global injustice – Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, was gracious enough to provide me this platform to share my views on how intellectuals, activists, and global justice movements ought to be approaching the variety of phenomena arising in the Muslim world. In brief, I believe that our highly dedicated gathering of intellectuals and activists were able to grasp how the rise of groups such as ISIS, or the various Islamist political formations in West and Southwest Asia in general, are due to historical and political factors deeply connected to imperial militarism, not due to some Muslim genetic predisposition toward jihadism. Though solid intellectual rigor is indispensable for our analyses, so that our strategies for change are more coherent, conceptually grounded, and indeed successful, sometimes it is important to state simple facts as clearly and honestly as one can, such as: the nurturing, support, funding, and arming of a specific orientation of resistance/rebel forces in both Aghanistan in the 1980s and Syria over the past few years, i.e. essentially proxy jihadi ‘wars of liberation,’ will virtually guarantee the outcomes we have seen and are seeing right now. And, as I pointed out in my presentation, there is no military solution to these profoundly political and social problems for which Empire bears incredible responsibility. The humiliating withdrawal of US-NATO forces from the ‘Af-Pak’ theatre of the ‘Global War on Terrorism,” the longest war ever in US history, against one of the poorest and most defenceless populations on the planet, demonstrates this clearly.

My brief comments here, it should be noted, do indicate a degree of ignorance of the laudable history of the Rhodes Forum, and the impressive contributions and progressive public and intellectual interventions it has already made over the past decade or so. And I believe that it is absolutely imperative at this moment that the Muslim world must be engaged more deeply with the significant role the Rhodes Forum plays in the creation of what I think is its most crucial task: the construction of a counter-hegemony. And it is very clear that the cutting edge intellectual dynamism at display at the Rhodes Forum is first and foremost at the service of ordinary people of the world suffering under – and struggling against – occupations, socio-economic injustice, state repression, and imperial violence via drones, ‘signature strikes,’ and so on. The Rhodes Forum, thus, is not merely trying to create a new imperial hegemony to replace the existing one. The political and intellectual project of the Rhodes Forum is vibrant, innovative, and progressive in the most principled of ways, completely independent of the machinations of global hegemony today. Our role at the Rhodes Forum is merely to be at the service of grassroots movements trying to make sense of the multiple crises – political, economic, ecological, and moral/spiritual – afflicting the world today, and to assist global thinking and activism in the direction of more justice, peace, and sustainability.

And perhaps the strongest feature of the Rhodes Forum is the recognition that solidarity and cooperation of movements for global justice and peace in the world need not imply the suppression of the richness and diversity of our ‘pluriverse,’ of our movement of movements. And this point, as I and others emphasized at the Forum, requires a thoroughgoing decolonizing of both our thinking and praxis. As a Muslim whose politics of liberation and justice are integrally related to my faith/religion, I appreciate the willingness of even some who come out of deeply different histories and ideological/philosophical systems to accept and respect the differences in the way our shared politics of liberation and justice express themselves.

The speakers and participants at the Rhodes Forum correctly and scathingly put the global system of imperial hegemony on trial for its numerous crimes against humanity and the planet. The Muslim world once again finds itself in the crosshairs of the political and violent shenanigans of imperial intervention and local tyranny. In response, a plethora of Muslim responses are emerging, though the dominant ones are clearly those that have been generously fostered by the powerful before, and have only become more militant and violent as a part of the cycle violence that Empire loves to produce and reproduce time and again. But global developments, and perhaps the most significant one being the emergence of BRICS as Dr. Chandra Muzaffar notes, create the space for the emergence of Muslim politics that adopts a principled position against imperial hegemony, against local tyranny, and for social justice, equality, and meaningful peace – the exact opposite of the sham peace promised by the Middle East ‘peace process.’ The potent and highly articulate statement of solidarity of the Rhodes Forum, coming from the most distinguished gathering of public intellectuals throughout the world, must be taken seriously as perhaps the most important intellectual and ideological corollary to the de-centering of Western political, economic, and cultural hegemony. Muslims and the oppressed globally, of all faiths and traditions, have no better and more eloquent an ally in their emancipation than the courageous individuals who gather at Rhodes every year.