Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kishore Mahbubani’s The New Asian Hemisphere: A book that every AU student - and every American - should read.

I have just finished reading one of those special books that provides a new lens through which to view the world and crystalizes thoughts previously held, but not crisply structured. It is intended for general readers and refreshingly devoid of international-relations academic jargon. Its author, a long-serving Singapore diplomat is founding Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Regular Dormgrandpop readers will know that my recent international travels included a two week stay in Singapore and that Singapore will be my home for this coming Spring semester of my Sabbatical year.

The New Asian Hemisphere is subtitled, ‘The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East.‘ Chapters address the ‘rise’ of Asian nations (especially China, India and many ASEAN members), the relative decline of “Western” dominance and the the degree to which hypocritical, self-serving and ineffectual Western policies have alienated many of the 88 per-cent of the World’s population who do not identify themselves with ‘the West.‘ In a concluding chapter, Mahbubani calls for a new practice of global leadership, based on ‘principles, partnership and pragmatism.’

Perhaps I found The New Asian Hemisphere particularly engaging because the author’s no-punches pulled-critique of ‘The West” and “Western pundits” highlights observations I have reached independently and in some instances written about in my blog and elsewhere. He characterizes the invasion of Iraq as ‘a seismic error, one of the greatest acts of folly of our age.’ He scores the hypocrisy of agricultural subsidy programs, disadvantaging global south producers, that are ten times greater than often ineffectual foreign assistance programs intended to assist them. His critique of US opposition to regulatory regimes intended to mitigate global warming reminds us that when addressing problems arising in the ‘global commons,’ “it is natural to expect the wealthier members of the global community to take greater responsibility. Those of us who pioneered the field of “Global Modeling” have been arguing this position, often to deaf ears, for more than 30 years. He notes that widely documented hostility of many Muslims toward America should not be surprising, since America seems to have a double standard, vis a vis the Muslim world, when it comes to promoting democracy, controlling nuclear proliferation, human rights and the value of life itself.

Yet despite the critical tone of some chapters, I found the New Asia Hemisphere’s message to be empowering and hopeful, not only for people living in Asia but for those living in the West. The future world Mahbubani envisions is rich, diverse, multipolar and resilient. The development trajectory leading to that world is one that should be embraced, not feared by the West. He ‘writes, “The end result of the powerful processes of de-Westernization should, therefore, be the world moving toward a positive destination in which many rich ancient civilizations are reborn, adding to the cultural wealth of the world and unleashing new instincts of cultural tolerance and understanding. The unpeeling of the layers of Western influence from around the globe could well lead us to a happier universe where we will have, for the first time in human history, several different civilizations at the same time, with simultaneous explosions of knowledge and wisdom. All this could lift the human condition to a higher level than experienced in any previous century.”

This is an important book for Americans to read, and especially for students at American University. You should buy it (or take it from the library) read it, discuss it and ponder its message.

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