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22 Jan 2014

How Western rationalist philosophy is killing off the prospects of peace in Syria

As the Geneva II Syria peace talks kick off in Montreux (they’re using the Easy Jet airport naming system), most people are dismissing the chances of a breakthrough. And truth be told, the prospects of a negotiated settlement are negligible. But few people are talking about the real reason for that. In a word, Western hegemonic rationalist thinking and its infuriating insistence on binary oppositions. Don’t worry, when I heard that I was confused too, but the person behind the theory, respected post-colonial theorist Professor xMakh Bashani, has agreed to explain to our readers how outdated Western ideas that are inherited from the Enlightenment are ruining chances for peace in Syria.

Professor Bashani outlines the two positions that appear to be contradictory. To simplify ‘Assad must leave’ and ‘Assad must stay’. The former is a position held widely by the Syrian opposition in Montreux (Geneva) and the latter by the official Syrian delegation in Geneva (Montreux in fact). The professor explains that conventional Western rationalism sees those two positions as mutually exclusive. But that is primarily because of the legacy of exclusive thinking in terms of binary oppositions.

The Professor adds that, in reality, it is possible for both ‘Assad must leave’ and ‘Assad must stay’ to hold true simultaneously. Obviously, a more elastic definition of ‘reality’ should be used here, but this is essential to move beyond the restrictions of Western hegemonic philosophy and its obsession with the objective world. This is indeed true of categories like day/night, boy/girl, dead/alive and how this thinking is perpetuated through sports by insisting on concepts like ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

Bashani elaborates that in fact there is a spectrum of other positions within Geneva already that goes beyond ‘Assad must leave’ and ‘Assad must stay’. For example, the US ‘Assad must leave but please not just yet’, Russia ‘Assad can stay’, Denmark ‘Never mind Assad, what are we doing here?’ Ban Ki-moon ‘Remind me which one is Assad?’ and Saudi Arabia ‘Assad? Grhhhhh!’. So the trick here in Bashani’s opinion is to allow those positions to coexist in the form of a ‘non-exclusionary truth matrix’ instead of simply eliminating each other.

Unsurprisingly, when confronted with those powerful insights Western policy makers were dismissive and some even focused on the irrelevant fact of why we had followed them to the bathroom and could we leave them alone now please. Small minds tend to be distracted by details instead of seeing the big picture. But the blames stretches beyond these individuals to the poisonous legacy of the Enlightenment and its ethno-centric thinking that has restricted humanity’s philosophical outlook. Anyone who has had to study physics knows what we are talking about.

Bashani closed his inspiring speech with an example from chess, which he sees as ‘an essentially genocidal form of play designed to perpetuate binary oppositions.’ He argued that it is possible for chess pieces to move freely along the board while avoiding the other pieces, this creating a perpetual state of motion that doesn’t require winners and losers. In fact, he argued that eventually chess pieces will acquire autonomous agency if we didn’t insist on anthropomorphic control. If only the rest of the world can see the wisdom in those words, peace would be within our reach.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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