Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A land without people for a people without land

The Maldives are one of the lands in the frontline of global climate change. A small rise in the sea level brought on by the melting of the polar ice caps will lead to 80% of the islands disappearing under water. Last month, the Maldives held their first democratic election, and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, dictator since 1978 (and a Muslim Brotherhood follower) was replaced by Mohamed Nasheed, a democratic activist imprisoned several times under Gayoom, was sworn in yesterday.

Interestingly, one of Nasheed's first public statements suggested the country's tourism income would be saved up to buy a new homeland for the Maldivian people. He mentioned a few places that might sell land - and, crucially, sovereignty over that land - but has not yet negotatiated with those countries.

In a world tightly packed with nation states, to use Zygmunt Bauman's phrase, every state needs a nation and every nation needs a state. Although people might sympathise with the Maldives' plight, how many countries are willing to transfer land? Of course, the nation-states of today were often built on the mass transfer of people in order to create ethnically homogeneous nations - the huge forced migration of Christian people out of "Turkey" and of "Turkish" people out of the Balkans as the Ottoman Empire gave way to the nation-state order, the trauma of Partition in Indian sub-continent, the much smaller scale displacement of the people who came to be known as Palestinians when Israel was created and subsequent transfer/purging of Jewish Arabs to the new state. But now the patchwork quilt is filled up, will there be room for the people of the Maldives.

It brings to mind the various utopian Territorialist hopes that flourished in the margins of the Jewish nationalist movement from the late 19th century until the creation of the state of Israel: Herzl's Argentina plan, the British "Uganda" Programme, the Galveston Project supported by Israel Zangwill, the Kimberley Project, Birobidzhan the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Manchuria, the Japanese Fugu Plot also for Manchuria, and sundry other plans for Ecuador, Suriname and elsewhere...

For a no state solution!

5 comments:

The Contentious Centrist said...

Surely the vast, uninhabited territories in the Middle East can accommodate 380,000 additional residents, no? Isn't it time the Arab nations volunteered to contribute something to the world?

Duncan Money said...

Surely the vast, uninhabited territories in the Middle East can accommodate 380,000 additional residents, no?

Unfortunately if you know your geography you'll realise much of the Middle East is arid or semi-arid so not particularly habitable.

Isn't it time the Arab nations volunteered to contribute something to the world?

What a strange notion.

Why the Arab nations in particular by the way? Do you feel similar disdain at, say, Namibia for their lack of 'contribution'?

The Contentious Centrist said...

"Unfortunately if you know your geography you'll realise much of the Middle East is arid or semi-arid so not particularly habitable."

As an Israeli, from Israel, which is 60% arid or semi-arid, I am not easily frightened off by these conditions. They can become habitable, with the proper motivation and technology. I should think that would be a more feasible solution to being submerged in water or living on boats all your life.

Arabs have oil from which they make loads of money. They can well afford to give back to the community of nations by doing a charitable deed, for a change. Do Namibians have oil?

Duncan Money said...

Yes and so do their neighbours Angola. Lots of the stuff in fact, doesn't seem to do either of them much good.

You should write them a suitably admonishing letter noting their lack of contribution to the community of nations.

max said...

They'll probably end up on stilts, like Venice.