A year of healthy scepticism

A year of healthy scepticism

Islam sternly rebukes those who pretend to foretell the future – which, it holds, can be known only to God – so this piece will categorically not be attempting to do any of that, I assure you.

The Economist has for the past 23 years published an annual guide looking at the major issues they believe are likely to arise in the year to come and in the latest edition it humbly notes:

Who would have thought, at the start of 2008, that the year would see crisis engulf once-sturdy names from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to AIG, Merrill Lynch, HBOS, Wachovia and Washington Mutual (WaMu)? Not us. The World in 2008 failed to predict any of this.

So, you will understand my reserve here. I shall, instead, be looking at – how best to describe this? – some trends to maybe, perhaps, just possibly, to watch out for in the course of 2009.

The enthusiasm in many countries over Barack Obama”s election as US President will quickly wane as he orders an increase in foreign troop levels in Afghanistan. This US action is likely to be coupled with continuing inaction to require Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, dismantle its huge illegal Jewish settlements and stop inflicting the beleaguered Palestinians with brutal collective punishment.

The widely expected closure of the detention and torture camp at Guant?namo Bay will serve to remind the world of the false promises about freedom and democracy that were made by the most senior US officials.

“In the Middle East, President Bush has broken with six decades of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the hope of purchasing stability at the price of liberty. The stakes could not be higher. As long as the broader Middle East remains a region of tyranny and despair and anger, it will produce extremists and movements that threaten the safety of Americans and our friends … “

That was Condi Rice speaking in 2005. When actual elections were subsequently held in occupied Palestine and Egypt and they saw gains made by the Islamic movements Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood respectively, the US quickly ditched talk of people power and promoting democracy and instead reverted to its dirty policy of giving staunch backing to the Middle East”s assortment of dictators and absolute monarchs. Not quite the correct recipe for undermining support for al-Qaida as you can imagine.

Elsewhere, on a more positive note, the world”s most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia, will be holding its national parliamentary elections in April and presidential elections in July. Ten years after the downfall of the dictator and key US ally, General Suharto, Indonesia has shown that there is nothing contradictory in being both Muslim and democratic.

On the media front, it is worth noting the increasing options available for people to access news and bypass the normal channels with the launch two years ago of the Qatari-funded al-Jazeera English and in 2008 the arrival on SKY of the Iranian funded Press TV. 2009 will witness the continuing fragmentation of news audiences and for understandable reasons.

At ENGAGE, we have seen huge swathes of British Muslim opinion now routinely refuse to believe what they are told by the government and much of our media after the way they have seen the fourth estate collude with power in disseminating misinformation about Iraq and the criminal cover currently being provided to Israel to perpetrate war crimes in broad daylight.

People not automatically believing what they are told by those in power and being prepared to look elsewhere for authentic information about what is happening in the world: in the end, that can only be good for the long-term health of our democracy.