ARTSPEAK: LOST IN INTERNATIONALISM – Journal
The roadmap for progress in all countries today rests on universal systems of education, economy, health and cultural expression. The structures of museums, art galleries, art curricula, publishing, marketing, food production, export and import rules, security forces, transport, up to ‘to red, orange and green lights to control traffic, are universal.
This internationalism that has enveloped the world has a relatively recent history. It was initially a panicked response to the horrors of World War I – the League of Nations was created to prevent such wars in the future by creating a platform to address the grievances of nations through dialogue and negotiation.
Having been unable to prevent the Second World War, it was considered a failure and replaced by the United Nations (UN), a more structured undertaking, aimed at creating a “one world” where nations agreed to shared values, seen as the essential precursor to lasting peace.
Wendell Willkie’s 1943 bestseller One World penned the manifesto that inspired the One World movement. The United States of America, seen as the hero of World War II, was the only Western nation capable of “unifying the peoples of the earth in the human quest for freedom and justice”.
One of the first institutions created by the UN in 1945 was Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It was necessary to rebuild the schools and museums destroyed during the war. However, with the vision of Julian Huxley, the first Director General of Unesco, it very quickly developed a global ambition: if we could create a model education system, develop school textbooks and train teachers to spread the values and the systems that Europe had been able to evolve, not only would communication between nations and the conduct of business become easier, but wars, seen as the result of nationalism, would be contained.
Psychologists and sociologists were hired to advise on modifying aggressive behavior. Mass communication experts explored the role that radio, film and the press can play in achieving One World’s goals. Lists were created of suitable films, music and art to promote, and the design and content of museums were worked on. An International Commission of Popular Arts and Folklore was even created to examine what was in conformity with the recommendations of Unesco.
The problem was that Huxley was rooted in colonial thinking and a eugenicist. He believed that non-white people and the poor were inferior and that only the West could lift them out of their darkness. Harry S. Truman echoed this in his inaugural address in 1949 and reaffirmed that Europe and America had “a rightful place in the vanguard of civilization”. Thus began the enterprise of internationalism – as Captain Kirk of the Star Trek television series said: “To go boldly where no man has gone before”.
French sociologist Alain Touraine writes: “The idea of progress has been shattered and supplanted by that of economic growth. Nations find themselves lost in this dizzying pressure to comply with the demands of the UN, the IMF [International Monetary Fund]the ILO [International Labour Organisation] and the WTO [World Trade Organisation], while internally divided between those who follow the beat and those who practice traditional local systems. Absent from “world” history books, their art is relegated to crafts, their literature to folklore. The natural cultural symbiosis along trade routes is replaced by anonymous shipping containers and soulless airports.
Internationalism is an old concept. The Greek concept was expressed by Isocrates who said, “We must give the name Greek to those who share our culture rather than to those who share our origin.” This implies that civilization is not tied to race, but can be passed down.
Internationalism was also inherent in Islam. There was no concept of nation-state. The Dar-ul-Harb or place of conflict was a temporary border. Unlike many other empires, there was no concept of bringing wealth back to Mecca. Every land where Islam has spread has been developed by inspiring local communities to develop industry, institutions, learning, arts and crafts, agriculture and town planning.
It may have been started by Arabs, but was continued by Persians, Kurds, Turks and other communities. Knowledge was acquired from the Greeks, Chinese, Hindus and generously shared with all who wished to learn.
The Aga Khan Foundation, established in 1967, recreated a more culturally sensitive internationalism that linked heritage and locality to development and progress, and reintroduced Muslim contributions to world history.
However, most nations, whose traditional structures have been dismantled and cannot match the funds offered by Western international development agencies, are left with mere words of dissent.
Durriya Kazi is an artist based in Karachi.
She can be contacted at email@example.com
Posted in Dawn, EOS, September 4, 2022