Robert Kaplan: The Return of Toxic Nationalism





Mr. Kaplan is chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm, and author of The Revenge of Geography (Random House, 2012).

Western elites believe that universal values are trumping the forces of reaction. They wax eloquent about the triumph of human rights, women's liberation, social media, financial markets, international and regional organizations and all the other forces that are breaking down boundaries separating humanity.
 
Tragically, they are really observing a self-referential world of global cosmopolitans like themselves. In country after country, the Westerners identify like-minded, educated elites and mistake them for the population at large. They prefer not to see the regressive and exclusivist forces—such as nationalism and sectarianism—that are mightily reshaping the future.
 
Take Cairo's Tahrir Square in early 2011. Western journalists celebrated the gathering of relatively upper-income Arab liberals with whom they felt much in common, only to see these activists quickly retreat as post-autocratic Egypt became for many months a struggle among the military, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist Salafists—with the Coptic Christians fearing for their communal survival.
 
hough secular liberals have resurfaced to challenge Egypt's Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, do not be deceived. The military and the Muslim Brotherhood both have organized infrastructures. The liberals have only spontaneous emotion and ad hoc organizations. An Islamist-Nasserite regime-of-sorts is likely to emerge, as the military uses the current vulnerability of the Muslim Brotherhood to drive a harder bargain.
 
Egypt and the Middle East now offer a panorama of sectarianism and religious and ethnic divides. Freedom, at least in its initial stages, unleashes not only individual identity but, more crucially, the freedom to identify with a blood-based solidarity group. Beyond that group, feelings of love and humanity do not apply. That is a signal lesson of the Arab Spring.
 
An analogous process is at work in Asia. Nationalism there is young and vibrant—as it was in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries...


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