In 1909, at the beginning of what was to be defined as “the short century”, the Italian Futurists said “We stand on the far promontory of centuries!” Today simultaneity, another futuristic concept, has reached around the world and, in particular, all people in every social class. What is simultaneous influences all our myths, behaviors and values – it is not just a mere economic or financial transaction. In fact, the World Wide Web connects, almost instantly, huge masses of poor and rich people, as well as elites.
Hence, in such a context, which is completely new to the psychological, cultural and anthropological experience of large masses of people, it is perhaps useful to rethink the cultural and religious distinctive factors of the world we have known and of the world we will contribute to build.
It is a fact that Europe is no longer at the center of global cultural routes. Its underlying idea – its foundation myth – has now become the ”idea of technology”, the continuous and repetitive transformation of the universe into a civilization of téchne in which, according to the German philosopher Heidegger, man is ever more surrounded by powers he created that do not follow his will but, on the contrary, adapt man to the will of technology.
Hence technology as Goethe’s Faust, almost a daemon freed from the matter that, although contributing to better learn how and what nature is, does not change or elevate the nature of man, who always remains what the Enlightenment doctors defined homme plante and homme machine. It is the universe of the ordinary man, without roots, who sets himself up as center of the universe with his “material needs”.
The plant-man, the machine-man and finally the mass-man, the One Self becoming the Many Selves, the current forms of oligarchic democracy we know all too well, before having experienced the Self of the Many totalitarianisms.
Life not as destiny, but the human biological survival – strengthened, extended and made dynamic – as a demonstration of the téchne autonomous power.
At geopolitical level, the issue radically changed with the translatio imperii occurred at the end of World War II, when Great Britain assigned its British Empire to the United States with a view to repaying the high debts incurred due to the very long conflict.
Nevertheless, apart from their poor neo-positivistic cultural fabric, the United States had no conceptual framework to manage and provide meaning and symbols to the great economic growth which took place in the “Thirty Glorious Years” (1943-1973), dominated by a system of fixed exchange rates between the major world (Western) currencies.
Hence the sequence of the Cold War culture, focusing on the “free world” myth as against the Soviet and Communist authoritarianism, a surely tough regime which, however, did not qualify itself only with its anti-democratic credentials or with the rejection of “free trade”, at least on the internal market.
Communism was a materialistic religion of the future, a futurism in which the “Marxist science” (the last discovery of the scientist myth of capital) allowed the leap forward to the final stage of development of the bourgeois, the full realization of his material needs.
A global division between East and West in which both sides underlined productivity, technology, the myth of man devoted to the accumulation of ever more complex material goods suitable for leading an easy, cheerful and free life – free from the past and from its heavy legacy of wisdom and knowledge, which could not be wiped out.
Later, after the complex political and cultural evolution of the Soviet (and Chinese) world, the materialistic West has acquired some of the traits that the British economist and philosopher, John Stuart Mill, precisely defined as “Chinese” or hyper-massified, while the East has regained not only its geoeconomic dominance, but also the idea of its own past and identity – the identity which is lost when you are conquered, as is the case with Europe, after having spread your own cultural pattern everywhere.
Also Nietzsche, in his “Posthumous Fragments” of 1887, spoke about the future Spirit as the “soothing balm” which would be poured onto the “Chinese guys” – all alike – of the great mass production.
Today, in terms of knowledge and wisdom (and not of trivial “culture”), the development of cultural and religious balances is crucial also in relation to material values.
According to the CCP, Confucius – really hated by Mao Zedong (who was a Taoist) – was one of the “four old wise men” and, according to the Red Guards loyal to the Great Helmsman, he was also the ideologue of feudalism.
Today, however, Confucius is the philosophical model of China’s “harmonious society” and of its social stability, much loved by the Party, while many contemporary Chinese philosophers readapt Confucianism, which also René Guénon considered to be “Tao’s esotericism”, a universal philosophy which also applied to non-Chinese people.
Hence, while Europe’s Idea is still linked to the repetition of the Enlightenment fake miracle, a theory of the “liberation” from traditions, wisdom and separation between the Idea and téchne – as we can see in the tragic responses provided to the jihad – Asia and China, in particular, are retracing not only the steps of technology, but also the steps of their tradition.
It is precisely that tradition that Europe wants to wipe out, still considering itself as the place of Everything, of the Material Everything while, in the whole Eurasian context and in many Mediterranean areas, there is the evident revival of philosophies and ancient ways of life, as well as the simulacra of the Gods that the Western materialistic myth had dismissed as “false and deceitful”.
While capitalism is changing as perhaps never in the past, thus becoming a world mass phenomenon, we witness the end of the materialistic, positivistic, atheistic and anti-traditional ideology which largely generated it.
It is a paradox.
Currently – and this can also be seen in the organization of the new companies – capitalism is a symbol, a cultural model and a social network, as well as the object and the subject of the local Tradition.
Many contemporary anthropologists remind us of the fact that in the Silk Road there is the return of the pre- and supra-Islamic identities which characterized the shamanic traditions in the same way as, in Ataturk’s old Turkey, the Sunni Islam overlapped with the syncretic and occult philosophy of the various Sufi brotherhoods in which the Quran is “infinite” and it is extended with the link between Tradition and personal mystical illumination.
Also the West had its mystical phase in the 1970s and 1980s, but it was a wisdom of the Heart which aimed at physical wellbeing, as usual.
And to think that the great industrial capitalism was born precisely from the esotericism and occultism of the Frankist Jews, namely passionate Eastern and Western theosophists who founded, for example, the Commercial Bank, or from real magicians such as Walther Rathenau.
It is worth recalling that both in the USSR and in the United States perestroika and glasnost were publicized and developed by a branch of the International Theosophical Society.
The remaining Western Tradition is occult and syncretistic and it covers itself with the poor mantle of vulgar materialism, while the Eastern one is equally divided between the Initiates and the Laymen but, still today, it connects the Unspeakable and the common speech and storytelling with little threads.
“You Westerners would dope yourselves also with mineral water”, as a very poor Imam said to an Italian soldier on a military mission there.
Indeed the West is the place where practice and matter imitate the Spirit.
The jihad, however, is the breaking point not only at military and political level, but also at cultural one.
Well before 2014, the Islamic State’s ideology was born in the 1970s, with the so-called Sawha movement, namely the merger of Salafism, namely the myth of Islam’s origins, with the typical ideas of revolutionary Islamism, often secularized by Western (and materialistic) ideologies.
This leads to takfirism, namely the possibility of excommunicating other Muslims without Imamate’s mediation.
Therefore it is a complex hybridization between various Islamic ideologies and traditions: Wahhabism, born also from a literalist radicalization of the Hanbali legal and interpretative tradition and from the Muslim Brotherhood.
At social and economic level, the massification of Islamic populations – subjected to a rapid ideology of modernization after the end of the protectionist and populist regimes of the 1970s and 1980s – ended the phase of the authoritarian Welfare State.
The Westernist liberalizations also generated huge masses of old and new poor, while the liberalization of trade and local raw materials led to a future shock which has not yet developed all its effects in the Arab world.
The Italian economist and sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto, used to say that “Socialism is a form of protectionism”, but without protecting their raw materials – with the aggravating circumstance of the Welfare forced liberalizations, the Third World countries cannot move forward.
Either they wage war against the West, with the jihad, or they self-destroy in a new non-national Islamic indistinct mass, without traditions other than those of some phony preachers.
Hence the void of secular and traditional nationalism, which no longer pays salaries, has turned into the full of jihad, of the violent and criminal Islam “international” against those who, in its opinion, caused the crisis, namely the Westerners.
At the cultural and geo-religious level, the Silk Road is turning into a ring of regional Islams where the hybridization between the Quran and the local traditions is often encouraged and, in any case, not prohibited by the authority.
In China, Confucianism filled the ideological void caused by the crisis of Marxism-Leninism as propaganda, immediately before globalization while, luckily, the State accounting rules continue to be the traditional ones. In Russia, the crisis of Marxism – a crisis of its materialism rather than of its predictive ability – has brought again to light what had never disappeared.
I am referring to the esotericism of the Third Rome, of Eurasia expanding the Tradition of its Mediterranean and Atlantic peninsula to the Center of the World, the Heartland where, in the early twentieth century, the theosophists and their evil offspring, namely the Nazis, as well as the Initiates of the international Freemasonry, went in search of Occult Wisdom.
The geo-religious myth is always at the origin of strategic choices, not the other way round: today’s Russia embodies the hopes for world stabilization and growth through the domination of the Middle Kingdom, along with China, while Islam – regardless of its being “sword jihad”, “permanent jihad” or “cultural jihad” – is taking the place of the great global revolutionary obsessions which have characterized the last two centuries.
The Sunni jihad is targeted against us Westerners, against the Islamic governments cooperating with us and against the Shiites.
The Shiite insurgency, often with interesting cultural and wisdom novelties emerging in the new centers of the uprising, is an attempt to conquer the Islamic region between Central Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East.
A hybridization eastward, whereas previously the Shia Tradition had mixed with the Western wisdom Traditions, from early Christianity to neo-Platonism even up to the remaining Greek mysteries. It is the other face of the global Sunni insurgency – either jihadist or not – which wants to gather all the new “wretched of the earth” and convert them to Qaran, with a view to employing them in the struggle against the First World, namely the West, and then against the new first World, namely growing Central Asia, which is undergoing a cultural and religious evolution.
The Shia tradition may be different.
Judaism, in its new globalist evolution – focused on Israel and its new internal cultural and religious debate – will bring both the culture and tradition of the New Asia to the West, which is not only téchne, and then transform the Islamist universe, by dividing it in two: a culture of dialogue and wisdom compared to the Tradition of the Books and the subsequent fight against an ever less mass jihad.
With Pope Francis, the first Bishop of Rome belonging to the Society of Jesus, Catholicism will organize its Tradition around the non-Asian peoples marginalized by globalization.
However, considering that the Tradition is invisible to those who should break with it, it will remain the axis of most cultural and even economic evolution of our world.
China’s soft power and its Lunar New Year’s Culture
Authors: Liu Hui & Humprey A. Russell*
As a common practice, China has celebrated its annual Lunar new year since 1984 when the leaders of the day decided to open mysterious country in a more confident and transparent way. So far, the lunar new year gala has become a part of Chinese cultural life and beyond. The question then arises why China or its people have been so thrilled to exhibit themselves to the world, as its economy has already impressed the world by its rapid pace and tremendous capacity.
As it is well-known, in international relations, peoples from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds need to enhance their understanding which eventually leads to mutual respect and tolerance as the key to the world peace and stability. China is well-aware of this norm. As a rising power with 1.3 billion people, it is necessary for China to introduce its culture and notion of the peaceful rise to the audiences globally. Joseph Nye, Jr., the founder of the concept of the soft power, has argued: “The currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. During the information age, credibility is the scarcest resource.”In light of this, China has been steadily involved in cultural promotions abroad.
China is an ancient civilization but diplomatically it is a new global player in terms of its modern involvement into the world affairs, particularly in terms of reform and openness. Yet, since China has aspired to rejuvenate itself as one of the leading powers globally, it is natural for the world en bloc to assume Beijing’s intention and approach to the power transition between the rising power like itself and the ruling powers such as the United States and the G-7 club. Consider this, China has exerted all efforts to project but not propagate its image to the world. Here culture is bound to play the vital role in convincing the countries concerned that “culturally China has no the gene of being a threat to other peoples,” as Chinese President Xi has assured. The annual lunar gala is evidently a useful instrument to demonstrate Chinese people, culture and policies as well.
Culturally speaking, the Chinese New Year celebrations can be seen as follows. In a general sense, similar themes run through all the galas with the local cultural and ethnical ingredients, for instance, Chinese opera, crosstalk and acrobatics, as well as the lion-dancing or the dragon-dancing from time to time. Yes, the galas play the role of promoting the Chinese communities over the world to identify themselves with the Chinese culture which surely strengthen the cultural bonds among the Chinese, in particular the younger generations. Moreover, the dimension of the Chinese culture can be found beyond the country since its neighbors like Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Malaysia, as well as Chinese communities in many other areas also perform those arts at the holiday seasons. The message here is clear that China, although it is a rising great power, has never abandoned its cultural tradition which has emphasized the harmony among the different races and ethnics.
Recently, the lunar new year celebrations across China have invited professional and amateur artists from all over the world. Those foreign guest artists and many overseas students studying in China have been able to offer their talents in either Chinese or their mother tongues. No doubt, this is a two-way to learn from each other because Chinese performers are benefited from the contacts with their counterparts globally. In terms of public diplomacy, Beijing aims to send a powerful and sincere message to the world: China can’t be in isolation from the world because it has aspired to be a great and inclusive country as well. To that end, the rise of China is not going to challenge the status quo, but will act as one of the stakeholders.
As usual, realists have difficulties and even cultural bias to accept the rhetoric from a country like China since it has been regarded by the ruling powers of the world as an ambitious, assertive and communist-ruled country with its unique culture. To that challenge, the Chinese government and the people have done a great deal of works to successfully illustrate Chinese practice of harmony at the societal level idealized by Confucius’ doctrines. This social harmony is made possible only by the realization of the Taoist ideal of harmony with nature – in this case, harmony between humans and nature. This explains why panda and many other rare animals are now viewed as new national symbol of China. Although they are unnecessarily an indispensable part of the lunar new year gala, the viewpoint is that the rise of China would not be completed at the cost of the ecological environment like many other countries did in history.
Practically speaking, the lunar new year celebrations are being conducted in a rich variety of ways such as concerts, cuisines, folk entertainments and even forums and receptions around the world. Major global commercial centers have also served to create a Chinese holiday atmosphere, adapt to the needs of Chinese tourists, attract active participation from local residents, and provide such diversities of cultural and social events. What is worth mentioning is that some Chinese-North American non-profit, non-partisan organizations are beginning to celebrate Chinese lunar gala in partnership with other local counterparts. For instance, the Chinese Inter-cultural Association based in California, recently hosted a Chinese New Year party in a Persian restaurant in partnership with a local non-profit, non-partisan organization called the Orange County Toastmaster Club, part of Toastmaster International. Also, in another Chinese New Year celebration that was open to people of all races in Pasadena, two Americans played the guitar and sang songs in fluent Chinese! Both galas were attended by people of all racial backgrounds around the world. Given this, it is fair to say that China’s soft power supported by its annual lunar new year festival is on the rise globally with a view to promoting mutual respect and friendship among the peoples of various cultural, ethnical and racial origins.
Yet, though the impressive feats are achieved, it has noted that China still has a long way to go in terms of its twin-centennial dreams. First, as a developing country with its unique culture, it is necessary for China to promote its great ancient culture abroad, but it is also imperative to avoid “introducing” China rashly into the globe. Essentially, soft power is more the ability to attract and co-opt than to use force or give money as a means of persuasion. Thereby, it is the very ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. As cross-cultural communication is a long process, Nye admitted a few years ago, in public affairs, “the best propaganda is not propaganda.”
This is the key to all the countries. In 2014,President Xi formally stated, “China should increase its soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate its messages to the world.” In light of this, Chinese lunar new year gala surely acts as soft power to project the image of China internationally.
* Humprey A. Russell (Indonesia), PhD candidate in international affairs, SIPA, Jilin University.
China’s step into the maelstrom of the Middle East
The Middle East has a knack for sucking external powers into its conflicts. China’s ventures into the region have shown how difficult it is to maintain its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.
China’s abandonment of non-interference is manifested by its (largely ineffective) efforts to mediate conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan as well as between Israel and Palestine and even between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is even more evident in China’s trashing of its vow not to establish foreign military bases, which became apparent when it established a naval base in Djibouti and when reports surfaced that it intends to use Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar as a military facility.
This contradiction between China’s policy on the ground and its long-standing non-interventionist foreign policy principles means that Beijing often struggles to meet the expectations of Middle Eastern states. It also means that China risks tying itself up in political knots in countries such as Pakistan, which is home to the crown jewel of its Belt and Road Initiative — the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Middle Eastern autocrats have tried to embrace the Chinese model of economic liberalism coupled with tight political control. They see China’s declared principle of non-interference in the affairs of others for what it is: support for authoritarian rule. The principle of this policy is in effect the same as the decades-old US policy of opting for stability over democracy in the Middle East.
It is now a risky policy for the United States and China to engage in given the region’s post-Arab Spring history with brutal and often violent transitions. If anything, instead of having been ‘stabilised’ by US and Chinese policies, the region is still at the beginning of a transition process that could take up to a quarter of a century to resolve. There is no guarantee that autocrats will emerge as the winners.
China currently appears to have the upper hand against the United States for influence across the greater Middle East, but Chinese policies threaten to make that advantage short-term at best.
Belt and Road Initiative-related projects funded by China have proven to be a double-edged sword. Concerns are mounting in countries like Pakistan that massive Chinese investment could prove to be a debt trap similar to Sri Lanka’s experience.
Chinese back-peddling on several Pakistani infrastructure projects suggests that China is tweaking its approach to the US$50 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese rethink was sparked by political volatility caused by Pakistan’s self-serving politics and continued political violence — particularly in the Balochistan province, which is at the heart of CPEC.
China decided to redevelop its criteria for the funding of CPEC’s infrastructure projects in November 2017. This move seemingly amounted to an effort to enhance the Pakistani military’s stake in the country’s economy at a time when they were flexing their muscles in response to political volatility. The decision suggests that China is not averse to shaping the political environment of key countries in its own authoritarian mould.
Similarly, China has been willing to manipulate Pakistan against its adversaries for its own gain. China continues to shield Masoud Azhar (who is believed to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence agencies and military forces) from UN designation as a global terrorist. China does so while Pakistan cracks down on militants in response to a US suspension of aid and a UN Security Council monitoring visit.
Pakistan’s use of militants in its dispute with India over Kashmir serves China’s interest in keeping India off balance — a goal which Beijing sees as worthy despite the fact that Chinese personnel and assets have been the targets of a low-level insurgency in Balochistan. Saudi Arabia is also considering the use of Balochistan as a launching pad to destabilise Iran. By stirring ethnic unrest in Iran, Saudi Arabia will inevitably suck China into the Saudi–Iranian rivalry and sharpen its competition with the United States. Washington backs the Indian-supported port of Chabahar in Iran — a mere 70 kilometres from Gwadar.
China is discovering that it will prove impossible to avoid the pitfalls of the greater Middle East. This is despite the fact that US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman seem singularly focussed on countering Iran and Islamic militants.
As it navigates the region’s numerous landmines, China is likely to find itself at odds with both the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will at least have a common interest in pursuing political stability at the expense of political change — however much this may violate its stated commitment to non-interference.
Chinese extradition request puts crackdown on Uyghurs in the spotlight
A Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia puts the spotlight on China’s roll-out of one of the world’s most intrusive surveillance systems, military moves to prevent Uyghur foreign fighters from returning to Xinjiang, and initial steps to export its security approach to countries like Pakistan.
The 11 were among 25 Uyghurs who escaped from a Thai detention centre in November through a hole in the wall, using blankets to climb to the ground.
The extradition request follows similar deportations of Uyghurs from Thailand and Egypt often with no due process and no immediate evidence that they were militants.
The escapees were among more than 200 Uighurs detained in Thailand in 2014. The Uyghurs claimed they were Turkish nationals and demanded that they be returned to Turkey. Thailand, despite international condemnation, forcibly extradited to China some 100 of the group in July 2015.
Tens of Uyghurs, who were unable to flee to Turkey in time, were detained in Egypt in July and are believed to have also been returned to China. Many of the Uyghurs were students at Al Azhar, one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning.
China, increasingly concerned that Uyghurs fighters in Syria and Iraq will seek to return to Xinjiang or establish bases across the border in Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the wake of the territorial demise of the Islamic State, has brutally cracked down on the ethnic minority in its strategic north-western province, extended its long arm to the Uyghur Diaspora, and is mulling the establishment of its first land rather than naval foreign military base.
The crackdown appears, at least for now, to put a lid on intermittent attacks in Xinjiang itself. Chinese nationals have instead been targeted in Pakistan, the $50 billion plus crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative that seeks to link Eurasia to the People’s Republic through infrastructure.
The attacks are believed to have been carried out by either Baloch nationalists or militants of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), a Uighur separatist group that has aligned itself with the Islamic State.
Various other groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have threatened to attack Chinese nationals in response to the alleged repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
ETIM militants were believed to have been responsible for the bombing in August 2015 of Bangkok’s Erawan shrine that killed 20 people as retaliation for the forced repatriation of Uighurs a month earlier.
The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned in December of possible attacks targeting “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens” in Pakistan
China’s ambassador, Yao Jing, advised the Pakistani interior ministry two months earlier that Abdul Wali, an alleged ETIM assassin, had entered the country and was likely to attack Chinese targets
China has refused to recognize ethnic aspirations of Uyghurs, a Turkic group, and approached it as a problem of Islamic militancy. Thousands of Uyghurs are believed to have joined militants in Syria, while hundreds or thousands more have sought to make their way through Southeast Asia to Turkey.
To counter ethnic and religious aspirations, China has introduced what must be the world’s most intrusive surveillance system using algorithms. Streets in Xinjiang’s cities and villages are pockmarked by cameras; police stations every 500 metres dot roads in major cities; public buildings resemble fortresses; and authorities use facial recognition and body scanners at highway checkpoints.
The government, in what has the makings of a re-education program, has opened boarding schools “for local children to spend their entire week in a Chinese-speaking environment, and then only going home to parents on the weekends,” according to China scholar David Brophy. Adult Uyghurs, who have stuck to their Turkic language, have been ordered to study Chinese at night schools.
Nightly television programs feature oath-swearing ceremonies,” in which participants pledge to root out “two-faced people,” the term used for Uyghur Communist Party members who are believed to be not fully devoted to Chinese policy.
The measures in Xinjiang go beyond an Orwellian citizen scoring system that is being introduced that scores a person’s political trustworthiness. The system would determine what benefits a citizen is entitled to, including access to credit, high speed internet service and fast-tracked visas for travel based on data garnered from social media and online shopping data as well as scanning of irises and content on mobile phones at random police checks.
Elements of the system are poised for export. A long-term Chinese plan for China’s investment in Pakistan, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), envisioned creating a system of monitoring and surveillance in Pakistani cities to ensure law and order.
The system envisions deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”
A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media. Pakistani media would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.”
The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”
The measures were designed to address the risks to CPEC that the plan identified as “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.
At the same time, China, despite official denials, is building, according to Afghan security officials, a military base for the Afghan military that would give the People’s Republic a presence in Badakhshan, the remote panhandle of Afghanistan that borders China and Tajikistan.
Chinese military personnel have reportedly been in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan since March last year.
The importance China attributes to protecting itself against Uyghur militancy and extending its protective shield beyond its borders was reflected in the recent appointment as its ambassador to Afghanistan, Liu Jinsong, who was raised in Xinjiang and served as a director of the Belt and Road initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund.
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