With the demise of the Socialist camp and the declining role of ideology in the political arena, such distinctions have lost much of their historic relevance, their content diluted, their parameters blurred.
With the ideological erosion of the old political parties, politics has turned into the art of manipulating public opinion in a Machiavellian world that divorces politics from ethics and rejects substance for form, great goals for image and sound bite.
As a result, the political mainstream has become populated by colourless look- alikes with a pathological fear of expressing a commitment to a political ideal in public. Is it then any wonder that disenchantment with politics has soared in the last decade as the low levels of voter- turnout in election after election make plain?
The great political narratives are, however, far from dead. In parallel with this apolitical instrumentalist brand of politics, and partly in response to it, a new political phenomenon has recently risen to the surface to reclaim the ideals long abandoned by the old political parties. Its architects are drawn from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum, from socialists, trade unionists and human rights activists, to Christians, Muslims and other religious groups.
Unique in its diversity and breadth, this coalition born in the wake of the Iraq invasion revolves around a set of core domestic and foreign issues. These range from the preservation of civil and individual liberties, to the defence of the sovereignty of nations and the demand for a more equitable, more balanced world order.
"I think the day needs to come where all the nations of the world will stop claiming innocence about their own misguided actions."
We are before a new phenomenon evolving in the margins of official political life and outside the sphere of the mainstream parties, which no longer reflect the concerns of the majority or speak for its interests. We are witnessing the birth of a global civil society.
It is ironic that instead of generating greater acceptance of American world hegemony as its neo-conservative authors had intended, unilateralism and the notion of pre-emptive strikes have acted as the midwife for the birth of this cross cultural, cross political global phenomenon.
The strikes on Afghanistan, crackdown on civil and individual liberties, and occupation of Iraq have indeed only given greater momentum to the movement of resistance to American world dominance not only in the countries of the South, but in London, New York, Sydney, Rome, Paris and across the West itself.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this phenomenon in countries like Britain has been the active participation of Muslims, who until recently had stood largely outside the political stream, with localised concerns and predominantly conservative political outlooks. The harsh reality of the post-September 11th world forced them to break out of their political isolation and embark on the search for means of safeguarding their collective interests.
At home in Europe and across the Atlantic, in the name of the war on terror, Muslim minorities have been the subject of a string of draconian legislations, endlessly required to prove their allegiance to the nation- state. Abroad, as majorities in the Muslim world, they were dragged back to the gunpowder age of Victorian and Napoleonic conquests, once more caught up in the ruthless geopolitical games of the great powers thirsting for mastery over territories and resources.
On the other side, the liberal and socialist left has found itself at the heart of Arab and Islamic causes, as the axis of its conflict with a will to hegemony imposed on the world in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. For these opponents of occupation, the Palestinian Kufiyye has turned into the symbol of their movement for a just world order.
For them, Palestine encapsulates the sheer injustice and ugliness of a world order they oppose, a structure dominated by forces that preach humanity and freedom incessantly while actively supporting and funding occupation and ethnic cleansing. This open official bias towards Israel and absolute commitment to furthering its interests at the expense of the people of the region has continued to win the Palestinian cause vast popular support, deepening the sense of frustration at the myopia and egotism of Western foreign policy.
The rapprochement between Muslims and the left is in this sense more pragmatic than ideological and more objective than doctrinal. It has, however, brought significant changes to the discourses of both parties.
Engagement with the stop the war movement prompted Muslims to rethink their concerns within a wider international context, shifting in theory as in practice from the local to the global and from the particular to the universal. For the left, on the other hand, the experience generated greater understanding of and deeper empathy for Muslims and their causes.
In the long run, this interaction may lead many on the left to question some of their ready- made postulates regarding religion and its role in socio-political change. Religion may be an ally of fatalism and stultified conservatism just as it may act as a catalyst for dynamism and change. Insane violent al-Qaeda anarchists aside, this is precisely the role Islam is playing across the Muslim world today from Tangier down to Jakarta.
Some from the Left have deserted their old positions and have moved to the side of power and big business, turning into cheerleaders for wars of aggression and the trampling of the principle of national sovereignty and norms of international law. While speaking the language of liberalism and tolerance, these have recycled rightwing racist clichés about Islam to dismiss the rapprochement with Muslims as an ‘unholy alliance’.
Their weariness is, in fact, shared by many on the Muslim side who, lacking in historical consciousness, subscribe to a stagnant isolationist conservative agenda committed to the further ghettoisation of Muslims from their political environment and wider global context.
The questions these need to ask are: If their allies are not the defenders of multiculturalism and open society at home, and the champions of a multi-polar and just world order abroad, then who? Those who endorse a closed and homogenous notion of national identity and wish to turn the clock backwards to the age of colonialism and grand civilising missions in the name of democracy and human rights?!
To the eyes of many across the Muslim world, the stop the war movement and evolving global civil society have unveiled another West, different from Bush’s and Blair’s, the West of carpet bombs, Abu Gharaib and Guantanamo Bay. To these, New York, London, Madrid, and Rome are no longer the command centres of armies and war fleets only, but great capitals of protest and popular mobilisation against aggression and expansionism too.
The recent electoral victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Palestine and the rise of left wing parties in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia should all be seen as part of the same global trend. All are fuelled by the same rejection of the status quo imposed through economic blackmail, political harassment, and military intimidation, by the same yearning for a more balanced, more just world order. They are episodes in an unfolding global conflict over the shape of the world order, the structures of international relations and the right of nations to sovereignty and self-determination.