People all over the world, including the Scots, Catalans, Tuaregs, Crimeans, Kurds, Pashtuns, Basques and Palestinians are fighting for the right to have their own states. They want to control their lands and destinies and reclaim their national identities. Nations are usually defined by the common grounds of culture, language, and ethnicity within certain natural boundaries such as rivers, seas and large mountains. Because certain groups of people want to expand their territories through wars and conquests, other ethnic groups have been oppressed or even exterminated.
History is almost always written by the winners, and world maps are mostly drawn with the blood of the losers. Five hundred years ago, the conquest of the Americas by Europeans meant the start of the genocide of native tribal populations from current-day Canada all the way to Brazil. Large-scale European colonialism, and its hideous helper slavery, redrew the world map entirely on all continents. Most of the conflicts at play today have their origins decades or even centuries ago, and they can usually be traced back to the criminal follies of European colonial empires. Empires come and go, but they leave deep scars on world maps that foment conflicts for long periods.
Many of the problems in the Middle East today, for example, originate from decisions by Great Britain and France in the aftermath of World War I, after they defeated the Ottoman empire. Instead of splitting the Kurds between Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran, a state of Kurdistan should have been created. The treaty of Sevres, signed in 1920, provided for the recognition of a Kurdish state, but the agreement was never implemented. Kurdistan still does not have recognized boundaries on any maps (see above image, where the red, white and green flag covers Kurdistan). Another colossal geopolitical blunder with dire consequences was the 1948 rubber stamping of a Jewish state’s creation in Palestine.
History stubbornly continues to challenge the arbitrary geography that imperialists have imposed. Unfortunately, the struggles often being violent. Despite the power and oppressive natures of Turkey and Israel, for example, neither the Kurds nor the Palestinians will ever relinquish their legitimate aspirations to have a state to call home. Besides Western instigation, the civil war unfolding in Ukraine has its roots in the ill-conceived and abrupt dismantlement of the Soviet Union in 1991. Paradoxically, the biggest challenge to globalization, which can be regarded as an extreme kind of imperialism, may take the form of a return to older cultural divides. This is happening even at the heart of former colonial powers like Spain, with the case of Catalonia, and the United Kingdom with Scotland. Soon to follow could be independence for the Basques that would involve France as well as Spain, and perhaps even a push for independence of Corsicans from France.
For Scotland and Catalonia, self determination will probably come peacefully through an electoral process. In Ukraine, the east and the west are sliding into a civil war; in Syria, after three years of civil war turned proxy war, more than 135,000 people are dead and 3.2 million have become refugees; and in Iraq, a sporadic but long-term sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis is killing thousands of people every year, compliment of the 2003 US invasion. In Turkey, Syria and Iraq, the Kurds are still denied the right to call their home Kurdistan; in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, the Tuaregs remain stateless; Palestinians have been denied a proper state by Israel since 1948; in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pashtuns of both countries are separated by an arbitrary border designed in London. Some identities will outlive any form of persecution. For example, although Kurdistan, Pashtunistan and Tuaregistan do not yet exist, these national identities do. Whether a Kurd lives in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, or Iran he will always define himself as being Kurdish. The same goes for a Tuareg in Mali, Algeria or Libya, and a Pashtun in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Two decades ago, the prospect of globalization seemed inevitable and positive in many respects. After all, borders between countries may be viewed as artificial separations that divide humanity and fuel conflicts. The European Union was at the forefront of this dream of open borders to heal the deep historical wounds of centuries of warfare. In the aftermath of two world wars, what could have been a better place than Europe to realize this Utopia, with former arch enemies like France and Germany co-existing harmoniously and trading with a single currency? Some imagined that nationalism and its primitive impulses would disappear. Twenty eight European nations bought into this Utopia, which quickly became a scheme to gather a global capitalist empire under the tutelage of the United States. The idealistic European Union of free circulation of people and ideas turned into an opportunity for banks and corporations to maximize profit by reducing labor costs.
In its present state, the EU is quite dysfunctional: not an EU for the people by the people, but rather, a monstrosity where a rarefied technocratic elite rules without popular consent. For Europe to continue as a political entity, it must become democratic and inclusive. The EU and globalization in general were promoted to citizens as being vectors of progress for the many; instead they have worked wonders for very few. Therefore it should not come as a surprise that, in this new historical cycle, more and more people are challenging the world order of corporate imperialism. This reaction is so strong that some ancient national entities, heirs of previous empires, are also cracking at the seam. Imperialism has arrogantly trampled ethnic groups and tried to destroy cultural entities. The new era is one of backlash against arbitrary geopolitical divides as a push to regain democratic governance and reset boundaries on authentic ethnic, cultural or sectarian differences. A flip side of this trend is the confusion of nationalism with xenophobia, as illustrated by the rise of European far-right parties.
Centuries ago, Scots fought and died for freedom in fierce battles against England. On September 18, 2014, they will vote on a referendum in Scotland to determine independence from the United Kingdom. A May 4, 2014 editorial in Edinburgh’s Sunday Herald called for a Yes vote in a statement that explained: “The proposition is this: we believe independence will offer Scotland an historic opportunity to choose the kind of country that might allow its people to prosper. Decisions affecting our lives will be made on our doorsteps by people who live here. By us. A vote for independence says that a small country is not helpless in a big troubling world.”
In a few years, new world maps might include Scotland, Catalonia, Basque, Kurdistan, Tuaregistan, Pashtunistan, Corsica and several others as fully independent countries. Local government of manageable size for democratic rule could be the antidote against various kinds of imperialism, including that imposed by globalists. A return to smaller government is a natural reaction against the disempowerment, loss of specificity, and vertigo caused by a global empire that thrives on consumption and greed.
Gilbert Mercier is the Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post, where this essay originally appeared.