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We do not see people as they are any more. Instead, we see - or learn to believe that we see - those ghostly entities we call 'relationships'. There's me, there's you - and, somewhere in the middle, there's our relationship. And of all the relationships that there are, none is more problematic or contentious than that between the rich and the poor, the' developed and the underdeveloped, the advanced and the backward, the 'North' and the 'South'. Or, to employ one of the most entrenched buzz-words of our time, there is no relationship more problematic or contentious than that posed by those hundreds of millions of human beings lumped together by the term 'Third World'. I have always had trouble with the concept. To be candid, I consider it distasteful. In search of guidance, I turned to my menagerie of up-to-date dictionaries. The notion being of comparatively recent coinage, there was no point in looking in any of the more traditional compilations. According to my American dictionary, the Third World is 'a group of nations, especially in Africa and Asia, that are not aligned with either the Communist or the non-Communist blocs'. It further adds that the Third World can be construed as 'the aggregate of the underde'Veloped nations of the world'. My British dictionary, extending the geographical sweep, defines the Third World as comprising 'the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America especially when viewed as underdeveloped and as neutral in the East-West alignment'. My Australian dictionary was even more expansive - to the point of being chatty. For it, the Third World signifies the 'developing countries especially in Africa, South America and SouthEast Asia, which are not heavily industrialised, have a low
Alas. We could put the quesnon this way: how many different varieties of al.though I am not sure why. Why the Americans should omit Latin America from their list and the Australians should point the finger at South-East Asia is. ninety-nine countries were represented. heavens on earth. some have American 'advisers' . A Cambodian delegation showed up. Singapore. which used to be non-aligned with Washington but is now nonaligned with Moscow. the cleanliness of the streets. the troughs of flowers adorning the highway from the airport. smile at Washington. fluctuating between wave and particle. some. which used to be non-aligned with Moscow but is now non-aligned with Washington. and . Nor is it necessary to be an acknowledged Third World country. And what about that other apparently essential attribute of Third Worldhood . Some are non-aligned towards Moscow. Somalia. and sometimes as though it were composed of waves.is a matter of conjecture.but I can see no reason why it shouldn't have done. Venezuela. even in these elementary sketches. m practice if not in theory.which it accuses of collaboration with the non-aligned Tamil separatists . What I've just said only scratches the surface.so quantum mechanics tells us . Sri Lanka.the Americans. frown at Moscow. by all accounts. there is no doubt about Africa.ignment ca~ you accommodate within the idea of non-ahgnment Without robbing it of meaning altogether? The answer has.sometimes behaves as. some are socialist democracies. displays some tr~ly re~arkable properties. the continent is a show-case of despair. Burma too seemed to be displeased . I was there not long ago and marvelled at the tall buildings. A similar bewilderment descends when we contemplate the non-aligned.ture of hght which . It is as puzzling as the na. You'd _probably be. whose internal alignments baffle us all.and Iraq came. A quick sampling from the conference of the non-aligned held in Delhi in 1983 will help to illustrate the point. Still. despite these defections.tes are not. demonstrated its solidarity: whether it would do so now that its relations have cooled with nonaligned India . did not tum up . The possibilities are infinite. is a model of East ASian assiduity. it's just conceiv~ble that the whole concept of a Third World reality might collapse into disrepute. as was made evident at the conference.America? sta. since Vietnam.An Unfinished Journey standard of living and are usually not politically aligned with either the Communist or the non-Communist blocs'. if it weren't for Africa. One. managed to put together a delegation. Cuba. some only surface at conference time. some offer hospitality to Communist soldiery. Lebanon. Iran came . turned up. some are quasi-Marxist. Afghanistan was present.n't yet be~n found. though whether it represented the non-aligned Vietnamesebacked faction or the non-aligned freedom-fighting faction I cannot say. Indeed. Non-ahgnment. and gratefully accept pandas from Peking.deported if you had the boldness to imply anything of the kind. to me at any rate. Ethiopia. some are unashamedly capitalist. some are non-aligned towards The Illusion of the Third World Washington. nonaligned Guyana. From the desert shores of the Mediterranean to the jungly banks of the Limpopo. No one in their right mind would accuse Singapore of being a Third World country. an Oxford linguistic philosopher. held aloof. Yet. Nicaragua ~s trying hard to be non-aligned but is experiencing some dlfficu~ty. ther~ are obvious discrepancies. ignoring the civil war between its Tamil minority and its Singhalese majority. Statehood. the traf~c regulations. because of its border dispute with neighbouring. I suppose. would delight.never will be. slightly puzzling. one imagines. confining themselves to advice. from Somalia to Sierra Leone. though it were composed of discrete particles.non-alignment? It presents us with one of those dilemmas which. The South and Central . as was that other vocal champion of nonalignment. on the other hand. Both the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the South-West Africa People's Organisation attended. is not a necessary prerequisite. as is demonstrated by the perennial prominence of Yugoslavia and the ambiguous pretensions of the 32 33 . some interfere in the internal affairs of others and some don't. some are free-enterprise dictatorships. gets the general drift of the idea intended to be conveyed.perhaps .
Still. dependent . to the 'starving millions'. despite the almost abstract extremity of its condition. who is seen as passive. I believe. Neither of the Chinas was there .Not all that far away from the Central African Empire . decent roads and hospitals. freque~tly overrides and mocks what is apparently reasonable. Jean Bokassa transforms his state into an Empire and . he adorns himself in velvets. like each family. rising up out of dark recesses. is unhappy in its own way.Idi Amin's staying power amounted to something more than just a freakish run of luck The British. these emblematic multitudes? Is it not possible that the abstractions in which we deal end. That such people do exist . that there seems no possibility of bridging the abyss between those who can land men on the moon and those who would be hard put to it to invent a tin-opener. In the First World business IS business.An Unfinished Journey flirtatious Swedes. despite all our kindnesses. More regularly tha~ we would like. Amm's genial obliviousness to what is sometimes called civilised opinion aroused admiration. do not live by bread alone. They simultaneously arouse our compassion and debase our conception of the victim. Men. We live in a fantastical world. India and Brazil under the one banner of fhlrd. we do. It dehneates nothing that really exists. We Impute to the 'starving millions' the elementary physical desires suggested by their elementary physical needs. Those slow-moving files of refugees in stony landscapes. African famine.as absurd and as denigrating as the old assertion that all Chinese look alike. ~oscow and Washington are forced to !ook . have been so magnified. and the People's Republic because it is an alignment in itself. it crumbles away.on .and they also supplied the goods. But charity has its dangers.a story of feudal monarchy. civil war. To blandly subsume. is today the pre-eminent symbol of Third Worldhood. It is a flabby Western concept lacking the flesh and blood of the actual. however. coup d'etat. He orders a golden crown. I will. also laughed . ~ et agam. like th~ French.~ Uganda .no one can deny. The French !augh. Lacking particularity. as favoured leaders fly off into exile or are killed in their palaces. return later to the vexed question of his colour.Impotently as the Third World created by their imagmanons puts on the exotic robes suited to multifarious and un~uspected fantasies of redemption and self-expression.images like these belong to the realm of nightmare. have a picture of the exemplary Third World denizen: he lives a hand-to-mouth existence. Adapting the opening sentence of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.the skeletal receptacle of what our charity can provide. a world in which the divergences between different groups of men have become so great. But who are they. Worldhood is . we congratulate ourselves. for their dreams may transcend the provision of unpolluted water supplies. are we entirely certain that Bokassa's subjects shared our sense of absurdity? They may not ~ave". He echoed needs 34 3S . yet again they watch as carefully wrought foreign policies melt away into oblivion. has its own unique tale to tell . Chief among them is condescension. other obscurer needs and impulsions su~~ace into the. And that flesh-and-blood actuality. we might say that each society. dramatic and horrifying. But it is also important to understand the dreams of men. People only look alike when you ca~'t be bothered to look at them too closely. If a man is drowning we must rescue him. a bejewelled throne. Rather like Count Dracula co~fro~ted ~y the Cross. In the spirit of charity we go forth and denude them.declares himself its Emperor. Nevertheless. those motionless babies with flies clustered round the eyes . he is indifferent to the power struggles of the mighty ones and he is dark-skinned. I do not decry charity. We have been kind. ?ut they supply the goods.and that there are unnumbered millions of them . Even Ethiopia. outer air as bats do from their roosts at twilight.Taiwan because its existence isn't recognised by most of the nonaligned states. The Illusion of the Third World ~ay! Ethiopia. whatever the confusions. In the Central African Republic. The promiscuous idea of a Third World does not stand up to close examination. in further diminishing those whom we sincerely wish to help? The Third World is a form of bloodless universality that robs individuals and societies of their particularity.
a Marxist coup d'etat in Grenada is yet another. holy warriors courting martyrdom on the battlefields of the Persian Gulf. as if in deliberate defiance of the White Revolution supposed to be going on outside.Islam has provided us with another contemporary evolution of behaviour that seems to repudiate conventional interpretations of rationality. this one-time President of the Organisation of African Unity became something of an alter ego. who needs filtered water. And this was so not only in Africa. I have met devotees of his as far afield as the Caribbean and the United States. ~lack-veiled women. Not so the adversaries with whom he had to contend. the excesses of Idi Amin are another. with Persepolis providing the background. The messianic mullahs who would bring his throne toppling down had never read an economics text-book and had no wish to read one. the analysis has to 37 " . For many blacks.a comprehensible figure. their eyes barely registenng the existence of the external world. the Shah was . This ~Ight of the Aryans. 'can now be seen as a major contribution to the study of the underlying causes of underdevelopment'. well-equipped hospitals? What I am trying to show is that a Third World does not exist as. Human beings don't come conveniently packaged in oven-ready. however archaic the symbolisms he exploited (the Iranian calendar. to obey standards other than those subscribed to by development economics.finally . written by a French scholar. a primal figure. he adds. Amin. are dying by the hundred. The man about whom the French scholar was writing lived in the fourteenth century . were crowds of bla. had every reason to cradle a grandiloquent set of expectations about its destiny. Up to a point.ck-robed. For such as these.has come right back into fashion. offered release to pentup emotions and fantasies. he tells us. this King of Kings. Some were crouched against the walls.a period of cultural splendour for Islam. The Shah. he was able to transform himself and his sinister buffoonery into an intensely experienced spectator sport. to use only two of his pseudonyms. National saviours do tend to have their little ways. of one of the most illustrious philosophers of the Muslim world. but which are nonetheless real for all that. included dim antiquity in its sweep) 36 The Illusion of the Third World . the relentless ruination of Uganda . others were prostrated in attitudes of devotional ecstasy. Mind you. A Sri Lankan massacre is a Sri Lankan massacre . it is far from my intention to suggest that Africa monopolises the grotesque. Who would criticise agricultural reform? industrialisation? technical training? the attempted reassertion of Iran's long-dormant power and influence? Iran. It is not some vague Third World happening to be fitted into the off-the-peg categories manufactured by the Third World ideological rag-trade. Within its precincts.the use of torture and so on . was tied to the theories and hopes spawned by development economics. their sons and brothers and husbands. that it has no collective and consistent identity except 10 the newspapers and amid the pomp and splendour of international conferences. One might argue with the details .. Limbs are being amputated in many parts of the Muslim world in the pursuit of Islamic justice and righteousness. The book is worth a little quotation. The thought of this fourteenthcentury philosopher.one could even sympathise with the Shah's Napoleonic vision of himself. In the gardens of Paradise. Matters have indeed reached a ridiculous pass. Now there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the Shah's ambitions for his country.An Unfinished Journey and instincts to which it is not always easy to give names.. with its long and glorious past. for example. Islamic resurgence is one thing.such.but not with the overall intention. The examples derived from Africa could be piled one on top the other. '. Still.the jihad . Today. The other day I was looking at a biography. Identikit format. The holy war . Resurgent .nobody else's . good roads. I remember the mosque I visited on the outskirts of Teheran one afternoon.the breakdown of water supplies.was neither here nor there. I was in Iran when the Shah's 'White Revolution' was coming to its end.one might also say insurgent . the decay of roads and hospitals . however exotic he might occasionally appear to be. Economic indices were of no special interest to his admirers.
for instance. Poverty is even more varied in its causes and manifestations than wealth. centrifugal India: neurotic. . incidentally. But.. If a clever French scholar can't manage it . What will work in omnivorous. It is said that when the Jesuits first went to China they were appalled by Buddhist rites.. it says. subliminally. in the fourteenth century.'underdeveloped'. The Caribbean where. has atomic power-stations. It is an old and complex civilisation with old and complex problems.the idea of a Third World is the one least confined by reality and the most promiscuous in the political temptations to which it gives rise.. those immobile babes-in-arms with flies clustered round closed eyes. . The longer I live. though the same man who gave me that advice looked somewhat shocked when I made mention of Sri Lanka. centralised China will not work in fastidious. detecting devilish parallels between Islamic North Africa of the Middle Ages and Grenada. Would the Grenadian be pleased to know that he has his Third World roots in the Islamic North Africa of six hundred years ago? That would be a most intriguing selfdiscovery for him. it's harder than you might think to do that.. All poverty may look alike from a comfortable arm-chair. There is no hiding from this Third World business. I admit. I was born . The book. to possess a euphemism for backwardness and .if only because. is too shadowy to be of any use. That sounds reasonable enough to me. 'developing'.provides us with rich case histories of its harmful effects. 'less developed' and so on . hailed as a triumph for the principle of self-help. those slow-moving files of refugees in stony landscapes.An Unfinished Journey be tackled with care . may seem susceptible to the same remedies. There. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why have these double standards? We must cast off the rag-trade mythologies with which we clothe our perceptions of mental and spiritual worlds unfamiliar to us. then. there are already so many of those knocking around. I am not denying that people need windmills and village dispensaries and all the rest. Of all the terms available to us ..perhaps . They concluded that Buddhism was the work of the Devil. Brahminical sensibilities are very. Down the ages we clank about like felons. the more convinced I become that one of the greatest honours we can confer on other people is to see them as they are. When. What images come to mind when we think of it? Sun-burnt aid-workers telling television interviewers how civilly they have been treated by their guerrilla captors . tempestuous confrontations with the International Monetary Fund . has sophisticated research establishments. what are we really attempting to say? That India is a hot country with many poor people? But the same India has launched satellites. India 38 The Il/usion of the Third World is casually included in the unholy brood. here a modest irrigation scheme. The blurb is less restrained. despite the ritualistic noises that were 39 . The Third World is an artificial construction of the West . Islamic North Africa could not be remotely regarded as underdeveloped. Chinese and Indian poverty are not the same. What is true for Ireland should also be true for Sri Lanka and everywhere else. .. The idea of a Third World.what hope is there for the rest of us? I am reliably informed that in order to understand the sectarian killings in Northern Ireland one should become acquainted with Irish history and the sentiments to which its convolutions have given rise. . They were appalled because they were struck by certain superficial resemblances these bore to certain of the rites of the Roman Church. Clearly. The Third World ideologues. What I do deny is that these needs adequately sum up the human condition of three-quarters of mankind. concerns 'the birth of history and the past of the Third World'. very different from those engendered by a Mandarin bureaucratic tradition. the discovery of Third World status had. over there a windmill .' he said.an ideological Empire on which the sun is always setting. 'But that's the Third World. down the road a tiny medical dispensary of unplastered brick. despite its congenial simplicity. well . Well .. to recognise not only that they exist but that they exist in specific ways and have specific realities.. clutching their Marxist texts..for blackness. It is nice.. remind me of those early Jesuit missionaries. and.
preaches the divinity of the Ethiopian Emperor and a return to Africa. in away. the Third World . Third Worldhood outspreads its tentacles everywhere. were the repercussions in Jamaica. comparatively little to do with economic deprivation pure and simple.An Unfinished Journey made. to the First World where it was invented. must simplify themselves into Blackness. But most curious. I hasten to assure you.if. . ideological Blackness threatens to engulf the life of The Illusion of the Third World the. Its appeal was more visceral. Unhappily. The idea was swiftly harnessed to racial assertion and militancy. . With support from the Greater London Council. It was in Guyana too. not all the transformations were so harmless. at Jonestown. we take their hairstyle at face value . was to become the opiate of the masses throughout the Caribbean . for the sake of solidarity. I saw youths of Aboriginal descent wearing 'dreadlocks' . It has come back home to roost . when I was there last year. Under its influence . mind ~nd ~e imagination. that Third Worldhood was to attain one of its more gory climaxes when. that is.found unexpected fulfilments in the Rastafarian cult which. Guyana's black supremacist government began to contribute modest handouts to Africa's guerrilla armies.to go back to Africa. some to Islam. let us not forget. A new identity capable of expressing all this had to be found. There are now Africans in Africa who want . Some turned to Africa for inspiration. One of the more harmless affectations was the changing of names. to be confounded with satanism and sorcery. so indulgent to marijuana. In Australia. This travesty unites the Far Left and the Far Right. being Third World meant being Black.back. we madden ourselves With untruth. In the Caribbean.In the name of the Third World.and beyond. In London I live not much more than a mile away from a projected centre for the Black Arts . To be Black was to be Oppressed: to be a constantly hurting casualty of the twin evils of slavery and colonialism. I mean. among its other articles of faith.Blackness . nearly a thousand mainly black refugees from the United States were half forced/half-persuaded by their revolutionary minders to swallow a cyanide-laced cocktail and so demonstrate their defiance of fascism.not. It is now fashionably radical to inform Immigrants from India and Pakistan and Cyprus that th~y too. In Trinidad the Army fell under the spell of American Black Power ideology and mutinied.spread largely by its reggae music . There. 40 41 .this quasi-religion.
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