The emergence of the internet and the digital age has brought about a paradigm shift in communication, information accessibility, and social interaction. With cyberspace becoming a pivotal platform for individuals and nations to share their ideas, connect with people worldwide, and influence public discourse, its significance cannot be overstated. India, with its burgeoning economy and sizable population, has adeptly harnessed the power of cyberspace to disseminate its narrative on a global scale. In contrast, Pakistan has lagged behind in terms of digital capabilities, resulting in a less effective and slower spread of its message.
India’s demographic advantage, with a population of over 1.3 billion and more than 600 million internet users, presents an enormous opportunity for digital content creators and services. This tech-savvy audience is highly engaged on social media and other digital platforms, providing Indian users with the opportunity to amplify their voices and attain global reach. Examples of this effectiveness include campaigns such as #BoycottPakistan and #SayNoToPakistaniArtists, which targeted Pakistani products and artists.
India’s government has backed the digital economy via Digital India and National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN), boosting internet access. Investment in broadband networks and digital payment systems has helped bring the internet to many and disseminate India’s message globally. Additionally, India’s civil society, comprising NGOs, think tanks, and other organizations shaping public discourse, has contributed to the promotion of India’s perspective in cyberspace around the world.
In contrast, Pakistan’s limited user base of just over 100 million internet users out of a population of approximately 220 million has hampered the reach of its narrative compared to India’s larger audience. Consequently, Pakistan’s digital capabilities have not been as effective as India’s in promoting its narrative globally.
The Indian narrative currently holds sway over the digital realm, creating a risk of biased depictions of events and further entrenching existing power structures. This dominance is most evident in critical areas such as the Kashmir issue, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan’s relations with other countries, Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and strategic alignment.
India’s narrative on the Kashmir issue misrepresents the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination as terrorism and separatism, shaping global perceptions of the issue and gaining international support for India’s stance. Similarly, India’s portrayal of the CPEC as a debt trap and a security threat to India could undermine Pakistan’s strategic interests in the region.
By adopting a comprehensive digital strategy, Pakistan can effectively challenge the prevailing Indian narrative in cyberspace and promote a more balanced and accurate understanding of the region and its conflicts. This can help to foster greater regional stability, promote economic development, and enhance Pakistan’s global standing.
Furthermore, India’s narrative in cyberspace shapes the international view of Pakistan’s relations with other countries, portraying Pakistan’s close alliance with China as a threat to India’s sovereignty and security, which has led to tensions between India and China. This portrayal could also weaken Pakistan’s strategic importance in the region. India’s narrative on Pakistan’s nuclear programme presents it as a danger to regional stability and a source of global terrorism, influencing the global perception of the issue and gaining international support for India’s stance.
Additionally, India’s strategic alignment with other major powers to counter China’s growing influence in the region is reflected in its narrative in cyberspace, which portrays Pakistan as a pawn of China and a threat to regional stability, potentially further marginalizing Pakistan and undermining its strategic importance.
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To effectively address the challenges posed by the prevailing Indian narrative in cyberspace, Pakistan must adopt a comprehensive digital strategy that includes the following policy options:
Develop a Strategic Narrative: Pakistan should create a strategic narrative that counters negative stereotypes propagated by India and highlights Pakistan’s contributions to regional peace and stability. By leveraging its diverse population, vibrant arts scene, and rich cultural heritage, Pakistan can generate a compelling narrative that resonates globally.
Utilize Digital Diplomacy: Pakistan should utilize digital diplomacy to engage with audiences worldwide and project its narrative on critical issues. This includes developing a comprehensive social media strategy, engaging with influential voices in cyberspace, and utilizing digital tools to amplify Pakistan’s message.
Engage Youth: Pakistan’s youth population is proficient in using digital technologies and can be harnessed to promote a national narrative that challenges the Indian narrative in cyberspace. By engaging youth in promoting this narrative, Pakistan can foster a positive global image and provide a balanced portrayal of the region and its conflicts.
Promote National Narrative: A strong national narrative that unifies all Pakistanis around shared goals and values is essential in promoting Pakistan’s interests and values globally. This includes showcasing Pakistan’s cultural heritage, contributions to regional peace and stability, and commitment to an inclusive and equitable global order.
Hence, by adopting a comprehensive digital strategy, Pakistan can effectively challenge the prevailing Indian narrative in cyberspace and promote a more balanced and accurate understanding of the region and its conflicts. This can help to foster greater regional stability, promote economic development, and enhance Pakistan’s global standing.
Moscow-based company Sistemma has created its own competitor to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which runs entirely on domestic servers and in the Russian language. The project was unveiled on Sunday on the IT company’s official site.
The AI is called SistemmaGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) and is based on the company’s own developments, along with Stanford University research. The chatbot is intended for Russian businesses and government agencies.
Sistemma claims that its AI can write high quality texts and possesses “encyclopedic knowledge.” The company also claims that the chatbot can “create tutorials, write essays, programming code, resumes or just support a conversation while pretending to be a celebrity.” It can find and analyze data in real time and create development strategies and business projects, while adapting to their clients and local context.
ChapGPT users’ data exposed due to bug
The chatbot is currently in a work-in-progress beta version, with open testing by the public slated for June. The company is also working on an AI that can edit images and videos, planned for 2023.
AI chatbots rose to prominence when the US-made ChatGPT, developed by OpenAI, was launched in November 2022. The program has since garnered 100 million users, setting a record for the fastest growing app. The AI is smart enough to pass exams for law and medical school. A Russian student used ChatGPT to successfully pass a diploma thesis.
Many companies have started investing in their own AI projects. Google and Microsoft revealed their chatbots earlier this month. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is also reportedly looking to develop a similar AI of his own.
Cybersecurity expert M.H. Homaei wrote in February that AI of this kind also poses “several security risks that organizations must be aware of to protect their sensitive data and reputation.” A chatbot’s effectiveness depends on clients feeding it valuable data, which can leave it vulnerable to data breaches. OpenAI revealed on Sunday that due to a bug, some of its users’ personal and payment information was briefly visible online.
Ambassador Paul Webster Hare, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, coedited a new book – The Palgrave Handbook of Diplomatic Reform and Innovation – that proposes ways to improve the effectiveness of contemporary diplomacy and explores diplomatic practices beyond theoretical debates. Hare’s Pardee School colleagues – Ambassador Vesko Garčević, Professor of the Practice of International Relations; Ambassador Jorge Heine, Research Professor and Interim Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future; and Ambassador Mark Storella, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and Director of the African Studies Center – contributed chapters to the volume ranging in topics from digital modernization to multilateralism.
The book was edited by Hare, Juan Luis Manfredi-Sánchez, Prince of Asturias Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and Professor at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain; and Kenneth Weisbrode, Assistant Professor of History at Bilkent University in Turkey. In it, 40 scholars and practitioners from some 30 countries take a critical look at the contemporary practice of diplomacy. Diplomacy is now a neglected global issue; this text seeks to not only identify current problems diplomacy is facing but also identify some practical options for reform and innovation.
Finally, in his chapter titled “Reforming Global Health Diplomacy in the Wake of COVID-19,” Storella addresses how nations can address critical shortcomings of global health diplomacy. He discusses how nations should reform their own preparation to engage in health diplomacy and poses questions on whether diplomacy is a tool to advance global health, how governments should seek scientific advice to support their international engagements on global health, and what the best practices are for staffing international health negotiations that best serve both large and small states.
The Palgrave Handbook of Diplomatic Reform and Innovation can be read on SpringerLink. Garčević, Heine, and Storella‘s chapters can also be individually accessed on SpringerLink as well.
In light of creation of the ChatGPT and its rapid development, questions were raised regarding its legal advice/decision abilities. The chatbot made its very first appearance in the recent Colombian case, where judge Juan Manuel Padilla Garcia consulted ChatGPT about his decision. Essentially, a minor diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder lacked the financial resources to pay the medical expenses. The health insurance company, from which the exemption for the medicines was requested, denied the minor’s request. The case was then brought before the Colombian courts, where the parents of the minor sued the health insurance company as, under the Colombian law, he is exempt from paying for the medicines.
As such Judge Padilla asked ChatGPT:
Question: Is an autistic minor exonerated from paying moderator fees for his therapies?
Answer: Yeah that’s right. According to regulations in Colombia, minors diagnosed with autism are exempted from paying moderator fees in their therapies. This beneficent is regulated by Law 1753 of 2015 and applies to all institutions providing public or private health services that receive resources from the general security system social in health.
The use of Artificial intelligence (AI) for a court’s decision was made under Colombia’s new decree 2213 on AI and lawyers/judges, which may be used in civil, labor, family, administrative, and constitutional cases. Essentially, Art.1 of the decree sets that the implementation of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in judicial proceedings intends to make the use of technology and computer tools more flexible for the users of justice service. Additionally, Art.2 states that ICTs should be used appropriately to facilitate and expedite justice. Adopting this decree does not intend to replace the role of lawyers or judges, but rather to enable AI use to enhance Colombia’s judicial system. In the decision of the case, judge Padilla emphasised that ‘the purpose of including these AI texts is in no way to replace the judges’ decision. What we seek is to optimise the time spent writing judgments, prior corroboration of the information provided by IA.’ In his interview, Judge Padilla stated that, in making the decision, the cases from previous rulings were used to support the decision, while also stating that the use of technology could make Colombia’s legal system more efficient. Thus, the question raised is whether ChatGPT or any other AI system would be able to replace the skills of a lawyer or a judge. In answering the question, we asked ChatGPT itself whether this could be possible.
Namely, we asked:
Question: Can ChatGPT replace lawyers and judges?
Answer: No, ChatGPT cannot replace lawyers and judges. While ChatGPT is a powerful language model that can generate responses to questions and provide information, it does not have the legal training and experience that is necessary to fulfill the roles of lawyers and judges. Lawyers undergo extensive education and training in law and legal practice, and they are licensed by governing bodies to practice law. They provide legal advice, represent clients in court, negotiate settlements, and perform a range of other legal services. Judges, on the other hand, are appointed or elected officials who preside over legal proceedings and make decisions based on the facts of the case and the applicable law. They must have a deep understanding of the law and legal precedent, as well as the ability to weigh evidence and make fair and impartial decisions. While ChatGPT can provide information and insights that may be helpful to lawyers and judges, it cannot replace their unique skills and expertise. Legal decisions often require a nuanced understanding of the law, and the ability to apply it to specific cases in a fair and impartial manner. These are skills that require the experience and training that only humans can provide.
Question: Can ChatGPT be a useful tool for lawyers and judges?
Answer: Yes, ChatGPT can be a useful tool for lawyers and judges in a variety of ways.
First, ChatGPT can provide quick access to legal information and resources. Lawyers and judges often need to look up legal statutes, cases, and other relevant information, and ChatGPT can quickly provide answers to legal questions and help with legal research. Second, ChatGPT can assist with legal drafting. Lawyers often need to write legal documents such as contracts, briefs, and motions. ChatGPT can help with drafting by suggesting language, identifying legal terms and jargon, and providing feedback on grammar and syntax. Third, ChatGPT can assist with case management. Judges often need to manage large caseloads, and ChatGPT can help with tasks such as scheduling, document management, and record keeping. However, it’s important to note that ChatGPT is not a substitute for the expertise and judgment of lawyers and judges. While it can be a helpful tool, it’s important to verify any information obtained through ChatGPT and to use professional judgment in making legal decisions.
It is thus evident that the chatbot does not consider itself reliable enough to give legal advice and replace the role of lawyers and judges, but confirms that it could be a useful tool in terms of accessing information, legal drafting, and case management. Colombia’s Supreme Court Judge Octavio Tejeiro stated that AI systems should be used in an ethical way to improve the justice system without making it more important than the person. At the same time, there has been much criticisms regarding the use of AI in judicial systems, and whether it could replace or be as reliable as real lawyers and judges.
Indeed, AI systems cannot replace the experience and knowledge of real lawyers and judges, and what should be borne in mind is how they could be misused. Despite ChatGPT admitting that it cannot replace the skills and expertise of lawyers and judges, it does not imply that it will not answer a legal question. This could become problematic if individuals who may lack the resources to get legal advice from a lawyer use the chatbot for consultation and rely 100% on its reply. If the decision of the chatbot is not confirmed by a legal advisor or a lawyer, it may lead to violations. Considering that there is no fact-checking, it is uncertain whether the generated sentences are reliable enough.
In the cases of judges, however, it is presumed that they would be able to filter any answer that the chatbot would give them. At the same time, if they were to rely 100% on the answer given by the chatbot, judges’ legitimacy would be questioned and could, eventually, have a detrimental effect on the legal system of the country in question.
It is evident that ChatGPT will not replace lawyers and judges, but what could cause problems is if legal professionals rely 100% on AI systems, as this could lead to detrimental consequences. It is the ethical use of AI that is in question, rather than the fear of replacement. Therefore, AI systems, in this case, ChatGPT, should be regulated effectively to prevent their misuse and ensure their effective enforcement in legal systems.
“Diplomacy does not exist in a vacuum. It is both shaped by and shapes the broader societal context” (Kurbalija, 2023).
In February 2023, the summit of Swiss University University experts, students and staff assembled in awe and wander. The theme digital diplomacy is broad, especially in the marvellous surroundings of a 14-century old castle on the riverbank Rhone, where our university is located, mind can wander. Under the concept and moderation of prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic, we experienced a great lecture of Jovan Kurbalija, Ph.D, who is the founding director of DiploFoundation and the Head of the Geneva Internet Platform. As former diplomat, he has a professional and academic background in international law, diplomacy, and information technology. We opened many interesting topics, starting to understand the role of diplomatic environment and context in digital axial age.
Context, socio-cultural, economic, and political backgrounds of historical intercorrelations, sounds as a password for Enigma decryption.
Whilst each epoch has its defining technology determining economic, social, and political success, in today’s times we witness the omnipotent reality of cyber digital realms.
They are full of wonder, puzzle, and unknowingness.
This is precisely the reason why historical, philosophical, and cultural contexts are important for the future diplomacy in digital age. The environment in which diplomacy is ingrained is the heir of history, philosophy, culture, and technology intertwined developments. Latest have burst into digital transformation, triggering new questions on “social contract” and common sese of the world.
In the wake of pandemic, we were faced to reshape, rethink, and readjust the old patterns and immerging new cyber paradigms. Daily challenged with new versions of old paradigms, new shifts in defining what we take as universal fact, is a token of unimaginable mutations. We live in the flux world, liquid facts, and quantum realities; now is yesterday and tomorrow is a moment before.
“We live in a time where we need to confront new paradigms, ask challenging questions and view issues from multiple perspectives” (Kurbalija, 2023).
If the context is altered daily, social landscape is requesting new deal. This is the reason why we have no other choice than to step back and reflect on the future of humanity. We need to ask ourselves what defines us as human race? What defines AI as a tool for progress and a tool for growth? Where are common ethical algorithms and standards we ought to manage our actions and lives accordingly?
A new social deal, social contract, and the right to choose
Social contracts as societal answers to core dilemmas are negotiated and transmitted. Essential question in society is dyad between individual and societal, between choosing and accepting etc. The right to choose is essential for well-being, opening potentials and balanced social development.
“Even when choices are limited by circumstances, the very possibility of having a choice is vital for human dignity, freedom, and societal progress” (Kurbalija, 2023).
Remember, there was a strong assumption that the Internet provides more choices in social, political, and economic decisions, what has been soon increasingly challenged. All depend on the social and overall life skills of users and their goals and interests.
Choice is essential for economic development as well for free market economy. In theory, it enables the talent, creativity, energy and supports potentials of active agents, playing rational roles underlined with pragmatic dictions. All “choice theories” do focus on overall estimation what is essential to achieve optimum standard in life. The term “choice theory” is the work of William Glasser, author of the book so named, and is the culmination of some 50 years of theory and practice in psychology and counselling. His innovations for individual counselling, work environments and school, highlight personal choice, personal responsibility, and personal transformation. Glasser positioned himself in opposition to conventional mainstream psychiatrists, who focus instead on classifying psychiatric syndromes as “illnesses” and prescribe psychotropic medications to treat mental disorders. Choice theory posits behaviours we choose as central to our existence. Our behaviours (choices) are driven by five genetically driven needs in hierarchical order: survival and love, power, freedom, and fun. The most basic human needs are survival (physical component) and love (mental component). Without physical (nurturing) and emotional (love), an infant will not survive to attain power, freedom, and fun.
Hence, tyranny of choice is a reality encapsulated in postmodern and digital era. Choice involves risk. Thus, a possibility of choice may turn into a nightmare of choosing: we often need help, as observed in thriving businesses, from life coaches to fortune tellers of all kinds. Regardless to whom we delegate our right to choose, we are not free from choosing neither from consequences of our picks.
And, with choices we encounter dilemma of pro or contra digital. Progress, technology, and modernity are intertwined concepts. Most digitalisation narratives are centred around techno-optimism and techno-pessimism. Techno-optimism usually focuses on the power and capabilities of digital technologies. These ‘blue sky’ narratives focus on how digital technologies help individuals and society. Often, techno-optimism narratives focus on medical uses. Techno-pessimism focuses on technology which can ‘extinguish’ the Enlightenment flame. Techno-pessimism has gained momentum with the risks that AI creates for human agency and freedom. This narrative builds on a dystopian tradition in literature that includes books such as ‘Brave New World’ (Huxley) and ‘1984’ (Orwell).
“The Gartner hype cycle substantiates techno optimism vs. pessimism dynamics by following the different phases of a technology’s lifecycle: from the technology trigger, via its peak of inflated expectations, to disillusionment and, ultimately, the plateau of productivity. New technologies can easily trigger hype and even some ‘magic’. While this ‘irrational’ aspect of technology can inspire, it can also be used for manipulation. Blockchain technology is one example of the hype cycle. A few years ago, blockchain was considered a silver bullet to many societal problems. In the naivest views, blockchain was supposed to ‘automate’ human trust. With time distance, blockchain cannot deliver on initially inflated expectations” (Kurbalija, 2023).
Clear judgement and healthy realism should not kill the enthusiasm and the magic around technology. A bit of magic and utopia could be inspirational. Still, this is also a very fertile ground for manipulation.
“Progress is about the continuous advancement of human conditions. Progress is powered by science and technology. For a long time, the idea of progress has been ‘given’” (Kurbalija, 2023).
But progress excludes the idea of growth, which is non-linear, with no specific forms but simple premises: growth includes downfalls, deepness one’s estimations and reflects obvious and scarce events we are witnessing. However, over the last few decades, especially after 9/11, the rosy glasses on the future of humanity became unknown. And yes, we are constantly news doom-scrolling, doubting on shinny furniture outlook realities, questioning benevolent forecasts as wishful thinking.
We have acknowledged that digital policy deeply matters. The root of digital age is axial age, were first transcendence was made; now we live in digital axial age. Major religions today, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism can trace their origins in axial age. Through the Enlightenment when rationality became the key pillar of societal thinking and with ‘Vienna thinkers’ who gave the last touches (so far) to modern thinking, we can more openly understand our modus operandi and cognitive pillars of humanity in contemporary digital axial age.
Who is on the winning side?
“Blue banana geopolitics” was developed by a French geopolitician to explain the core economic and political axis of European geopolitics. The banana may shorten after Brexit. As the map shows, digital follows a traditional blue banana geopolitics. Most of the key communication channels go from northern Italy via Switzerland to Germany (Basel/Zurich – Frankfurt digital axis) and after that to the Netherlands and UK.
“In the last few centuries, modernity and humanity have been reinforcing each other. Advances in science and technology have helped to the emancipation of millions worldwide “(Kurbalija, 2023).
Certainly today we are witnessing one underlying tension of our era, that is partition of modernity (digital world) and humanity (new social contract). ‘Ultra’ modernity via AI reduces the space for human agency and, ultimately, our natural rights to make personal, political, and economic choices.
If Ai is studying us, through social scooring, social media, apps, and other biotech tools, provides us with desires and states and decisions, what is there to remain uninhabited by AI?
“Tech companies do not charge users for the use of internet services; rather, they generate their income from selling information about users to advertisers, or in the words of Zysman and Kenney (2014) by ‘delivering its users to advertisers’. In this new business model, user data is the core economic resource. When searching for information and while interacting on the internet, users generate significant amounts of data, including personal data. This is their electronic footprint” (Kurbalija, 2023).
Generally, there are three main shapers of digitalisation and society: economics, ethics, and governance. States have a limited capacity to influence online internet activities in their territory. The intangible nature of internet services makes it difficult for states, among other functions, to coordinate economic policy, collect taxes, or impose customs controls. Many communities worldwide have been effectively digitally marginalised – the wisdom of ‘forgotten’ cultures and communities is in danger.
More, global geopolitics and geoeconomics are being shaped by the fast-growing economic power of tech companies. As an illustration of this shift, the market capitalisation of Apple is higher than the annual GDP of the entire African continent.
“This growing economic power of tech companies is impacting and will continue to impact digital governance and policy processes. Apple Market capitalisation at the end of 2021 US$ 3.1 trillion Africa GDP of the entire African continent in 2019 US$ 2.4 trillion” (Kurbalija, 2023).
Consequential, ethical questions are battling the scopeof academic and policy debates. Not just carbon, electronic footprint, moral and ethical are in the core of our concerns, not just regarding ethics, fairness, justice, transparency, and accountability. One of a great peril is a risk of discrimination and bias decisions made by AI systems. Researchers are carefully exploring mentioned ethical challenges posed by AI.
Over the past few years, there has been significant progress in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), (from intelligent digital personal assistants and smart home devices to autonomous vehicles, smart buildings, and medical robots), entering all the pores of intimate and inherent human experience. Implications on economic, societal, educative, political, and overall anthropological, is unimaginable.
Microsoft has crossed this Rubicon in global digital politics by proposing a Digital Geneva Convention which should ‘commit governments to avoid cyber-attacks that target the private sector or critical infrastructure or, the use of hacking to steal intellectual property’.
The unthinkable has become almost inevitable (Kurbalija, 2023).
In the search for a more secure and stable Internet, global Internet companies need to work with governments. Any major fragmentation and disruption of the Internet would affect the core business model of Internet companies, based on global access to data. Governments are gaining more cyber-power, ranging from security to censorship and taxation.
 The Axial Age, coined by German philosopher Karl Jaspers, is a period from roughly the 8th to 3rd century BCE that signified a cultural shift in the major Eurasian civilizations of China, India, Persia and the Mediterranean toward the modern era. Notable philosophers and prophets such as Socrates, Confucius, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Pythagoras, Lao Tse, and the Hebrew prophets all arose in this period, according to “The Great Transformation: The beginning of our religious traditions,” by Karen Armstrong.
 The Blue Banana (also known as the European Megalopolis or the Liverpool–Milan Axis) is a discontinuous corridor of urbanization in Western and Central Europe, with a population of around 100 million. The conceptualisation of the area as a “Blue Banana” was developed in 1989 by RECLUS, a group of French geographers managed by Roger Brunet. It stretches approximately from North West England through the English Midlands across Greater London to the European Metropolis of Lille, the Benelux states with the Dutch Randstad and Brussels and along the German Rhineland, Southern Germany, Alsace-Moselle in France in the west and Switzerland (Basel and Zürich) to Northern Italy (Milan, Turin, and Genoa) in the south.
Dai deepfake a ChatGPT, passando inevitabilmente dai social media, la disinformazione si alimenta anche grazie ai progressi dell’intelligenza artificiale. “All’inizio c’erano grandi speranze sul fatto che l’era digitale avrebbe semplicemente diffuso democrazia e verità. Poi, naturalmente, abbiamo scoperto che non è così. È un’arma a doppio taglio”.
Ed è proprio contro questo pericolo che James Rubin, inviato speciale e coordinatore del Global Engagement Center del Dipartimento di Stato americano, da tempo combatte. A lui il Presidente Joe Biden si è affidato per raccordare gli sforzi del governo volti a contrastare propaganda e disinformazione da parte di attori stranieri che puntano a minare o influenzare le politiche o la sicurezza degli Stati Uniti e dei Paesi alleati. Soprattutto oggi, in presenza di un conflitto – quello russo-ucraino – in cui la comunicazione gioca un ruolo essenziale.
Rubin è intervenuto all’incontro “Trust, Truth, and Influence in the Digital Age” organizzato dall’Ambasciata d’Italia a Washington DC. L’evento, in collaborazione con Globally e Young Professional in Foreign Policy (YPFP), era parte della serie Digital Diplomacy voluta dall’Ambasciata e dedicata all’intersezione tra tecnologia e politica estera.
A introdurre i lavori, l’Ambasciatrice d’Italia negli Stati Uniti, Mariangela Zappia. “Nell’ultimo anno, abbiamo sperimentato come la brutale invasione dell’Ucraina da parte della Russia si sia svolta non solo sul campo di battaglia, ma anche nella sfera dell’informazione on-line e off-line”, ha detto Zappia, sottolineando in particolare le ripercussioni sulla fiducia nella verità, nei leader e nelle istituzioni.
Sulla stessa lunghezza d’onda Rubin, che ha rimarcato gli sforzi del Global Engagement Center e dell’Amministrazione Biden: “Abbiamo un solo scopo: combattere la disinformazione cinese, russa, iraniana e di altri Stati nazionali e non, all’estero. Il nostro intento è quello di impedire che la disinformazione venga promulgata in tutto il mondo”. Con oltre 35 anni di esperienza in politica estera, James Rubin è stato consigliere politico dell’amministrazione Clinton e portavoce del Dipartimento di Stato, nonché giornalista di fama internazionale specializzato in affari esteri e sicurezza nazionale.
Per Rubin, Russia e Cina finiscono sul banco degli imputati. “Dobbiamo usare la verità come arma”, ha detto, puntando il dito contro la diffusione di “false narrazioni” da parte del Cremlino. “I russi hanno da tempo integrato nel loro sistema la guerra dell’informazione. E probabilmente siamo in una guerra di informazione con la Russia e la Cina da molto ormai. Solo che non lo sapevamo. Hanno speso decine di miliardi di dollari”. Durissimo il giudizio sulla Cina per la sua scelta di “allinearsi completamente alla Russia nello spazio dell’informazione”.
Rubin si è congratulato con l’Italia per gli sforzi messi in campo nella lotta alla disinformazione. Il direttore del Global Engagement Center ha poi evidenziato come sia molte volte possibile individuare le campagne di disinformazione con un semplice test empirico. “Se sei un lettore o un ascoltatore medio e qualcosa che leggi o ascolti ti fa arrabbiare, c’è da scommettere che qualcuno aveva intenzione di farti arrabbiare. Il fatto che siano informazioni destinate a farvi innervosire spesso indica che provengono dalla Russia, dalla Cina”.
All’intervento di Rubin ha fatto seguito un panel di specialisti ed addetti ai lavori, moderato da Aubrey Cox Ottenstein, Ceo di Globally / YPFP. Con lei, il ricercatore Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia del College of Information Studies dell’Università del Maryland, i cui studi si concentrano sull’interazione tra persone e sistemi informatici ma anche sui fattori che determinano la qualità dell’informazione nel cyberspazio; Crystal Patterson, esperta di comunicazione strategica e politica, presidente del Washington Media Group; Costanza Sciubba Caniglia, responsabile della strategia anti disinformazione della Fondazione Wikimedia; e in collegamento da Londra, Virginia Stagni, responsabile dello sviluppo aziendale e Talent Director del Financial Times.
Imagine how important technology is, in our everyday lives – for those fortunate enough to be connected to the Internet and enjoy some of its perks and benefits. According to Statista in 2023, the number of smartphone users in the world amounts to 6,92 billion. That is roundabout 86 percent of the current world population, of which 5,16 billion have access to the internet, participating somehow in the current internet experiment.
But how much time do we actually spend on these devices? If we believe Google (should we?) then the average time on devices ranges from 3 to 7 hours per day. The most familiar companies in that space include for example Samsung, Apple and Google. Let us zoom into Apple and Samsung’s financial results briefly, in order to have a feeling for the magnitude of their financial power. Apple for example, a company that is said to have had a revenue of $394,3 billion (and growing!), with about more than 1.5 billion active iPhone users worldwide in 2023. Or Samsung, headquartered in South Korea, the company posted $245.7 billion in consolidated revenue, also reporting more than 1 billion people using their devices.
It is fair to say that they are the true power houses in Internet land, providing not only the gadgets, but also being starkly involved in the build of the internet infrastructure as well. Some say even following a plan to own the Internet. 80 percent of investment in new cables has flowed from the two US tech giants. In 2021, Facebook owned or co-owned 99,399 kilometers of cables, Google 95,876 kilometers.
3 layer cake to make the Internet work
And with this power comes also great responsibility. Which responsibility are we speaking of? It is about potentially influencing billions of people around the world, for hopefully the good, but more often than not it currently seems also for the worse, if we think of cyber security crimes or fake news.
One might wonder: Who lobbies for or represents the interests of the so-called “users” of the Internet? This Internet which by the way in itself was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2010. We are speaking about the interests of 5 billion people that actually make and shape the internet as we know it today? Without them, or us, it would not really exist, ergo they represent a key part of this experiment.
Are the users being “used” too much? Think about data and privacy. Do the applications that we have access to help us improve our human well-being and our relationships at core? Can we put human-wellbeing in the focus of tech design thinking? Do we need neutral organizations, distributed around the world, to keep checks and balances and a peaceful environment? It is especially relevant on a content and application layer, with user facing applications, such as Instagram, Tik Tok or Facebook, because they say “if you are not paying for the product, you are the product”. So, when one is dealt with, as a product, who then is representing the interests? It seems like no neutral entity is doing this so far. Though it is fundamental to advocate for our Human Rights on the Internet too.
And, we as “the people of the Internet”, have all the reasons to be concerned, because sometimes it seems like the big tech players do not have human well-being at core of their product philosophies and developments, but rather maximizing profits (as described in a documentary called “The Social Dilemma”, for example). One thing for sure: There seems to be a lot of room for improvement. And this is, where #techdiplomats could or should gain far more relevance as they currently seem to have, for example by suggesting rail-guards for AI Ethics or map out desirable responsible Internet use. Because one would not want to leave AI Ethics entirely to military and defense units, right?
“We’ve been too naive for too long about the tech revolution.” Jeep Kofod, Denmark’s Foreign Minister’s strong word on tech diplomacy. It is indeed surprising that only in 2017 a Danish diplomat became the world’s first Tech Ambassador, representing Denmark’s interests in Silicon Valley. In 2021 there were only 20 tech ambassadors around the world. Diplomats representing the nation state interest in Silicon Valley, apparently reflecting the values of the people of these respective countries. Better late than never, in 2022 the European Council acknowledged that the EU digital diplomacy needs a more concerted European approach to the challenges posed by new digital technologies. The tech diplomacy network was then launched only this year partnering with the Berggruen Institute, the World Economic Forum and the Diplo Foundation. Is this too little too late and way too slow, given that the beginnings of the Internet for us date back to the 90s?
Let us return to OpenAI’s chatGPT to ask for advice about the most important topics that tech diplomacy should tackle. It suggested the following answers:
Could the United United Nations be of help, with the core mandate of establishing and maintaining peace?
Indeed, the UN is active in this field, by setting up a panel on digital cooperation in 2018 “With the purpose of advancing proposals to strengthen cooperation in the digital space among Governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, technical and academic communities and other relevant stakeholders.” co-chaired by Melinda Gates (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and Jack Ma (Executive Chairman, Alibaba Group). Even though Jack Ma said in an interview in 2019, that he is not so concerned about the risks associated with AI.
Promoting digital public good to create a more equitable world
Ensuring digital inclusion for all, including the most vulnerable
Strengthening digital capacity-building
Ensuring the protection of Human Rights in the digital era
Supporting global cooperation on artificial intelligence
Promoting trust and security in the digital environment
Building a more effective architecture for digital
The United Nations, also known for their infamous Sustainable Development Goals, though inherently admirable, seem to be very abstract. Are they also practical to implement them fast in real life? Is achieving universal connectivity by 2030, more important than protecting our Human Rights in the digital area?
Or, could something like a neutral diplomatic foundation be helpful in weighting the goals to be achieved?
The DiploFoundation, which for example claims to aim to increase the power of small and developing states to influence their own futures and development; increase international accountability and inclusivity; increase the legitimacy of international policy making; and improve global governance and international policy development.
Let us return to chatGPT for advice on the most desirable outcome:
Maybe the ultimate goal shall be maximum peace possible?
Going forward: How do we operationalize these diplomatic efforts? Does a tech tool, like Twitter, for example, have the potential to be a tool to facilitate that change? And therefore maybe act as the communication layer, to enable international discourse related to diplomatic matters.
While we try to figure this out, one thing for sure: It’s time to (re)-negotiate social contracts from the user perspective with tech giants. And, the time is now.
Let us redesign old games towards a win-win-(win)
This thought piece is written in the context of an Executive Master program at the Swiss UMEF University in Geneva, concepted and moderated by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic, attending a day-long lecture of Prof. Dr. Jovan Kurbalija on Digital Diplomacy and Governance.
A state’s international image is its main “soft power” attribute. By developing this well-known concept, countries can create prospects for national investment, and therefore wealth for their country. Nowadays, commercial brands may constitute a powerful tool in the hands of diplomats, who bet on using soft power as a means to exert their nation’s ideological influence onto other states and their people.
The concept of soft power is often used today in the sphere of international relations as a public policy tool. The term was coined by American researcher Joseph Nye in 1990 in his book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”. Nye claims that culture plays an important role in foreign policy, which is not surprising because while it is possible to change the economy and political course of a country, it is quite difficult to change its culture. The cultural nature of conflict is a source of global contradictions. In “The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order”, renowned political scientist Samuel Huntington concludes that the clash of civilizations will be the main cause of international confrontations based on differences in culture, religion and traditional values.
Through the concept of soft power, an “attractive” image of a secular and prosperous state is promoted in order to “tactically” influence other countries and their people. As Joseph Nye simply explained, soft power is the ability “to make others want what you want.”
An engaged and educated society, advanced technology, developed infrastructure, protected cultural heritage, high level of social support for the state, and active country involvement in tackling global issues on the sustainable development agenda are the strongest elements of a country’s soft power.
The commercial sector is heavily influenced by this concept, and corporations and states have the potential to control the masses through major brands as leverage.
Not Everyone Benefits from Globalization
The phenomenon that is “globalization” can also be used by some governments as an excuse to violate the sovereignty of other states. They play the “globalization” card and use it as an argument against any country that is not prepared to cooperate on an issue in their unipolar sphere of interest.
Countries interested in spreading their production without considering the national needs and values of other cultures and perceive the world as a “one featureless market”, are the first to benefit from globalization and the blurring of cultural boundaries. Many countries therefore limit the impact this has on their citizens, trying to protect them from an imposed value system that wipes out historical memory and cultural identity, that is so emphatically defended by UNESCO as “living heritage”. China’s internet policy, “The Great Firewall of China”, is a clear example of such protection measures in practice. Considering the uncomfortable technological sophistication that China has achieved for several countries, internet policy has become primarily a matter of security.
Additionally, Chinese national television focuses on broadcasting picturesque landscapes and the beauty of its great culture, encouraging the Chinese population to value nature, as well as domestic tourism, rather than simply showing endless commercials for industrial products. China is the only civilization in the world that has not interrupted its development by succumbing to other, notably Western, soft power influences. Today, China strives to carefully pass down its world-view ideas across generations, one of which being “āntǔ-zhòngqiān” (or love of homeland and unwillingness to leave it).
Almost Everyone Today is a customer
Today, the big commercial brands are geared towards a global community in which almost everyone has purchasing power. Year after year, despite a myriad of global challenges, the world population is making tremendous progress in terms of living standards.
In April 2022, the World Bank updated its global poverty estimates for 2018 (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) on the new Poverty and Inequality Platform (PIP), showing that global poverty rates (those living below a daily income of $1.90) was 8.6%, down from 2017’s 9.1%. In other words, this is equivalent to 28 million people pulled out of poverty in over two years. Comparing earlier periods, the global poverty rate fell by 4.3% between 2012 and 2018.
People today live better than have before, which means they buy more. However, the impact commercial brands play in shopper purchases goes far beyond the numbers.
Brand with a Human Face
Today we are witnessing brand humanization with 24/7 customer feedback. No longer is the aim of big trading companies to enter into a money-for-good relationship with its customers, but rather it is to gain customer loyalty and, if necessary, change political and social attitudes.
According to the American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs, people need to belong to a social group through which they can feel valued. Commercial brands don’t miss a chance to take advantage of that.
Major sportswear companies are offering free membership to a community of brand enthusiasts, encouraging them to become a part of a global community that is recreating the future of sport. But beyond this noble goal, there is a purely commercial one: successful sales are the foundation of any company’s development.
What’s more important is that every major brand has digital platforms. Brand social media pages are turning into full-fledged media outlets, engaging major magazines that produce news and set the agenda for the brand. Commercial brands are trying to focus on sensitive global issues in a bid to appeal to different social groups, from exclusively female audiences to devout environmentalists.
For example, the American brand “Dove” is developing a “Self-Esteem Project” with the slogan “Stop the Beauty Test”, which works with issues of self-perception and anxiety reduction that cannot but find support among today’s women.
Major retail chains are creating clothing lines out of recycled plastic. Certainly, some companies are keen to contribute to the environment, but commercial brands exist on sales and by creating a line based on recycled plastic, brands mentally reinforce customers the belief that they are not just consuming a good, but saving the planet, even if the recycled plastic makes up 5% of the item; that matter takes a back seat.
Commercial Brands Polish the Soft Power of States
It is not so much the products that the big commercial brands are capturing audiences with, but rather the lifestyle; they offer comfortable terms of purchase, instant delivery and generous discounts, which is difficult for local businesses and local manufacturers to compete with, affecting the country’s economy. The authentic “made in” products of a strong brand produce positive perceptions of the country and vice versa. When we buy water, food, a car, or clothes from a country, we create an association with the country where they are produced.
In this way, big brands turn the country itself into a brand, attracting investors, businessmen, and immigrants, among them promising scientists and young minds, whose work shapes the country’s economy and its status as a world active leader, desirable partner, and ally.
Additionally, company websites collect user data in thematic surveys that are used to analyze the lifestyles and purchasing power levels of people in other countries in order to subsequently adapt products. Public demand influences import and export policies of states, and commercial brands play into that.
The international image of any state is the main attribute of its “soft power”. The market research company “FutureBrand”, a brand-transforming business, developed the “FutureBrand Country Index”, which measures the “attractiveness” quotient of a country in terms of public perception, examining consumer or corporate brands through surveys and scientific data analysis techniques. The top three in 2020 are Japan, Switzerland and Norway. According to respondent country brand associations, the top performers in Japan were “Toyota” and “Uniqlo”; “Tissot”, “Rolex”, and “Swatch” in Switzerland; and “Neutrogena” and “Statoil” in Norway.
Country as a Brand
The UN’s 2022 annual World Happiness Report, Denmark earned second place for home to the world’s happiest people, with Finland taking first. Human happiness cannot be measured by quantitative methods, but Mike Wiking from Denmark founded the Happiness Research Institute, which studies people’s quality of life and satisfaction with their daily lives using scientific methods. According to the Institute, governments and civil society organizations are eager to collaborate in order to apply collected data to public policy, and make the lives of their citizens better.
A few years ago, the world seemed obsessed with the Danish concept of “Hygge” (happiness in Danish), which became the basis for many business ideas for Danish decor, furniture, and clothing brands. The country even became an attractive destination for potential immigration. This is just one example of how people do not buy a product, but a lifestyle.
National Branding Can Help Developing Economies
The pandemic has particularly weakened the economies of countries with tourism as their main source of income. Turning a country into a brand can help countries with dwindling economic potential and save jobs at a time of crisis, as digital technology allows countries to create successful PR campaigns.
At the “World Conference on Tourism Cooperation and Development”, organized by the World Tourism Cities Federation as part of the “China International Fair for Trade in Services” forums in September 2022, representatives from Africa and the Caribbean outlined strategies for recovering tourism after the pandemic. One successful example of country branding were the Seychelles Islands, which during lockdown created a platform with the slogan “Dream Now and Experience Later.” The resource contained high-quality photos and videos introducing the country online and, once the lockdown was over, the creators invited people to visit the islands to experience the real thing.
Power Is Also Like Love
As Joseph Nye puts it, “Power is also like love, easier to experience than to define or measure, but no less real for that.” Nowadays, corporations and brands boost economies and attract investment, cultivating the potential for that very soft power that countries will continue to work hard for, to attract financial flows and initiate various forms of intercultural cooperation.
When you hear about Switzerland, even if you have never been there, you get an image of a safe country with amazing natural beauty and a strong economy; a place where you can confidently keep your savings, which is why it attracted the world’s wealthy elite.
However, in today’s world, sanctions show quite well how fragile and politicized the commercial sector is, and the notion of a “free market” is a highly idealized concept.
The Qatar-linked bid to take over ownership of Britain’s Manchester United Football Club represents the next phase of a global soft power offensive by the gas-wealthy Gulf state, as it seeks to build on its successful hosting of the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
The aims of Doha’s game are manifold, analysts say, but they primarily seek to build a positive public impression worldwide about the tiny emirate by closely associating it with United, one of the most widely-supported clubs in the world’s most popular sport.
“Without doubt, the Manchester United deal is the next big move in soft power projection into the West, especially by Qatar following a very successful World Cup,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “They really managed to make their mark on football at a global level despite not having a very good team or league.”
People love football. If you become the sponsor and deliver what they like, people will generally tend to remember you and in a good context Hussein Ibish, Arab Gulf States Institute
He said the logic of Qatar’s sporting ambitions was “simple”.
“People love football. If you become the sponsor and deliver what they like, people will generally tend to remember you and in a good context. They’ve already done that with the World Cup, so obviously getting into the European club scene, and particularly through Manchester United, provides a great opportunity,” Ibish said.
“There is no reason for Qatar not to double or triple down on what has been a successful public diplomacy effort involving international football.”
Ibish said the bid for United by Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani would be aimed at “an Asian audience, an Arab audience, a British audience and a European audience, probably in that order”.
“So obviously, these are the constituencies that the Qatari government would be hoping to influence in a positive way,” he said.
Latest news, analysis and opinion on politics in Hong Kong, covering Legco, John Lee’s administration and handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sheikh Jassim’s camp has thus far not indicated that his bid is directly linked to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, though observers have noted that the line between state and the private funds of the ruling tribe – comprising some 3,000 individuals – is thin.
Analysts say Qatar has a very low public profile in Asia, despite being a primary source of liquefied natural gas imports which provide electricity and heating to its major economies China, India, Japan and South Korea.
“As someone who has worked extensively across Asia, I have seen how Qatar’s reputation ranges from anonymity to, in some cases, fear,” said Simon Chadwick, a professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in Paris. “I know that in China many are still deeply suspicious of Qatar and, indeed, sometimes equate the country with terrorism.”
But times are changing and relations between Qatar and the rest of Asia are improving, he said.
A statement from Sheikh Jassim, chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) stated that it had submitted an offer to take full control of Manchester United. Photo: AFP/File
This is partly due to active diplomacy by the government in Doha, of which the World Cup was an integral part.
Owning United would enable this process to continue, Chadwick said, adding that “further improvements in Qatar’s image, reputation, and trustworthiness across Asia” could be expected.
The ruling al-Thani family also sees sports asset ownership and global event hosting as a way of “creating interdependencies with other countries which elevates Qatar to a position of visibility and legitimacy”, he said.
“This gives countries reasons to look out for Qatar’s interests, especially when confronted with external threats,” Chadwick said. “Fundamentally, this is what Qatar’s sport policy is about – the sense of strategic vulnerability the country sometimes feels.”
This was evident after neighbouring Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties and imposed an air, land and sea embargo on Qatar in June 2017, to punish Doha for its support for Islamist political movements, and close ties with their strategic rivals Iran and Turkey.
Shortly after, Qatar Sports Investments, the owner of French football club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), bought Brazilian star Neymar and French talisman Kylian Mbappe for record fees.
Doha’s sporting interests give countries “reasons to look out for Qatar’s interests, especially when confronted with external threats”, Chadwick said, adding that the Qatari government was also “mitigating risk and promoting its security interests” by moving some of its assets offshore.
“If ever the country was attacked or invaded, it has assets overseas upon which the country’s rulers can fall back on,” Chadwick told This Week In Asia.
Manchester United fans hold up a ‘No to Qatar’ sign and LGBT flag. Photo: Reuters/FIle
With the United States’ military command for the Middle East based in Qatar, the emirate faced no such threats during the blockade which ended in January 2021.
Ownership of foreign assets did, however, figure in legal battles after a previous emir, Sheikh Khalifa al-Thani, was deposed by his son Sheikh Hamad in a bloodless July 1995 coup. Hamad voluntarily abdicated in June 2013 to ensure the smooth succession of power to his son, the current emir Sheikh Tamim.
The then foreign minister, father of United’s prospective owner Sheikh Jassim, was a key player in the coup, which paved the way for the massive investments that turned Qatar from a struggling backwater into a wealthy gas exporter.
With such powerful motivations, Qatar would not be fazed by accusations of “sportswashing” from Western liberals and United fans concerned that Arab Muslim ownership might affect the rights of LGBTQ fans, analysts said.
In a Ligue 1 match on World Homophobia Day last May, PSG players sported kits with rainbow numbering to support the LGBTQ movement.
Likewise, human rights organisations are already facing considerable pushback on migrant workers’ rights from Qatar.
In 2020, it became the first Gulf Arab country to scrap the long-standing kifala work permit sponsorship system under which employers could prevent employees from changing jobs. It also introduced a minimum legal wage.
Qatar World Cup Chief dismisses migrant worker abuse claims after death at tournament venue
In the case of last year’s World Cup, Qatari authorities were slow to respond to accusations of sportswashing, analysts said.
But as the tournament approached, the country “adopted a more robust and assertive approach to critics”, Chadwick said.
“This was a sign of increased confidence among Qatari decision-makers, which we should expect to see again if the country is successful in acquiring United,” he said.
Washington-based analyst Ibish expects Qatar to respond to critics “largely by ignoring them”.
“But if they are really drawn out of their shell, they can always say that they have been making improvements on the treatment of migrant workers and insist that, on balance, they are a force for good in the world generally and in the sporting world in particular,” he said.
Meanwhile, Qatar is working hard to sustain its position as a global event destination, and “even more so for sporting events after the success of the World Cup”, said Clemens Chay, a research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore.
The latest case in point is “diving into the organisation of the 2030 Asian Games”, for which the committee which organised the World Cup has recently been given the mandate to start preparations, he said.
Qatari authorities are also making “significant efforts to showcase their own footballing history, which in turn makes the point about having sustainable sporting, if not, footballing culture”, Chay said.
Investments in sport, whether through money or time, are part of Qatar’s nation branding in its foreign policy Clemens Chay, National University of Singapore
The Qatar National Library, for instance, now boasts an exhibition section comprising the Qatari love for and flavour of football.
“These investments in sport, whether through money or time, are part of Qatar’s nation branding in its foreign policy that in turn dribble down to its domestic cultural practices,” Chay said.
With the infrastructure from the World Cup intact and a strong reputation earned from the mega sporting event, the Qatari government “will continue to redirect resources towards development projects and the spotting of talent”, Chay said.
Under the sport pillar of Qatar’s nation-branding strategy, the organisation of major events, the acquisition of clubs, the ability to connect with an audience through media platforms like beIN Sports satellite TV channel and the mission to train future stars “all make up the drive for Qatar’s international visibility”, he said.
In an event in Delhi, KP Fabian discussed US involvement in the 2011 Arab uprisings and the flawed notion of resistance to democracy in Muslim nations.
Were the series of uprisings in 2011 an Arab Spring or Islamic winter? The mood of a discussion in New Delhi around K.P. Fabian’s newly launched book, The Arab Spring That Was and Wasn’t, mirrored this question.
A professor and former Indian diplomat, Fabian started writing this book after Tunisia—urged by a rebel hawker—first sprung into revolt in 2011. The Tunisian uprising had a domino effect, and anti-government protests swept through the Muslim world in what came to be called the Arab Spring.
Making a remarkable allusion, Fabian said that just like Macbeth, “the Arab Spring is also an unscripted drama which is still continuing.”
Former diplomat and high commissioner to Pakistan and Singapore, Ambassador T.C.A Raghavan and former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Talmiz Ahmad were also present at the book launch at the India International Centre Wednesday.
Gulshan Dietl, former professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University and moderator of the discussion said that the book takes us into “the middle of the mayhem.”
Owing to the author’s experience in the region, she added, “K.P. Fabian was on the roads, watching street protests. And since he was a diplomat, he also had access to all the boardrooms and decision-making rooms.”
Calling the book “a broad bird’s eye view of the whole region,” Raghavan gave the audience a perspective that was more central to Indians. He said while a great deal is spoken about the Indo-Pacific, we never really see the wider expanse of the Indian Ocean, which includes the oft-neglected Arabian Gulf.
“To my mind, the importance of books like these is to highlight the significance of our neighbourhood because we cannot approach it in the same way,” he added.
Critiquing American involvement
Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad wove in his experiences in Saudi Arabia with Fabian’s book. “Far away from my location in Riyadh, a lot was happening in Tunisia in December 2011. For 30 years in the region, I had no concern with what was going on there. But all of that changed when, in January, Tunisia’s Ben Ali was ousted and arrived in Jeddah.”
“So, quickly, the Tunisians got rid of their problems. And the Arab Spring became my problem,” he joked.
From the rise of populism, the Iran-Saudi divide and American support of oppressive regimes, there were many consequences to the Arab Spring. However, the one thing that stood out to Ahmad was, “the erosion of US influence, credibility, and authority.”
“Cluelessness is the central feature of American involvement, sometimes for two decades in a particular region or country with no knowledge about the dynamics of that country. They were there for 20 years, and created nothing but waste and damage,” he further added.
Upholding democracy in Islamic nations
The audience raised questions about resistance to democracy in Islamic States. The idea that democracy and Islam don’t go hand in hand is one that many people have come to believe. But Fabian thinks differently.
“Western thinkers are prejudiced against Islam. There are countries like Indonesia and Malaysia which are composed of Muslims but also very democratic. What appears to be the truth is that the West has stood in the way of democracies coming into the Islamic world.”
Taking another jibe at the West, Ahmad added, “Let’s not get carried away about the Islamic faith and the Arab people. My narrative differs. Resources are essential for Western economic repair after the World Wars and economic domination thereafter. It is this resource factor which has supported Western imperialism.”
But as Dietl quoted from Fabian’s book, the social reality of the Arab world is not binary or exclusive.