The world has become a dangerous place. To put it in geological terms the stresses in the tectonic plates of varied political and national forces are building to earthquake proportions. The world could be irrevocably changed, not for the better, and a major cause for much of this turmoil is the current set of useless ‘leaders’ who are recklessly ignoring realities as they pursue nebulous ideals. Those detached career politicians are more bothered about their place in history. Using -isms, -phobes and -ists, they haughtily dismiss opposition groups which came to exist because the populace – those who are supposed to be heard, represented and led – are not being listened to, nor suitably represented, nor properly led.
Today we have the migrant crisis; belligerent Islam; flaccid Christianity; Daesh; Sunni Saudi Arabia at loggerheads with Shia Iran; Iran back in the fold after normalising relations with the West; militaristic Israel vexed about Iran; the obstinate Palestinian issue; a weak, lachrymose US president; a loose cannon US presidential candidate; a belligerent Russian president; a crypto-fundamentalist Turkish president; Russia sparring with Turkey and siding with Syria; the West bombing Daesh in Syria; the Kurds siding with the West against Daesh while Turkey fights the Kurds; the European Union fantasising about a united continent yet the impact of mass migration reveals the cracks just beneath the surface; squalid camps near Calais; terrorist attacks; the ever present threat of Islamic terrorism; divisive multi-culturalism; communities with endemic criminal misogyny; public bodies paralysed by political correctness; a faltering Chinese economy; a Euro debt and currency crisis; low oil prices; a deluded German chancellor making amends for her country’s past and composing the epitaph of democratic Christian Europe; the folly of Turkey joining the EU and left-wingers stifling free speech. Has the world ever been so riven? What will be the next Sarajevo incident?
Gavrilo Princip’s Serbian nationalist fervour and hatred of Austria-Hungary were the motivation for his assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914. Neither Princip nor anyone else could have foreseen the wider aftermath of his action, which quickly set in train a domino effect leading to the catastrophe of World War 1. As I look at the world situation, with all its rival and conflicting pursuits, I can’t help but feel that a single incident, or an unfortunate combination of seemingly unrelated circumstances, will soon bring about a tragedy or disaster whose consequences similarly cannot be foreseen, much less quantified, but which will nonetheless cause human history to make another wrong turn. World-changing events are rarely planned; those that are seldom evolve as intended.
Europe remains innately diverse and Tolstoy used a character in his epic tome, War and Peace (written in the 1860s) to identify certain of its underlying national traits. With Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia in 1812 as the setting of the narrative, Prince Andrey expresses his forthright opinions* thus:
Pfuhl was one of those hopelessly, immutably conceited men, ready to face martyrdom for their own ideas, conceited as only Germans can be, just because it is only a German’s conceit that is based on an abstract idea – science, that is, the supposed possession of absolute truth. The Frenchman is conceited from supposing himself mentally and physically to be inordinately fascinating both to men and to women.
An Englishman is conceited on the ground of being a citizen of the best constituted state in the world, and also because he, as an Englishman, always knows what is the correct thing to do, and knows that everything that he, as an Englishman, does do is indisputably the correct thing. An Italian is conceited from being excitable and easily forgetting himself and other people. A Russian is conceited precisely because he knows nothing and cares to know nothing, since he does not believe it possible to know anything fully. A conceited German is the worst of them all and the most hardened of all, and the most repulsive of all; for he imagines that he possesses the truth in a science of his own invention, which is to him absolute truth.
A touch severe 150 years later, perhaps, but it’s hard to argue with some of those sentiments.
* Translation by Constance Garnett, page 692 of the paperback version by Pan, 6th edition printing 1981, ISBN 0 330 02950 9