A very rigorous debate at the prestigious Goodenough College was chaired by Sir Peter Marshall with a panel of eminent speakers and select audience of which I was fortunate enough to be invited to represent the Hindu Council UK. Sir Peter opened the debate on how the Western model of free market capitalism and political freedoms in Europe and North America is challenged for its predominance in the wake of the new world emerging with a different narrative of development and prosperity and whether new values and new priorities are now needed for a changing world.
Professor Christopher Coker spoke of the West’s liberalism which he said we saw in Prime Minister words as ‘Muscular liberalism’ in Libya but with Iraq and Afghanistan it is more of a ‘Liberal Internationalism’ which, however, he thought was coming to an end, at least in as much as we took it for granted hitherto. The Atlantic Charter of America and Europe, possibly including India, is now challenged by countries like China. But Europe is also changing; it is not the same Europe that was in partnership with America, which also is renewing itself, so the Atlantic Charter now is of a much looser partnership, working on case by case basis.
Geoffrey Robertson QC pointed out that there was no woman in the panel, all men, and that the equality of women, human rights issues, are not owned up as well as they ought to be. He said Europe is seen as a gated community, where Asylum seekers are not welcome yet in the UK itself we will need 7 million working immigrants to pay for the old age population, and he spoke about the Lisbon Treaty and the European Convention on Human Rights. He said the Non-Proliferation Nuclear Treaty is not working because our own nuclear nations maintain their advantage over the non-Nuclear nations, so the question should be whether the West is prepared to go nuclear free unilaterally. Countries like Saudi Arabia can purchase nuclear arms from Pakistan and the new bombs are not like the Hiroshima bomb, the ionising radiation from the new bombs can go on for decades.
Professor Michael Cox said that there is too much pessimism in Europe, citing a 2009 Newsweek headline: ‘The Decade from Hell’, mainly due to the financial crisis. Instead he was more optimistic and said that the West had brought even China into world markets. True there are fundamental challenges, need more cohesion, and need to articulate what the present Western model is.
Christopher Drennen said that the West’s model still has value but the financial systems may need a possible overhaul. China has an organised financial system and the utility of the banking system of saving deposits is the same. Problem has arisen on globalisation where money is moving through international banking structures across different political and legal systems, with not the same tax laws. For instance the Greek problem, whose is it? Is it Greece’s? Is it European? Is it British or US’s? Everyone is affected by it and yet despite political union the European Governments did not want to pay for that cost of enjoying that political freedom. He said at the height of the Greek crisis he saw in European Union meetings all Governments conspiring, even lying, in order to pay a lower share of that cost. In the Lehman crisis we all stuck together, globally, but domestic problems are not looked after from a global point of view.
Professor Tom Spencer spoke of how the planet is changing and how the global warming can create pressures on the current Western narrative; a 3% melting of the Himalayan peaks can dry up the rivers into India and China. He said we cannot sustain the projected 9 billion people on the planet at the current living standards for everyone. We should look at the future of our species first. The West Hegemony was led by imperialism which now has to change to share power with Asia.
Opening the debate to the floor there were half a dozen questions which the panel addressed. My question was on multi-culture: With the premise that immigration and multi-culture has changed the makup of Europe, whether therefore all European Governments should invest in institutions and Government units as in Britain we have the Inter Faith Network to help make multi-culture more interactive, thus reducing segregation and radicalism while ensuring its evolution in a more acceptable ‘global’ direction? The onus should be on the European Governments and the European Union to provide a vision from the top to facilitate such an outcome rather than sideline multi-culture which can end up heading towards different directions, so the policy must be to make it interactive.
All the panel members answered the question at length to say that Europe does have that model in place whereas say China is very insular and America still lacks federal policy on this issue though local initiatives there are good. The idea of the networks rather than Government dictates was seen to be the way forward but facilitated by Governments. The panel said the UK’s multi-culture unit was in the Department of Education. The Canadian High Commission said they do have a separate multi-culture department.
Another question from the London Iskcon society was to help raise the consciousness of the people. Professor Coker answered this well suggesting that he would rather see changes in consciousness and leave aside the question of changes of consciousness. He said in the West ‘money’ is overvalued. There is a pricing of humanity. We have made wealth an absolute value.
There were other pertinent questions which Civitatis International will summarise in their policy document in due course, www.civitatis.eu
Anil Bhanot OBE
Hindu Council UK