A Comparative Look Across Asia

Asia, home to a great many Islamic cultures, displays various differences between states in terms of how they are run politically. One of the most prominent factors shaping the socio-political landscape across Asia in case studies like Afghanistan and Pakistan is the presence of foreign influence as a result of geological significance held by the ground: Oil reserves. Oil that has made West-Asian countries favorable to usurpation by other states for many centuries is a significant factor opening the way for security threats that damage regions and peoples.

The invasion of Afghanistan due to its position in the oil-rich Middle East by the Soviet forces and the later salvation that left behind a vacuum power enabled Taliban, a mostly terrorist organization to thrive and operate comfortably in the region for many years.

A historically quintessential difference that separates East Asian states is the opportunity to stay clear of divisive wars and western influence that resulted in the Non-aligned movement in 1942, provides a starting point on what causes vast socio-political differences.

What Malaysia and Indonesia have in common is the emphasis on diversity, as Indonesia’s motto suggests. Indonesia, with its 13000 islands and many culturally differing peoples, offers the perfect environment where the domination of a majority is replaced by the need to respect others to live together. Malaysia, similarly, has a population consisting of Malays, Indians, and Chinese people -50, 20 and 30 % respectively, after independence- [i]

 

The idea of ‘unity through diversity’ is often replaced by suspicion and hostility toward foreigners in West Asia, as the necessity of foreign presence to fight ‘terror’ is contradicted by the notion that the Western-foreign states were the ones that have brought various problems and suffering. Furthermore, the manipulation of fundamentalism and factious rhetoric by states such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel to mobilize masses for policies regarding border issues (Kashmir, Palestine) is a crucial factor that disables the diverse sectarians of West Asia to achieve unity.

Another immensely crucial element that contributes to the sociopolitical image around Asia is the economic landscape across the continent. As already mentioned, even when nations like Afghanistan break free from foreign influence, many western-asian states suffer from the setbacks of the oil miracle: a one sided, stagnant economy. It is observed in a good number of states such as Saudi Arabia that the existence of oil revenue discourages further efforts by civilians to invest in the economy. [ii]

When examining the socio-political impact of economy on Afghanistan, one must bear in mind the presence of the armed Taliban group, which prevents a fully working government and discourages foreign investments. Moreover, the immense production and trade of opium to finance Taliban does not only threaten the lives of people but also minimizes other work options for the unemployed.

A comparative analysis of Indonesia to West-Asia offers a much different economic life. Thanks to its islands’ natural capacities, Indonesia’s vast economy extends from machinery to telecommunications. This is despite the fact that the country posseses petroleum and natural gas resources, as well. In Indonesia’s case, with the 16 th biggest GDP and the 25th in exports in the world, it can be argued that trade provides not only stability in politics but also globalization, which brings about diplomatic relationships, exposure to democracy, and universal values. The impact of trade, stability and exposure to universal values, therefore, has made it possible for Indonesia to possess a well-functioning society, in which female politicians like Megawati Sukarnoputri are elected. [iii]

 

To better understand how economy shapes the sociopolitical life in a state, one should focus on the plight of political activity and government role in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While Pakistan’s civil government is far less effective than and vulnerable to its military, it can be argued that Afghanistan barely has a functioning government. As the trust for the slowly-functioning government agencies diminish, more and more people start to choose to go to the more accessible and efficient Shari’a courts, for example, operated by Taliban members.[iv] It is estimated that even with an optimistic 9 % growth rate a year, Afghanistan cannot afford to build economic and judicial infrastructure while spending millions on building an army and the police.

The mismanagement and incongruity of ‘Middle East politics’ by Western powers by no doubt has a toll on the regional people’s lives as well. Although now the US government is likely to call any armed group ‘terrorists’ that need stopping, the foreign aid sent from the US to Pakistan to finance Taliban on the fight against communism in the 1980’s arguably established a connection between Pakistan and Taliban. As the political pressure on Pakistan by the US only worsens this situation, Pakistan is reasonably suspicious of US activity and allegedly looks to retain Taliban, against a possible besiege by a US-Afghan-India alliance.

Indonesia is observed to have a more balanced political structure in terms of Islam, compared to the accelerating importance of Islam in Malaysia after the Islamic resurgence. [v]  The lack of insurgence-originated movements in Indonesia, such as the Iranian revolution and the Arab Spring, is likely due to the fact that the state was Islamized by non-violent Sufis, which accentuates the point that Islam alone itself a contributing factor to violence or terror.

It is important to ask why radical Islam/fundamentalism is not used to gather masses together for a certain cause, such as war or jihad in Indonesia where muslims make up 87 % percent of the population. Bearing this question in mind, it seems perfectly clear that violent aspects of Islam such as jihad are formed as a ‘response’ to foreign domination. Although this is a crucial conclusion, the fact that almost all of the Western-Asian states are in some way threatened by the western powers appears to support this view.

Harun Kerçek

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Bibliography

  • Thirkell-White, Ben. “Political Islam and Malaysian Democracy.” Http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13510340600579318. Accessed November 10, 2016.

 

  • Khaja, Nagieb. “This Is Taliban Country.” Al Jazeera English. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/faultlines/2014/04/taliban-country-20144108610575181.html.

 

[i] Thirkell, 423

[ii] Mahallati class lecture, November 2

[iii] Mahallati class lecture, November 9

[iv] Khaja, video

[v] Thirkell, 426