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Quantum Islam: Towards a new worldview

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Authors: Murray Hunter, Azly Rahman

In concluding our essay on Tawhidic-Singularity as a new philosophy of Islam, we proposed that Muslims need to interpret the core teaching of One-ness from a kaleidoscopic perspective.

We asked readers to reflect upon the applicability of Chaos or Complexity Theory to view Islam as an organic and living religion inviting its believers to look at the concept of One-ness as the manifesting of Many-ness. In this essay, we go deeper into the discussion of the soul of the Quran itself and how Muslims could perceive and read it as a postmodern text with multiple-level meanings based on his/her unique life experiences. We wish to propose the worldview of “Quantum Islam,” as a new way looking at this cultural belief system. We invite readers to think of Islam as more than just unquestioning faith and rites and rituals but as an evolving text to be made alive. The idea of a “living Quran” is a means of perceiving and feeling one’s existence as a world of interconnectedness. This world of deep personal connectivity is a world of the physical, emotional and spiritual self as it exists in the realm of the Universal self as a world designed as a Quantum being in itself.

Multiple Universes and the Quran

Islam is about what cannot at present be explained intrinsically through the science we know today.

The Qu’ran is a deeply layered book of meaning. However, the majority of Muslims have tended to take literal views. The Qu’ran has also foreseen many scientific discoveries and defined the nature of our realities. Such a view of the cognitive and metaphysical nature of the text has been dominant at a time when Islamic philosophy was being conceived, especially in the debates between scholars trained in Greek philosophy with those trying to rid the influence of rationalism in epistemologizing the meaning of existence.

The Qu’ran and Hadiths have shaped the worldview of 20% of the world’s population. But Islam today is viewed as a singular reality, embedded in ‘Arabism’ and ‘hellfire’ paradigms, coercing Muslims to follow literal views, within a ‘carrot and stick’ enlightenment and fear syndrome.  

As a consequence Islam has not been the means to a higher level universal wisdom that the Qu’ran can facilitate, if read with this understanding.

Allah rabb al-àlamin, the Lord of the Worlds indicates a multiverse with parallel realities. There are parallel universes mentioned within the Qu’ran that we don’t have access to. These worlds are widely talked about within the Qu’ran, the world of the jinns, as in the verse ”And the jinn race, we had created before, from the fire of a scorching wind” Qur’an (15:27)

The 99 names of Allah also suggest multi-existential paradigms.

Challenges of constructing this multi-universal view

The first challenge is to escape the unipolar world and live in, and transcend to the multipolar world the Qu’ran describes. i.e., atoms can be both a particle and wave and thus be in multiple places at the same time. True realities are multipolar dynamics, rather than unipolar statics. Thus, to understand the complexity of the environment, we must develop both our personal self-awareness and social awareness. So where reality is multi-layered and kaleidoscopic, layered and deeper meanings can be derived from the chaotic environment we exist within through contemplating the layered intricacies and meanings within the Quran.

Muslims viewing the text of the Qu’ran as a living and evolving one, can find a meaningful guide to life and the universe, which we propose is what Quantum Islam means. What one sees with the naked eye, a phenomenon to be studied is just a level of Reality that we construct cognitively. However as one reads deeper into the meaning of the Quran, one may find the signs and symbols manifesting themselves in newer ways, which we digest and make meaning of through our self-awareness or spirituality.

The second challenge is that we must understand that we are not at the centre of the world. We must override the assumption that modern humankind has adopted in that humans can control nature and nature is here to serve us. What we think and the assumptions behind our very thoughts may not actually resemble reality, and may not be the truth. Once we shed this egocentric view of the world, we come to realize that we cannot control nature and we must nurture nature. In the Quran it is said: ”Say: He is Allah, He is One, He is Eternal He Begets not nor is He begotten and there is none equal unto Him” Surah Ikhlas 112.

Muslims engaged in a cognitive and metaphysical reading of the Quran may propose that human existence is both physical and conceptual, and that as a Platonic view would content, we are both Forms and Appearance, and that if the self is an invention/creation to manifest the “truth”. There is a larger truth of “being and nothingness,” in another world of the “unseen,”. This is the idea of corresponding reality of existence. Islam proposes that this view of Quantum state of beingness can only be understood if one understands the meaning of “selflessness” or the “destruction of the Ego,” and to allow the self to be liberated from the confines of a physical and mechanistic world.

The third challenge is to read the question from a “culturally-neutral” perspective. This means stripping the notion that all that is Islam is Arabic and with fallacy, to believe that religious belief is not cultural. This is to begin to believe that to be a Muslim, one need not aspire to be or to become an Arab. If Islam is a universal truth, it is not ‘Arab-centric’, and many of the rites and rituals cannot be universal, if for example, Islam was to the truth on another planet like Mars. What would Islam be like without the cultural anchors that have grown around it and almost strangled the truth? If, as the last message of Prophet Muhammad would content — that Islam promotes a universal message of peace – and be viewed as the “final revelation,” and that only 20% of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims are speakers of the Arabic language, what has been the consequence of Islam as religion that has been too much caught in the semiotics of Arabism? Simply put, why is being Muslim today synonymous of being or looking Arabic?

The three challenges above, namely that we are living in a multipolar world, that our existence is not central to the Universe, and that religion is a cultural construct to present ways for Muslims to view Islam differently. The Quran, in its very first few words of revelation, “Read … in the name of thy Lord who created Thee …” is a clear enough proposition for believers in this religion to “read oneself and to read the world on is living in.” It is an invitation for readers to not only “read the world” but also to “write” a story of one’s life, based on one’s own worldview and to unshackle oneself from being defined by others.

The challenges above are existential in nature, given by the Quran to the readers.

“Verily in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding; Men who remember Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the creation of the heavens and the earth (with the thought) Our Lord! Not for nothing have you created (all) this. Glory to you! Give us salvation from the suffering of the fire” Qur’an (3: 190-191)

The Ummah as Singularity in Multiplicity

The Ummah is an interconnection of oneness, not segregated tribes who are at war with each other.

We are left to reflect upon the multiplicity of worlds that were created and understand that we are only a tiny part of it.

This opens up wisdom, develops humbleness, and increases empathy towards there being something greater than ourselves. The quintessential and foundational chapter of the Quran, Al Fatihah, or The Opening offer this idea of mercy, peace, gratitude, and wisdom in choosing between Good and Evil. It introduces the reader to the idea that the path of righteousness or the “Siratul Mustaqim” is the path of peace that will guide human beings in this journey through the bountiful and merciful world created by The Lord of the Universe. This path is a challenging one, as we can see that even the world “Islam” can be used to strike terror in others as well as create untold magnitude of destruction. The emergence of the ISIS “Islamic State of Syria and Iraq” or ISISL, The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant” or the Daesh (Darul Islamiyah) and the globalization of terror has is an example of how the word of Islam and the tawhidic message of peace can be misrepresented and be a guide to the path of “those cursed” as the last verse of the Al Fatihah reads.

This takes us into the “tawhidic-singularity” realm of Islam with the idea of Gnosticism factored into the belief system – of the ‘alam al-ghaib’, the concealed dimension of reality

We are told within the Tawhid to submit to Allah and be part of the greater universe. Yet the behaviour espoused by Islam scholars today tends to deem that OUR humanity is at the centre of the universe. It puts humankind above the natural laws of the universe, in a state of arrogance, detested in the Qu’ran itself.

Today we see many political Islamic ideologies that seek to dominate all.

This is contrary to Allah’s scheme of things within the Qu’ran.

The continual return to referencing Allah as the Merciful and the Compassionate reminds us of the need for humility, not hostility and cruelty to humankind.

Choice is open to humankind within the teachings of the Qu’ran. This implies man can choose the realities he wants to exist within:

I control what I perceive

I control what I think

I control how I act

I am responsible for the consequences.

(13:11)

This must occur beyond the bounds of ego-centric consciousness and the assumption that there is only one possible reality.

The action upon literal translation of the Qu’ran is a denial of the true realities that the Qu’ran lays out in front of us. Literal scholarly understanding of the Quran has shackled our understanding to the cultural metaphors that have bounded Islam to its Arabness that we see today. This has blinded us to seeing the deeper dimensions of Islam and the messages of transformation towards Tawhidness. The Quran is a dynamic book, talking about change. It’s been interpreted as static dogma and doctrines, losing the central message about our journal of transcendence to the state of Tawhidness.  

The paradoxes of metaphoric and material universes

The paradoxes of the Qu’ran advise humanity not to be too self-excessive and egocentric. Our greed, and other negative emotions, narcissism and other neurosis, addictions, pleasures, accumulation of wealth, and how we treat others is a quantum introspection that we are taught within the Qu’ran, in order to assist us seeing other realities (universes), that we have choice to enter and exist within.

Only through this open awareness can we experience the realities of the world around us, learn to submit to the greater universe around us, which is called Allah. Our essence of purity through the state of spirituality is the only paradigm we can use to understand the deep meaning of the Tawhid and its greatness, far beyond any person, society, or time.

Thus the Tawhid provides humanity with a meaning of life; that of being part of a greater existence; a worldview that accommodates not only the multiple worldviews of existing belief system but also respects the process of constructing emergent new ones.

The introspection of a literal Allah is a neurosis that blinds us to Allah’s true greatness and our true appreciation of this. This is the true reality.

In Islam, worldviews such as that proposed through Sufism takes Muslims away from the ordered mechanistic world view. The world can be seen for what it is, complex in almost mystical ways, as even the laws of nature itself can be seen beyond cause and effect, beyond karma which is too simplistic to explain reality. This is the Quantum view of Islam, which can also be found in the way Buddhism views the self, Reality, and existence. Buddhist ideas such as the self as non-existence and constantly evolving as the “being and becoming bodhisattva” journeys towards “nibbbana or Nirvana,” and constantly being aware of the impermanence of the self and the ephemerality of physical beings, and to live a principle of “non-attachment to this mechanistic and material world,”, and finally to view that life is a process of samsara or the evolution towards liberation, perpetual happiness, and next to enter the realm of “being and nothingness” – this view is where the similarity of Quantum Islam and core metaphysical teachings of existing cultural philosophies lie.

Perception and feeling become more important than any form of quantitative measurement in understanding reality. The Qu’ran itself is not a quantitative work. It is a compendium of propositions inviting readers to think of multiple interpretations of the meaning of texts, subtexts, and cultural contexts. It is a postmodern text that has not proper arrangement or a sense of story of creationism. In other words, it is not a structured story about the metaphysics and physics of creation and Man’s place in the universe. The Quran, in short is merely a set of annotated readings inviting the reads to deconstruct meanings. It is a book about representations of alternate realities in which even the “speaker” or “narrator” of this grand text utilizes shifting pronouns in telling stories and passing down decrees.

Reality and Quantum Islam

The perception of reality is about awareness as the Qu’ran teaches. It is about how individuals transcend the universe through a journey towards a destination and seek the final reality.

Mathematics breaks down in any view of reality, i.e., mathematics cannot explain 10% of infinity. Science cannot explain reality; as if we look at an atom we are not sure whether it’s a particle or a wave. There is a duality to everything, i.e., atoms can be in more than one place at the same time. Half of what we look at is in decay, so the “Schrodinger’s cat “is both alive and dead at the same time. There is a duality of consciousness that we must understand. It is both psychic and physical, full of emotion and emotionless, black and white, good and evil, hot and cold, attracting and repelling. Reality is thus an inter-connectiveness of nature and a web of relationships between humanity and spirituality, that makes up a unified whole within us.

The form of our realities is the product of our observation of this. A tawhidic consciousness is therefore so important in our interpretation of reality.

Seeing this is the order within the chaos that shrouds our minds by focusing too much on the poles of the existential paradoxes. Paradoxes can only be understood through balance. Then one can see the truths within people, relationships, and events.

Prof. Anis Bajrektarevic indicates that it: “corresponds with the Buddhist Yogacara assumption that all perceptions do leave traces which make future similar perceptions more probable/plausible – origins of the potentialities within the quantum realm.” Finally, professor concludes: “This is why mankind kept practicing a prayer.”

Many Islamic writers resorted to using poetry to enhance the understanding of non-linear world.

The Qu’ran talks of a transition to a level where the duality of mind and body cannot be distinguished. We shift into a singularity where there is no time, no space, just a transcendence or universal oneness. We transcend the four dimensions that we understand into further dimensions which the Qu’ran speaks of but we have no direct prior experience. This is the state called Syurga.

The direct experience of reality is a psychic and emotional breakthrough to what Islam calls Al-falah.

The only tool needed to see reality is a tawhidic transcending awareness, which is the key to openness and seeing something greater than our selves.

This is why we rely on rituals such as Zikir (where prayer is incorporated) which builds up higher levels of consciousness. Zikir should help us create an empty mind so all thoughts are cleared to enable us to see the greater universe free of our own egocentrism.

This is where insight come from as we experience ‘eureka manifestations’ of both personal and universal nature. Einstein wrote of this epiphanic moment in his journey to construct the “theory of relativity,”

Our intellect is developed through our experience, which gathers knowledge and interprets meaning for us. The heart of all knowledge for a human is experience. For example, we cannot know what it is like to scuba dive, without actually scuba diving. 100 hours in a classroom cannot give you the same knowledge as a few minutes under the water.

Without experiencing the universe we are blind. This blindness can only be overcome through being open and empathetic to the world around us. Blindness to the universe is a human neurosis.

Science, sense, and soul

A quantum view of reality puts an end to materialism. It is within this paradigm Quantum Islam that one need to look at reality in a different light, taking into consideration that life is not entirely founded upon Materialism.

The Tawhid espouses us to transcend materialism. The non-physical element of our life is our existence, not material things, only their images and symbolic meanings within our minds. This triggers our emotions which create Al-fasad realities for humankind, bringing humans to a level of personal destruction through greed, etc.

This also has repercussions in thought and future actions, and can be considered ill-intentions, contrary to what the Qu’ran espouses. This is our mystical jihad of finding our true uncorrupted existence.

The worldly realities mediate and shrivel over our Tawhidic consciousness, which tells us what is right. Going against what is right is sin and our physic destruction.

Tawhidic consciousness is the true universal wisdom, just as quarks within atoms possess energy which has its own consciousness described for example, by physicist such as Freeman Dyson. Like quarks, we have the capacity to make free decisions.

The non-physical, all embracing empathetic and compassionate mind is what we can develop through Tawhidic guidance. This takes us into the realm of Allah and Syurga.

Allah exists within our higher levels of consciousness, as we are told many times within the Qu’ran.

The narratives of the Qu’ran are concerned with both individual and social (universal) consciousness, the yin and yang of our existence.

This has great implications which haven’t been discussed within the Islamic world. Most are restricted to reading from the literal universe of the Qu’ran, and clinging to this unipolar universe.

To see reality, we must discard the concepts of language and images. Structure gives bias and shackles our ‘knowing’.

Higher intellect cannot be obtained through the processes thinking within mechanistic realities. This blinds us to the understanding of the essential nature of the universe. With a literal understanding of the Qu’ran we are in a paradigm lock within a singular universe of nature. Without paradox, we cannot see meaning, as paradox is the only way we can interpret. Paradox is the language above all other languages, the only way we can create benchmarks within our mind, in order to interpret the universe around us.

However, these paradoxes are ruled by personal emotions, of which we both project and introspect with the dualities that define our world. It is within these dualities that we define ‘good’ and ‘evil’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘virtuous’ or ‘sinful’.

Islam and particularly the Tawhid is a field of potential. It is a reality beyond our materialistic reality, and our consciousness which is intertwined with our ego-self. The Tawhid can only be entered into, discovered, or become an awareness through humility on the inside and compassion filtering to the outside, without the ego-self bounding us back to our materialistic existence. This dimension is a field of human and universal purity, full of wisdom; al-Falah. Islam is really about how we transcend the lower earthly dimensions of ourselves into the higher dimension of Tawhid-purity.

This is Quantum-Islam; the potential to be, the choice that has been given to all humanity within the Quran.

Conclusion

Exploring idea of Quantum Islam, as the name suggests, requires the mind of the Muslim to engage in the phenomenological and metaphysical experience of conceiving worldviews beyond the mechanistic view of the personal and physical self and move toward a higher plane of quantum physics and metaphysics. In other words, Muslims should raise the level of understanding Islam from mere doctrinal and cultural to philosophical and muti-universal and multi-dimensional. This requires a new understanding of what god is, beyond how this concept of a creator is understood. A Kuhnian shift in Islamic metaphysics and ontological evolution is needed, as how the idea of a Heisenberg Principle of observing Objectivity was conceived. Muslims need to explore the semiotics of believing itself and venture deeper into the meaning constructing the meaning of reading their “book of readings”: The Quran.

Innovator and entrepreneur. Notable author, thinker and prof. Hat Yai University, Thailand Contact: murrayhunter58(at)gmail.com

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Anatomy of right-wing populism

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Twenty-five years ago, Fareed Zakaria introduced the concept of illiberal democracy: he revealed how some legitimately elected governments undermine liberal democratic principles by eroding the rule of law and the protection of fundamental freedoms. He predicted that this new form of regime would significantly damage the status of our democracies if not appropriately challenged. After almost two decades, the 2014 speech of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán marked the official birth of illiberal democracy in modern Europe, with a discourse that echoes the 1997 article. Except that it is the exact opposite of what Zakaria hoped to hear.

Orbán’s rhetoric and attitude are supported and endorsed by several populist leaders across Europe and beyond. What the Hungarian PM represents is the result of a long democratic recession that Larry Diamond estimated to start in the early 2000s in continents such as Asia and Africa. It appears that it is now the turn of Europe, as we can deduct from the rising popularity of multiple anti-establishment and nationalist parties across the continent. Despite populism not being exclusively a right-wing phenomenon, most of its support in the EU is represented by radical right parties that are often Eurosceptic.

This aspect is also confirmed by the outcome of the last European Parliament election in 2019. The results indicate a nationalist trend and a shift from the centre-right to the far-right within the populist vote: the relative populist electoral strength was highest in two European parliament groups, namely Identity and Democracy (ID) (including Salvini’s League and Le Pen’s National Rally) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) (including Brothers of Italy and Law and Justice in Poland), which are both very critical of the union and formed exclusively by right-wing (or even far-right in some cases) populist and nationalist parties. These two groups, albeit not achieving the brilliant results they were expecting, have won 135 seats in the European Parliament, and their main parties happened to be very strong nationally. Considering that the historic European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) have lost 65 seats combined from the previous election, it is not a bad outcome overall for right-wing populism.

In 2017, Bridgewater’s populism index in developed countries revealed that this phenomenon was at its highest rate since 1930s. In addition, the think tank Timbro estimated that more than a quarter of European electors vote for authoritarian populist parties, with Poland and Hungary among the four countries with most support. Political scientist Cas Mudde observed instead that the average support for these political forces is the highest since 1940s, with over 20% since 2010. Slightly different estimations are calculated but nevertheless this shows to what extent have these parties grown in recent years. One might consider these factors as alarming, since many scholars claim the expansion of populism and nationalism could eventually topple liberal democracies and favour authoritarian regimes, as already occurred in history.

What do we mean by right-wing populism?

First and foremost, before getting into the details of right-wing populism, an overall definition and brief explanation of populism must be provided. Mudde defines populism as an “an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’”. Populists also believe that all members of the ‘pure’ group have the same aims and abide by the same principles, hence they do not accept a pluralist society consisting of diverse needs and concerns. Some of them also claim that this perceived faction of ‘the people’ comprises only of one ethnicity, class and religion.

Populist parties no longer seek out compromise and consensus through tolerant and democratic practices, but instead try to overthrow what they believe is a corrupt and broken system. In this way they undermine democratic institutions such as courtrooms and media, while attacking any aspect of society that opposes the common will of ‘the people’. They also refuse the search for a balance between the needs of the majority and the minority, as they claim that disregarding the interests of the majority is a violation of democracy, thus supporting “a form of democratic extremism or, better said, of illiberal democracy”.

Moreover, the cult of the leader is crucial in the populist world. This may sound obvious because a charismatic figure is always needed in politics in order to move masses and influence opinions, regardless of the political party. However, populist leaders declare they embody the will of the people and often appeal to the worst instincts of the population, manipulating fears and anxiety to increase their support. As politics is not only made of rational thinking, but also emotions and sentiments, they interpretate fear and desperation with (sometimes false) claims and simplistic solutions to contrast complex issues.

Populist groups are usually considered ‘catch-all’ movements, meaning that they follow the popular support rather than choosing a specific side. However, it could be discussed that this wide definition of populism is reductive. In fact, French economist Thomas Piketty deems it as a generalisation and refrains from using this word since there is a variety within that group: any party criticizing the current establishment is labelled as ‘populist’ without differentiating the diverse forms of this phenomenon. For instance, right-wing populists are usually hostile to immigration and minority rights, whereas left-wing populists are often culturally inclusive.

It could be further discussed that the argument about the people versus the elite tends to be overused as we have cases in which the political system is widely corrupt, and thus brings to legitimate concern and popular discontent to demand for more transparency and equality, such as in Greece, Spain and Italy. The movements that have emerged in these countries (Syriza, Podemos and 5 Star Movement respectively) showed a different approach to politics in comparison to prominent right-wing populist parties, as they have not undermined or taken over democratic institutions when elected to govern their respective countries.

Nonetheless, the majority of European populist parties have right-wing tendencies. This type of nationalist populism (also defined as ‘national populism’ by British academics Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin) is mainly based on xenophobic and protectionist sentiments, in addition to be against the neo-liberal establishment. Right-wing populist parties tend to regard nationality as a rigid and unmodifiable homogenous identity (mistakenly connected only to ethnicity), and they are therefore against any form of pluralism, whether it is based on culture or sexual orientation. Although some national populists consider themselves patriots defending their sovereignty, it could be argued otherwise. Italian scholar Maurizio Viroli observes in his book that the terms ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ are often misused: while the former mostly reflects a protectionist and isolationist approach (rather than sovereignty), the latter is also based on the respect of other cultures.

Furthermore, most right-wing populist parties are willing to live in a democratic context, but they are against the liberal values of present-day democracies, such as media freedom and minority rights. As a matter of fact, they believe they represent the true nature of democracy, which focuses on the needs and interests of the majority that felt excluded and neglected by the ‘corrupt elite’ in recent years. Nevertheless, by emphasising the importance of the majority at all costs, they end up discriminating who is not part of ‘the people’, hence appearing to be a regressive and undemocratic response to a legitimate concern.

What are the causes of the global rise of populism?

Political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris suggest that the rise of populism is mainly due to economic inequality, which was partly caused by phenomena such as globalisation and austerity. The shift from the industrial age to what Piketty describes as a “globalised era of hypercapitalism and digital technology” has created high levels of inequity around the world. Piketty also argues that the concentration of wealth is disproportionate because the ratio of economic growth is lower than the so-called ‘return on invested capital’, hence much of the resources end up in the hands of a microscopic part of the population. Indeed, the latest Credit Suisse report indicates a great disparity in the world, with 1.1% of the population owning almost half of the global wealth (45.8%), and the bottom 55% of the population possessing only 1.3% of the total resources.

While globalisation had its own advantages (such as giving work to millions of people in emerging economies), it has also displaced many low skilled jobs and produced economic stagnation in developed countries. This has resulted in an ever-increasing wealth gap; this disparity, in turn, has created underserved communities who began to distrust the global system. Already twenty years ago economist Joseph Stiglitz (in his book Globalization and Its Discontents) warned us that rising inequality would pave the way for the rise of anti-establishment parties, such as nationalists and populists.

The 2008 financial crash further deepened the economic gap: the main consequences of the so-called ‘Great Recession’ have been high levels of unemployment, growing inequality and impoverishment of the working and lower middle classes. Moreover, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the austerity policies implemented by the European Union, including tax raises and spending cuts, exacerbated the situation. The austere measures were in fact not combined with effective social protection systems, hence degrading the conditions of workers as well. This circumstance thus led the EU into an identity crisis, which we are still experiencing today with the rise of several Eurosceptic parties. 

Some might discuss that this is connected to the decline of liberal democracy, as the European Union is mainly based on liberal values. Mudde observes that the crisis of democracy results from the failure of the liberal establishment in the political system, and not from several external challengers trying to undermine it. In fact, he also claims that “contemporary populism is an illiberal democratic response to undemocratic liberalism”. The fact that the liberal system could be or become undemocratic is not unrealistic as it sounds, especially if we consider that in history liberalism was not always applied in democratic contexts, such as in many European countries in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The democratic crisis was also caused by the deterioration of traditional parties that lost touch with the lower middle and working classes, which have stopped trusting a system that has sold them false promises and has not met their needs. As a matter of fact, the level of trust towards parties across the EU has been in a declining trend in the last decade (just over 20% in 2019). This is also demonstrated by factors such as lower electoral turnout and decreasing participation in political activities, but also by the growing interest towards non-traditional parties. This aspect is critical because once you cease to identify in a political movement, you automatically find refuge in national identity, ideology or religion.

Furthermore, the advent of right-wing populism has cultural determinants as well: the 2015 migration crisis has indeed displaced millions of asylum seekers and economic migrants, many of which coming from Muslim countries. Their religion is a key aspect because right-wing populists have increasingly exhibited xenophobic attitudes towards Islam, which is seen as a civilisational threat, particularly after 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. Whereas there is no justification for such discriminatory behaviours, raising a question about EU’s handling of the migrant crisis may be a legitimate concern. According to Article 79 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the union “shall develop a common immigration policy aimed at ensuring, at all stages, the efficient management of migration flows”. It could be discussed whether some member states have not put enough effort and resources to cooperate and find a common solution, but it is also true that the EU could have anticipated the crisis by implementing appropriate immigration controls and reception systems. In fact, Mudde acknowledges that migration policies were often “undemocratic in spirit”, meaning that they were not the outcome of collective discussions and decisions taken together with the population. Hence, right-wing populist parties have exploited this crisis to criticize the EU with improbable scapegoats: for instance, describing migration from Africa and the Middle-East as an invasion or claiming that NGOs and liberal institutions are plotting for an ‘ethnic replacement’ of the European people.

Conclusion

As a result, right-wing populists (or at least most of them) reject liberal democratic values rather than democracy in its entirety: those values that are entrenched in the EU and other international institutions. However, the populist response does not seem to respect EU fundamental goals and values, nor basic democratic principles. The main issue is the approach used to criticize the liberal system. Populist movements tend to appeal to the fears and anxieties of the voters to attack the elites, which are perceived as always corrupt and distant from the population. This cannot be accepted as a fair argument, because, as we cannot generalise that all populists are fascists or xenophobic, then we cannot assert that the so-called elite is all corrupt either. As a result, neither the growing populist sentiment nor the liberal establishment are to be completely eradicated, but rather challenged and improved through collective discussions and decisions.

Moreover, the rise of right-wing populism is not the consequence of a single issue, but it is driven by a combination of mutually reinforcing economic and cultural aspects (from unemployment and wealth inequality to racism and xenophobia). These factors are the result of a series of events that affected our society in the last decades, such as globalisation, the Great Recession, the 2015 migrant crisis and the decline of traditional political parties. It would be thus too simple to only blame the vulnerabilities of the liberal establishment or the opportunism of populist leaders, as both approaches have had negative repercussions on the public.

On the one hand, populists have gained popularity due to genuine issues that liberal institutions have failed to deal with. On the other hand, they have also promoted ‘culturally exclusive’ behaviours (racism, xenophobia etc.) through demagogy and propaganda, often accompanied by the spread of disinformation. Nonetheless, the liberal system has perhaps not effectively dealt with crucial challenges and has showed weaknesses that exacerbated the socio-economic crisis we are witnessing, hence allowing right-wing populist parties to flourish. The more the people have felt left behind by the system, the more they have found refuge in national identity and intolerant ideologies. Therefore, the first step to take in order to explain and fight populism would be to bear responsibility for the inequal policies implemented through the years that have left many communities marginalised and prone to vote for anti-establishment parties. A card that does not seem to have been played well (or at all), since right-wing populist parties are increasingly on the rise in many countries around the world.

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Education needs a transformation. The same holds true with how we monitor our commitments

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Image source: educationcannotwait.org

Education is the key to unlock our development challenges. Yet, millions of children and young people are left behind, unable to fulfil their potential and prepare themselves for the future. In many countries, the pandemic has struck off the modest gains of the past 20 years for the generation most affected by school closures, with long-term consequences. This week, the Transforming Education Summit  comes to an end. The world’s education leaders have gathered over the last few days in New York, invited by the UN Secretary-General as part of Our Common Agenda, to debate solutions to put education back on the right track. 

The Summit has come at a time when, according to UNESCO’s latest figures, there are an estimated 244 million children and young people across the world still deprived of any form of formal schooling. Over 600 million children and adolescents are either not completing basic education or do not acquire basic skills that would help them prepare for the future. With only seven years to go until the deadline to reach SDG 4, the global education goal, they are lacking the support to access a high-quality and fulfilling education. Compounding the problem is the fact that governments in the poorer countries appear to be cutting their education budgets

The Transforming Education Summit marks a key moment. But as leaders declare their determination to improve education in their countries, we must review how to translate these words into the concrete targets, so that these promises do not ring empty, and how to monitor progress towards them. While the Summit has debated solutions to make schools safe, healthy, connected and green, countries should express the level of their ambition through national targets for each of these commitments to spur action from now to 2030. 

The issues rising to the surface during the discussions and consultation around the summit are all critical. One in six children live in areas impacted by conflict that also destroys their education opportunities. Schools are being bombed and children and teachers are killed daily. Only last year, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on the protection of education in conflict zones. But more must be done to protect the education of affected children and young people. 

The compound effects of COVID-19, a war in Europe that disrupted grain production and exports, rising inflation and a looming economic recession, mean that the world is edging closer towards a food crisis. When schools closed their doors with little to no notice due to the pandemic, millions of students were cut off not only from their education, but also from one of their principal food sources. An estimated 39 billion school meals have been missed since April 2020. It is not only children’s physical development that was impacted. Without food, children simply do not have the energy to concentrate, and their education outcomes are therefore significantly worse. 

Another, equally significant impact of the pandemic was bringing learning from classroom to home. Laptops, computers, and iPads replaced pencils, erasers and pens as back-to-school essentials– for the lucky few: because this shift was reliant on all children having access to the technology required to learn from home. Unfortunately, with two-thirds of 3–17-year-olds unable to access the internet at home, this was far from the case. These children were left behind in systems whose efforts to catch up with the times simply failed them. As with many crises, this also predominantly affected children in disadvantaged homes and communities. The pandemic shed light on the foundations of education systems, which fuel exclusion and inequality. 

Finally, with almost two billion people affected by floods, droughts and storms every year, these devastatingly real consequences that climate change is unleashing on our planet are already being felt, though not equally by all. Climate change disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in the Global South, whose education opportunities are also poorer, further compromising their ability to adapt. At the same time, education systems in the Global North and in countries contributing most to global warming are yet to demonstrate how their schools will serve their climate change mitigation efforts.

Agreeing to the actions is one step, monitoring them is crucial to provide accountability and drive ambition. UNESCO has started a process where each country sets their own realistic ‘benchmarks’ in the road to achieving SDG 4. About 90% of countries have heeded this call and established national targets which they reasonably believe can be reached by 2030, in the hopes that this will accelerate progress. We encourage countries to also set national targets for 2025 and 2030 against each of the global initiatives to be tabled at the Summit. These will represent the transformation countries want to see. 

The follow-up mechanism after the Summit, based on national target setting, will be critical to convert leaders’ statements into improved education results for children and youth, as this call for action implores countries to do. The solutions to be agreed at the Summit must be appropriately monitored if we are to come out of this global education emergency. 

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New Social Compact

Our Case for Investment in Education is Our Case for Humanity

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A 14-year-old girl works on a school assignment at home in the Central Java Province of Indonesia. © UNICEF/Jiro Ose

As world leaders gather at this year’s UN General Assembly and work to make good on commitments outlined at the Secretary-General’s Transforming Education Summit, we are calling on all of them to put education – especially for the 222 million crisis-impacted children that are in need of urgent education support – at the top of the international agenda.

Investing in education means investing in humanity. It means investing in a peaceful and prosperous future. It means investing in human rights and our global promise to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, especially our goal of quality education for all (SDG4).  

From a 50,000-foot perspective, investing in education means investing in strong nations and in resilient economies for generations to come.   

As the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) launched our Case for Investment and 2023-2026 Strategic Plan during this year’s General Assembly.

Our case for investment is our case for building peace where there is war, prosperity where there is poverty, and hope where there is despair. Our case for investment is our case for realizing 222 Million Dreams for the children and youth impacted by conflict, climate change, forced displacement and other protracted crises.

From our very human vantage point, this support is ensuring refugee girls like Bchiote and Janat Ara are able to go to school to develop to their full potentials and become productive contributors to their society. ECW works through a holistic, whole-of-child approach. It’s not just about books and classrooms – because all too often education goes beyond learning in crises: education is also lifesaving and life-sustaining. This is why ECW interventions embrace a broad spectrum of support, ranging from providing safe and protective learning spaces to mental health and psycho-social support; from providing school feeding to helping build disaster preparedness in the face of the climate crisis.

Addressing the Education Crisis

Today we have a perfect storm of a global education crisis coinciding with a global funding crisis. The solution is to scale-up funding to education. From there, all else can be achieved. Without education, all else is elusive – whether it is human rights or the sustainable development goals. It all starts with an education.

It’s hard to believe that even today, education in emergencies and protracted crises only accounts for approximately 2% to 4% of global humanitarian funding. And while we have seen a noticeable positive trend in commitments, funding appeals have skyrocketed to more than US$2.9 billion in 2021, compared to US$1.4 billion in 2020. The value of 222 million children and youth enduring conflicts, climate disasters and forced displacement is priceless and never too costly. They are our investment in humanity – theirs and our own.

The world is getting hotter, more crowded, more violent and more inhumane by the minute. By investing in education, we are removing the dark veil of inaction and inequality that has stripped millions of the world’s most vulnerable children and adolescents of their basic human rights.

Most concerning, we seem to be back-sliding on our commitments to ensure quality education for all. When ECW was formed in 2016, approximately 75 million crisis-impacted children were in need of educational support. Recent analysis indicates that number has nearly tripled to 222 million today, including 78 million who are out of school entirely.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened the global learning crisis. In 2020 and 2021, 147 million children missed over half of in-person instruction, and as many as 24 million learners may never return to school, according to the United Nations.

Transformational Approaches

As we grapple with war in Ukraine, the spectre of famine across much of the Sahel, armed conflicts, massive displacement and the truly apocalyptic impacts of the climate crisis, we are faced with tough choices in aligning humanitarian, development and private sector funding.

As a crosscutter that delivers returns far beyond the classroom, education has a tremendous return on investment.

For every dollar spent on education we receive $2.80 in return. And the World Bank estimates that “limited educational opportunities for girls and barriers to completing 12 years of education cost countries between $15 trillion and $30 trillion dollars in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.” 

We must take a transformational approach in our delivery of this support.

One-off responses are no longer enough. Working in silos is no longer viable. Now it is about speed and quality. It is about crisis-sensitive development approaches to education. With US$1.5 billion, ECW can provide 20 million children with holistic education supports. This doesn’t just mean building schools, it means taking a holistic approach and bringing all partners together to providing protection and psychosocial services, gender equality, teacher training, learning materials, school feeding programmes, tests and exams showing advanced learning outcomes, early childhood education and an array of supports that provides whole-of-child solutions to a whole-of-society problem.

Through its leadership of the G7, Germany has stepped up to put education first in its humanitarian spending, with over €300 million in funding to ECW and significant contributions to our partners across the globe.

This support has solidified ECW’s position as a model for UN reform. To date, we have mobilized close US$1.1 billion through our donors, allowing us to reach 7 million children in just five years of operation, and more than 30 million through our COVID-19 responses.

The private sector is joining in. The LEGO Foundation recently announced significant new funding to Education Cannot Wait and other key education initiatives.

Others must stand and be counted. In the 21st Century we stand at a crossroads. We have choices to make.

Do we invest in the young generation or do we ignore their most fundamental right to be educated? Do we invest in the 222 million children and adolescents whose only hope left is that of an education, or do we leave them behind?

The choice we make will determine the future for generations to come. Let us make the right choice. Fund education. Invest in humanity.

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