Richard Whittall:

The Globalist's Top Ten Books in 2016: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer


Middle East Eye: "

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer is one of the weightiest, most revelatory, original and important books written about sport"

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”


Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach: "James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport: “Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”
Play the Game: "Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal: "No one is better at this kind of work than James Dorsey"
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated: "Essential Reading"
Change FIFA: "A fantastic new blog'

Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life:
"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"

Christopher Ahl, Play the Game: "An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football


Friday, November 15, 2019

Strategic Black Sea falls by the wayside in impeachment controversy



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Podbean, Audecibel, Patreon and Castbox.

Presidents Donald J. Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a plateful of thorny issues on their agenda when they met in the White House this week.

None of the issues, including Turkey’s recent invasion of northern Syria, its acquisition of a Russian anti-missile system and its close ties to Russia and Iran, appear to have been resolved during the meeting between the two men in which five Republican senators critical of Turkey participated.

The failure to narrow differences didn’t stop Mr. Trump from declaring that "we've been friends for a long time, almost from day-one. We understand each other’s country. We understand where we are coming from."

Mr. Trump’s display of empathy for an illiberal leader was however not the only tell-tale sign of the president’s instincts. So was what was not on the two men’s agenda: security in the Black Sea that lies at the crossroads of Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and NATO member Turkey.

The Black Sea is a flashpoint in multiple disputes involving Russia and its civilizationalist definition of a Russian world that stretches far beyond the country’s internationally recognized borders and justifies its interventions in Black Sea littoral states like Ukraine and Georgia.

The significance of the absence of the Black Sea on the White House agenda is magnified by the disclosure days earlier that Mr. Trump had initially cancelled a US freedom of navigation naval mission in the Black Sea after CNN had portrayed it as American pushback in the region.

The disclosure came in a transcript of closed-door testimony in the US House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump’s policy towards Ukraine by Christopher Anderson, a former advisor to Kurt Volker, the US special representative to Ukraine until he resigned in September.

Mr. Anderson testified that Mr. Trump phoned his then national security advisor, John Bolton, at home to complain about the CNN story. He said the story prompted the president to cancel the routine operation of which Turkey had already been notified.

The cancellation occurred at a moment that reports were circulating in the State Department about an effort to review US assistance to Ukraine.

“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report… I can't speculate as to why…but that…operation was cancelled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion,” Mr. Anderson said.

The operation was cancelled weeks after the Russian coast guard fired on Ukrainian vessels transiting the Strait of Kerch that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and separates Russian-annexed Crimea from Russian mainland. ‘This was a dramatic escalation,” Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Trump at the time put a temporary hold on a condemnatory statement similar to ones that had been issued by America’s European allies. Ultimately, statements were issued by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley but not by the White House.

The Black Sea’s absence in Mr. Trump’s talks with the Turkish leader coupled with the initial cancellation of the freedom of navigation operation, the initially meek US response to the Strait of Kerch incident, and the fallout of the impeachment inquiry do little to inspire confidence in US policy in key Black Sea countries that include not only Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia, a strategic gateway to Central Asia, but also NATO members Bulgaria and Romania.

In Georgia, protesters gathered this week outside of parliament after lawmakers failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would have introduced a proportional election system in advance of elections scheduled for next year.

The amendment was one demand of protesters that have taken to the streets in Georgia since June in demonstrations that at times included anti-Russian slogans.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008 and Russia has since recognized the self-declared independence of two Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Some 1500 US troops participated in June in annual joint exercises with the Georgian military that were originally initiated to prepare Georgian units for service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The absence of the Black Sea in Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Erdogan raises the spectre that the region could become a victim of the partisan divide in Washington and/or Mr. Trump’s political priorities.

The Republican-dominated US Senate has yet to consider a bipartisan Georgia Support Act that was last month passed by the House of Representatives. The act would significantly strengthen US defense, economic, and cyber security ties with Georgia.

A Chinese delegation that included representatives of several Chinese-led business associations as well as mobile operator China Unicom visited the breakaway republic of Abkhazia this week to discuss the creation of a special trade zone to manufacture cell phones as well as electric cars.

The Black Sea is one region where the United States cannot afford to sow doubt. The damage, however, may already have been done.

Warned Black Sea security scholar Iulia-Sabina Joja in a recent study: “The region is (already) inhospitable for Western countries as they struggle to provide security… The primary cause of this insecurity is the Russian Federation… Today, Russia uses its enhanced Black Sea capabilities not only to destabilize the region militarily, politically, and economically, but also to move borders, acquire territory, and project power into the Mediterranean.”

Ms. Joja went on to suggest that “a common threat assessment of NATO members and partners is the key to a stable Black Sea. Only by exploring common ground and working towards shared deterrence can they enhance regional security.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Gulf soccer suggests that “The Times They Are a-Changin”



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Podbean, Audecibel, Patreon and Castbox.

Gulf soccer may be giving Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin,’ a new lease on life.

Qatar surrendered its Arabian Gulf Cup hosting rights to Kuwait two years ago, months into the United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led diplomatic and economic boycott of the Gulf state, after the boycotting countries said they would not participate in a Doha-hosted tournament.

The boycott remains in place more than two years later, but this time round squads from the boycotting countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, have no problem competing in this year’s Gulf Cup in Qatar.

The decision not to boycott is the latest indication that Gulf states may be gradually moving to a reduction of tensions that have divided the region’s conservative energy-rich monarchies, raised the stakes in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and sparked a devastating Saudi-UAE military intervention in Yemen’s civil war.

The decision also bodes well for Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup irrespective of whether Gulf states can resolve their differences before that tournament kicks off.

If Mr. Dylan’s changing times portend well on the region’s monarchical soccer pitches, they could prove more divisive on its republican fields.

Iraqi anti-government activists hope that this week’s World Cup qualifier between Iran and Iraq will blow new life into mass protests that denounced Iranian influence in their country and the government’s perceived prioritization of Iranian over Iraqi interests.

Protesters blamed Iran and its Iraqi proxies for the harsh response by security forces that has cost the lives of more than 300 people.

The protests persuaded world soccer body FIFA to move the match from the southern Iraqi port city of Basra to the Jordanian capital Amman.

“If our team beats Iran, it will bring more people out onto the streets and lift protesters’ spirits,” said soccer fan Hussein Diaa as he kicked a ball on Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, a focal point of the protests.

One indication of the degree to which a thaw in relations between Gulf monarchies may be on the horizon, is likely to be the way the squads of the boycotting nations handle themselves during the Gulf Cup.

The Saudi and Emirati teams refused to participate in a news conference in Kuwait two years ago because one of the microphones in front of them belonged to BeIN, the Qatari sports television network.

Pro-Qatari and Spanish media reported at the time that Saudi Arabia had offered Bahraini players bonuses if they "defeated the (Qatari) terrorists".

The boycotting countries accuse Qatar of supporting militants and political violence, a charge Qatar has consistently denied. They also demanded that Qatar distance itself from Iran, with whom it shares the world’s largest natural gas field.

The decision to participate in the Qatari tournament came days after UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash called for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute with the Islamic republic, suggesting that “there could be a path to a deal with Iran that all parties might soon be ready to embark on.”

Mr. Gargash’s remarks followed moves by the UAE to dial down tension in its relations with Iran that included reducing the UAE’s military role in Yemen and visits to Iran by UAE officials to discuss the regional dispute as well as maritime security.

Similarly, a Saudi official, in a rare gesture, told reporters in Washington earlier this month that Qatar had taken a step towards resolving the crisis by passing an anti-terrorism funding law, a key demand of the boycotting countries, but needed to do more.

Saudi Arabia, in a further indication that regional players were seeking to ensure that tensions don’t spin out of control, has scaled back its military operations in the 4.5-year long Yemen war after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels stopped firing ballistic missiles into the kingdom, the official added.

Resolving the Gulf’s monarchical spat may prove easier than addressing differences with Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its support for militants in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

The spat has endured for the past 2.5 years because feuding parties appeared unwilling to back away from maximalist positions and search for what would amount to a face-saving formula that would allow for a restoration of diplomatic and economic relations.

If the Gulf Cup is anything to go by, that may be changing.

By the same token, this week’s Iraqi-Iranian soccer clash is likely to highlight the greater complexity involved in managing the Saudi-Iranian rift and the who-blinks-first problem against the backdrop of the US withdrawal from the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program and harsh economic sanctions since imposed by the United States.

Iran has in recent months progressively reduced its adherence to the agreement in a bid to heighten tension to the point that it forces a breaking of the stalemate; pressure the accord’s other signatories, the European Union, China and Russia to provide the sanctions relief Iran needs; and force the Trump administration to return to the accord before it is renegotiated.

Ironically, Gulf states that have gone to great length over the past decade to pre-empt popular revolts or limit, if not reverse their achievements, see a silver lining in the mass anti-government protests in Iraq and Lebanon because they target the foundations of Iranian influence in those two countries.

As a result, Gulf rulers may be rooting for Iraq in this week’s soccer match against Iran, and not just because Iraq is predominantly Arab, and Iran is not.

Yet, unlike the Gulf Cup that could prove to be an initial node in resolving a debilitating dispute, the Iran-Iraq World Cup qualifier’s possible heightening of tensions risks reaffirming the Marxist principle that things have to get worse before they get better.

Indeed, ‘the times they are a changin,’ but reaping the benefits could prove to be a torturous process.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

It’s when not if China’s Middle Eastern tightrope snaps



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Podbean, Audecibel, Patreon and Castbox.

China is manoeuvring to avoid being sucked into the Middle East’s numerous disputes amid mounting debate in Beijing on whether the People’s Republic will be able to remain aloof yet ensure the safety and security of its mushrooming interests and sizeable Diaspora community.

China’s challenge is starkest in the Gulf. It was compounded when US President Donald J. Trump effectively put China on the spot by implicitly opening the door to China sharing the burden of guaranteeing the security of the free flow of energy from the region.

It’s a challenge that has sparked debate in Beijing amid fears that US efforts to isolate Iran internationally and cripple it economically could lead to the collapse of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, accelerate Iran’s gradual breaching of the agreement in way that would significantly increase its ability to build a nuclear weapon, and potentially spark an unwanted military confrontation.

All of which are nightmare scenarios for China. However, Chinese efforts so far to reduce its exposure to risk are at best temporary band aid solutions. They do little to address the underlying dilemma: it is only a matter of time before China will have no choice but to engage politically and militarily at the risk of surrendering its ability to remain neutral in regional conflicts.

Israeli intelligence reportedly predicted last year that Iran’s gradual withdrawal from an agreement that Mr. Trump abandoned in May 2018 would ultimately take Iran to a point where it could create a nuclear military facility within a matter of months. That in turn could provoke a regional nuclear arms race and/or a pre-emptive military strike.

That is precisely the assessment that Iran hopes will persuade China alongside Russia and the European Union to put their money where their mouth is in countering US sanctions and make it worth Iran’s while to remain committed to the nuclear accord.  

The problem is that controversy over the agreement is only one of multiple regional problems. Those problems require a far more comprehensive approach for which China is currently ill-equipped even if it is gradually abandoning its belief that economics alone offers solutions as well as its principle of no foreign military bases.

China’s effort to reduce its exposure to the Gulf’s energy supply risks by increasing imports from Russia and Central Asia doesn’t eliminate the risk. The Gulf will for the foreseeable future remain a major energy supplier to China, the region’s foremost trading partner and foreign investor.

Even so, China is expected to next month take its first delivery of Russian gas delivered through a new pipeline, part of a US$50 billion gas field development and pipeline construction project dubbed Power of Siberia.

Initially delivering approximately 500 million cubic feet of gas per day or about 1.6 percent of China’s total estimated gas requirement in 2019, the project is expected to account with an increased daily flow of 3.6 billion cubic feet for 9.5 percent of China’s supply needs by 2022.

The Russian pipeline kicks in as China drastically cuts back on its import of Iranian liquified petroleum gas (LPG) because of the US sanctions and is seeking to diversify its supply as a result of Chinese tariffs on US LPG imports imposed as part of the two countries’ trade war.

China is likely hoping that United Arab Emirates efforts to stimulate regional talks with Iran and signs that Saudi Arabia is softening its hard-line rejection of an unconditional negotiation with the Islamic republic will either help it significantly delay engagement or create an environment in which the risk of being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is substantially reduced.

Following months of quietly reaching out to Iran, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash told a recent security dialogue in Abu Dhabi that there was “room for collective diplomacy to succeed."

Mr. Gargash went on to say that "for such a process to work, it is essential that the international community is on the same page, especially the US and the EU, as well as the Arab Gulf states." Pointedly, Mr. Gargash did not put Russia and China on par with Western powers in that process.

The UAE official said the UAE envisions a regional order undergirded by “strong regional multilateralism” that would provide security for all.

Mr. Gargash made his remarks against the backdrop of a Chinese-backed Russian proposal for a multilateral security arrangement in the Gulf that would incorporate the US defense umbrella as well as an Iranian proposal for a regional security pact that would exclude external players.

Presumably aware that Gulf states were unlikely to engage with Iran without involvement of external powers, Iran appeared to keep its options open by also endorsing the Russian proposal.

The various manoeuvres to reduce tension and break the stalemate in the Gulf put Mr. Trump’s little noticed assertion in June that energy buyers should protect their own ships rather than rely on US protection in a perspective that goes beyond the president’s repeated rant that US allies were taking advantage of the United States and failing to shoulder their share of  the burden.

Potentially, Mr. Trump opened the door to an arrangement in which the United States would share with others the responsibility for ensuring the region’s free flow of energy even if he has given no indication of what that would mean in practice beyond demanding that the United States be paid for its services.

 “China gets 91 percent of its oil from the Straight, Japan 62 percent, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships…,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

China has not rejected Mr. Trump’s position out of hand. Beyond hinting that China could escort Chinese-flagged commercial vessels in the Gulf, Chinese officials have said that they would consider joining a US-backed maritime security framework in the region that would create a security umbrella for national navy vessels to accompany ships flying their flag.

Chinese participation would lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive regional security arrangement in the longer term.

China’s maritime strategy, involving the development of a blue water navy, suggests that China already de facto envisions a greater role at some point in the future.

Scholars Julia Gurol and Parisa Shahmohammadi noted in a recent study that China has already “decided to take security concerns in the (Indian Ocean) into its own hands, instead of relying on the USA and its allies, who have long served as the main security providers in this maritime region… If tensions continue to escalate in the Persian Gulf, Beijing may find it has no other choice but to provide a security presence in the Middle East.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Friday, November 8, 2019

Salvaging international law: The best of bad options



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Podbean, Audecibel, Patreon and Castbox.

These are uncertain times with trade wars, regional conflicts and increased abuse of human and minority rights pockmarking the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world. What may be potentially the most dangerous casualty of the transition is the abandonment of even a pretence to the adherence to international law.

Violations of international law and abuse of human and minority rights dominate news cycles in a world in which leaders, that think in exclusive civilizational rather than inclusive national terms, rule supreme.

Examples are too many to comprehensively recount.

They include semi-permanent paralysis of the United Nations Security Council as a result of big power rivalry; last month’s Turkish military incursion into northern Syria in a bid to change the region’s demography; ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar; disenfranchisement of millions, predominantly Muslims, in India; and a Chinese effort to fundamentally alter the belief system of Turkic Muslims in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang.

It’s not that international law was adhered to prior to the rise of presidents like Donald J. Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Victor Orban of Hungary, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It wasn’t. Witness, as just one instance, widespread condemnation of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq as a violation of international law.

The silver lining at the time was the fact that international law was at least a reference point for norms and standards by which leaders and governments were judged. It still is, at least theoretically, but it no longer is the standard to which leaders and governments necessarily pay lip service. Today, they do so only when opportunistically convenient.

Instead, violations of territorial sovereignty, as well as human and minority rights, has become the norm.

It also is the de facto justification for the creation of a new world order, in which a critical mass of world leaders often defines the borders and national security of their countries in civilizational and/or ethnic, cultural or religious terms.

The abandonment of principles enshrined in international law, with no immediate alternative standard setter in place, raises the spectre of an era in which instability, conflict, mass migration, radicalization, outbursts of popular frustration and anger, and political violence becomes the new normal.

Last month’s killing of Kamlesh Tiwari, a Hindu nationalist politician in Uttar Pradesh, because of a defamatory comment about the Prophet Mohammed that he allegedly made four years ago, reflects the deterioration of Muslim-Hindu relations in Mr. Modi’s increasingly Hindu nationalist India.

Perhaps more alarming is the recent declaration by Oren Hazan, a Knesset member for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, that China’s incarceration of at least a million Muslims in re-education camps, or what Beijing calls vocational education facilities, was a model for Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.

Equally worrisome is last month’s revocation by Mr. Putin of an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions related to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts. Mr. Putin justified the revocation on the grounds that an international commission, set up in order to investigate war crimes against civilians, risks abuse of the commission’s power “by the states, which are acting in bad faith.”


Russia’s withdrawal from the Geneva protocol, Mr. Hazan’s endorsement of Chinese policy and Turkey’s intervention in Syria in an environment that legitimizes abandonment of any pretext of adherence to international law as well as ultra-nationalist and supremacist worldviews are indicators of what a world would look like in which laws, rules and regulations governing war and peace and human and minority rights are no longer the standards against which countries and governments are measured.

The fact that Mr. Al-Assad, a ruthless autocrat accused of uncountable war crimes, is increasingly being perceived as Syria’s best hope after more than eight years of brutal civil war aggravated by foreign intervention, drives the point home.

“As depressing as it is to write this sentence, the best course of action today is for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to regain control over northern Syria. Assad is a war criminal whose forces killed more than half a million of his compatriots and produced several million refugees. In a perfect world, he would be on trial at The Hague instead of ruling in Damascus. But we do not live in a perfect world, and the question we face today is how to make the best of a horrible situation,” said prominent US political scientist Stephen M. Walt.

The problem is that stabilizing Syria by restoring legitimacy to an alleged war criminal may provide temporary relief, but also sets a precedent for a world order, in which transparency and accountability fall by the wayside. It almost by definition opens the door to solutions that plant the seeds for renewed conflict and bloodshed.

International law was and is no panacea. To paraphrase Mr. Walt’s argument, it is the best of bad options.

Abandoning the standards and norms embedded in international law will only perpetuate flawed policies by various states that were destined to aggravate and escalate deep-seated grievances, discord and conflict rather than fairly and responsibly address social, cultural and political issues that would contribute to enhanced societal cohesion.

Identifying the problem is obviously easy. Solving it is not, given that the players who would need to redress the issue are the violators themselves.

Ensuring that nations and leaders respect international law in much the same way that citizens are expected to honour their country’s laws would have to entail strengthening international law itself as well as its adjudication. That would have to involve a reconceptualization of the United Nations Security Council as well as the International Court of Justice.

That may not be as delusionary as it sounds. But leaders would have to be willing to recognize that criticisms of the application of international law, like Mr. Putin’s objections to the way the Geneva protocol is implemented, have a degree of merit.

In other words, like national laws, international law will only be effective if it is universally applied. Western legal principles insist that no one is exempt from the law. The same should apply to states, governments and leaders.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Rise of civilisationalists forces rethink of sovereign nation state



By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Podbean, Audecibel, Patreon and Castbox.

Shaping a new world order is proving to be about a lot more than power.

The rise of the civilizational state and of civilizational rather than national leaders is calling into question the concept of sovereign nation states.

That is evident in the consequences of the civilizationalist assault on minorities ranging from the Kurds in Syria and Turkey to Muslims in China, India and Myanmar to Islamophobia and mounting anti-Semitism in the United States, France and Hungary as well as sectarianism in the Middle East.

Democracies legally enshrined yardsticks of non-discrimination and equality irrespective of creed, ethnicity, colour, gender and religion but never succeeded in truly enforcing those principles.


The rise of a critical mass of civilizational leaders, including China’s Xi Jinping, Myanmar’s Win Myint, India’s Narendra Modi, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Hungary’s Victor Orban and US president Donald J. Trump makes a rethink inevitable not only of the functioning of democracy but also of the concepts of the nation state and sovereignty that have structured world orders for close to 500 years.

Many of these leaders conceive of their societies and/or states as defined by civilization and its reach into akin Diaspora communities rather than by legally recognized borders, population within those borders, and language.

Civilisationalism has allowed China to extend its reach in the South China Sea beyond internationally recognized borders at the expense of other littoral states as well as to Diaspora communities across the globe.

It also provided the basis on which China has so far successfully imposed its views on others whether its acceptance of its one-China policy or silence, if not acquiescence, in repression in Xinjiang.

Civilisationalism has further enabled Russia to recognize breakaway states in Georgia, annex Crimea, and spark violent conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In some ways, the nation state, designed to put an end to religious wars in Europe, paved the way for a revival of civilisationalism by godfathering exclusionary politics that were based on a determination of who belonged and who did not belong to a nation, a question which civilisationalism answers by legitimizing supremacism, racism and prejudice.

From the outset, newly conceived European nation states sought to build nations by not fully embracing those it believed were not truly part of their nation.

The nation state’s exclusivity, rather than as a result of the Westphalia treaty pulling the curtain on an era of European wars, sparked another round of armed conflict intended to fortify newly found national identities.

Today, reconceptualization of the nation state and the notion of sovereignty has become an imperative with civilisationalism adopting exclusivity as its battle cry and the nation state’s centuries-long inability and unwillingness to negotiate mutually workable arrangements that take account of aspirations and identities of societal groups that feel excluded.

Reconceptualization would need to be geared towards guaranteeing individual and minority rights based on an international legal framework that is enforceable. 

Failure to do so would likely usher in an era of disruptive societal tension, marginalization and disenfranchisement of minorities, flows of mass migration, radicalization and increased political violence.

A recent International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) report concluded that China was advising countries confronting political and economic instability, sometimes sparked in part by Chinese project-related corruption, to adopt its model of brutally cracking down on any expression of dissent like in Xinjiang.

China, according to the report, is also advocating implementation of its system of social control, involving the use of invasive Chinese artificial intelligence-based surveillance technology, reducing media to parrots of government policy, and firewalling the Internet. China is further training governments in ways of disrupting opposition activity.

China’s view of economic development as a way of countering what it sees as cultural drivers of extremism underlies its effort to Sinicize Turkic Muslim Islam in Xinjiang and is implicit in Chinese aid to countries in the Middle East.

Mr. Xi announced in July of last year US$20billion in loans to Middle Eastern nations as well as US$106 million in financial aid for Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen on the back of Chinese assertions that finance would help resolve the region’s political, religious and cultural tensions.

“China is increasingly proactive in its response to instability in developing countries. It is now more forthright in its advice to partner countries and is proactive in promoting Chinese solutions to other countries’ problems,” said Nicholas Crawford, the IISS report’s author.

China’s policy prescriptions, elements of which are being adopted across the globe, is likely to perpetuate problems inherent to exclusivism propagated by both civilisationalists and nation states that are more concerned about perceived threats to their territorial integrity or constructed collective identities than aspirations of groups that are part of their societal fabric.

The rise of civilisationalists, autocrats, authoritarians and illiberals, including Mr. Xi, does not bode well for Eurasia, a region pockmarked by groups whose rights have been repeatedly violated by various civilizationalist leaders as well as exclusionary nation states concerned about challenges to their territorial integrity or constructed collective identities.

“Geopolitics is no longer simply about the economy or security… The non-Western world, led by Beijing and Moscow, is pushing back against the Western claim to embody universal values… The rejection of Western universalism by the elites in Russia and China challenges the idea of the nation state as the international norm for political organisation… The new pivot of geopolitics is civilisation,” said political scientist Adrian Pabst.

A tour of the world’s flashpoints proves the point.

The flashpoints include predominantly Kurdish south-eastern Turkey, what is left of the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, Rohingya rotting away in Bangladeshi refugee camps after fleeing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar; the plight of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and Catalan efforts to democratically decide whether they want to remain part of Spain.

They illustrate the fact that the failure of the nation state to build truly inclusive and cohesive societies coupled with the rise of the civilizational state and civilizationalist leaders portends a new world order that is likely to be characterized by individual and collective rights abuse that heightens societal tensions and aggravates disputes and conflicts.


The civilizationalist threat to individual and minority rights is enhanced by its insistence on collective adherence to an overriding ideology whether that is the Chinese communist party’s concept of absolute control of anything and everything cloaked in ultra-nationalism and concepts of unique Chinese characteristics; Russian Orthodoxy cemented in the alliance between church and state; or Victor Orban’s conceptualization of a Hungarian nation that is homogenously white and Christian.

In a recent study of religion and tolerance in the Middle East, widely viewed as perhaps the religiously most intolerant part of the world, political scientist Michael Hoffman concluded that it is not religion that in and of itself breeds intolerance and prejudice.

Instead, Mr. Hoffman suggested that Muslim attitudes towards the other differ sharply between believers who pray collectively in a mosque and those who worship in private.

Private prayer “does not contain the same sectarian content as communal prayer,” Mr. Hoffman noted, implicitly pointing a finger at autocratic authorities who in the Middle East often exercise tight control of what is said in the mosque.

“The group identification mechanism is not present for private prayer; since private prayer is fundamentally an personal phenomenon, it does not cause believers to distinguish more sharply between their own sect and others and therefore does not produce the intolerant outcomes associated with communal worship,” Mr. Hoffman went on to say.

Mr. Hoffman’s research, despite its focus on the Middle East, spotlighted in an era of rising civilisationalism the risks to universal basic human dignity as well as individual and minorities rights in directly or indirectly imposing collectivist beliefs that drown out the political, ethnic or religious other.

The silver lining in what are bleak prospects may be Mr. Pabst’s conclusion that “neither the Western cult of private freedom without social solidarity nor the totalitarian tendencies among China’s and Russia’s elites can nurture resilient societies against the disruptive forces of technology and implacable economic globalisation… (Yet) across different civilisations there is an inchoate sense that the purpose of politics is the free association of people around common interests and shared social virtues of generosity, loyalty, courage, sacrifice and gratitude. The practice of such virtues can bind us together as citizens, nations and cultures beyond colour, class or creed.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture