Humiliation in Ifrane, hope in Mumbai, fear in London. With these three vignettes opens ‘The Geopolitics of Emotion’ by Dominique Moïsi (www.landmarkonthenet.com).
The first is about the author’s interaction in 2000 with students in the University of Al Akhawayn, a school of management set up jointly by the kings of Morocco and Saudi Arabia in the Atlas mountain city of Ifrane, sixty kilometres west of Fez. Young women were walking hand in hand, when they were not casually lying next to each other on the immaculate grass, whose shining green stood out from the arid surroundings of the campus, he finds, but what struck him was their lack of self-confidence.
“Globalisation is not for us… We won’t make it; we can’t be part of it,” a student tells the author. But why? Perhaps they are doubtful about the political prospects of their government, Moïsi wonders. “Or perhaps their lack of confidence was linked to their country’s geographical position – so close to Europe but on the ‘wrong side’ of the Mediterranean – or to their cultural and religious heritage.”
Whatever the reason, he finds the message to be clear: “If they were to succeed in the world of globalisation, it would be one by one, as individuals on the world stage rather than as representatives of their homeland, and it probably would not happen within Morocco.” What’s currently happening in that country may not be too encouraging, either. While Jerusalem Post speaks of ‘Marvellous Morocco,’ Peninsula On-line cautions, ‘Tough times for media in Morocco.’
Corruption is so rife in the country, Moïsi learns from a Moroccan professor who ‘had been selected for a king’s scholarship by Hassan II to study abroad, but he had never received the grant… some bureaucrat had channelled the money to someone else, most probably a well-connected student with access to the country’s elite.’ Through a circuitous route, this professor had finally and miraculously ‘made it,’ but he had done so clearly on his own, adds Moïsi. “He was an outsider to his own country, and he had no intention of returning to it.”
The London tale is about the author feeling terror down the spine in a tube train, exactly a year after the bombings had racked the city in 2006. “The tension was palpable. When and where would the next terrorist attack take place? The few travellers eyed one another suspiciously,” he recounts. “Here I was in the financial capital of the world, a bustling, affluent city that was also – at least that day – apparently gripped by fear.”
And, interestingly, the Mumbai story is a narration of Moïsi’s fascination with what he saw during his first visit in 2006. “Amid the incessant, noisy traffic, the poor and homeless lived by the side of the road. Yet I was impressed by the sheer energy of the city; Mumbai seemed to emanate hope.”
Mumbai is a place ‘where your caste doesn’t matter, where a woman can dine alone at a restaurant without harassment, and where you can marry the person of your choice. For the young person in an Indian village, the call of Mumbai isn’t just about money. It’s also about freedom,’ he hears from an Indian friend.
The very poor keep streaming into Mumbai motivated by the conviction that even if they are unable to improve their own lives, their children or their grandchildren will have a better chance, discovers Moïsi. And, to him, the contrast between the affluent young people of Morocco and the poor of Mumbai is striking. “While the former perceive globalisation as a challenge already lost, the latter, against all odds, see it as an opportunity.”
Importance of emotions cannot be discounted when studying international affairs, the author notes. Without our recognising the crucial influence of emotions, which seem to control us much more than we control them, it is simply impossible to understand the course of history, he avers.
The choice of the three primary emotions, viz. fear, hope, and humiliation, for the book’s focus is because of their close link with the notion of confidence – the defining factor in how nations and people address the challenges they face and how they relate to one another, Moïsi explains.
“Fear is the absence of confidence. If your life is dominated by fear, you are apprehensive about the present and expect the future to become even more dangerous. Hope, by contrast, is an expression of confidence; it is based on the conviction that today is better than yesterday and that tomorrow will be better than today.”
Sadly, humiliation is the injured confidence of those who have lost hope in the future, as the author elaborates. He adds that when the contrast between your idealised and glorious past and your frustrating present is too great, humiliation prevails.
Sceptics may doubt if something as abstract as confidence be measured at a national level. Yes, assures Moïsi. Architecture, art, and music can be expressions of national confidence, he argues. Among the objective indicators are spending patterns and levels of investment.
Significantly, in geopolitics, confidence may be expressed by agreements between states, he suggests. “From that standpoint, confidence-building measures established between China and India in the early 1990s reflect the growing hopefulness of the two Asian giants.”
In that context, fresh hopes, again, are from the day’s headlines, such as that ‘India, China reaffirm need to keep border peaceful,’ and that India, China are ‘in talks for free trade pact.’